Hot Questions at the Hot Corner
The Mariners will have plenty of options this off-season and have seemed to indicate that third base will be a position they will look to upgrade offensively. The candidates include holdovers, free agents and players that could be available via trade.
Scott Spiezio: There really is no easy way to spin this as a positive. Spiezio started by injuring his back late in spring training and never found his bat. The M's had hoped that Spiezio could hit at or near his career numbers, while moving back to a position he played early in his career and throughout his time in the minor leagues. Instead, he had career lows in batting average (.215), on-base percentage (.288) and slugging percentage (.346). Although it would seem more likely for Spiezio to have better numbers in 2005, it would be hard to imagine the M's opening the season with him at third base.
Justin Leone: The Mariner's Minor League Player of the Year in 2003, Leone began the season in AAA Tacoma putting up big power numbers. As it became clear that the 2004 Mariner season was a lost cause, Leone was one of the players to earn a promotion. Leone's power quickly made a contribution as his first career home run, put the Mariner's in the lead to stay in their victory over Cleveland on July 15, a narrow 2-1 win. Unfortunately, Leone's audition was cut short after 102 at-bats by a broken hand. While Leone displayed some power, he struggled overall at the plate - fanning far too many times - and in the field, where he had nine errors in limited starts. It doesn't sound like Leone is part of the M's plans in 2005, but he could be an option should the M's fail to upgrade.
Jose Lopez: Could a holdover from the 2004 Mariners who did not play a single game at third base be considered for the position in 2005? Well, it depends. Some see Lopez' future at third base, not shortstop. If the Mariner's agree, and sign a free agent shortstop, Lopez could be moved to third base, a place where his extra-base power could fit right in over the course of his career.
Greg Dobbs: Dobbs entered the major leagues in a big way, becoming the first Mariner to homer in their first at-bat on Sept. 3 against Cleveland. After missing virtually the entire 2003 season with an achilles injury, look for Dobbs to be the full time third baseman at Tacoma next season.
Jolbert Cabrera and Willie Bloomquist: Assuming both of these players will be back, neither will be the starting third baseman barring an off-season disaster, at least lets hope not.
Adrian Beltre: Is he the player that put up MVP-caliber numbers in 2004, playing half his games in a pitcher-friendly park where he hit .334 with 48 home runs and 121 RBI, or is he just a one-year wonder? At the age of 25, Beltre already has 147 career home runs and should be entering the prime of his career and is considered a gold-glove caliber third baseman. He will be high on the Mariner's list of free agent targets, but don't expect him to come cheap as his is represented by Scott Boras. Consider Beltre a long-shot at best.
Troy Glaus: The Angels third baseman since 1999 has missed large portions of the last two seasons battling a shoulder injury. However, Glaus did return to the Angles lineup as a designated hitter for the last month of Anaheim's push to the playoffs. Injury concerns aside, Glaus has always shown tremendous power and at age 28, already has two seasons with 40 or more home runs and three seasons with 100 or more RBI. Assuming the shoulder is sound, Glaus would be a great fit in the middle of the Mariner lineup. His chances of being a Mariners? Probably about 20 percent.
Corey Koskie: Doesn't this sound like Scott Spiezio all over again? Here's an older player (he'll be 32 next June) whose numbers dropped off this past season. Koskie drove in 103 runs on 2001 but hasn't driven in more than 71 in any other season. There are better ways for the M's to spend their money than on Koskie, but that doesn't change the fact that he's available.
Other Free Agents: Joe Randa, Shea Hillenbrand, Tony Batista
Mike Lowell: It was reported last week that perhaps the Marlins would look to deal Lowell, who contains a unique opt-out in his contract if the Marlins do not secure stadium financing by November 1. The details of the opt-out are sketchy, however, and if they were to deal him (assuming no strange contractual clauses), he would be an excellent candidate in a potential trade. The Marlins are said to be looking for an outfielder, and would move promising young talent Miguel Cabrera to third base in that scenario. Randy Winn or Raul Ibanez anyone?
Pedro Feliz / Edgardo Alfonzo: The Giants could possibly be looking to move one of these this off-season. The M's hopefully wouldn't be interested in Alfonzo, but the 27-year-old Feliz, who hit .276 with 22 home runs and 84 RBI could be a player on the rise. Would the Giants be interested in Randy Winn hitting in front of Bonds?
Sean Burroughs: There were some rumors earlier this season that the Padres would be willing to part with their youngster at the hot corner. Burroughs would be an interesting possibility if it were not for his complete lack of power shown so far in his career. The Mariners already have that, and would be better off finding some power at the third base position.
Casey Blake: Keep in mind that the Indians signed third baseman Aaron Boone to a contract this past season, perhaps making Blake expendable. Blake has shown some power in the last two seasons with the Indians.
Look for the Mariners to focus their attention on free agents Beltre and Glaus, two young sluggers who will command big-dollar, multi-year contracts but would solidify the position for years. One of those two could very well open the 2005 season at third base for the M's. If neither signs, look for the M's to move on to signing a free agent shortstop and move Lopez to third base.
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