'Five Things' with Jason A. Churchill

Of all the strengths and weaknesses throughout the Mariners front office, some stand out more than others. With certain aspects rearing their ugly heads and others glowing with pride from the GM's office to the 25th man on the rookie league club, here they are under the microscope.

Five Things the Mariners Front Office Does Well

1. Draft
Since Bill Bavasi brought Bob Fontaine on board, the club's draft philosophy has taken a 180 turn in the right direction. Instead of reaching for the high-reward talent and hoping for the best, the M's are simply drafting the best talent available. With a third-round pick posing as their top choice in the 2004 draft, the M's took the best talent left in the draft, regardless of the risk that Matt Tuiasosopo might shun baseball to become the quarterback at the University of Washington.

Jeff Clement was the right pick. He was the top talent on the board at No. 3, he was the player remaining with the highest ceiling and he also represented the safest choice.

Fourth and fifth rounders Justin Thomas, a lefty, and right-hander Stephen Kahn are excelling with the Everett AquaSox and furthermore are showing that they have quality stuff that could someday lead them into the big leagues. Nick Allen, the M's 21st round pick out of Villanova, has emerged as the Sox's staff ace and has tossed out quality starts in all but two outings.

Seventh rounder Robert Rohrbaugh completes the pitching package the M's went for after taking Clement. Rohrbaugh, a left-hander out of Clemson is also performing at a high level and showing he can handle the pro game.

Gone are the days of drafting the toolsy player. Say hello to the days of the M's getting a solid return on their draftees. The scouting and player development departments are filled with personnel that all have the right idea.

2. Scout the International Player
Scour the 2005 InsidethePark.com Prospect Handbook and the one common denominator throughout the 102 pages is the influence of the international player. Half of last year's top 10 and nine of the top 20 were international signings, led by Felix Hernandez.

Add late-entries Yuniesky Betancourt and Jorge Campillo and that's 11 of the top 20 prospects in the farm system that were signed outside of North America. Bob Engle, Ted Heid, Matt Stark and the numerous international scouts such as Patrick Guerrero, Pedro Avila, Barry Holland and Emilio Carrasquel have led the organization into becoming one of the finer clubs in baseball in the area of international scouting.

Whether it be the Pacific Rim with Japan, South Korea and Australia, or the Latin American countries, the Mariners have made their presence felt over the past decade.

By the time opening day 2007 arrives, the M's could have as many as 12 of their own internationally signed players on the 25-man roster.

3. Correctly Evaluate League-wide Talent
This is the area in which the Mariners have made waves since June of 2004 when the M's traded Freddy Garcia to the White Sox. While it is fair to say they missed on Miguel Olivo, though you can add most scouts from teams across the league to those who missed on the 26-year-old catcher, the M's did not miss on Jeremy Reed and Michael Morse. Reed has struggled to find a groove at the plate, but his biggest question mark heading into his career in Seattle was defensively. Can Reed play center field in the big leagues – and at spacious Safeco Field? The answer is clearly ‘yes.'

The club also went out and signed closer Eddie Guardado to a more than worthy contract and had the wherewithal to believe he could produce for the entire length of the deal. The signing of Raul Ibanez was perhaps the smartest move the club has made since the end of the 2003 season. Ibanez is the only source of left-handed power on the roster and his contract is a fitting one that ends after the 2006 season.

Signing Beltre and Sexson were solid moves, but aside from transactions that the organization had to make, Bavasi and company has a solid track record of evaluating which players around the league can help and which ones cannot. Scott Spiezio is one miss that has hurt the club some.

The return for Randy Winn and Ron Villone was a potential No. 2 starter, with risks, and a potential No. 3 starter/top setup man that is all of 21 years of age. If both pitchers make solid contributions to the 2006 and 2007 rosters, the trades of two unnecessary players on the wrong side of 30 will ultimately be GREAT trades. Today, they are simply categorized as smart deals.

4. Patience, at the Right Time
Case in Point: Miguel Olivo. The M's carried Olivo for 312 at-bats that produced a .176 average and a whopping 104 strikeouts. Enough is enough.

While the club gave up on Olivo, at the right time, they also have stuck with arms like Gil Meche and Joel Pineiro – at the right time.

If the current front office was put in the situation the M's were in three seasons ago, and Meche and Pineiro were struggling like they each have in 2004 and 2005, both would have been shipped out without question.

But because the M's are short on quality starting pitchers, they have held onto both 26-year-old right-handers, playing the waiting game for one of them to return to form.

The '05 M's couldn't afford to watch both struggle as they have and expect to win, but the 2006 Mariners may not be able to compete without at least one of the two succeeding in filling a spot in the rotation.

Translation: Miguel Olivo was expendable, arms like Pineiro and Meche are not as easy to give up on. If either turns it around, the fortitude by Bill Bavasi will turn out to be a great non-move. If both have successful season next year, the patience displayed by the front office could grow to legendary status.

Other areas that display the solid timing of the M's tolerance and patience in their players include their work with oft-injured Chris Snelling and their severed relationships with left-hander Ryan Anderson and right-hander Rett Johnson, who experienced personal problems not pertaining to baseball.

5. Challenge the Prospect
Something the Mariners haven't done too much over the past few years is put their top prospects to the test. Felix Hernandez is a blue-chip talent, but at the fragile age of 17, 18, and 19, was challenged with a new level each time he proved he had conquered all there was to conquer in the league in which he was pitching.

Same goes for shortstop quadruplets Mike Morse, Yuniesky Betancourt, Adam Jones and Asdrubal Cabrera. They were all presented with new challenges this summer, though the sequence of decisions may be somewhat of a surprise.

The club didn't move the latter three infielders up because Morse was simply "major-league ready." Morse, 23, was called up because the other three were ready for the next level. This would explain why Morse was the call-up over Ramon Santiago, Jose Lopez or Justin Leone. Morse was hitting just .253 with four home runs when he got the call to the big leagues.

Betancourt, 23, was hitting .273 with 18 extra-base hits in Double-A San Antonio, Jones, now 20, was hitting .295 with solid power in the California League, and Cabrera, 19, was hitting .318 with 19 extra-base hits in Low-A Wisconsin. All needed new challenges, all have performed well in their new digs – including Morse, who is hitting .300 in the big leagues and Betancourt, who hit .295 in Triple-A Tacoma and is now hitting .255 in 14 games with the Mariners.

Same goes for starting pitchers Mumba Rivera and Bobby Livingston who received promotions after strong starts in Wisconsin and San Antonio, respectively.

The Mariners also have wasted no time in sliding Jones, a former first-round pick, to center field where he immediately becomes the top outfield prospect in the system – at a position where his offensive skills and cannon throwing arm fit best.

Memo to Matt Tuiasosopo: Don't get too comfy between second and third base.

Memo to all M's Prospects: If you play well, you will be tested, challenged and given the chance to succeed at the highest levels in which you are capable.

Watch for "Five Things the Front Office Does NOT Do Well" later this week.
Jason A Churchill is the Executive Editor at InsidethePark.com and can be reached via e-mail at JasonAChurchill@InsideThePark.com

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