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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

November 27, 2007 at 8:19 AM

Countdown to Nashville

Hello everyone, great to be back. Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Less than a week to go before the Mariners head to Nashville for the baseball winter meetings. Many of you have written me online over the past month wondering what I’ve been up to. One of you even sent me a very touching personal letter by regular mail that just made my winter, so thank you. It’s been a busy time.
Just got back from Italy, where I checked out firsthand the way a sports venue used to look. Rome’s Colosseum is something I’ve seen many times in movies and photos, but being inside of it was an entirely new perspective and one that left me unexpectedly awestruck. Posted the picture below. Just consider it the template for today’s modern NFL venues.
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As for the Mariners, they already faced a monumental task heading into this off-season and it’s become much more difficult now that the Los Angeles Angels have signed Torii Hunter. I prefer not to look at the Hunter singing, or the Angels’ trade for Jon Garland, in isolation, but rather, as part of an overall plan. Garland gives the Angels added pitching depth ahead of a potential trade, while Hunter — $90 million or not — makes the team better offensively.
Add one more impact bat, like a Miguel Cabrera, and this crew could be an AL West powerhouse for years to come. Don’t forget, the AL West race was all-but-over with a month to go in the 2007 regular season. Sobering news, I know.
But the Mariners still have time to get better. We’ve all heard about their pursuit of Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. That’s an interesting first step. But for me, in order to take a true next step, this team needs to make an impact move this winter. And none would have a greater impact than landing Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins.
I know, much easier said than done. Though, from looking at the names being bandied about as the New York Yankees discuss a possible Santana trade, this deal is very doable from a Mariners perspective.
It all depends on what the team is willing to give up. Money? That’s not as big a problem in Seattle as some would believe. This team was willing to give $100 million to a declining return in Barry Zito. Why not step up and offer a long-term pitch to Santana, a pitcher who turns 29 in March and has been a perenial Cy Young Award candidate for the past several seasons?
Do the Mariners have the players to get a deal done? I think so. If the barometer is a “proven player” like Melky Cabrera and some stud minor leaguers, they certainly do. Any deal starts with Adam Jones and likely moves onward to include Brandon Morrow, Jeff Clement (though his sore elbow diminishes his value), Ryan Feierabend…throw out the names. But the M’s do have them. For some teams, that might be too much for the sake of acquiring one impact pitcher. But the M’s are not one of those teams. The Mariners have Felix Hernandez, considered by many to be the game’s next top ace-in-waiting. Adding his fellow Venezuelan countryman in Santana would give Hernandez another peer/role model he could pattern himself after. Miguel Batista has already worked wonders with Hernandez. What would Santana do?
Imagine a Santana/Hernandez one-two punch for the next five years. Imagine a rotation where 16-game winner Batista is the No. 4 or No. 5 starter behind Santana, Hernandez and Kuroda. No, I don’t think acquiring Kuroda automatically rules out Santana. You could always trade Jarrod Washburn if you need to free up cash.
Of course, nothing is simple. The M’s have already jettisoned Jose Guillen, meaning they are counting on Jones to occupy a corner outfield spot. Trading Jones would force the M’s to find another outfield replacement (and heading into the season with Raul Ibanez in left is already not the best situation defensively). But nothing in life is perfect. That’s why I will be absolutely stunned if the M’s don’t get in on Santana at the winter meetings.
Forget the outfield for a moment. The AL West is all about pitching. A rotation fronted by Santana and Hernandez is completely possible from a trade perspective and would change the entire outlook of this M’s team. It says here that it would make Seattle an automatic wild-card favorite and division contender in 2008, not 2010. That does mean something, because the future is never guaranteed. Wait a few more years to take a shot at seriously contending (beyond Sept. 5) and there’s no guarantee Hernandez will still be around once that plan all comes together.
It also says here that, given how the free-swinging Angels are upgrading their only true weak spot of the past four years — power hitting outside of Vlad Guerrero — the M’s need an impact move of this genre just to keep pace with the division’s top team. Remember, the M’s dramatically outpaced their runs for/against record for much of last season before things evened out in September. There is plenty to suggest this was more of an 82-win team than an 88-win squad. A good organization won’t just sit around waiting to find out which was more realistic.
That’s how I see it. Looking forward to chatting with some of you in the days ahead as we lead into baseball’s winter showcase.

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