Will the M's Go 'Bel Shopping?

Whether it's Adrian Beltre or Carlos Beltran, the Mariners should buck their own trend and go hard after both players when the free agent market opens in three weeks. Furthermore, GM Bill Bavasi will be all over the phones to the agents of Carlos Delgado, Richie Sexson, and possibly Troy Glaus in attempts to fill the cavities in the teeth of the Mariners roster

It's a general manager's dream to have buckets of cash to throw out at the game's best free agents in the off season and that very scenario is what Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi has out in front of him.

But just because there is money to be spent doesn't make the job any easier. The available payroll has to be allocated wisely to fill as many holes with the best players possible.

There is always a public debate on exactly how much money is waiting to be spent and what the team payroll is to be for the coming season. CEO Howard Lincoln has come out the past few seasons and pretty much given the public a number that the team is willing to spend on player payroll. This season Lincoln's comments were very different.

Instead of a self-imposed cap number and a promise to do their best, Lincoln had something else to tell the Mariners faithful and it had a lot to do with the ownership being willing to go further than they have ever gone before. To the suits it means "taking a loss" but in reality it is simply a matter of going above and beyond the target payroll-to-revenue plan of 50 percent.

The Mariners have never been forthright in talks of player payroll and seem to always come up with a different number than most of the media and fans ever dig up.

With the assistance of the M's themselves and many other sources, putting together the "actual" taxable payroll is more than possible. It's been done.

Without knowing to what extent the ownership would go for payroll it's impossible to produce an "available payroll" number but if we assumed that the harnesses they put on last season's payroll were simply rolled over into 2005, then the difference between committed salaries and that $95 million dollar limit fall somewhere between $24 million and $30 million, depending on arbitration decisions and the team's own free agents.

Recent reports that the team has between $20 million and $22 million to spend are simply skewed toward what 2004's "actual" payroll was instead of the original number that was specifically stated as "north of $95 million" by Lincoln last winter.

With committed dollars for players under contract in 2005 the salaries total between $61 million and $68 million, again depending on team controlled contracts, arbitration decisions and the team's own free agents, the Mariners have as much or more available funds than any team this side of the Bronx to spend on rebuilding the team.

So why not shove a tray full of cash in front of the top free agents and retool this team the right way? Go after Carlos Beltran and Adrian Beltre. Make an honest push for J.D Drew and Carlos Delgado.

The money is there.

Spending the $15+ million to land Beltran scares some fans. They think it handcuffs the ability to fill the other major holes that the club has. This is only true if you believe the Mariners are spending enough money already.

Thanks to our friend Jeff Sullivan over at our favorite M's blog, LeoneForThird, the verdict is in and the M's are guilty.

Guilty of spending less of a percentage of their total revenues than every team that has made the postseason the past two years. Guilty of leading the public to think they spend like the big boys when they really don't and never have.

In 2003, the M's revenues totaled $169 million and the team payroll was just shy of $95 million meaning the M's spent roughly 56 percent of their total revenues on team payroll, ranking them 21st in the league in that category.

Yeah, 21st. Among the teams that ranked ahead of them were the Oakland A's, Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos as well as all eight teams that made the postseason this year.

That is a disturbing list of teams that are far more committed than the Mariners. The Expos? The Blue Jays? Oakland? Scary thought.

So what might the Seattle Mariners have in store for 2005? Well, that all depends on what Lincoln meant by "taking a loss."

If there truly is $25 million or less to spend on free agents than perhaps adding a Carlos Beltran and maybe even an Adrian Beltre probably isn't plausible.

But if the Mariners are serious about becoming contenders again, and immediately, they won't hesitate to shoot up the charts of payroll-to-revenue percentages and return this franchise to respectability and beyond where it belongs.

The Mariners should go to every extent to land Beltran and or Beltre and any attempts that fall short of that is a futile push to make fans happy.

Sure there are other quality free agents that could easily make this club better and if the M's landed two of them the club would be affected immensely and most fans would be excited.

