1. Improve On Signing and Acquiring the Mid-Level Player
The Mariners have a sketchy track record for signing the mid-tier talent, players such as Scott Spiezio and Rich Aurillia. Many clubs score big with the non-stars, inking them to cheap, short-term deals and end up getting their money's worth. Not Seattle, not lately.
With the exception of Raul Ibanez, the M's have whiffed badly in this department. Spiezio was dreadful from day one, Aurillia wasn't much better and even the cheaper additions such as Aaron Sele and James Baldwin haven't been worth the trouble - or the cash.
Good clubs make these types of deals successfully. Contending teams get the most from them. Championship caliber organizations turn over the gold on at least one mid-level free agent each winter.
2. Identify Their Own - Quicker
GM Bill Bavasi and his assistants and consultants, such as former GM's Pat Gillick, John Boles and Dan Evans, and long-time M's executive Lee Pelekoudas, lead a group of highly capable talent evaluators. Scouting and Player Development personnel Bob Fontaine, Benny Looper and Jim Fitzgerald join the above group in deciding which talents within the system are keepers - and which are not.
All in all, they do a solid job of doing so, but the decisions probably could be made sooner than they have been. Finding out too late has shredded the value of some of the prospects that could have been dealt to help fill holes in previous seasons. Cases in point - Rafael Soriano, Rett Johnson and Cha Seung Baek. Any of them could have been included in package deals to land offensive help in 2002 and 2003 but the club decided to protect its future and pass on immediate help. Since then, Soriano has been moved to the bullpen, had Tommy John Surgery and missed the better part of two seasons, Baek can't find his velocity - or the plate at times - and has lost any value he had after returning successfully from his own surgery and Johnson is no longer with the organization and never sniffed the big leagues.
The Mariners need to take more risks, we all know that. But if they simply made quicker, more decisive choices on who is truly untouchable and who is expendable, the current 25-man roster might be the better for it. Needless to say, the current regime is in the beginning stages of evaluating the farm system and have not had the opportunities to trade prospects for proven big-league players. Maybe this winter that chance will arise.
3. Sign the Right Starting Pitching - Avoid the Bust
As desperate as the M's may be to add quality starting pitching this winter, it's crucial that the club doesn't jump the gun and spend their payroll just because it is there to be spent. Wasting multi-year deals on the Carl Pavano's of the world is not in the club's best interest. Blowing millions on one-year wonders is the last thing the organization can afford to do.
For the M's, pitching is different than middle of the order hitters - arms actually have a reason, besides the money - to sign here. Safeco is a haven for a pitchers ERA. The Mariners don't have a lot of options to choose from, but it doesn't mean they should blow their wad and spend $15 million per season on A.J. Burnett. Especially when they might be able to land Kevin Millwood and Mark Redman for as little as $10 million combined.
4. Stray Off the Beaten Path
Instead of riding the oft-driven road, the M's could take a different route - like by trading right-hand reliever Julio Mateo and replacing him with a much cheaper option.
Sure, Mateo has done a very solid job of scooping up the garbage innings and shutting down teams after they already grabbed a four or five run cushion, but how important is that role? The club has several in-house options to fill such a role, led by right-handers Scott Atchison, Jeff Harris and Clint Nageotte. This particular move could save the club a million or more off the 2006 payroll totals.
The team has recently held onto their own mid-level players in fear that they will be embarassed should the player come back to bite them. Scott Podsednik comes to mind. But Mateo is not the club's best option as a setup man, a role he has not fared well in with the limited opportunities he's had to prove so, and his stuff isn't condusive to such a task. Replace him with a cheaper arm, use his value in trade.
The M's could also benefit from non-tendering the likes of Ryan Franklin and Willie Bloomquist and using the farm system in their place. Franklin is a likely goner, but Bloomquists recent so-called hot streak has another clueless skipper in love with his makeup.
Ramon Santiago is a better defensive option than Bloomquist at both second and short, is a switch hitter with as much pop, though he may hit 10-20 points lower than Bloomquist. The marginal differences in versatility (Bloomquist can play left and center field in a pinch_ and base stealing aren't worth the $600,000 to $800,000 difference in 2006 salary. If Lopez is the club's starter at second in 2006, they don't need Bloomquist around.
5. Promote a Manager From Within; Can Hargrove
As much as some liked the hiring of Mike Hargrove, yours truly included, we were wrong. He is not the answer to a young developing club trying to push themselves over the edge of mediocrity. He's never won without GREAT talent and he's never been adept at turning bad clubs into winners: SEE Baltimore.
I know, he's signed through 2007 and probably isn't going anywhere after just one season. But the M's have in-house candidates that are capable of bringing some fire into that clubhouse and even though there are many times when "fire" is an overrated quality, I've seen it work with half the current roster in the minors.
Rainiers skipper Dan Rohn purposely gets tossed to fire up his players. He often reads an umpire the riot act and is not afraid to put on a show to get the crowd going. No, Lou Piniella is not the answer, and maybe Rohn isn't either. But maybe Dave Brundage, the M's Double-A skipper, is a true option.
Brundage mixes fire and passion with a highly aggressive style of play. He enjoys teaching the game and his desire for success may be an unmatched quality in the entore Mariners organization.
If Eric Wedge can do it, why can't a two-time Double-A manager of the year who has won two Texas League Championships and helped develop numerous prospects into solid big league talents?
Mike Hargrove is an experienced Bob Melvin. He's Melvin before Melvin was Melvin. (Three Melvin's in one sentence has to be a record) Grover doesn't make bad decisions, he isn't an idiot without the knowledge of how to win ballgames. But he is clearly void of the ability to build team chemistry and harness raw talent when it's given to him.
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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