The Diamond Plan

Free Agency began hours ago. The GM Meetings are completed. It's time for the Mariners to put forth their best efforts once again, nailing an off-season that will set up the club for the 2006 campaign.

While it's easy to flip through the pages of free agents and throw someone else's money at any talented arm or a big bat, it's a little more difficult to do when your job depends on it, and when several other clubs are after the same commodities.

Will Bill Bavasi be as successful adding quality starting pitching this winter as he was adding bats last December? Might the ownership allow payroll to be extended should the right players fall within the M's reach?

I don't know what Bavasi and Howard Lincoln are going to do, but here is what I would look to do this winter. Some of it has little chance of happening, some of it a real legitimate shot. But this is the first and strongest push I'd make in every direction.

Starting Pitching

RHP A.J. Burnett – 4 years @ $12 mil per, plus vesting option
If necessary, I'd structure the deal to be a little bit more payroll friendly in 2006 then in subsequent years, to allow for more to be done this off-season.

Millwood would be on my radar, but with so few quality SPs available this winter, Millwood's $10-11 mil per season is more of an overpayment than Burnett's likely asking price. Burnett comes with more risk, but he also comes with more upside.

If Burnett chooses to stay on the east coast, I'd explore a deal for Javier Vazquez, looking to include Joel Pineiro in the deal for payroll relief purposes.

RHP Esteban Loaiza – 2 years @ $6 mil per, plus mutual option
Loaiza has already had success in the AL and seems to have regained the stuff that won him 21 games for the White Sox in 2003. His G/F ratios have been mild since the 1.44 he posted that year, but it was back up to 1.21 this past season in Washington.

Loaiza is almost certain to out pitch Joel Pineiro or Jamie Moyer in '06 and his presence in the rotation bumps both Pineiro and Moyer to the bottom of the rotation.

Loaiza may get several 2-year offers, but I'd be surprised if anyone guaranteed a third year. If Clint Nageotte or Jesse Foppert prove worthy of a rotation spot, Loaiza's contract is tradable, if that is the route that makes the most sense at mid-season.

Offense

C Kenji Johjima – 2 years @ $4-5 mil per, 3rd year vesting option
Johjima is available, and is almost certainly going to play in the U.S. in 2006. Among the questions for the Mariners is whether the 29-year-old backstop can hit enough in MLB to warrant some time at DH, should first round draft pick Jeff Clement push his way to the big leagues within the next two seasons.

Johjima may need some time to acclimate himself with the pitching staff, learning the necessary English or Spanish terms to communicate properly. Keeping Torrealba around is crucial if Johjima is the other catcher on the roster.

If the bidding for Johjima goes beyond three years, the M's will likely choose to pass.

LF Jacque Jones - 2 years @ $5-6 mil per
Jones' reasonable contract allows the club to add a Johjima as well, and without a clear-cut upgrade on the market outside of an aging, over-marketed Brian Giles, Jones will mash righties and play excellent defense in left.

Jones is good for 20 homers, 20 steals and can spell Reed in center and Ichiro in right. He's also known to be a solid clubhouse guy and comes from a team that is used to having great team chemistry along with 90+ wins a season.

Ken Griffey, Geoff Jenkins and Bobby Abreu are all too difficult to fit under budget, or have contracts that simply are unlikely to work for Seattle.

Aubrey Huff is a 1B/DH that plays left at a less-than average level, but might be the second best option for the salary cost. If Abreu becomes available for the right price, he still may not fit under the budget, with so many other areas to fill.

Bench

OF Dustan Mohr - 1 year @ $900k
Mohr's career numbers aren't sexy, nor are his career numbers versus left-handed pitchers. But, his performance versus southpaws in '05 (.274/.349/.558) are worth the million dollar risk. He's used to coming off the bench, and is familiar with playing the outfield.

I'd love to snag a Wes Helms or an Eric Byrnes as the righty platoon to team with Jones in left, but the cost is certain to be higher in all respects with both players.

IF Mark Bellhorn – 1 year @ $1-1.25 mil
Bellhorn probably wants to start, but his subpar '05 season may send him searching for any job, rather than a starting gig, specifically. Having a veteran option at second and third base, especially one that can hit left-handed, could serve very valuable for the M's.

Free Agent Roundup

  • RHP A.J. Burnett
  • C Kenji Johjima
  • LF Jacque Jones
  • OF Dustan Mohr
  • IF Mark Bellhorn

  • LHP Jamie Moyer – 1 year @ $3 mil, plus incentives for $2-3 mil
    Guaranteeing Moyer any more than $3 million for 2006 would be foolish. This way, if he struggles, the M's are only out the $3 mil. If he's good, and I'd give 50-50 chance odds on that, the M's have a solid middle rotation guy for about $5 million.

