Ask the Diamond Genius 12/1

Jason A. Churchill answers your questions in the third installment of "Ask the Diamond Genius."

Q: What is your opinion of M's prospect Jon Nelson? I can't seem to find much information on him.
-Dustin Jeffords, Ft. Lewis, WA

DG: Nelson was drafted by the M's three different times and was finally signed in 2001. After a huge 2002 season in the Northwest League where he led the league in homeruns. Nelson, from the great state of Utah, made the progression to full season "A" ball and despite an awful strikeouts to walks ratio of 168 to 16, the righty slugger played well. Nelson, 23, needs to make a splash in 2004 and improve upon his plate skills to retain his prospect status. Mainly a first baseman, the M's 26th round pick in 2001 can also play some OF and use his better than average speed to run down line drives. Nelson can launch the fastball with the best of the M's minor leaguers and simply needs to make more contact to maximize his potential.

Q: How does Rett Johnson fit into the plans for the Mariners pitching staff in 2004?
-Mark Maneig, San Juan, WA

DG: Johnson will be given a shot to earn the fifth spot in the rotation in spring training provided that there is an opening with Freddy Garcia's status up in the air. Johnson and Rafael Soriano would be the first two options to fill the rotation out.

Q: Why do the M's continue their cheap ways and sign guys like Raul Ibanez instead of getting into the bidding for top-flight free agents such as Vladimir Guerrero and Miguel Tejada?
-Chris Hatye, Lacey, WA

DG: Another shot at the M's ownership group, eh? Spending 90+ million per year doesn't seem to be enough for some people. The Mariner management and ownership representatives have spent over $250 million on payroll since the start of the 2001 season, which ranks No. 3 behind the Evil Yankees and the LA Dodgers. The signing of Raul Ibanez wasn't "cheap," it was financially intelligent. Instead of tossing $10-15 million per season in long term contracts to Tejada or Guerrero, the M's are planning on adding upgrades at several positions as well as retaining their own free agents such as relievers Arthur Rhodes and Shigetoshi Hasegawa. While Guerrero remains out of the question, Tejada is still a possibility. As stated above however, the M's are not interested to the tune of six and seven year deals for big money. Currently the M's and A's are both waiting out the market to see where Tejada lands in it. Many teams are cutting payroll, and many are standing pat with where they were in 2003, leaving just a handful of clubs scanning the market for the higher end players. If Tejada's contract demands drop from the assumed five or more years and 10-14 million per season, look for the M's to get involved. By the way Chris, let me ask you a question. Why is it so important for the M's to have a $15 million player? The Angels, Marlins, and Diamondbacks won it all without one single player making more than 13 million per season. The Angels and Marlins had one each in double digits. (Ivan Rodriguez, 10.0 mil, Kevin Appier, 10.0 mil)

Q: Do you think Bob Melvin is a championship caliber manager? Can he take the M's to where we have all been dying to go for so many years?
-Michelle Burles, Bainbridge, WA

DG: Whether Bob Melvin is a "championship caliber" manager or not is really impossible to tell after one season. I think the M's brass certainly believes he has the fire deep down and the baseball intelligence to lead the team. Managers do not win championships, however, players do. Bob Brenley didn't win the World Series for the Diamondbacks in 2001. Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Luis Gonzalez did. The manager sets the tone, and makes moves according to the talent he has. Melvin stated in October that in 2004 he would make more "Melvin-like" moves and do some things he refrained from doing in 2003. Ask me this question again next November.

Q: What is the M's fascination with minor leaguers? The management seems to cling to them like they are gold and refuse to trade them for useful parts to the ML club.
-Andy Grace, Seattle, WA

DG: I personally subscribe to the old adage that prospects are nothing but suspects, but the farm system is a valuable commodity in building a consistent successful franchise. The New York Yankees take a lot of heat for all of their spending but if you look at the core of players they have, many came from within the or minor league system. Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Alfonso Soriano, Mariano Rivera, Nick Johnson, and Jorge Posada were all Yankee farmhands. The Mariners simply do not want to trade away their prospective future for short-term answers. Pat Gillick has stated that if there were a long-term answer to a position the M's needed they would have traded the necessary prospects. Many believe the player he had in mind was Brian Giles. New GM Bill Bavasi is probably somewhat different in the way he looks at things but he surely isn't going to go out and trade away the farm for a one or two year fix. Moves like those hinder the franchise financially because they are forced to go out and fill that hole created by the trade with free agents who cost a lot more dough.

Q: Will the Mariners change their offensive strategy in 2004, after the collapse in both 2002 and 2003?
-Donna Romero, Lakewood, CA

DG: No. The strategy has to remain the same in a ballpark like SAFECO Field. Trying to change things up and swing for the fences will only result in more frustration and failure. The personnel will be very similar with the exception of a few new faces, therefore the hitting scheme is still the same old "get on base, move him over, knock him in" philosophy. The differences you will see will be the more aggressive attack on the bases by manager Bob Melvin with Ichiro, and speedsters like Randy Winn and Mike Cameron if they are to return.

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