This is part of a series of posts wherein we belittle teams for their bewildering offseason buffoonery, or else extol them their their excellent preseason exploits.
Many pundits are proclaiming that the Seattle Mariners had the best offseason of any team, and it’s easy to see why. First, they had an utterly unforseen gift from the gods fall into their laps in October when hugely overpaid catcher Kenji Johjima (and Bill Bavasi’s last big mistake) opted out of the $16 million remaining on his contract in order to return to the comforts of Japan.
Then, in perhaps the busiest offseason of any team, they inked ace Felix Hernandez (5 years, $78M) and star centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez (4 years, $20.25M) to big extensions, resigned shortstop Jack Wilson (2 years, $10M), DH Ken Griffey Jr. (1 year, $2.35M), starter Erik Bedard (1 year, $1.5M), lured Chone Figgins from the Halos to the tune of 5 years, $45M, took cheap free agent gambles on 1B Ryan Garko (1 year, $0.55M) and OF Eric Byrnes (1 year, $0.4M), traded Carlos Silva to the Cubs for Milton Bradley in a swap of unwanted parts, shipped IF/OF Bill Hall to the Red Sox for 1B Casey Kotchman, acquired Brandon League and a prospect from the Blue Jays in a trade of relievers named “Brandon”, and of course, stunned the baseball world by landing a second ace in the form of Cliff Lee by shipping 3 prospects off in a three way deal with the Jays and Phillies.
With this large number of moves to acquire or lock up several solid players, just about everyone is picking the Mariners to win the division this year, but I am not sold. Of course, just about everyone would love to have players like King Felix, Gutierrez, Figgins, and Cliff Lee on their teams, but I have questions or concerns about many of these moves.
The Mariners obviously felt they simply had to lock up fan favorite Felix Hernandez, but it is not as if they got much of a hometown discount, if any. I’m not against paying top dollar for top pitchers, of which Hernandez is undeniably one, but I’ve always been leery of paying top dollar for pitchers in a guaranteed contract of more than a few years, because all it will take is one significant injury to turn this deal into a high priced bust.
Of course I was also against resigning Griffey, because he is unlikely to return value at this stage in his career, even at the modest price, and more importantly will be taking precious at-bats away from somebody better, but at least Griffey is only on a one year deal, as are Garko, Byrnes, and Bedard, which I thought were all good gambles for low prices.
The free agent signing I really question, however, is Chone Figgins. Although Figgins has been a great player thus far in his career and had a fantastic 2009 season, he is already 32 years old, and will be 36 years old by the time he is playing his vested option year in 2014. Given that much of Figgins’ game, both on offense and defense, depends on speed and a first quick step, and that these are the first things players lose in their early 30′s, it seems likely that Figgins will not be returning nearly much value by the end of this deal. Figgins is going to have to continue to play at or near peak performance well into his 30s to make this deal even out for the M’s.
Finally, I have questions about the thinking behind the Cliff Lee deal. Although a lot of baseball watchers are saying that the Phillies should have gotten more out of the Mariners for Lee, the fact is that Lee is in his walk year this season. This is a bold, win-now move in that if the Mariners don’t at least make the postseason this year, they will have traded three top prospects away, including their best hitting prospect, Tyson Gillies, and their second best pitching prospect, Philippe Aumont, for a draft pick or two. Despite some of the solid moves Seattle has made this offseason, I’m not at all sure that they can outrun the Angels for the AL West crown (or even the Rangers, for that matter), so I’m not sure the timing was quite right to make this kind of strike. They definitely have a shot this year, but it’s a big roll of the dice.
What really worries me about this team is how truly weak the offense is. The Mariners were dead last in the American League in runs scored in 2009, with a paltry 640, and this year their offense, incredibly enough, is even worse on paper. In particular, this team will have almost no power at all after the loss of Russ Branyan, Bill Hall, and Adrian Beltre (replaced by Casey Kotchman, Milton Bradley, and Figgins). It’s possible that Bradley might make up for some of the lost ground if he hits like he did in his career year in Texas two years ago, manages to stay on the field for more than half the season, and keeps his legendary anger in check, but those are big ifs, all three.
What is clear is that the Seattle Mariners under GM Jack Zduriencik value defense more than any other organization in the game, including even Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s, and this offseason the team decided to double down on defense with the signings of Wilson, Langerhans, Figgins, Byrnes, and Gutierrez and the trade for Kotchman.
But after a certain point, you have to stop and think, “Gee, having a great defense is great and all, but eventually we have to not only stop the other team from scoring but actually have to put some runs on the board ourselves.” I would have liked to see the Mariners do a bit more to try to address their league-worst offense this offseason before I can give them a high offseason grade. Ryan Garko is simply not enough, and all I can say is, while Felix might be used to pitching in all of those 1-0 and 2-1 games by now, Cliff Lee is in for a rude surprise going from one of the best offenses in the game to one of the worst.
Offseason Grade: B
Acquisitions: SP Cliff Lee, 3B Chone Figgins, OF Milton Bradley, 1B Ryan Garko, 1B Casey Kotchman, RP Brandon League, OF Eric Byrnes
Losses: 3B Adrian Beltre, 1B Russell Branyan, C Kenji Johjima, OF Endy Chavez, UT Bill Hall, SP Carlos Silva, RP Miguel Batista, RP Brandon Morrow
Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer
C – Rob Johnson
1B – Casey Kotchman
2B – Jose Lopez
3B – Chone Figgins
SS – Jack Wilson
LF – Milton Bradley/Eric Byrnes
CF – Franklin Gutierrez
RF – Ichiro Suzuki
DH – Ken Griffey Jr.
SP1 – Felix Hernandez
SP2 – Cliff Lee
SP3 – Eric Bedard
SP4 – Ryan Rowland-Smith
SP5 – Ian Snell
CL – David Aardsma