No Sugar Plums, Just Coal

When Seattle Mariners GM Bill Bavasi sat down with his front office crew this past October to make a list of players the club was to covet during the fall and winter months, he was doing the right thing. Prioritizing needs is critical for an organization, and the list included frontline starting pitching, a big bat and possibly a catcher – if things went just right.

Nearly three months later, things haven't worked out quite the way the Mariners planned a few months back. Landing the middle-of-the-order bat turned into Carl Everett, a midline offensive player, at best.

To the further bafflement of many on that front, Everett is a bad-to-awful defensive player, thrusting last season's starting DH, Raul Ibanez, into a regular role in left field, where he's average when healthy, and much more likely to re-aggravating his hamstring and hip injuries that have bothered him in recent years.

The club began the offseason with a small bang, inking Japanese superstar Kenji Johjima to a three-year contract. Surprise, the M's notched the team's third or fourth most necessary ingredient – a catcher – before the winter meetings got under way.

With Johjima and Everett in the fold and nearly half of the club's available budget blown, the top target of the winter was still missing: Would Bavasi whiff on upgrading the roster's most glaring need? Or would the third-year executive reel in a Christmas gift for the faithful Mojo Maniacs for the second straight season?

Less than a week after Everett was announced to the Seattle media, heavy rumors were thrown around that had the M's coming to terms with free-agent lefty Jarrod Washburn on a four-year contract worth more than $9 million per year.

What?

What happened to the rumors of the reigning American League ERA champion Kevin Millwood, widely regarded as the top starter on the open market?

Apparently, Scott Boras, Millwood's well-known and widely-despised agent, told clubs that his client was more than deserving of a five-year pact. That was a concept the Mariners balked at and ultimately followed through on when they officially signed Washburn for $37.5 million.

When the offseason started, Washburn wasn't on the list. Perhaps Bavasi was thinking of the 31-year-old the entire time, but when the wish list includes a "frontline starter." That isn't morse code for "Jarrod Washburn," he of the sparkling but incredibly reliant 3.20 ERA.

Frontline starters are leaders. They rely on nobody but themselves to go seven or eight innings, night-in and night-out. They battle through tough situations when their defense lets them down and turn their game up a notch when the going gets rough. Typically, they qualify as No. 1 or No. 2 starters with plus velocity and a solid array of offspeed stuff, or an average fastball and a plus variety of breaking balls or changeups.

Does any of that scream the name of Jarrod Washburn?

Washburn may be a pretty solid battler, a fighter on the mound; a pitcher that doesn't surrender to the hitter. But the Wisconsin native doesn't come across to many as a plus-stuff guy or a name that strikes fear into the hearts of opposing hitters.

Jarrod Washburn is NOT a frontline starting pitcher, nor has he ever been – nor will he ever be. He's a nice addition to a team in need of such an arm, but the problem is, the roster needed something better. Something more than solid. They needed Kevin Millwood. A name that puts a negative thought or two onto the readerboard of every hitter's brain of every lineup in the league.

If the M's follow up and do the unthinkable – sign Millwood, too - then nobody has a beef on the plan the club went to the table with, and ultimately executed. But Washburn does very little to satisfy the hunger in this town. The desire for Snickers-style satisfaction. The starvation for positive notoriety. The hunger for wins.

Washburn wasn't a bad acquisition. Bashing Bavasi for the acquisition of Washburn is not a very smart thing to do. If you are doing so, reassess what it is you are actually ripping.

Armed with a fastball clocked in the 86-89 range, occasionally touching 91 or 92, an average breaking ball and an average – at best – change, the newest Mariners solves very little for the 93-loss Mariners and if his rather large contract – okay, it's downright awful – is the end of the free-agent spending for the M's this winter, it's one of the worst moves a GM has ever made in this city – in any sport – including Jim McIlvane, Jeff Cirillo and the trade for Heathcliffe Slocumb.

If adding Washburn indeed means the club is out of the running for Millwood or even Jeff Weaver, and trade possibilities such as Carl Pavano and Matt Clement, it's probably going to result in the end of Bavasi's career as the general manager of the Emerald City Nine, and it should.

Guaranteeing Washburn more money than they have ever paid a pitcher is not a great move. It's not a good move or even a solid move. It's a freaking ridiculous transaction that only the clowns at Starbucks can top with a five-dollar cup of really European tasting java that leaves an aftertaste resembling a BMX bike tire.

Make no mistake, Washburn makes the M's a better club in 2006 than they were in '05. There is very little doubt about that. The point is, it's not enough, and his $9 million per season may be in the way of this franchise getting back to where it wants to be, where it needs to be and where the fans deserve to see it.

That offer, or a halfway similar fascimile, was meant to make an impact. That contract, and then some, was meant to steer this franchise back toward the top. That money was meant for Mr. Millwood.

Maybe Bavasi isn't well-versed in the manner that when you make a list and prioritize the rhyme and reason of the inked lines on a yellow legal pad that you can't simply leave it at that.

To say nothing of Washburn's 4.39 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and his modest strikeout rates and the stink of his G/F and K/BB ratios, Bavasi's memory may be what haunted him the most in making the decision to hand a No. 3 or 4 starter money that is meant for a No. 1 or 2.

Yeah, that's it, Bavasi forgot. He simply failed to remember one small thing.

In hopes that there is still time to salvage the 2005-06 off-season, allow me to pass on a memo to Bill Bavasi, a bit of advice, a reminder, if you will, learned at a very young age by many young children across the world, and learned from a fictitious character (no, Beavis, Santa Claus is not real.)

Next time you get the chance, Mr. Bavasi, remember to take hold of that list and do the right thing – check it twice.

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