Free Agency: Fits and Mis-fits

With the free agent market set to open in two weeks, the M's have set their sights on a few areas of need. The M's have to decide which are fits and which are mis-fits?

RHP - Kevin Millwood

ITP's Churchill on Millwood

Millwood is the best fit for the M's this winter, at least at the start of free agency. If clubs looking for pitching begin to pass on the younger but riskier, more expensive Burnett, Millwood's asking price may soar. The 31-year-old could end up being one of the more overpaid arms on the market if enough clubs get serious about the AL's reigning ERA champion.

The Mariners value the veteran arm as well as the prime factor involved with Millwood, though they probably wouldn't want to offer more than three guaranteed years - unless it came down to a fourth year option or no deal. He does remain the safer bet to sustain his level of performance - over Burnett.
RHP - A.J. Burnett

The 29-year-old has the biggest upside of any player on the market, pitcher or not. Burnett could continue to develop his ground ball ratio that hit a career high in 2005 at 2.42, and blossom into a true blue high-strikeout, seven-plus inning starter. If he does, he's well worth the rumored asking price of $65 million over five seasons.

Seattle will surely speak with Burnett's agent Darek Braunecker and get serious about the right-hander. If Millwood's market rises above the $10 million per year mark, Burnett might start looking like the better investment. If we assumed that Millwood goes for three-years and $30-33 million and Burnett's market tops out at five years and $65 million, Millwood is the better, safer signing.

Should Millwood get offers of more than $10-11 million per, or of four guaranteed years or more, the Mariners may start to think twice. However, there probably isn't much chance that the club goes more than five years for any player, especially a pitcher who has already suffered one major surgery (TJ in 2003). But then again, they may not even see five years as a worthy risk, and neither do I.
RHP - Matt Morris

Morris began 2005 with a strong first 10 starts. That's where the good stuff ends. The 31-year-old fell apart from June on and his peripherals were terrible, including a .305 BAA and 5.32 ERA after the all-star break.

Even if Morris came cheap, and in a short-term deal, the M's aren't likely to bite. And they shouldn't. The reward just isn't there.
LHP - Jarrod Washburn

Washburn is a good example of a lucky pitcher. His 3.20 ERA this past season is greatly aided with a much better than average infield defense and the best bullpen in the game, including baseball's premier middle reliever in Scot Shields.

Even at 30, and being a lefty, Washburn isn't a fit in Seattle. Let's use his 1.22 G/F ratio and .295 BABIP mark as two of the many reasons. The M's should refrain from being the club that hands him too much money - for too many years.
LF - Jacque Jones

USS Mariner's Cameron on Jones

The market for Jones might be very small, since most clubs are seeking big-time power numbers or plus defensive center fielders with better than average bats. It's hard to imagine Jones getting an offer for longer than three years, and his 2005 salary of $5 million may not get much better for the 30-year-old left-handed stick.

Unless a bigger bat falls into the M's lap at the right price, such as Giles at three years or less and $9 million per – or less – Jones may be the best option for left field at Safeco. What he doesn't give you versus lefty pitchers, he makes up for with plus range on defense. Jones has a career mark of .294/.341/.488 versus north paw pitchers. Hello Safeco. A two year deal for $5-6 million is a solid deal for a solid addition to the M's right-handed heavy lineup.
C - Ramon Hernandez

This one is easy - No way!

Hernandez is one of two free agent backstops that will get more money than what they are worth this winter and it wouldn't behoove the Mariners to spend $5-6 million a season on a catcher when they have so many other glaring needs.

Hernandez is likely to get a big money offer from the Mets and run with it.
C - Bengie Molina

While Molina, like Hernandez, will probably be overpaid, at least he's known as a clutch bat with plus defensive reports stapled to his resume. If the Halos go with prospect Jeff Mathis, Molina could end up with the Mets, White Sox or Dodgers. Again, not a fit in Seattle for the money he'll command.
RHP - Esteban Loaiza

Loaiza might be the second-tier arm the M's take a flier on this winter. While his numbers don't suggest that he can repeat his sensational season of 2003, Loaiza has sustained, for the most part a decent K/9ip ratio and has limited his walks and though he gives up more than a hit per inning, he's only given up more than 30 homers in any season once, 2004, when he split time between Yankee Stadium and Comiskey Park.

