A Look Ahead: Who's Tradeable?

Anytime a major league baseball team loses over 90 games in a season, the temptation is to blow everything up and start from scratch. The Mariners tried that last winter, then lost over 90 games again in 2005. Heading into another important offseason, the club is considering all methods of improving its roster, and that includes looking into who's available on the trade market.

If the Mariners do in fact decide to build for the future through trading, the question general manager Bill Bavasi will face is, for lack of a better term, "who's tradeable?"

It's important to note that in this day and age, when even the top superstars in every sport switch teams on an annual basis, nobody is truly "untradeable." For the right package, the right group of players, any player can be had.

But in Seattle, where the Mariners once trotted out superstars as fast as Starbucks blends grande mochas, it's fairly certain that the club won't be dealing any of the few big name players it has – Felix Hernandez, Ichiro Suzuki, Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson.

Hernandez is a future ace with dominating stuff and hall of fame potential. He'll likely be the M's top starter for the next decade, and won't be going anywhere.

Ichiro drew criticism in '05 for his un-Ichiro-like numbers, but still batted over .300 and played some of the right field in baseball. He remains the club's biggest draw at the ticket office as well.

Beltre and Sexson, signed last winter to be Seattle's version of the bash brothers, had varied success but both likely remain in the M's plans. They are each set to make $11.5 million in '06.

Beltre struggled to adjust to American League pitching and hit only 19 home runs after smacking 48 with Los Angeles in 2004. Still, he'll be only 27 next season and is one of the M's top sluggers at a premium position (3B) in a lineup sorely lacking in the power department.

Sexson, meanwhile, was about as solid as the M's could have hoped for, hitting 39 home runs and driving in 121 runs while playing terrific defense at a big target at first base.

Does this mean it won't happen? That these players won't be traded? No. Rumors have already circulated that the M's tried to trade Beltre to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the season. More recently, he's been mentioned in rumors involving Philadelphia. And Ichiro, as much as he's loved in the Pacific Northwest, isn't the golden child he once was. At least two media outlets have suggested that the M's would benefit from trading the Japanese outfielder.

But dealing any of these star players seems far-fetched at this point, barring an offer that the M's couldn't refuse.

If each of those four stay, one must figure that right field, third base, first base and one spot in the rotation are locked up for '06. In addition, youngsters Yuniesky Betancourt (SS) and Jose Lopez (2B) are all but assured starting spots in the middle infield. Of the two, Lopez, who has been inconsistent on both sides of the ball in his short time in the big leagues, is more likely to be dealt. If he is, the M's would be without a second baseman, and would likely seek one in a separate deal or through free agency.

Raul Ibanez, one of the best designated hitters in the American League in '05, is the M's only left-handed hitter with pop and is slated to make only $3.75 million next season. He's not untradeable, especially given his age (33), but the M's would be reluctant to part with his reliable lefty stick.

The bullpen also looks like a strength for '06, with young bargain players like J.J. Putz, George Sherrill, Julio Mateo, Rafael Soriano, Clint Nageotte, Jeff Harris and Scott Atchison in the mix and veteran closer Eddie Guardado (player and team option for ‘06) most likely back as well.

It's at the other positions where the important questions remain…

How can the M's add two or three quality starters to its rotation?

Is Yorvit Torrealba capable enough to be the club's starting catcher until 2005 top draft pick Jeff Clement is able to take over behind the plate in a few years? If not, what about Miguel Ojeda or Rene Rivera?

Jeremy Reed is an excellent defensive center fielder, but can the club live with his lack of power in an outfield that already has Ichiro? Adam Jones is moving to center field in the Arizona Fall League, but he's new to the position and is still a year or two away from the bigs.

What about left field? Chris Snelling can't stay healthy, Randy Winn is gone and Shin-soo Choo is still a season away. Are Snelling and Choo, two line-drive hitters, the right fit anyway or would the club be better of with a player with more power?

That's where the question of "who's tradeable" enters the equation. A pair of M's that are very tradeable are Joel Pineiro and Gil Meche, two of the biggest enigmas not named Vin Baker in the history of Seattle sports. The two hard-throwing right-handers came up through the M's system as can't-miss prospects, but each have been huge disappointments over the last two seasons and were big reasons for the clubs back-to-back 90-loss seasons. Pineiro, due $4.8 million in '06, was 7-11 with a 5.62 ERA this past season, while Meche, whose arbitration eligible, was 10-8 with a 5.09 ERA.

Getting a team to take a chance on either of them would likely mean that the M's would have to eat a lot of their salary and/or get very little in return. In past years, trade rumors have linked Pineiro to the Yankees and Meche to Detroit.

In any case, to get talent a team must trade talent. Where it gets difficult in trading is matching up one team's needs with another. And in the world of baseball, one team's trash is often another's treasure.

Take Reed, for example. In Seattle, Reed's rookie season was viewed largely as a disappointment. He came in with big expectations, but hit just .254 with three home runs and 12 stolen bases. Yet, for a team like the New York Yankees in dire need of a defensive-minded center fielder, Reed's value is high.

If a team like the Yankees were to put a strong package together for Reed and someone like Mateo (3.06 ERA in '05), it'd be difficult for the M's to pass up.

Every team has a weakness, but some are worse than others. Take a team like the Cincinnati Reds, which have the dubious honor of playing in a park that is a hitter's paradise with one of the worst pitching staffs in recent memory. Think they are looking to deal for some pitching this offseason? You bet they are.

Now pair a team like the Reds, heavy on power-hitting outfielders (Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Ken Griffey Jr., Wily Mo Pena) and weak on pitching, with the M's, who aren't abundant with arms but not nearly as hopeless as Cincinnati. That's a scenario where the M's could try and trade for someone like Kearns, a slugging corner outfielder, for a package like that of Choo, Mateo and Triple-A farmhand Bobby Livingston.

Choo, a multi-tooled player who the M's have had high hopes for over the past five years, is an example of a player who could be more valuable to another team. Only 23, he hit .282 with 11 homer and 20 steals at Triple-A in '05, but his skills are too similar to the M's other outfielders, Reed and Ichiro. And for a team still looking to add punch to its lineup, a guy like Choo isn't the solution.

For the same reason, Snelling probably isn't either, though trading someone as injury prone as the Australian outfielder would be quite a feat for the M's front office.

Another young player without much of a future in Seattle appears to be Mike Morse. The good news for the Mariners is that Morse performed surprising well as a rookie in '05, and does have enough trade value to be including in a deal for a player that could better benefit the club. Morse, who'll be 24 next season, hit .278 with three home runs while playing shortstop and left field. His problem is that he'll never play the defense at shortstop that Betancourt does, and he'll never hit with the kind of power the M's desperately need out of left field.

As far as prospects go, aside from Livingston, only Clement is untradeable at this point – partly due to his potentially potent left-handed stick behind the plate but mostly due to the fact that he cannot be traded until one full year after being drafted (June '06) per MLB rules.

Jones, another of the M's top prospects, busted out with a great offensive year split between Single-A and Double-A in '05. With Betancourt blocking his path at shortstop, the M's are using this fall to see how the athletic former first round pick can adjust to center field. Often compared to a young Reggie Sanders, he'll be just 20 years old next season, and with his stock as high as ever he could be available for the right offer.

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