Happy Free Agency! I am a sucker for hot stove talk, MLB trade rumors, and general off season gossip. I get the feeling this could be an eventful winter for the M’s, and I am thankful that Jack Z will be calling the shots once again. That being said, I thought I would speculate on some potential moves the M’s could make over the next few months, and in doing, I’ve created my off season plan.
Before delving into the plan, let’s remember where the M’s are in, and the state of the franchise. 2012 will be the 4th year of Jack Zduriencik’s regime in Seattle. He inherited a major rebuilding project, no doubt about it. Top to bottom, the organization was a mess. For 3 years, Jack has concentrated on bulking up the farm, adding depth, and above all, talent. It took a couple years to shed the dead weight—bad contacts, bad draft picks, bad hires, and despite a couple setbacks (Chone), most fans understand the path the organization is on. It’s not as though losses don’t matter, but the record is not as important as the master plan, and Jack has not deviated from building the whole system, which is really the only way to sustain success. Even the Yankees and Red Sox, for all the money they throw around, build from within as good as anyone, and this has been Jack’s focus all along.
In 2012, wins and losses will matter. The grace period is gone, and the M’s had better start producing. A .500 record should be a reasonable goal, so considering the 2011 M’s won 67 games, where does Jack find an additional 14 wins this off season?
Let’s assume the M’s payroll is set at $90-95 million, which is on par for the past 3 years. $60 million is already guaranteed for Felix, Ichiro, Guti, Ryan, Ackley, Figgins, and Olivo, so Jack will have about $30 million to fill out the roster. Next, Jack will need to address the M’s 6 arbitration eligible players: Kelley, Vargas, Aardsma, L-Rodriguez, and League. If I were Jack, I’d non-tender Aardsma, but keep the others, for what will cost about $10 million total. Some would prefer to keep Aardsma, and trade League, but the money is virtually even between the two, and I think you need to keep one. League was an all-star closer, despite his brain lapses, so unless the trade market is high for a guy like League, I’d hang onto him. Finally, another $5 million will be tied up in about 10 spots, the kids like Smoak, Carp, Seager, and most of the young relievers who all make about $450,000. With the remaining $15-20 million, and still a few holes to fill, here’s the roster I would aim to assemble (click to enlarge).
Jump ahead to see how I’d get this team put together!
1st move: Trade—Seattle sends Mike Carp, Mauricio Robles, Erasmo Ramirez to LA; LA sends Chad Billingsley to KC; KC sends Billy Butler to Seattle
Jack seems to get involved in a blockbuster trade each winter, and I suspect the same will happen at some point this year. If I were calling the shots, I’d look to get a bat like Billy Butler here, a guy who is young (25) but proven, and under team control ($8.5 million in 2012-14, club option in ’15). The Royals might be inclined to shop Butler because of their need for pitching, the emergence of other bats on their roster, and his inability to play a position in the field. The Dodgers inked Billingsley to a 3 year, $35 million contract last winter but he was a disappointment in 2011. LA is hurting for money, and has holes at 1B and the outfield to fill, thus Carp’s inclusion. I would hate to see Carp go, especially after watching his offensive developments, but he has no position in Seattle, and I don’t know if he can be counted on the way a Billy Butler can. LA would need some quality prospects in addition, and Robles and Ramirez fit the bill.
2nd move: Sign Grady Sizemore (1 year, $5 million+ incentives)
If Sizemore’s option is not picked up, and it sure sounds like it won’t, I think the M’s need to seriously consider signing the hometown boy. The issue here is Grady’s health (5 operations in 3 years), but if he passes this test, he is absolutely worth a 1 year, incentive laden deal. Casper Wells can play LF to spell Sizemore, and the fact is the M’s need offense wherever they can get it, and they need a bat that is willing to come to Seattle. I think Sizemore is both, and he played under Wedge in Cleveland for what it’s worth. The M’s can afford to take this risk, but they can’t afford to stand pat with the current line-up.
3rd move: Trade—Seattle sends Chone Figgins to Cincinnati for low level prospect and $3 million
(Seattle responsible for $14 million of remaining $17 million owed to Figgins)
I can see the argument for hanging onto Chone to start next season, giving him the lead-off spot in the line-up, and seeing if he can regain his old self. However, this is not the approach I would take. I think 2 years has been quite enough to determine that Figgins is a sunken cost in Seattle, and he needs a new home. An NL team makes most sense, perhaps Cincinnati or Colorado. Whoever raises their hand first can have him, but I’d do my best to retrieve a couple million and a low level prospect. Either way, the M’s will be on the hook for the vast majority of his remaining $17 million.
4th move: Sign Kevin Kouzmanoff (1 year, $3 million)
I like Kyle Seager, and I want to see what he can do as an everyday starter at 3B. That being said, it would be foolish for the M’s to not have a back-up plan, in case Kyle is not ready for the job. Kouzmanoff is a proven vet who could be had on the cheap after a poor season. He has some pop, plays good defense, and could challenge Seager for the starting job. Given the lack of solid third baseman in the league, Kouz may have a few offers to choose from, but the M’s would be wise to bring him onboard.
5th move: Sign Jeff Francis (1 year, $2 million)
I would be shocked if Jack does not acquire a back of the rotation pitcher this off season. Francis is just that, although pitching in Safeco, he could put up numbers that look more like a #3 guy. KC got him for just $2 million last year, and he put together a workmanlike season. He is from Vancouver, and just seems like a future Mariner.
Keeping budget in mind, the Seattle factor, and generally trying to be realistic, those are the 5 moves I would make this offseason. The financial impact of acquiring Butler, Sizemore, Kouz, and Francis, paired with $1.5 million from Cincinnati in ’12 and ‘13, is $18.5 million. I realize it is more likely to predict the lottery than to guess what Jack is going to do this winter. Who knows what players are not tendered, put on the trading block, or what teams decide to spend big. There are a million factors that will play out day by day this winter, and it is up to Jack to field a team capable of playing .500 ball next year. Anything less is a disappointment.