If Jamie Moyer proves to be too expensive to hang onto, Loaiza could be a solid innings eater for the M's. At nothing more than a one-year deal, of course, but he'll easily come in under what Moyer has hinted he may demand and he'll be 34 in December.
RHP - Jason Schmidt

The Giants have a club option on Schmidt for $10 million. If Brian Sabean wasn't the GM in the Bay, the answer to the following question would be easy to answer. Why would San Francisco even consider bringing Schmidt back after he missed four starts this past season, an ongoing trend with the right-hander, and his ERA resembled a Mike Schmidt slugging percentage versus Nolan Ryan more than an ace's performance.

Schmidt's command has never been what you'd call good but it turned downright awful last season with 85 walks in 172 innings and his worst home run ratio since 2001. Schmidt's velocity dipped into the low 90s from the 93-97 range he consistently hit the previous few seasons.

The 32-year-old is worth a short contract, but not at $10 million, or anywhere near. If he hits the market, the M's may have some interest.
LHP - Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers has two things in common with Jamie Moyer; he's over 40 years old and he throws effectively with his left hand. But Rogers also has two attributes that Moyer doesn't have, and vise-versa. Rogers has a big-time temper when a video camera, or its operator, is within visual reach, and the 41-year-old is far less likely to sustain his level of performance, including the 3.46 ERA he posted this past season, the sixth best mark in the AL.

The Mariners won't consider Rogers – they have their own antique to sign.
RHP – Jeff Weaver

Weaver is a classic "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" type starting pitcher. You look at his low-4s ERA and 1.17 WHIP and that is about what you could expect out of the right-hander if he toed the rubber at Safeco Field 17 times a season.

Weaver wasn't hindered by a pitcher's park or terrible defense, and though the Dodgers bullpen wasn't very good in 2005, Weaver didn't suffer a whole lot from the lack of relief dominance.

But the 29-year-old probably isn't on the M's shopping list at $8 million per season, which is what Weaver is asking LA to hand him.
RHP - Roger Clemens

In a perfect world, Clemens would consider a one-year contract to pitch at Safeco Field where he might once again post a sub-3 ERA in 2006. But the universe is far from perfect and Clemens still doesn't know they play baseball in Seattle.
LF - Brian Giles Giles is a natural fit in the Seattle lineup, and in the field, but after a solid '05 campaign, he probably priced himself out of several markets. Giles is likely to draw interest from a dozen clubs, including Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore, and Oakland, both New York teams and the San Diego Padres.

Giles, 35, isn't a good investment for longer than three years at $8 million per, which pretty much takes the Mariners off the board.
RHP - Daisuke Matsuzaka

Much has been said about the potential of Matsuzaka in the US. With the previous jumps by Hideo Nomo, Hideki Irabu and Kazuhisa Ishii, one might be led to believe that the best in Japan don't become among the best in MLB, at least not on the mound.

Some scouts believe that the key for NPB pitchers in the US is a full arsenal and and understanding of the differences they will be presented with far before they bite the pitcher in live games. Holding base runners, pitching to contact in the right situations, and finishing off hitters have all been a problem for those who have attempted the transition.

Matsuzaka's stuff may only be rivaled by that of Nomo, who had enough success in LA to warrant the move, thus suggesting the 25-year-old gyroball specialist can be successful here, too. The question becomes, at what price would the Mariners stay interested?
C – Kenji Johjima

Dr. Detecto on Johjima

Johjima's offensive skills would undoubtedly translate to an upgrade for the M's, who currently employ one major-league caliber catcher on the entire 40-man roster. The cash that it might require to land Johjima is the problem here.

If the Mariners go out and offer the "Kaz Matsui-type" money that Johjima is rumored to be looking for – or anything remotely close for that matter – the club may not be able to add the other pieces necessary to make a run at a 20-game improvement next season.

For those that assume that the money paid to Japanese baseball players comes from "the other ledger", well, you couldn't be more wrong. The posting fee can be categorized in another area of the team's expenses, to avoid it counting against the club's taxable payroll. But that is the extent of this mythical money bag and it doesn't cange the fact that the posting fee is money out of the pocket of the ownership group that goes toward the running of the ballclub. The salaries always count under the "payroll" ledger.

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