    Arbitration Roundup

    RHP Gil Meche – Trade or non-tender
    Meche is guaranteed to make at least $2 million from the M's, since legally, the club cannot even offer a contract less than that. Expect Meche to be rumored in several trades up until the deadline. If he's still in town at that point, I'd non-tender him.

    C Yorvit Torrealba – Agree to terms @ $1-1.2 mil for '06
    Torrealba is a solid backup that the M's can rely on to do the job.

    RHP Ryan Franklin – Non-tender
    If Franklin can be dealt, he will be, but he too, like Meche, cannot be offered less than $2 million for 2006. I'd have told his agent on October 3, that he'd be non-tendered.

    RHP Julio Mateo – Agree to terms @ $900k-$1.2 mil
    Mateo could get more than a mil in arby negotiations, and if the player and agent get too greedy, I'd look to deal Mateo, whose value may never be higher than it is right now.

    RHP Rafael Soriano - Agree to terms @ $500K
    Soriano's August 2004 surgery strips him of most of his leverage in arbitration, which is largely based on service time and comparable players. When you don't play, you don't get paid. Anything more than $500,000 would be a big surprise.

    UT Willie Bloomquist – Agree to terms @ $825K
    I don't see Bloomquist trying to squeeze too much out of the M's, as long as he can put himself into position to both play more, and push his '07 salary over the million dollar mark. I'll gladly give him this deal and use him as the main infield backup, late-inning defensive replacement at second, pinch runner extraordinaire, and occasional outfielder and pinch hitter.

    Seattle Mariners 2006 Roster and Payroll

    STARTING ROTATION
    POS. PLAYER '06 SALARY '06 PAYROLL
    RHP Felix Hernandez $320,000 $320,000
    RHP A.J. Burnett $10,000,000 $10,320,000
    RHP Esteban Loaiza $4,500,000 $14,820,000
    RHP Joel Pineiro $6,300,000 $20,120,000
    LHP Jamie Moyer $5,00,000 $25,120,000
    BULLPEN
    POS. PLAYER '06 SALARY '06 PAYROLL
    LHP Eddie Guardado $6,250,000 $6,250,000
    RHP Rafael Soriano $500,000 $6,750,000
    RHP J.J. Putz $500,000 $7,250,000
    RHP Julio Mateo $1,100,000 $8,125,000
    LHP George Sherrill $320,000 $8,445,000
    RHP Scott Atchison $320,000 $8,765,000
    STARTING LINEUP
    POS. PLAYER '06 SALARY '06 PAYROLL
    RF Ichiro Suzuki $12,500,000 $12,500,000
    CF Jeremy Reed $320,000 $12,820,000
    DH Raul Ibanez $4,250,000 $17, 070,000
    1B Richie Sexson $17,500,000 $34,570,000
    3B Adrian Beltre $11,750,000 $46,320,000
    LF Jacque Jones $5,000,000 $51,320,000
    C Kenji Johjima $3,750,000 $55,070,000
    2B Jose Lopez $320,000 $55,390,000
    SS Yuniesky Betancourt $350,000 $55,740,000
    BENCH
    POS. PLAYER '06 SALARY '06 PAYROLL
    UT Willie Bloomquist $825,000 $825,000
    C Yorvit Torrealba $1,150,000 $1,975,000
    OF Dustan Mohr $900,000 $2,875,000
    OF T.J. Bohn $320,000 $3,195,000
    IF Mark Bellhorn $1,150,000 $4,345,000

    Payroll Subtotal - $94,470,000

    Other Cash Out:

    Scott Spiezio - $3,350,000
    Shigetoshi Hasegawa - $330,000
    Pokey Reese - $300,000
    Wiki Gonzalez - $250,000
    Total Cash Out - $4,230,000

    Payroll Grand Total - $98,200,000

    The above roster might be capable of 90+ wins in 2006, give or take, while the kids continue to develop. If all went well, the 2007 Mariners might be primed to be among the best in baseball.

    Of course, these are just my ideas, and some of them are more realistic than others. The bench could be a foursome, with Hargrove liking the seven-man bullpen - which becomes necessary if Moyer is the 5th starter and gets 2/3 of his starts at Safeco Field.

    The flex player on the bench would be T.J. Bohn, who realistically has a shot to break camp with the big club, since he can run, play center field, and isn't lost at the plate.

