First Things First

One of the most crucial decisions the 2005 Mariners will face is: Who will replace John Olerud at what has become the "not-so-hot corner"? InsidethePark's Doug Farrar investigates the likely suspects.

So much Monopoly money, so little time…

As the Mariners prepare to go shopping with anywhere from $13 to $30 million (depending on who you're reading and what you believing this week), one major gap the team must shore up is at first base. When the Mariners released John Olerud on July 23, having been unable to work a trade, the Yankees scooped him up and off he went. What were the Mariners left with at his position? Uh…Scott Spiezio and the SuperScrubs! Great name for a ‘70's cartoon (produced by Sid and Marty Krofft, of course), but not so fabulous when it comes to turning around anemic offensive production.

Here, then, are the names most bandied about to don Mariner blue at first base in 2005.

Carlos Delgado – 2004 Numbers: .269/.372/.535, 23 HR, 99 RBI in 128 games
Ahh, the risk-reward bellwether. In so many ways, Carlos Delgado would seem to be a perfect fit. Make that, THE perfect fit for the Mariners. He mashes at the Safe (.700+ lifetime slugging percentage at Safeco lifetime, AND he's a lefty), he's known to have "good clubhouse presence" (there's your, um, "intangible"), and he would bring a very quick stop to a couple major complaints about the M's front office: First, that this organization doesn't really value stud production, and second, that they'll never pay what stud production costs.

There are caveats, however. Delgado is 32 years old, he missed time because of a rib injury in 2003, and there are speculations from various publications that he may be a BALCO risk. I would refuse to speculate on the third concern, but I'd add one and two and say that a shorter deal (the three-year terms the M's are so fond of) would be a wise. Calculated risk – IF the M's can talk him down from his near-$20 million 2004 salary to a more manageable $10-12 million per year.

The Odds He'll Start: Fair to poor, in this writer's opinion. As much as I would love to see the M's step out and take this kind of chance, it seems far more likely to me that the front office will eventually pass on Delgado and tout Spiezio and the "possibility" of Richie Sexson as a far more amenable option. If the M's sign Carlos Delgado, there's a new sheriff in town and his name is Bill Bavasi.

Richie Sexson – 2004 Numbers: .244/.358/.667, 9 HR, 23 RBI in 23 games
Suffering a torn labrum in 2004, Sexson fell off the charts in Arizona. He saw very limited action, but the season doesn't tell the whole story. As a Brewer in 2003, he hit .272/.379/.548 with 45 home runs and 124 RBI. These numbers are consistent for his career with a recent upswing in power (confirmed to a point by his production even last year). Defensively, the 6-foot-8 Sexson would provide Olerudian range. Sexson's arm is strong - he throws right, the injury was to his left shoulder - and he'd be a fine all-around solution. He's also three years younger than Delgado.

The Odds He'll Start: More than decent. If he's completely recovered from his injury, Sexson might be a steal. He is a Northwest guy born in Portland, and he recently turned down an extension from the Diamondbacks even after the team upped their offer. Sexson made $8.725 million last year, and if he's looking in the $8-10 million range AND he's healthy, the M's need to bite the hook. He's a righty to Delgado's lefty, but there are a lot of positives here.

Raul Ibanez – 2004 Numbers: .304/.353/.472, 16 HR, 62 RBI in 123 games
The recipient of a 3-year, $13.25 million after the 2003 season, the ex-Mariner farmhand and Kansas City Royal was brought back on board to solve the eternal left field issue. So, why are we talking about him at first base? The team did work him out there toward the end of the season. Was that due more to Bob Melvin's inveterate tinkering or some sneaking suspicion that Ibanez would benefit from a position change? Beats the heck out of me!

The Odds He'll Start: He'll start, all right. His bat is too important not too. But at first base? Doubtful, unless half the infield is traded for half a new outfield.

Bucky Jacobsen – 2004 Numbers: .275/.335/.500, 9 HR, 28 RBI in 42 games
It was fun while it lasted, wasn't it? From the time he was called up from Triple-A Tacoma on July 15 through his season-ending knee surgery in September, Jacobsen took Seattle by storm in a way unseen since the days of… well, there may not be another folk hero like this. The humble Hercules will look to rebound from the surgical procedure which repaired an articular cartilage injury to his right knee in a collision with a tarp several years ago. Reports are that he's already dropped 20 pounds since over the offseason, slimming down to an ideal playing weight. The primary reason Bucky saw time at first in 2004 was so that Edgar Martinez could get in the lineup at DH.

The Odds He'll Start: Not at first base. Bucky may very well have a bright future in the majors (and I certainly hope so…this sport could use more Bucky Jacobsens), but the Mariners have the golden opportunity to replace one fan icon at DH with another. Given the other opportunities at first base and the ongoing concerns about Bucky's knee, I'd be very surprised if Jacobsen saw any serious time with a glove.

Scott Spiezio – 2004 Numbers: .215/.288/.346, 10 HR, 41 RBI in 112 games
The Mariners projected Spiezio at third base from the moment they signed him to a 3-year, $9.15 million contract after the 2003 season. Considering the fact that he had played a relatively small percentage of his major league career at third base (with an unexciting range factor to boot), this was roughly the equivalent of telling a career offensive guard that he was to play defensive tackle and then sitting around wondering why his production plummeted. His 2004 numbers were all precipitous drops from his time as a "platoon guy" in Anaheim. Truth is, Spiezio may not be capable of what the Mariners want him to be. Well, what is he, then?

That depends on what team he's playing for. If he's on a team that continues to glorify the gritty, gutsy bench guy as overblown starter, well… you had your answer in 2004. As a vital cog coming off the bench and playing in spots, he could help. Defensively, he'd be good at first, and some scouting reports place him as a decent utility outfielder. Were he to play Doug Mientkiewicz to Delgado's or Sexson's David Ortiz, the M's would be sittin' in tall cotton on the right side of the diamond.

The Odds He'll Start: On a full-time basis, the chances are slim. If Scott Spiezio is the Mariners' starting first baseman in 2005, it would mean that the M's whiffed on Delgado and Sexson, not to mention the fact that there was not enough thought given to outfield depth to possibly move Ibanez in at least part of the time. In other words, it'd mean that Howie didn't spend the money again, and it would take far more than the sounds of Sandfrog to appease the Mariner faithful.

AND THE WINNER IS: Richie Sexson, with a side of Spiezio. I think the Mariners will take a deep interest in the Diamondbacks' attempts to negotiate with Sexson, and that Arizona's current turmoil will send the first baseman packing with a Northwest stop as good a guess as any other. Will the M's pony up, or be satisfied with their current options?

That, my friends, is the $95 million question.

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