A couple weeks ago I wrote about Years 1 and 2 of the rebuilding process the Mariners are in, orchestrated by Jack Zduriencik. With year 2 nearing completion, let’s look ahead to year 3 of rebuild mode.
Following this 2010 season, the Mariners will likely find themselves less ahead of schedule than what had been anticipated going into this season. The 85 wins in 2009 will be followed up with something like 65-70 wins. The Mariners do not have much money coming off the books, and their best player from 2009, Cliff Lee, is wearing a Texas uniform at the moment. In some ways, things may look bleak for the Mariners after this season. However, looking again at the big picture of rebuilding in 3-4 years, I think the positives still outweigh the negatives because of the strengthened farm system, the lack of bad contracts, and a strong nucleus that are all signed (Ichiro, Felix, Smoak, Guti).
Rewind with me again to November 2008. The Mariners were a mess, kind of like the Seahawks are today, and similar to Husky football after the Willingham era concluded. In each case, our team needed to blow things up and rebuild. This happens in sports, and typically, rebuilding takes 3-4 years. Of course the Yankees can do it in 1 year, and the Royals or Pirates need about 10 years, but for a Seattle team in a good market, 3-4 years is about the norm. This season it appeared the M’s might be able to take advantage of a weakened division and some savvy trades, and take the shortcut from rebuilder to contender in just 12 months. But 2010 has not panned out, and while it looks like the M’s are going to have to start over again once this year ends, the reality is the foundation for rebuilding was laid a year ago, and Seattle is finishing year 2 of a 3-4 year rebuilding process.
In his “Wait ‘Til Next Year” series, Matthew recently broke down each position, and forecasted the roster heading into next season. Certainly a common theme in these posts is the uncertainty at multiple positions, but despite the question marks, the M’s will continue building around a solid group that will surely include Felix, Ichiro, Ackley, Gutierrez, Figgins, Saunders, Smoak, Pineda, Vargas and Fister. Others from the current roster will be back next year, and some will not, and additions will need to be made, either via trade, free agency, or growth in the farm system. Given how difficult it is to predict trades, let’s look at the unrestricted free agent crop for 2011, and specifically, free agents that may be realistic targets for the Mariners, give their needs. Yes, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Derek Jeter may hit free agency, but again, this list only includes realistic targets, at positions the M’s may have an interest.
Top 5 Position Player Options
LF-Carl Crawford—Umm, sign me up! Man he would fit in nicely at LF, though the likelihood is not great, especially because the Yankees could use a corner outfielder too.
C-Victor Martinez—VMart has not exactly had a monster year in ’10, but his offensive numbers would still be good enough to lead the M’s in most categories. Catcher is a position of utmost need on this team, and if we could somehow land Martinez, albeit at a high cost, he would certainly fill a position and leadership void.
C-John Buck—I could see this happening, because catcher is probably the greatest position need on this team. Adam Moore has not grown the leaps and bounds we had hoped for in 2010, and Rob Johnson is, well, Rob Johnson. A veteran catcher with some pop could do wonders for the M’s in 2011 and if VMart can not be had, Buck is a nice secondary option, although his 1st all-star appearance may inflate his price tag.
1B/DH-Adam Dunn—I would love to see Dunn and his country power at Safeco, in a DH role. Branyan is the cheaper option, but if he is not back, the Mariners may eye Dunn. His price tag will be high, but if 2010 has taught us anything, it is that power is not as overrated as we may have thought. If Smoak struggles, Dunn can also play 1B.
SS/2B-Juan Uribe—I can’t be sure, but I have a hunch the Mariners will not begin 2011 with Figgins at 2B, and Lopez at 3B. Long term, the team wants Ackley at second, and Figgy back to third, where he is most comfortable. If Ackley is not ready by opening day, a guy like Uribe may be a nice stop gap, or a versatile utility man with some pop, assuming Jose Lopez is cut or traded.
5 Back-up Options
DH-Hideki Matsui—If Bradley was not retained, Matsui could play DH and probably have a decent year playing at Safeco.
