Thursday, September 25, 2008

"What Would the Outsider Do" - Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are one that that I truly have limited interest in. Despite being one of two teams which get 'national' coverage in Canada-a blog and rant for another time-the Mariners simply have a team that I cannot cheer for. That is, until I found that their inaugural logos had a trident!

I digress, this team still lacks a big name youngster to get excited about. This team has thrown money around like a big market franchise although it has done so poorly. Considering the team is backed by the owners of Nintendo, they certainly could compete with the Yankees, Angels, and Red Sox for highest paid team. However, the Mariners are running a 'business' and cut corners where they deem appropriate. Hopefully that time has come to an end as the Pacific Rim deserves a Major League franchise it can cheer for.

That aside, no one is going to argue that the Mariners are in an envious position. There probably isn't a general manager in baseball that would trade what he's got for what the Mariners have. Especially with $30M owed between Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, and Carlos Silva. I suppose it was those signings, plus Richie Sexson and Kenji Johjima, that has led Mariners management to squash any desires at making a big splash in free agency this year.

With that said, the nearly imminent loss of Raul Ibanez, very little in the minor league cupboards that is major league ready, it sounds as if the Mariners will start from scratch. Although the club doesn't seem to be interested in truly rebuilding. However, WWOD really does not care about what the Mariners management wants to do, especially since the Mariners don't seem to have a real plan themselves.

What the Mariners don't need:

Veteran pitching-at least in terms of overpriced veteran pitching. The club could certainly benefit from upgrading the rotation outside of Felix Hernandez and Brendan Morrow, unfortunately those roster spots are sewn up by the unsightly trio of Washburn, Batista, and Silva. It's difficult to stomach that those three were at one time desirable.

Despite being one of the most difficult positions to field, the Mariners are surprisingly deep at middle infield. Even for a team that gave away a nice young middle infielder to the Indians. With Carlos Truinfel, another youngster the club is rushing, the Mariners are 'set' up the middle for years to come.

While the Mariners have the middle infield locked down, they also have players with weak on base percentages locked down. Thus, the club should ignore any players who don't have at least league average on base abilities.

Lastly, the Mariners need to avoid rushing Matthew Tuiasosopo. Unless an absolutely incredible offer comes around for Adrian Beltre (read-someone willing to take on his salary), sit tight and let him master triple-A hitting. Depending on how the season is going for the club, a September call-up should be the most this kid sees of the major leagues.

What the Mariners need:

Lots! Although surprisingly not enough to panic. There are available pieces in free agency which would fit in perfectly. The first piece, replace Raul Ibanez with Adam Dunn. Ibanez will presumably be a type A free agent and net the Mariners two first round pick (if he signs with a team outside the top 15). Dunn will simply cost the Mariners a second round pick, however he has enough youth on his side to be a solid source of power and on base percentage for years to come.

Next up, the Mariners should look at a committee approach to their DH/1B black holes. Dan Johnson will presumably be free for the taking and would make for an outstanding left handed platoon partner. How about bringing back Richie Sexson as the other half of the platoon. Sexson has had favorable splits against left handed pitchers, and should come at a cheap enough price to warrant bringing him back to grab a partial return on the club's 2005 investment.

Lastly, the Mariners need some bullpen help. The fact that the teams closer has been largely ineffective or unavailable this season has only furthered this requirement. That said, given a full season out of JJ Putz, the addition of a legitimate arm to the bullpen will be as good as completely revamping this group. Ambiorix Burgos from the Mets would be my target. He could presumably be had for Tim Hulett, as the Mets are fairly shallow up the middle.

After those moves, and pending development and a couple rebound seasons, the Mariners could be setup nicely to compete in the weak American League West. Offensively, everything would have to go perfectly, and there is little in the way of legitimate back up plans in the case of Adam Dunn.

That said, there is no way Johjima could possibly perform worse. The Mariners have had the leagues worst production from first, as well as designated hitter. By all standards, Beltre has had a fairly disappointing season from a power perspective. With the moves I suggest as well as players performing at a level they should, the Mariners would easily improve on their current standing as the third worst OPS in all of baseball.

