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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 3, 2010 at 11:10 AM

A battle for Adrian Gonzalez could be looming; Kotchman avoids arbitration

agonzalez.jpg

Update 3:30 p.m.: According to Associated Press, Kotchman signed for $3,517,500. That’s the precise midpoint between his $3.9-million arbitration filing, and the M’s arbitration proposal of $3,135,000. Kotchman made $2,885,000 last year.

Update 2 p.m.: The Mariners made it official, announcing a one-year contract for Casey Kotchman. He was their last arbitration-eligible player. Also, first baseman Tommy Everidge, who was designated for assignment when the Mariners signed Eric Byrnes last Friday, was outrighted to Tacoma. That means no other teams claimed him. He will be invited to major-league spring training with the Mariners.

The last Seattle player to go to arbitration was Freddy Garcia before the 2003 season. No contract details yet, but Kotchman had filed for $3.9 million, and the Mariners were offering $3.1 million. These things usually got settled at the mid-point, which would be $3.5 million. The Mariners had previously reached contract agreements on one-year deals, avoiding arbitration, with David Aardsma, Mark Lowe and Brandon League while signing Felix Hernandez and Franklin Gutierrez to long-term deals.

Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union-Tribune has a column this morning with some remarkably frank comments from Padres CEO Jeff Moorad, as well as John Boggs, the agent for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, on Gonzalez’s future in San Diego.

The premise of the column is comparing Gonzalez with Joe Mauer — both No. 1 overall draft picks, both the face of their franchise, both nearing free agency. Mauer, who can become a free agent after this season, is by all accounts on the verge of signing a long-term extension with the Twins. Meanwhile, Gonzalez — who can become a free agent after 2011 — seems headed out of San Diego.

Here is what Moorad — a former agent, by the way — had to say to Sullivan:

“I think the fairest description of our point of view is that we continue to be committed to doing what’s best for the long-term interest of the organization. As a result, no player is untouchable. And while we’re mindful of players’ individual popularity, we won’t put one player ahead of the long-term interests of the club.

“I’m confident that (General Manager) Jed (Hoyer) and John Boggs will have a discussion at some point about Adrian and his future. While I’d be thrilled to have him part of the organization for the long term, the early signals indicate his cost will be greater than our ability to pay.” (emphasis mine).

And Boggs, in the same article, says: “I don’t ever want to speak for ownership because I have no knowledge of what they have and what they don’t. (But) the feeling we’re getting is more than likely (the Padres) are going to have to trade Adrian Gonzalez because (they) can’t afford him.”

Now, this could all be posturing, but you have the CEO and the agent in agreement that the Padres aren’t likely to meet Gonzalez’s pay demands. Moorad went on to add, “Availability of resources is not the issue. How we choose to deploy our resources is where the focus is.”

It sure sounds to me like the Padres are gearing up to trade Gonzalez, who, just to review, hit 40 homers last year playing his home games in a cavernous park, with little protection in the lineup, and won his second straight Gold Glove, while racking up a .958 OPS.

The Padres are going to stink this year, likely as not, and they might be absolutely correct in leveraging Gonzalez to jump-start the rebuilding process. Gonzalez is signed for ridiculously cheap salaries of $4.75 million this year, and $5.6 million next year (plus some awards bonuses), making him that much more valuable on the trade market. He turns 28 in May, so he should be in his prime.

The Padres will have several junctures to deal Gonzalez — this spring, at the trade deadline, next winter, and at the 2011 trade deadline. But if they are flailing this season, it would seem to me that the optimal time to strike would be at this year’s trade deadline, when acquiring teams would get to have him for two stretch drives, conceivably. I think the Padres are committed to starting the season with Gonzalez, to show fans they haven’t given up on this season — yet.

For those who question where the Mariners’ power is going to come from this year (and I guess I’m in that group), Gonzalez is obviously a name to tuck away. The Mariners reportedly made some overtures toward acquiring him last July. Jack Zduriencik has admitted to bidding for Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay at last year’s trade deadline, so it’s clear that he is ambitious and won’t shy away from any potential acquisition, blockbuster or otherwise.

Right now, the Red Sox are the team to beat for Gonzalez. Hoyer, the Padres’ GM, came out of the Boston organization and is close to Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. The Red Sox have already been linked to Gonzalez in trade rumors, and they have some young talent to deal. This Red Sox blog notes that with Adrian Beltre on a one-year deal, it would be relatively easy to shed Beltre and move Kevin Youkilis back to third if they acquire Gonzalez. The Mariners, who will probably start the year with a Casey Kotchman/Ryan Garko platoon at first, would also be able to make room for Gonzalez, it would appear.

No doubt many other teams would join the bidding if and when Adrian Gonzalez becomes available. Could the Mariners put together an attractive package? A lot will depend on the development of guys like Carlos Triunfel, Michael Saunders and some other prospects in their organization. The Mariners have already dealt away many of their trade chips, such as Phillippe Aumont, Brandon Morrow, Tyson Gillies, and Juan Ramirez. But depending on how badly they want Gonzalez, and how deep they’re willing to dip into their talent pool, major and/or minor leagues, there’s an appealing trade package that could probably be put together.

It’s all speculation at this point, but quotes like these make it more than just idle chatter. You’d better get used to it — Adrian Gonzalez is a name that’s going to be in the periphery all season long.

(Seattle Times photo)

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