RF-Jose Guillen—Might the M’s bring in Guillen for a 2nd stint, ala Russell Branyan? Jose is having a nice year, but at age 35, his prime has passed and it seems like Milton Bradley is a similar player.
C-A.J. Pierzynski—I don’t see this happening, but Seattle needs a dependable cather and AJ is a veteran with some pop. Perhaps Seattle looks at him late in the off season if no one has picked him up.
RF-Jayson Werth—I’m not sure Jack Z would go after Werth too strongly, because he is right handed, and reminds me of another Jason (Bay) Seattle passed up on last year. Although it goes without saying this team could use his 25-30 HR.
2B-Orlando Hudson—For the same reasons described for Uribe, Hudson can start at 2B if it is determined that Ackley is not ready, and Jose Lopez is gone.
Top 5 Pitcher Options
SP-Cliff Lee—It may not be realistic but as much as one can speculate, no one really knows how Cliff will remember his time in Seattle. Who knows, maybe he just loved this city and Safeco Field, and would sign on long term with a no trade clause.
SP-Hiroki Kuroda—Maybe it’s just because of the Japanese connection, but I have to think the Mariners will take a hard look at Kuroda, who at age 36, is pitching great. The Mariners were the runners-up when Kuroda chose the Dodgers a couple years back, so there is some mutual interest.
SP-Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang—Both Harang and Arroyo have expensive ($11-12 million) team options with the Reds for 2011, and the odds of one or both options being exercised are very slim. The likely scenario is that both become unrestricted free agents, and I could see Seattle kicking the tires on either pitcher if the price is right.
SP-Brandon Webb, Rich Harden—If Seattle wants to dip into the injury risk bucket, these 2 guys may be candidates, if Bedard is not brought back. Webb and Harden, in their prime, are terrific, but injuries have really taken their toll. Still, I think Zduriencik would prefer to spend less on an injury risk pitcher than pay high for an aging veteran like Lilly, Vazquez, or Westbrook.
RP-Rafael Soriano—I would love nothing more than to see Seattle bring back a player that was ignorantly given away during the Bavasi era. If Aardsma is gone, the M’s will need a closer and Soriano would be a terrific get.
5 Back-up Options
SP-Jake Westbrook, Javier Vazquez, Ted Lilly, Kevin Millwood—I’ve lumped these 4 together because in my mind, they are interchangeable. Nothing too exciting about any of these aging veterans, but you can usually count on 200 innings, an ERA around 4, and a high price tag. Bill Bavasi would have been all over this group of free agents.
SP-Jeff Francis—A cheaper version of Ted Lilly, Francis is only 29, and although he has struggled this year, pitching in Safeco as a lefty is much different than at Coors. The Rockies won’t pick up his $7 million option unless he goes crazy this summer. Francis is from British Columbia, so he may be inclined to pitch near home. Probably a better option over RRS or Luke French.
SP-Ben Sheets—Sheets is quietly putting together an injury free season with a respectable ERA around 4.5, but if his $10 million price tag this year increases in 2011 I doubt Seattle would be enticed.
SP-Jeremy Bonderman—A hometown guy that might be a target if rotation depth is needed.
SP-Jamie Moyer—(I’m kidding)
Mariners 2011 Free Agents
SP-Erik Bedard—Bedard has a mutual option for next year, but he must have a strong 2nd half to give the Mariners any reason to think about wanting him back. I would love nothing more than to see Bedard finish strong and come back healthy next year and with a new deal.
1B/DH-Russell Branyan—Branyan has a $5 million mutual option for next year, but mutual options often mean nothing. It is clear that Jack Z loves Branyan, evident by the recent trade to re-acquire him. If Russell finished 2010 strong and injury free, I think the M’s will want his bat back, in a DH role.
1B/DH-Mike Sweeney—Goodbye Mike. You’re a good guy, but I can’t believe you lasted 2 seasons in Seattle.
C-Josh Bard—His 2 week stretch in May was the best we have seen from a Mariner catcher this year, which is pretty sad. If the M’s do not target VMart, Buck, or Pierzynski, Bard may top their list of veteran back-ups.