10/27/2003 6:48 PM ET
Next Seattle GM faces tough task
By Jim Street / MLB.com
Freddy Garcia is eligible for arbitration again this offseason. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
SEATTLE -- A two-year absence from the playoffs notwithstanding, the Mariners' next general manager can count on having one of the top GM jobs in Major League Baseball.
The Mariners rank second to the Yankees in revenue, play in a fabulous facility that is practically filled every game, possess a stable and supportive ownership group and have a team that has won at least 90 games in each of the past four seasons.
No wonder so many people want the job.
Chuck Armstrong, the club president, said the original list of candidates to replace Pat Gillick numbered more than 50. The organization has quietly been searching for Gillick's replacement and wants to have the position filled before the annual GM meetings begin Nov. 10 in Phoenix, Ariz.
Among those known to have interviewed for the job are in-house assistant GMs Benny Looper and Lee Pelekoudas, former Angels GM Mike Port and current Expos GM Omar Minaya. Seattle reportedly has interest in talking to Gordon Blakely (Yankees), Dan Jennings (Marlins) and Al Avila (Tigers).
A club official said there are no interviews scheduled for this week.
Not that he was throwing his hat into the ring, but Yankees GM Brian Cashman told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "I don't think there's anybody in baseball who wouldn't want that job. The Mariners have a terrific fan base, a beautiful stadium and a thriving farm system.
"And when you mix in with that that there aren't many better places to live, there's no question (Seattle) is a great job."
Cashman has one year remaining on his contract, but his status is uncertain because of the Yankees' upset loss to the Florida Marlins in the World Series.
The Mariners next GM faces some financial challenges associated with an anticipated $92 million payroll.
Eight players are on multi-year contracts totaling $42.5 million next season, including $5.725 million for third baseman Jeff Cirillo. The new GM is expected to put the two-time All-Star on the trading block, but finding a trading partner could be difficult. The best chance of dealing Cirillo, who batted .205 in '03, probably is to include him in a package deal and absorb some of his '04 salary.
Eight players are eligible for salary arbitration. That group includes right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, who made $3 million in 2003 and figures to at least double his salary in '04. Ichiro's agent recently told a Mariners beat reporter that his client would consider an arbitration hearing "a slap in the face." The organization is expected to do everything "within reason" to sign Ichiro to another multi-year contract.
Right-handed pitcher Freddy Garcia won a one-year, $6.875 million contract through salary arbitration last February, more than doubling his '02 salary, despite having a 5-5 record during the second half of the season. He is eligible for salary arbitration again and you can look for the organization to avoid a repeat, even if that means trading the talented, but erratic, starter.
Three-fifths of last season's starting rotation also is salary arbitration-eligible, meaning right-handers Joel Pineiro, Ryan Franklin and Gil Meche will get substantial pay raises, more than doubling their '03 salaries.
Eight players are eligible for free agency, including right-handed reliever Armando Benitez, jack-of-all-trades Mark McLemore and probably center fielder Mike Cameron, shortstop Rey Sanchez and left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes, who told MLB.com late in the season that he wanted to return to the Mariners.
Without a potential replacement in the minor leagues, the Mariners might grant Rhodes' wish and sign him to another multi-year deal.
Cameron gave the Mariners four superb seasons on defense, but became increasingly frustrated with the difficult hitting conditions at Safeco Field. The veteran-deprived Devil Rays are expected to pursue Cameron.
Right-handed reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa was a bullpen savior last season, stepping in for the injured Sasaki in the closer role the second half of the season. Naturally, Shiggy expects to be rewarded for his best season since coming to America from Japan seven years ago.
The Edgar Martinez factor. Time isn't as much of an issue with the veteran designated hitter, who will either retire or play for the Mariners in '04. Therefore, he can wait until just before Spring Training to make a decision. Martinez said at the end of the season that his decision would be partially based on the team's ability to contend for the AL West title.
Japanese shortstop Kazuo Matsui. As of Monday, the player known as "Little Matsui", hasn't decided whether to leave his homeland. But if he does, the Mariners are among the MLB organizations expected to pursue the infielder.
Whoever lands the job, the new GM figures to have several holes to fill between now and the start of Spring Training in mid-February. Gillick, who will remain with the organization as a consultant, excelled in signing free agents during his four seasons as the Mariners GM.
The new GM will have nearly 230 free agents to choose from this year, including high-priced position players like Gary Sheffield of the Braves, Giants shortstop Rich Aurelia and Expos outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.
Looking ahead to 2004
Here is the contract status of the players that finished the 2003 season on the 40-man roster.
Armando Benitez ($6.75 million in '03)*
Willie Bloomquist ($300,000 in '03)
Bret Boone ($8 million)
Mike Cameron ($7 million in '03)*
Jeff Cirillo ($5.725 million in '04)
Greg Colbrunn ($2.75 million in '04)*
Ben Davis ($1 million in '03 and eligible for salary arbitration)
Ryan Franklin ($425,000 in '03 and eligible for salary arbitration)
Freddy Garcia ($6.875 million in '03 and eligible for salary arbitration)
Carlos Guillen ($2.6 million in '03 and eligible for salary arbitration)
Shigetoshi Hasegawa ($1.80 million in '03)*
John Mabry ($1.5 million in '04 or $600,000 buyout)
Edgar Martinez ($6 million in '03)*
Julio Mateo ($302,500 in '03)
Mark McLemore ($3.150 million in '03).*
Gil Meche ($425,000 in '03 and eligible for salary arbitration)
Jamie Moyer ($6.5 million in '04)
John Olerud ($7.7 million in '04)
Joel Pineiro ($440,000 in '03 and eligible for salary arbitration)
Arthur Rhodes ($3.5 million in '03)*
Rey Sanchez ($1.3 million in '03)*
Kazuhiro Sasaki ($8 million in '04)
Ichiro Suzuki ($3 million in '03 and eligible for salary arbitration)
Dan Wilson ($3.5 million in '04)
Randy Winn ($3.425 million in '03 and eligible for salary arbitration)
Pat Borders ($500,000 in '03)*
* Eligible for free agency.
Other players the Mariners control in '04: Catcher Ryan Christianson; infielders Chad Meyers and Luis Ugueto; outfielders Chris Snelling and Jamal Strong; left-handed pitchers Ryan Anderson, Bobby Madritsch and Matt Thornton; right-handed pitchers Jeff Heaverlo, Rett Johnson, Aaron Looper, J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano, Brian Sweeney and Aaron Taylor.