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For Mariners, time to get out the checkbook
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Meehan: Offseason should be a busy one
S eattle Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi is in the easy phase of his job this week as he interviews candidates for the team's vacant manager's slot.
Ahead looms the gargantuan task of reshaping the Seattle roster in perhaps the most pivotal offseason in franchise history.
Seattle can't afford another 63-99 season. Attendance slipped to 2.9 million this year, the first time it has dipped under 3 million in a full season at Safeco Field.
The good news is that Seattle has the wherewithal to take a big stride forward. The departures of a group of veterans that included John Olerud, Freddy Garcia, Edgar Martinez, Rich Aurilia and Kevin Jarvis gives Seattle about $25 million in payroll to spend on the free agent market.
Seattle has too many holes to solve solely through free agency. But the right free agent or two could lead Seattle into a new era.
And for the Mariners, the right guy is Houston center fielder Carlos Beltran, a 27-year-old Puerto Rico native who has sent his free agent market value skyrocketing with an astounding postseason.
Entering Monday night, Beltran was hitting .486 in the National League championship and division series and had tied Barry Bonds with a record eight home runs in a single postseason.
Joe DiMaggio hit eight home runs in 51 postseason games. Beltran has done it in nine.
Beltran, a free agent, is making $9 million this year. He might double that next season. And the Mariners should be the team writing the check.
The fleet Beltran -- he stole 42 bases -- is a perfect fit for Safeco and the style of ball that the Mariners must pursue in this pitcher's park. He is a legitimate five-tool player whose best years are ahead of him.
To sign Beltran, Seattle must fend off the Yankees, the Cubs, the Red Sox, the Angels and the Astros. And it should be prepared to do so.
Seattle's $81.5 million payroll ranked 11th in the big leagues this year. Chief operating officer Howard Lincoln has said the team is prepared to budget for a loss next season to pay for its on-field needs.
The free agent market is tricky. Although the Mariners need a top starter, signing free agent pitchers to big contracts is a gamble because of the injury risk. It's far better to spend the money on a young position player who might be in center field for seven or eight years.
Here is what the Mariners should do:
Sign the switch hitting Beltran and trade center fielder Randy Winn for a pitcher.
Install rookie Jeremy Reed in left field. Reed has good speed and hit .397 in 18 games in September. With Ichiro Suzuki in right, this would restore outstanding defense to the Mariners' outfield, something that was lacking in 2004.
Move left fielder Raul Ibanez to first base. Ibanez is a good hitter but a below-average outfielder.
Move rookie shortstop Jose Lopez to third base. The poised 20-year-old has a big upside but lacks range at shortstop.
Sign a free agent shortstop who plays solid defense. He doesn't have to have a potent bat; he will earn his salary with the glove.
The Cardinals' Edgar Renteria is the best shortstop on the free agent market. Seattle probably couldn't afford both Beltran and Renteria, but perhaps this team should dream big and take a run at both.
Leave Bret Boone at second. Boone will bounce back from an off year at the plate once the pressure eases on him to produce.
Resign catcher Dan Wilson. Miguel Olivo is a talent. He runs better than any catcher in the big leagues and throws as well as any. But Olivo is raw behind the plate; he must improve his handling of pitchers and blocking skills. Wilson remains one of the American League's best defensive catchers.
Bucky Jacobsen, the rookie from Hermiston, showed consistent power before he was injured and could provide punch as the designated hitter.
The pitching staff remains a wild card. Here the Mariners should roll the dice and pray. Pray that Joel Pineiro, Rafael Soriano and closer Eddie Guardado recover from injuries. Pineiro and Guardado already are pitching in the bullpen in Arizona; Soriano might miss the first half of the 2005 season.
Rookie Bobby Madritsch and Gil Meche were the team's best starting pitchers down the stretch this season. The rest of the 2005 rotation would include Pineiro, veteran Jamie Moyer and Ryan Franklin.
Beltran would cost Seattle a bundle, but the cost of not adding a player of his caliber might be higher. Beltran would invigorate the Seattle lineup and the fans. His style of play fits perfectly into what Seattle must do to win -- play defense and run.
The Mariners began 2004 with one of the slowest and oldest lineups in the American League. By adding Beltran and young players such as Reed and Lopez, the Mariners drastically change their makeup and become a very quick team.
And the truth is Seattle can afford to compete for Beltran's services. The Mariners are among baseball's top revenue franchises, and it's time to start acting like it.
Some team needs to do baseball a favor and keep Beltran away from the Bronx. Let it be the Mariners.
Registered_Guest wrote:What they'll do is sign Delgado -- who will become another line of the signing busts by Seattle.
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