Thursday, January 06, 2005

M's Should Never HAVE to Trade 

Was reading the PI's article on the Pokey signing and the non-signing of Odalis Perez, and came across this paragraph:
Seattle would have had to make a trade if Perez had said yes, and the Mariners may have to make a trade now that Perez has said no. That's because there isn't much affordable pitching left on the free-agent market.
Its that first sentence that bothers me. The Mariners would have HAD to make a trade if Perez had said yes. The worst move of the Bill Bavasi era occurred when he HAD to make a trade to free a few million dollars in budget. After signing Rich Aurilia to be our shortstop, Bavasi acted as if he HAD to trade Carlos Guillen.

Now, most of us thought that replacing Guillen with Aurilia might be a slight offensive upgrade short term, but looked like it could be a bad decision long-term. That may be the understatement of the 2004 offseason. Personally, I think getting rid of Guillen was certainly in the best interest of the Mariners and Guillen. There had been too much saida little too much baggage in Seattle and I don't think Carlos would have taken that step up to the next level in a Mariner uniform. So the idea of trading Carlos Guillen is fine with me as well. It was a calculated risk.

But by announcing to the media for weeks (months?) that any deal for a shortstop (Tejada, Vizquel, Aurilia) would HAVE to be accompanied with a trade, the Mariners completely painted themselves into a corner. This might have been fine after signing Tejada, because the M's would have had a large number of potential trading partners to negotiate with. But by the time the M's ended up with Aurilia, the number of teams looking for a shortstop had dwindled to one, the Detroit Tigers. And since our reason for trading Guillen were financial (to stay under budget after signing Aurilia), we took what we could get which turned about to be Ramon Santiago, better known as Pokey Lite (some of the defense with even less hitting, yikes!)

We all know what happened. Aurilia was a bust, and Martinez was just as bad or worse. Well, what would have happened if we did not feel pressured to trade Guillen to stay under budget.

Carlos Guillen would have started the year as a backup, but gotten playing time as he outperformed Rich Aurilia. At this point, the M's could have decided that Carlos Guillen was their shortstop for the next few years (which they would have done if he played as well as he did for the 2004 Tigers), or (if 2003 Guillen repeated in 2004 and they decided he would be too pricy) they could have leisurely pursued the best trade offers as they did for Freddy Garcia.

The problem was, the M's had committed to trading Carlos Guillen at EXACTLY the same time as they were going to sign Rich Aurilia. Even though they had plenty of time to modify their team to keep the final numbers under budget. As it turned out, Kaz Sasaki left a $7 million plus present for the M's shortly after Guillen was dealt, and this money was never spent. It could easily have covered Guillen's salary, and we would probably be looking at Carlos Guillen at shortstop this season and liking our chances to win the AL West considerably more.

Unfortunately, the Mariners front office does not seem to have learned its lesson. Right now, they have tied any signing of or trade for a front line starting pitcher to a necessary salary dump of Randy Winn or Raul Ibanez. Why paint yourself into this corner? It makes no sense to me. You have more than three months until Opening Day during which you can make a trade! What's the rush?! Why announce to your competitors that you will deal at a discount to save money? I assume they are trying to set expectations with the fan base. Screw that. Do damage control AFTER the trade is made. Then you can negotiate from a position of strength.

Bavasi was masterful this offseason in showing what flexibility can do for you in the free agent market. By being willing to pursue Carlos Delgado AND Richie Sexson simultaneously, he helped to land the prize he sought in Adrian Beltre. And he used the media to push how flexible the M's were (we can put Sexson in left field!) The M's need to discuss how excited they are to have outfield depth, and what a fantastic luxury it is. Then a team in need of an outfielder (and ideally with excess pitching) can approach THEM for a trade and we negotiate from a position of strength (we REALLY like having our DH be our 4th outfielder, but if we can talk about Ben Sheets, I might be willing to discuss Randy Winn...)

Here's hoping that the M's will use not try to continually harp on the budget in the media. Let it be approximated or guessed at to control expectations on free agent signings. But stop talking about players that we HAVE to trade to save payroll. I never want to see another trade like the Carlos Guillen Debacle. We want more Freddy Garcia trades.

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