Friday, October 26, 2007

What Will the Off-Season Hold for Seattle? [Snave]

When you are a Seattle Mariners fan lately, it never seems too early to be thinking about the off-season. Considering the many holes in their roster, the Mariners had a surprisingly good season in 2007, finishing at 88-74. That was good enough for second place behind the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the American League West. During the Hot Stove League of 2007-2008, Seattle’s General Manager Bill Bavasi will face the daunting task of finding better pitching, among many other things.

For better or for worse, the ballclub continued Bavasi’s job for next year. They also decided to give interim field manager John McLaren the job of manager. McLaren named his coaching staff this week, keeping only the M’s hitting coach Jeff Pentland from the 2007 staff. New additions include pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, former major-league manager Jim Riggleman as bench coach, and ex-Red and Mariner reliever Norm Charlton as bullpen coach. Eddie Rodriguez will coach at first base, and Larry Bowa will possibly be added as third base coach.

With that out of the way, once the World Series ends you should expect the Mariners to inquire about two available Japanese starting pitchers, Hiroki Kuroda and Koji Uehara. Both pitchers are 32 years old, and both are righthanders. For his career, Kuroda is 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA. Uehara is 106-57, 2.96. Both have fairly good WHIPs. It is unsure how either of these pitchers would fare in America’s major leagues, but given the Seattle Mariners’ association with Nintendo and their history of signing Japanese players, it is fairly likely the M’s will sign one of, if not both Kuroda and Uehara.

Other options include trading for starting pitching. Bavasi was roundly panned by baseball’s other GMs and in the press during last year’s winter meetings for his ill-advised trade of set-up man Rafael Soriano to the Atlanta Braves for SP Horacio Ramirez. People questioned his trade of OF Chris Snelling and RP Emiliano Fruto to the Nationals for Jose Vidro, who became the Mariners’ DH. The signings of Jose Guillen and Jeff Weaver were also questioned. Weaver generally pitched horribly, and his good stretch during the midseason was probably not enough to keep him with the Mariners for 2008. With Bavasi doing the trading, what could the Mariners reap in trades this winter? The track record indicates “not much”, and what is acquired could be of very questionable value. The White Sox’ Jon Garland is one name that has been bandied about by bloggers and sportswriters as a Seattle trade target. Young Felix Hernandez and Jose Batista appear to be set in the 2008 rotation, as does Jarrod Washburn unless he is traded; slots 4 and 5 are up for grabs.

The Mariners organization is also faced with other tough decisions, including whether or not to re-sign right-fielder Jose Guillen to a multi-year contract after he proved himself to still have plenty of skills after injuries (.290, 23 HR, 99 RBI, .447 SLG, .773 OPS), and that he’s capable of good behavior and clubhouse leadership. Waiting in the wings is RF Wladimir Balentien, 23 in July. He posted great numbers at AAA Tacoma in 2007 with 24 HRs, 84 RBI, a .291 BA, 15 SBs and an .871 OPS. Should Seattle sign Guillen to a 2-3 year deal, or give Balentien the job to lose, while using their “Guillen money” for a free-agent pitcher? It is a tough call, but from all indications the ballclub is leaning toward not re-signing Guillen.

The team seems set with Kenji Johjima behind the plate, a somewhat resurgent Adrian Beltre at 3B, the steady Raul Ibanez as LF/1B/DH, youngster Adam Jones (25 HRs, 94 RBI, .967 OPS in AAA in 2007) in LF, Yunuiesky Betancourt at SS, and of course Ichiro Suzuki in CF. Jose Lopez will probably man the 2B position again next season.

The bullpen looks decent for 2008, with lights-out J.J. Putz and LH set-up man George Sherrill both locks. Youngsters Brandon Morrow, Sean Green and Eric O’Flaherty all pitched well at times and showed good major-league upside, although Morrow may be tried as a starting pitcher this spring, thus the Mariners may also be looking for some late-innings right-handed pitching help.

Does any team out there want 1B Richie Sexson, he of declining skills and large contract? How about Jose Vidro, a very smart hitter but who has bad legs and very little to offer in the way of power? Light-hitting but slick-fielding CF Jeremy Reed, anyone? 1B/LF Ben Broussard? (He plays a good guitar, anyway…)

There are moves to be made. Is the outlook rosy when the Mariners’ GM is widely considered to be one of the worst GMs in baseball? Not really… but even the blind squirrel finds the nut once in a while. And in baseball, hope springs eternal, even for Seattle Mariners fans!

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