M's Future a Little Bit Clearer

Prior to Saturday's trade frenzy, the Seattle Mariners future was as dim as that final row of flourescent bulbs that despite their death, continue to sit atop the many street lights on Edgar Martinez Drive, just feet from Safeco Field. Even with Ichiro roaming right field and the two newly-rich sluggers manning the corners of the infield, it wasn't looking good for a club looking to celebrate its 30th season in Major League Baseball in six months.

The bulbs have been dark for years, seemingly as long as the Mariners have been void of hope in the American League West.

Okay, so it has only been two seasons since the Mariners were competitive. But when was the last time the Mojo Maniacs could get excited about the future of the hometown nine? 1995? 2001?

The excitement may not point to a World Series in 2006, but the Good Ship Mariner is headed in the right direction – not that there is any alternative, considering their current position in the basement of a division they once dominated for the better part of four seasons.

Along with the trade of Freddy Garcia that landed the Mariners two quality players under 25 years of age in center fielder Jeremy Reed and Michael Morse, and the two big free-agent signings last winter, the club accomplished something it had never done before – make a splash on the open market that was big enough to drown the trousers of the bigger fish – the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, as well as trade one of their own when his value was as high it would ever climb.

With a rebuilding project under way, G.M. Bill Bavasi has seen the light. Not the light at the end of the tunnel, that blinding force is for the Mariner faithful to catch a glimpse of at a big-league ballpark near you. But the M's front office realizes that the time for the good ‘ol boy network is over. It's time to bring in the best baseball players possible to bring back the competitive club that once made the city so proud, without regard to the soft-tone style operations that "create no waves" within the community of baseball fans in Seattle.

Bavasi's trade of Garcia and signing of Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson was only the beginning. The club needed an overhaul, not a quick fix. The three moves, however, were more than necessary to set up the organization for what took place on July 30.

The M's defeated the Cleveland Indians Saturday afternoon and improved their record to 45-58 on the season. But what transpired just hours later, was the spatula that spread the icing on the cake for the after-party of a club conceding the year and looking to the the future.

No, the Mariners didn't trade Ichiro, or sell the team to Canada for the French to run into the ground like a pastry shop on 1st Avenue.

And no, they didn't commit to moving the team to St. Petersburg, claiming that the Florida sun is "where Mr. Yamauchi's heart has always been."

The Mariners simply made a trade they had to make. Nothing earth-shattering, nothing worthy of front-page news and certainly nothing to write mom about – unless she likes practical jokes. Randy Winn is a solid baseball talent, but hardly irreplaceable, and was traded to the San Francisco Giants for right-hander Jesse Foppert and catcher Yorvit Torrealba.

Bavasi has once again made a solid trade, adding cheap, usable pieces to a roster dying for inexpensive help in many areas.

In Torrealba, the Mariners acquired a serviceable catcher and one that could possibly share time with Rene Rivera, or a veteran yet-to-be determined, until Jeff Clement graduates from the minor leagues sometime after the 2006 season.

The 27-year-old is a better-than-average backstop with decent power and solid plate skills. His .227 batting average scares some into crying that he's another Miguel Olivo, but a closer look suggests he's much more capable of producing league-average offensive numbers than the fragile-minded Olivo proved to be.

When the Mariners received Foppert as part of the trade, they added a second arm to the rotation for 2006. With the exception of Felix Hernandez, the club was without a viable young option to add to Gil Meche and a healthy Bobby Madritsch heading in to next spring. Foppert has a chance to develop into a No. 3 starter with his low-90s fastball and plus slider.

The 25-year-old had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in September of 2003 and was 3-1 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 games with Triple-A Fresno this season, after missing most of 2004.

Foppert, a 6-foot-6, 220-pounder out of the University of San Francisco is a good bet to join King Felix in the M's revamped starting rotation next April. The effect of the ligament replacement surgery has been minimal and Foppert is expected to regain full arm strength before the start of 2006.

It is impossible to predict what level Foppert can pitch at next season but what is possible, finally, is that the Mariners are taking advantage of their situation, and the desperation of playoff-ceontending teams, a reversal of fortune from the past 10 years.

Coupled with the subsequent trade of Miguel Olivo to the San Diego Padres for two minor leaguers, the trade of Randy Winn was a success.

So what was so great about the trade if all the Mariners received was an average catcher and a ‘potential' No. 3 starter?

Where shall I start?

For starters, the M's are no longer responsible for the dual option on Winn's contract that would have paid him at least $3.75 million in 2006. Foppert and Torrealba aren't likely to make even half of that total next season, even though both could be arbitration eligible this winter.

The most important aspect of the day's events involves a 5-foot-10, 195-pound outfielder in Tacoma. A left-handed batting Aussie that is hitting .377 in Triple-A for the season and 11-for-21 since being sent back to the minors last Tuesday.

Chris Snelling is the new starting left fielder for the Seattle Mariners. How long he remains a regular on the big club depends on two very differing facets of the M's rebuilding project.

Snelling must shake the injury bug and stay healthy, something he has never done in six seasons as a professional, and the 23-year-old has to show the Mariners that he can supply enough power to supplement the rest of the lineup.

If Snelling's ultimate power production is ultimately not enough, the Mariners will likely look elsewhere to find a left-handed stick to hit in the middle of the order. But finally, Snelling will get a chance to prove himself.

In all, Bavasi simply removed an unnecessary player – and his salary – a catcher in the midst of a potential career-ending stretch at the plate, and added two 25-man roster members for next year. Doesn't sound like much, but the signals sent are well-taken by those who understand what it really means.

What it means is the M's are only interested in who can help them win beyond this season, and are willing to trade quality veterans to get the talent needed in order to field a contending team, and to do it as soon as possible.

Bavasi may not be a five-tool general manager, but he showed off more than one skill this weekend when he completed a quality trade and simultaneously replaced a few of the dimming bulbs of light out on Edgar Martinez Drive.

PROJECTED 2006 ROSTER (pre-Sunday Trades, without bench)

1B - Richie Sexson
2B - Jose Lopez
3B - Adrian Beltre
SS - Yuniesky Betancourt
C - Yorvit Torrealba
DH - Raul Ibanez
LF - Chris Snelling
CF - Jeremy Reed
RF - Ichiro Suzuki
SP - Gil Meche
SP - Free Agent/Trade TBD
SP - Felix Hernandez
SP - Bobby Madritsch (if healthy)
SP - Jesse Foppert
RP - Clint Nageotte
RP - George Sherrill
RP - Rafael Soriano
RP - Ron Villone
RP - Eddie Guardado
RP - Julio Mateo

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