M's Rebuild Has Holes

Losing 192 games over the course of two seasons screams one thing to almost every organization in baseball: Rebuild.

All teams without the nicknames Yankees or Red Sox have had to go this route once or twice in their history.

The Mariners should have gone this route three years ago, but chose not to, and that decision has had Mariners' fans witnessing bad baseball with little hope for the near future.

When the Mariners limped home to 93 wins in 2003 the handwriting was on the wall. The roster was aging and there was no immediate help available from the farm system. The organization's prospect cupboard was not bare, but it was thin on players who were close to being major-league ready.

Bill Bavasi took over for Pat Gillick as General Manager after the M's second straight October at home, and probably thought he had scored his dream job. Taking the reigns of a team that had won 302 games over the previous three seasons and playing in a beautiful ballpark with a strong fan base, seemed to be an ideal situation for any new GM.

But the 2004 Mariners lost 99 games. Players like John Olerud, Dan Wilson and Edgar Martinez were showing their age. Jamie Moyer was no longer the crafty left-hander that had won 21 games the previous season at the ripe old age of 40. And Bret Boone, just three seasons removed from one of the greatest seasons a second baseman has ever had, was starting to decline.

The team had a poor pitching and weak hitting. Not exactly a recipe for success.

Some would argue that the M's began a full-scale rebuild when they traded away Freddy Garcia to the White Sox during the 2004 season for a package of prospects that included Jeremy Reed.

But then the Mariners opened up the vault the following winter and signed Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre to contract worth well over $100 million. Organizations in the fist winter of a total rebuild do not typically commit that kind of money to two players, both of whom had question marks heading into 2005.

Sexson was coming off an injury-plagued season with Arizona and Beltre was coming off a monster season with Los Angeles where he hit .334 with 48 home runs and drove in 121 runs. He appeared to be streaking into the prime of his career and was turning 26 years old just after opening day.

The Mariners believed they had added two corner bats that would greatly improve the offense and their record.

Sexson had a tremendous first season in Seattle, hitting 39 home runs and somehow topping the 120-RBI mark.

Beltre never seemed to find his stride and finished with 19 home runs and 87 RBI, raising questions about his monster year the previous season. He was solid defensively, but the Mariners were hoping for much more production from a player who finished second in National League MVP voting in '04.

The Mariners did improve by six games in 2005, But it wasn't exactly what Mariners brass had in mind after those additions.

The club's offense managed to increase their offensive output from the previous season by a single run (698 in 2004/699 in 2005).

Jamie Moyer bounced back but Joel Pineiro and Gil Meche continued to spiral downward after suffering their second consecutive miserable campaigns.

The Mariners entered the winter with plenty of question marks and fans looking for something to be positive about.

Logic would tell you that the franchise learned from the previous winter, that the quick fix is rarely successful.

The Mariners didn't break the bank this time around, but they did make some questionable moves leaving the average fan wondering if the team, or Bill Bavasi, has any real direction.

The Mariners first major move was signing catcher Kenji Johjima out of Japan to a 3-year, $16.5 million dollar contract.

All we know about Johjima is that he was a good player across the ocean. The Mariners have had very little offense from the catcher's position over the past few seasons, so Johjima is a clear upgrade.

However, they do have a prospect in 2005 first-round draft pick Jeff Clement, who they see as their catcher of the future.

Granted, Clement won't be ready for at least a couple of seasons, but it would have made more sense to go with the since-traded Yorvit Torrealba and rookie Rene Rivera in '06 and see how things played out.

Torrealba was shipped to Colorado for two young pitchers. Benji Molina would have been a better choice if the Mariners insisted on going the free-agent route, seeing as he is an established big-league catcher coming off his best offensive season.

There has to be a concern about the language barrier when Johjima has to communicate with pitchers that speak both English and Spanish.

The Mariners might have to call in Ichiro from right field to help with translation every time there is a meeting on the mound.

Another major move was signing left-hander Jarrod Washburn to a 4-year, $37.5 million dollar contract.

Washburn was 8-8 in 2005 with a 3.20 ERA with the Los Angeles Angels. The M's miscalculated if they felt Washburn would be highly coveted just because he didn't allow a single runner to steal a base in 2005.

Bavasi seems to like bringing some of his former Angels players into the Mariners fold and compensating them handsomely. We can't forget Scott Speizio because the Mariners still owe him $3.1 million for 2006, while he either sits at home or plays for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Fans do have one player to be excited about and that is, of course, Felix Hernandez. Hernandez is the kind of player that teams can build around. He's a young pitcher with deadly "stuff" who has the poise of a veteran.

However the Mariners seem to be surrounding him with questionable talent. The signings of Carl Everett and Matt Lawton were the only other significant moves that the Mariners made in the offseason.

Randy Winn and Ron Villone were traded for prospects near the end of last season and that is a step in the right direction, but the M's seem to be conflicted as to whether they want to rebuild or get back into contention as soon as possible via the quick fix.

The post-1995 Mariners fan is used to winning and is not interested in a rebuild of any kind. The faithful continue to walk through the turnstiles at Safeco Field and do not want to see a poor product on the field.

Management and ownership realizes this and that is why a full-scale rebuild in Seattle will never happen.

They can't convince most fans that a step back is sometimes necessary for any team at some point in their overall development in Major League Baseball.

The Mariners enjoyed several successful seasons from 1995 to 2003. But Pat Gillick and the ownership group failed to see that the 'good run' was over and the Mariners have paid for it with two miserable seasons in in a row.

Instead of trading veterans away when they were still worth something, the Mariners hung onto them until they had very little trade value. The Mariners should have followed Cleveland's example and broken things down sooner, rather than later.

If a massive rebuild would have began three years ago the Mariners would be miles ahead of where they are today as an organization.

Veteran manager Mike Hargrove had little effect on the team as even Bob Melvin could have guided the 2005 Mariners to the 69 wins they accomplished a year ago.

The majority of Mariners fans seem to care less how local boy Matt Tuiasosopo is hitting in Class A Wisconsin or if right-hander Clint Nageotte will ever make it back to the big leagues.

Do many Mariners fans ever wonder about the health of Travis Blackley? Probably not.

But each fan knows that Adrian Beltre is being paid a lot of money and isn't performing like he should.

Bavasi seems to have been misguided by an ownership group who is preaching 'winning now' or retooling. The third-year GM was responsible for some of the homegrown players who were laced the roster of the Anaheim Angels World Series winning team in 2002.

He also did an excellent job as farm director of the Los Angeles Dodgers following his time in Anaheim, and he seems more than qualified to be a General Manager in charge of a legitmate rebuild.

Sadly, he will never get that chance in Seattle.

Rebuilding means getting younger, not immediately signing free agents to large contracts in attempt to avoid a major hit in attendance.

Payroll is usually reduced during this time. Emphasis is put on scouting and drafting. The Mariners are attempting some of these things but there are clearly holes in their rebuild plan.

Maybe it will take another losing season in 2006 for the Mariners organization to re-think their plan of attack.
Dean Swanton is known as RotatorCuff on the InsideThePark.com message forums.

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