Here's how they should look:

RF - Ichiro Suzuki
2B - Jose Lopez
LF - Adam Dunn
DH - Jeff Clement
1B - Dan Johnson/Richie Sexson
3B - Adrian Beltre
CF - Wladimir Balentien
C - Kenji Johjima
SS - Luis Valbuena

On base percentage. That is the teams first and foremost issue. It is nearly impossible to create a top end of this batting order as the club does not have a single bat worthy of the #2 spot. If Valbuena proves capable of hitting major league pitching, and that this years major step forward was not a matter of luck, the Mariners could quickly move him up the batting order.

The bench would be predominantly filled with current Mariners with one exception, Mike Sweeney. Sweeney would come to town to fight for the designated hitter job, where his presence would boot Johjima from the club altogether and slide Clement into a fulltime catching job.

The rest of the bench would be filled with Sexson, Yunesky Betancourt, Jeremy Reed, and Jamie Burke.

Another option for the bench/Mike Sweeney/Richie Sexson job, ex-Met, and strikeout Master, Victor Diaz. Diaz could easily form the other half of the Dan Johnson platoon, although that may limit the position flexibility-unless Clement can play some first?

The rotation has quite a bit more upside then offense does. There are performances that can only get better, starting with Erik Bedard. Carlos Silva, despite all who disapproved of his signing, is certainly a better pitcher then he has been in 2008. Brendan Morrow will at worst be what the Mariners got from RA Dickey and Miguel Batista. In other words, the rotation will improve simply because it cannot possibly perform any worse.

Here's how it shakes out:

Felix Hernandez
Erik Bedard
Jarrod Washburn
Brandon Morrow
Carlos Silva

Clearly the biggest issue this rotation faced in 2008 dealt with injuries. Bedard was expected to throw 200 near Cy Young innings, instead, he threw 80 good, but not great innings. Silva has been absolutely dreadful, although he has performed much better then the numbers suggest. Washburn and Hernandez have been about what the club expected out of them.

The big 'wildcard' will be Brandon Morrow and how he reacts to the increased workload. The Mariners should be careful with him, keeping his innings under 160. Yanking him in and out of the rotation is not the answer, but skipping his turn once in a while might be the best course of action.

As I mentioned, the bullpen will look as though it has undergone a facelift simply by having JJ Putz healthy for the full season. Here's how WWOD would put the bullpen together:

CL - JJ Putz
SU - Ambiorox Burgos
RP - Sean Green
RP - Eric O'Flaherty
RP - Cesar Jimenez
RP - Miguel Batista
LR - RA Dickey

The one player that I truly wish could be in this bullpen that is not, is Mark Lowe. Clearly he deserves a spot in the bullpen over Batista, and if WWOD was truly running the show, Batista would be playing his snake flute on a street corner somewhere. However, with the last bullpen spot, its really not a big deal if Batista is in town or Lowe. That said, if Lowe is out of options and the choice is between Lowe and eating Batista's contract, it's a no-brainer.

I truly love the appearance of Burgos at the top of this bullpen. His stuff is nasty and he is young enough to build the bullpen around if he truly harnesses his stuff.

This is a club without many options. While Suzuki isn't aging like the rest of us humans, he certainly cannot be depended on to perform at this level beyond 2010. With Felix and Bedard, the club could have the best 1-2 punch in the majors, or they could have an over matched #2 starter if Bedard hits the shelf again.

One thing that is disappointing, however, is that people do not consider Dunn the type of bat a team can build around. I disagree, and feel as though a trio of Dunn, Clement, and Balentien, while not outstanding, would be a very strong place to start.

The one thing that is encouraging about the Mariners, the club seems reluctant to move its top prospect, French-Canadian pitcher Phillippe Aumont. That, however, should not be mistaken with the fact that the Mariners will treat him appropriately, in that it would come as a surprise to no one if Aumont logged innings at the major league level in 2009.

BallHype: hype it up!

Up next-The Cincinnati Reds

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