One possibility is Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado. The slugger's left-handed power bat is something the Mariners haven't seen since the days of Griffey and Delgado would immediately become the team's most productive hitter. Delgado, 32, has had a lot of success at Safeco and would likely be looking for at least three years and somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million a season.

Another potential target is Anaheim Angels third baseman Troy Glaus. Glaus is just 28-years-old and has his prime years still ahead of him but has had injury problems that have limited the former UCLA standout to less than 150 games in the past two seasons combined. The latest injury to his throwing shoulder could affect his play at the hot corner and thus could scare teams off of the dollars he would normally command.

Glaus is expected to command a similar dollar amount as Delgado but could receive a longer deal than Delgado due to the age differential.

When healthy, Glaus is one of the most dangerous sluggers in the game and was the 2002 World Series MVP.

Another first baseman on the market is Washington State native Richie Sexson. Sexson will be 30 when opening day arrives and is coming off of shoulder surgery of his own that limited him to just 28 games in a Diamondback uniform.

Heavily in talks with Arizona already, Sexson is said to be looking for about $8.5 million per season for at least three seasons. The hometown factor won't play very well in the M's favor since Sexson grew up in Southern Washington and has spent most his adult life in the Portland area. Also, the draw to come home and play has never really peaked Sexson's interest and it's likely that he stays in Arizona and may never even hit the open market.

The direction the M's go via free agency isn't restricted to corner infielders as there are a few intriguing outfielders available.

The best of the group is Braves right fielder J.D. Drew. Injuries are a part of Drew's equation as well since prior to 2004 the 28-year-old had never put together a full season on the field. After his best year as a pro, Drew is primed and ready to cash out and get the long term deal every player wants. While this may or may not be something the Braves can offer him, it's probably more unlikely that Drew would consider Seattle than it is for Beltran and Beltre.

Following Drew is yet another injured free agent whose stock has dropped considerably because of the nature of the injury and the fact that he just had surgery late this summer. White Sox right fielder Magglio Ordonez won't get the contract he would have had he been healthy this season and could be a steal to a team willing to take a chance on a short-term basis. The Mariners aren't likely to get into serious talks with Ordonez but if late in the free agent period he is still dangling out there, don't be surprised if the Mariners make a play for him and toss him in left field.

The M's are known to want at least one starting pitcher as well as a few impact bats and all three are more than possible, but only if the ownership is truly committed to erasing the sour memories of this past season.

It's more than possible to add Beltran or Beltre, as well as Delgado, Glaus or Sexson, and still add a quality starting pitcher. Not under the reported twenty-something million available, of course, but the M's could add payroll to get to the $105 million mark and still not rank in the top 10 in percentage of revenue's used toward player payroll. They would still rank behind the likes of the Oakland A's, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and even the Minnesota Twins.

No, it's probably not realistic to expect this group to do that kind of damage on the open market, but it sure won't be because they can't.

Expect Bavasi to land one of the bigger bats, but it's unlikely that Beltre or Beltran end up in a Mariners uniform. Should Delgado sign in Seattle and the consensus becomes that Beltran and Beltre are out of the question, the attention would likely shift to Glaus or an outfielder.

Adding a pitcher shouldn't be the toughest thing to do with a park like Safeco backing the offer but adding bats is a chore that the M's have never been able to finish.

Two factors may decide whether the most important off season in franchise history turns out well or is a topical failure that is talked about for years to come. Those two factors are; the level of the market for most of the players the Mariners might be interested in; and the commitment level of the Mariners ownership.

If both favor the positive side for the M's, this could be a fun winter with lot's to talk about. If neither fall the way of the navy and white, it could be a long cold winter-with lot's to talk about.

In conclusion, there is no reason the M's shouldn't be right in the mix for both Carlos Beltran and Adrian Beltre right to last dollar. They should be 1 and 1A at the top of the grocery list.

For now, I'm going to go out on a limb and make one of my famous bold predictions. M's fans will be very happy with their club when they hit Safeco field to see their favorite team take on the Minnesota Twins on opening day 2005.

I'm already carving Bavasi's key to the city.

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