The season closed with a glimpse into the future. Felix Hernandez was dominant, going 8 2/3 innings and giving up just 4 hits with 8 strikeouts on just 106 pitches before giving way albeit reluctantly to J.J. Putz who was seeking his 40th save and got it in the 4-2 season ending victory.
Hernandez was derailed at the beginning of this season with an arm injury that stole his consistency. In his first two starts of the year against Oakland and Boston, Felix pitched 17 innings of scoreless baseball and gave up just 3 hits while striking out 18. In short, the phenom was phenomenal and looked to be on the way to having a break through season, eclipsing the 20-win plateau and surpassing 200 innings and strikeouts easily. The injury robbed him of his consistency all year but yesterday you saw how good he can be when he settles down and focuses on how he’s pitching, which he will do. Hernandez needs to be more consistent. He needs to allow fewer hits which will ultimately lead to fewer runs. He needs to put hitters away when he gets an 0-2, 1-2 count instead of going to 3 balls which he does far too often. In his last 12 starts of the season, the Mariners went 11-1 and Felix was 7-1. In his last 12 starts he showed finally that he can be the 20-win ace that the Mariners need next season.
And speaking of next season that is where the Mariners and their front office and their fans now turn. A crucial offseason to say the least is now under way and the first order of business is answering the situation of their own players who are now free agents. Guys like Jose Guillen, Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez, their status needs to be determined.
Guillen wants an extension of 3+ years at at least $10 million per annum. Guillen was a pleasant surprise to most people this season (including the entire local media) but not to myself. He perhaps plays the hardest of anybody on the team not to mention being a passionate, vocal leader who is great to have in the clubhouse. However, unless you unload some big contracts like Richie Sexson’s $14 million and Raul Ibanez’s $5.5 million a year, then you just can’t re-sign him. This team has to much young talent — namely Adam Jones, Wladimir Balentien, Jeff Clement and Mike Morse — and they need to play now. So that’s what you do with Guillen, you wait until you’re able to trade Sexson, Ibanez or Vidro and perhaps even Ben Broussard and then sign him. As far as Weaver and Ramirez — a thought towards bringing them back for another year of catastrophe should never enter the head.
Much of the writers in Seattle are suggesting that the Mariners front office start making deals involving their talented young players. I don’t see the point. While one writer, Steve Kelley, points to the deal of Absdrubal Cabrera (a 21 year old shortstop who was never considered in the top 5 of the Mariners prospects, not to mention plays the same position as Yuniesky Betancourt) for platoon DH Eduardo Perez who played all of 2 months for the Mariners as a main reason for Bavasi to be axed but then goes on to say that Bavasi should now trade away the rest of the Mariners young talent for a pitcher that might cost them $25 million a year (Johan Santana). Regardless of whether or not Santana can be had, you don’t trade top prospects for a veteran or veterans. All you end up doing is increasing your payroll and revolution cycle. Instead of having a player anchor a position for 10 years, you are left constantly addressing it every other year. Stick with the prospects, lower the payroll and watch a) the wins start adding up b) the fans fill the seats and c) the future — as well as the present — look brighter than ever.
With all of that being said, I hope you’ll understand these positions as set in stone for next year: 2B Jose Lopez (sign a veteran to push him and get him working hard on a regimen that allows him to maintain his strong first halfs over the course of the entire season), SS Yuniesky Betancourt, 3B Adrian Beltre, LF Wladimir Balentien, CF Ichiro Suzuki, RF Adam Jones, closer J.J. Putz, #1 starter Felix Hernandez, #4 or 5 starter Jarrod Washburn and long reliever slash set-up man slash #6 starter Miguel Batista a.k.a swiss army knife.
This leaves essentially 8 players fighting for 3 positions. Guillen, Ibanez, Sexson, Vidro, Broussard and Mike Morse all will be vying to make the team and obtain the DH or 1B role with Jeff Clement in that consideration as well but also fighting with Kenji Johjima for the starting catcher job. Here’s what should be done:
- Because Raul Ibanez is your best trade bait, package him and someone like Ryan Frierabend, Cha Sueng Baek or Broussard for a starting pitcher like Brad Penny or Dontrelle Willis (who I would prefer)
- Trade Richie Sexson and his $14 million contract to whoever is willing to take it no matter how much of it you have to pay. Remember you’d be paying it anyways and still getting no return while he sits on the bench. Might as well unload him for whatever you can get and rid yourself of the headache that his mendoza-line batting average brings.
- re-sign Jose Guillen to a 3 yr $25-30 million deal
- Trade or just DFA Vidro and Broussard (unless they’re willing to accept a bench role)
- Sign starting pitcher Kyle Lohse
- As mentioned above, move Miguel Batista to the bullpen
- Sign 2B Mark Loretta to a one year deal to push Lopez
- Last but certainly not least, convert Brandon Morrow successfully to the starting rotation.
Your 2008 25 man roster:
- CF Ichiro Suzuki $16.1 million
- LF Adam Jones $ 390K
- RF Jose Guillen $9 million (approx.)
- DH Wladimir Balentien $ a couple hundred K
- 3B Adrian Beltre $12 million
- 1B Jeff Clement $ a couple hundred K
- C Kenji Johjima $5.2 million
- SS Yuniesky Betancourt $1.33 million
- 2B Jose Lopez $500K
- Felix Hernandez $500K
- Dontrelle Willis $7 million (approx.)
- Brandon Morrow $380K
- Jarrod Washburn $10 million
- Kyle Lohse $5 million (approx.)
Closer: RHP J.J. Putz $3.4 million
Set-up man: RHP Mark Lowe $390K
LHP George Sherrill $2.5 million
RHP Sean Green $430K
LHP Eric O’Flaherty $420K
RHP Ryan Rowland-Smith $390K
RHP Miguel Batista $9 million
Util. Mike Morse $ a couple hundred K
2B Mark Loretta $2.5 million (approx.)
C Jamie Burke $800K
1B/DH Ben Broussard $3.5 million
TOTAL EST. 2008 SALARY CAP: $91.73 (25 man); including Sexson, Vidro contracts…$111.73