When your club is reeling from a last-place finish and oodles of disappointing individual performances, even the previously tight-fisted ownership of the Baseball Club of Seattle had to peak out from behind their safe havens full of cash to see the light.
For the first time in club history the Mariners spent big money on someone else's free agents. The added power of 1B Richie Sexson and 3B Adrian Beltre are only part of the product that the club purchased in December.
Beltre and Sexson could each smack 40 homers and drive in over 100 runs, providing the division's most anemic offense with enough firepower to keep up with the Joneses. But that's not all.
The two all-stars, along with newly acquired shortstop Pokey Reese, provide a defensive upgrade that the team sorely missed last season after the departures of Carlos Guillen, John Olerud and Mike Cameron.
Beltre has near-gold glove skills at the hot corner while Sexson is solid across the diamond at first and gives the rest of the infield a big target to throw to. Reese has more range than any regular shortstop the M's have had since trading Omar Vizquel to the Cleveland Indians after the 1993 season.
Clearly, the infield defense is far superior heading into 2005 than it was a year ago.
In the outfield, Jeremy Reed is expected to take over in center field for Randy Winn who will slide back to his more natural position in left field. Reed has better instincts than Winn and has the necessary speed to cover a lot of ground at Safeco Field.
So, with dramatically improved defense all the way around, more power than the lineup has possessed since Ken Griffey, Jr and Alex Rodriguez left town, the M's have a chance to be pretty good right?
Not so fast.
With offensive holes still abound, the Mariners were unable to address their latest need - starting pitching.
Freddy Garcia and his 200 innings are now in Chicago. Jamie Moyer is a year older, not a year better. Bobby Madritsch has 88 innings of big-league experience. Gil Meche is a walking question mark and Joel Pineiro is coming off of a minor elbow injury after pitching himself into mediocrity with the rest of the rotation.
With no immediate help on the way, are the Mariners capable of crawling out of the basement in the America League West behind that starting rotation?
The Anaheim Angels have improved their club with the additions of Paul Byrd, Steve Finley, Esteban Yan and Orlando Cabrera.
The upstart Rangers held serve and will rely primarily on natural progress, but Texas finished 26 games ahead of the Mariners in 2004.
The Oakland A's have taken the largest step backwards with the trades of aces Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. But have the M's made up 28 games on a team that solidified their bullpen with two power arms, found an answer at 2B and received two promising young major-league ready starters in return for two-thirds of their "Big Three?"
The Mariners have come along way this winter. They've spent a truckload of money on free agents and crossed a line that CEO Howard Lincoln and the rest of the ownership seemed destined to stay away from. The club added offense, defense and long-term stability with core players.
But they haven't quite come far enough and everyone knows it. The fan base knows it. The rest of the AL west knows it.
Good thing that general manager Bill Bavasi knows it, too.
Are the M's Last Place Bound in 2005?
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