    Bellhorn was a reach, but he could provide veteran lefty hitting off the bench, and at two positions, second and third base. Without a trade occuring, Thornton would likely be the seventh man in the pen, serving as the second lefty.

    I'd expect .270/.325/.440 from Jones, hitting almost exclusively versus right-handers.

    It's tough to guage Johjima's projections, but using a scout's best guess, maybe .270/.340/.450 is a safe bet. Feeling brave? Try .285/.360/.475 for the Japanese superstar.

    Sexson probably goes .260/.360/.540 again, but with even more RBI. If healthy, pencil him in for another 35+ home runs.

    I fully expect Beltre to climb out of mediocrity, though not into the realm of his 2004 output. I'm thinking .280/.345/.475 with 25 homers.

    Lopez, Betancourt and Reed - well, Betancourt isn't likely to do much better than he did a year ago, but the M's will take that. Lopez finished on a high note, and could easily go to .265/.320/.450. Health is the biggest concern for Lopez.

    Reed is tough to project as well. Everything he ever did pre-2005 suggested he'd hit at least .285/.350 in his first full season, and with a little bit of pop. I'd still bet on him hitting .280 in 2006, with a .340+ on-base percentage. His power, as projected in his prospect profile, will gradually take a step up, year to year until he reaches 12-15.

    Ichiro. Ah, Ichiro. I'm not predicting a return to greatness, but a better lineup helps him focus on what he does best - drive pitchers crazy. I like the sound of .320/.365/.430 with 35 steals.

    Raul Ibanez has been solid both years in his return to Seattle. I don't expect him to hit .300 like he did in 2004, nor do I think he'll stay in the lineup quite enough to duplicate the 20 home runs he posted this past season. But .280/.335/.440 is reasonable - with 16-18 long balls. I'd be willing to bet he's the club's best clutch hitter next season.

    Expecting anything less than greatness from Felix Hernandez is a very strange concept. So I won't go there. He'll be as good as any pitcher in the American League. End of story.

    Burnett, in Seattle, would have a chance to break off a sub-3.00 ERA if he was right all year. Getting 200 innings out of him is far from guaranteed, but he'd probably be pretty electric for the 190 frames he pitched. A true No. 2.

    This is the year Moyer shows his age, but not in pure performance. He'll post a sub-4.5 ERA - under 4.00 if he makes 70% of his starts at home - but he's probably due to lose an inning of stamina. Shorter outings, but that's what the seven-man bullpen is for.

    Loaiza isn't a popular choice by many ITP'ers, but he's a better bet to duplicate his 2005 than Matt Morris or Jarrod Washburn and he'll come much cheaper than Jeff Weaver. It may take three guaranteed years to get him to sign, but with Moyer done soon, Pineiro on his way out after 2006 - likely - and the farm void of any guaranteed starters for 2007, Loaiza is a solid move at this price.

    I'd expect 200 innings from Loaiza, with an ERA around four.

    If Pineiro can give the M's 200 innings without flaming out for long stretches and not giving them a chance to win games, it really matters not what his ERA turns up to be. He might be solid. He might be terrible. I'd lean toward the middle.

    The bullpen should be fine, though I expect the M's to go light on Guardado early in the year, saving his workload for the stretch drive - if there is one. No reason to think Eddie can't post a 3.00 ERA with 30+ saves.

    Soriano and Putz will share setup duties, but if the Dominican Flamethrower regains more velocity and a better feel for his slider, he will get save opportunities and become the top option to set up Guardado. Around 60-65 innings max for Soriano, an ERA around three.

    Putz is a funny character, statistically. He posted a fantastic G/F ratio at 1.98, yet allowed more home runs per fly ball then any regular reliever except for Thornton. He needs to plane out his fastball so it's not so easy to lift. He'll probably repeat the numbers from 2005.

    Sherrill and Thornton are so different it's ridiculous. While Thornton can't find the plate, Sherrill can't help but throw strikes - sometimes one too many. Sherrill is nasty versus left-handers. Thornton is better versus righties. Sherrill will serve as the main option late in ballgames, Thornton will repeat his role as mop-up man - if he's around.

    I expect Sherrill to continue to dominate southpaws (.156 BAA, 18 K in 29 AB) and improve his consistency.

    Atchison and Mateo are identical, though Atchison can do Mateo's job for less than half the price. 'Nuff said.

    Bloomquist will resume his regular role as middle infield backup and pinch runner, while Torrealba serves as a security blanket for Johjima.

    Mohr is the main left field option versus left-handers, and Bellhorn is the veteran presence off the bench.

    If the above roster opened at Safeco Field in April, I'd predict a 90+ win season with a chance to compete for the division.

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