The Mariners’ Hot Stove Report

Safeco Field
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Since the beginning of November, the end of the baseball season, it is almost unarguable that the Mariners have led the charge through the offseason. After a strong 2008 offseason, highlighted by the signing of Russell Branyan and the J.J. Putz trade, which netted the team Gold-Glove-snub Franklin Gutierrez, it wasn’t completely clear how Jack Zduriencik, the team’s general manager, would continue to reshape the team.

But we knew they’d be active.

The offseason started with the Mariners giving Ken Griffey Jr. another farewell tour, signing the Seattle legend to another one-year deal. Griffey had a strange season last year, his .214/.324/.411 line last season looks ugly (and at times it was), but despite my undying loyalty to Griffey, he could be a viable option as the team’s lefty in the platoon at DH. While Griffey never seemed completely comfortable last season, he may have been a victim of bad luck. His BABIP was .220, well below league average and his career averages, and an improved 2010 could be as simple as a return to mean. However, his .197 ISO is pretty solid, and in the past three seasons Griffey has walked a ton. With a year to alter his conditioning to prepare to DH, which flirtation with remaining in the National League presumably precluded him from doing last year, and another year to adjust to American League pitchers, Griffey may be vastly improved this season.

The signing of Chone Figgins , one of this year’s top free agents, was all-but-inevitable if Figgins was interested in coming to Seattle. He was, and is signed on to be a Mariner for the next four seasons. Figgins is an adequate defensive third baseman (his 18.8 UZR/150 may be an anomaly, or he is coming into his own at the position, where he played the most innings of his career last season). However, Figgins will almost certainly be an offensive upgrade over Adrian Beltre . He’s a better fit for Safeco Field than Beltre, and gives the team their most ideal No. 2 hitter since a young Alex Rodriguez.

The team also re-signed Jack Wilson. Wilson is a defensive specialist, but perhaps the best defensive shortstop in the game when healthy. Wilson wasn’t completely healthy very much last year in his short time with the Mariners, and such as a defensive specialist, his bat didn’t offset the detriment his injuries had on his defense. With J.J. Hardy available this offseason, and some other young shortstops available, Wilson’s retention was curious. I heavily criticized the trade when it occurred, and remain perplexed at Zduriencik’s sustained interest in the no-bat shortstop. However, he’s a large defensive upgrade over last year’s opening day shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.

They also made a few smaller moves. They offered arbitration to Adrian Beltre, which he declined, in order to pursue a long-term contract. He declined, and as a Type B free agent, the team will be compensated with a sandwich-round pick as long as Beltre signs elsewhere before next years draft.

The team opted against offering arbitration to Erik Bedard . He’d likely have accepted, and based on previous seasons could have received a pay raise, and given his present and past injuries, it was far safer for the team to continue washing their hands of the Bill Bavasi era.

Then the team, unbeknownst to even the deepest insiders, became involved in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes. Obviously, they didn’t acquire Halladay, but shipped prospects to Philadelphia for Cliff Lee, presumably helping restock the Phillies farm system after the team handed over their top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek to the Blue Jays.

But acquiring Lee, especially in the same offseason as the team let a banged-up Bedard leave, could have been a PR disaster. The team’s farm system has been crippled by the Bedard trade, which netted the Orioles top prospect Adam Jones, along with Chris Tillman, who could pitch in the upper-half of the team’s rotation next season, and lefty-reliever George Sherrill, among other players.

However, for all intents and purposes, the Mariners traded spare, incomplete parts for the lefty-ace. The top prospect in the deal, Phillippe Aumont , had been converted to a reliever this offseason, and had spent much of his minor league career rehabbing injuries.

While Aumont is a high-risk prospect with a ton of talent, the other two prospects, Tyson Gillies and Juan Ramirez are relative unknowns in terms of potential. Each played last season for the Advanced A High Desert Mavericks, who play in notoriously offensive-friendly Adelanto, California (they lost a game last year in which they scored 18 runs, an oddity. But even more odd, they lost by 15 runs, 33-18). So Gillies crazy stat line (.341/.430/.486) may be as inflated as Juan Ramirez is inflated—the wrong way (8-10, 5.12 ERA, 140.2 IP).

The bottom line, however, is that while Aumont’s pitch repertoire profiles as a top prospect, the other two have very limited peaks. But Lee gives the Mariners flexibility next season.

For example, if Felix Hernandez wanted an indication that the team is committed to building a winner, he got it. If he’s unwilling to stay, the team could potentially trade him for a boatload of top prospects and work on extending Lee.

If the team is out of contention at the trade deadline next year, and Lee is unwilling to sign, the Mariners may be able to get a package close to what Philadelphia gave up for Lee.

If Lee isn’t interest in an extension, and the team is in contention, when he leaves in the offseason he’ll likely garner Type A status, meaning the team will receive two draft picks for the Ace.

So while I’m not completely on-board with Zduriencik’s hell-bent attitude toward ridding the organization of all things Bavasi, his impressive, albeit short track record, precedes his decisions at this point.

In Jack we trust.

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One Comment

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    December 19, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Are you a professional journalist? You write very well.

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