Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Victims of Our Own Success 

One of the things people forget when watching the machinations of the Mariners Front Office is what a good team we already have. This makes it harder to improve the Mariners than it is to improve the Detroit Tigers or the San Diego Padres.

The Sons of Buhner lauds Padres GM Kevin Towers for his moves to rebuild the Petco kids and soon will do a similar piece on how the Royals had a much better offseason than the Mariners. Whether we agree or disagree on a particular move, I think we can agree that the Royals and Padres had much more room for improvement than the M's.

The M's blogosphere can be a tricky place. The Padres get kudos for finding Phil Nevin off the scrapheap, but when the M's find Bret Boone, it is regarded as luck. Steve at Mariners Wheelhouse sent me an email in respone to my entry, Scott Spiezio... The Next Bret Boone that said:

I also would not give the Mariners "credit" for finding Boone. Gillick had no expectation that Boone would do what he did in 2001. Gillick was just hoping to add a bit of power at second base, and Boone was available and cheap.

Yet, who had Bret Boone right under their very nose? That's right - the Padres and GM Kevin Towers. And Towers tried his hardest to turn Cirillo and Ramon Hernandez into Jason Kendall and his Contract of Doom before ownership nixed the deal. $40M for a singles hitting catcher? Shades of Guillen for Vizquel without the hue and cry.

Bavasi and company had a wishlist of improvements to make this offseason, they may not have made the moves you like, but they did make improvements.
Fortunately, the amount of improvement one can make on an excellent team is not as large as the amount you can make on a bad team.

Bavasi had a plan, and while the execution was not perfect, the M's are a better team heading into 2004 than they were heading into 2003.

1) Add outfield pop - Maybe the organization should have lavished more love on Cameron, but the fact was he couldn't hit at Safeco. Its best for him to leave, and better that we make it easy. The best bats (Vlad, Sheffield) were unlikely to sign in Seattle unless we paid over market rates (which were already very high). So, M's brass decided to go for a former Mariner with good character and who was coming off two straight big seasons. Unless Vlad or Sheffield were signed, no upgrade here was going to be seen as very substantial.

2) Replace Carlos Guillen - I'm assuming that character/chemistry issues played a part in this. Unfortunately, Miguel Tejada ended up costing too much, which was our best shot at a big upgrade. Should we have gone 6/$72M? Maybe, but I'm glad we didn't. I like Rich Aurilia as well as Guillen, and their contracts would have been pretty similar (3.5 vs. 3.4 million) if Guillen would have stayed healthy. But Guillen wouldn't have, which is the whole point. As for what we got for Guillen, Santiago is a prospect that was rushed. On a World Series team like the M's he won't be more than a backup, but he's got a chance to have a decent career ahead of him.

3) Replace Cirillo - Scott Spiezio will be the next Bret Boone. Period. What other 3B was available? As far as what we got for Cirillo, I'll contend that all three on their own are easier to trade and potentially more useful, and certainly won't be a giant sucking sound as far as team chemistry goes.

4) Reconfigure Bullpen - Rhodes sucked in second half and in his trials as a closer, while Guardado has dominated and finished strong last year. A creative contract that set him up to be closer when Sasaki departs.

5) Retain Starters - Plan A seemed to be to trade Freddy for a big bat, and keep the other four. Instead, no Freddy deal materializes yet. In meantime, we REWARD our players by keeping and resigning them, not imagining problems like Ryan Franklin's ERA blowing up with loss of Cameron. If that happens, then we have plenty of depth to deal from.

6) Upgrade bench - We didn't use Colbrunn last year, so did straight swap for him and more versatile McCracken. Colbrunn was essentially signed to be the DH when Edgar gets hurt, and was not going to get that opportunity. A big bat would be nice, but its hard to sign a big bat to sit on the bench. Matt Stairs gets playing time in KC he would not get here. And if we have a major injury, we have pitching to trade and Chris Snelling and Justin Leone playing full-time in the minors, ready for the call.

When you follow every move, and dream about the possibilities, you can make the M's a better team. But sometimes, players don't want to play somewhere, or another team wants a player more, because they have a bigger need. The Angels weren't planning on Vlad, but they were lucky enough that the Orioles were the only other player, that they had the Latino community Vlad wanted, and the big money when the opportunity arose. Hats off to them for good luck. And now the M's may take advantage of similar luck to land Pudge Rodriguez. But the blogosphere will decry the M's as "lucky" if they get Pudge at a good price, while they will laud the Angels for getting Vlad at a nice price.

Take some time to look at the Mariners, AS THEY ARE, not as they could have been if they had gone after player A or player B. Give credit when it is due, even if it looks like luck. And we'll look forward to the M's-Padres World Series in 2004!

Oh yeah - thanks to the one mention at U.S.S. Mariner, my traffic tripled yesterday. Have I mentioned how much I love those guys, and am really looking forward to making their blogosphere links :-)

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