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May 29, 2008 at 9:22 AM

Pondering the future

Interesting discussion in last night’s post-game thread between Adam and others on what the Mariners win and series victory over the Boston Red Sox could ultimately mean in regards to the future steps taken by the organization. I don’t think it will lead to a 20-game winning streak and vault the M’s back into contention. They’re going to have to show me first before I hop back on any bandwagon.
That said, stretches like the last four games by the Mariners — in which they played hard, competitive baseball in all facets of the game, especially pitching — make the upcoming job a little more difficult for the front office and ownership.
Is this another mirage? A last gasp by a team in its death throes, all pressure removed and simply going out there more loose? Or is this Mariners team able to go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox, and with the Yankees in the Bronx?
One thing is certain. This team, as constructed, should not have gotten blown apart in five consecutive games as we saw on the road last week. It’s a better team than that. But how much better? That’s the big question and it’s why calling for everybody in sight to be fired/traded/shipped out, might not be the answer right now. Of prime importance, once this organization admits that it’s already torched its chances in 2008, will be figuring out what to do next.
Do you blow the whole thing up? Or is this team just a handful of bats away from contending?

That’s a serious question. Because this rotation is supposed to function the way it did the past four days. The M’s could have won all four games if not for some bad luck in New York and an inability to score runs in the series opener against Boston.
Thing is, Seattle could also have lost all four. And that’s the problem. It’s been the biggest problem all season. The pitching didn’t fall apart until May, once the slide had already begun.
But if you buy into Erik Bedard, and you buy into Felix Hernandez, that’s an excellent place to start. If you buy into Carlos Silva being able to go six or seven innings every night, which he pretty much has aside from a small May stretch, that’s a continuation. The rest can be worked out.
Buy into this bullpen? It’s currently the best all-around part of this team. The one that has arguably struggled the least. If you do, that’s another major component accounted for.
So, what to do about the offense? It has been putrid. Forget about the overall run total. That’s been skewed by a handful of big totals in single games, not to mention late runs piled on when games were already decided. When games are close, the M’s usually can’t score. That’s a problem.
So, do you fix it by blowing the whole thing up? Do you trade Bedard this winter and try to get 70 cents on the dollar for your initial investment? Do that, might as well go all-in on the rebuilding and ship J.J. Putz out at the top of his game as well. Get some real prospects. You won’t want a 35-year-old closer by the time this team is serious about contending again.
Or, is this team just a few smartly-acquired pieces away?
For instance, will a decent centerfielder solve the team’s ills? Doesn’t have to be a 30-homer guy. Just a good defensive centerfielder. That way, you could move Wladimir Balentien over to his more naturally-suited left field position and shift Ichiro back to right. Would provide less power than the team currently has, but then the defense — with all those theoretical saved runs I keep reading about — could make up for that in an instant, right?
Or, do you drop big bucks on a power hitting right fielder, move Balentien and keep Ichiro where he is? Will a little less defense but more power be the answer? Not an easy question, given that Safeco Field doesn’t always lend itself to power hitting. Has to be the right power hitter.
Do you leave Balentien and Ichiro where they are and go for a left fielder?
Also, are we getting ahead of ourselves here? Has Balentien shown enough to be given an everyday job?
Think about this carefully. It’s one thing for a rookie to be hitting .220 or so with a .702 OPS one month into his stint with the team. Quite another to be doing it a year from now when your patience might not be as high. Remember, some of the worries that surrounded him at spring training, like holes in his swing, have surfaced with some huge strikeout numbers already. Is he the real deal? That’s a key question you have to answer this season. Because if you go the “two or three player fix” route, you’ll have one year to get it right and make the playoffs in 2009.
Otherwise, the Bedard trade was a colossal bust.
Whatever is decided for the outfield, it allows Raul Ibanez to shift to a DH role. I do think it’s important for the team to bring coming free agent Ibanez back next year, provided his bat pulls out of its latest funk. Ibanez has been the team’s most productive bat all season despite this latest slump he’s in. If he pulls out of it and produces another season with an OPS well above .800 and 100 RBI he’d be a natural DH. He’s one of this team’s leaders — silent or otherwise — in that clubhouse and you want to keep that component around if he’s contributing.
So, adding that one player — but it has to be a good one — in the outfield can change the offensive and defensive landscape in a hurry.
Richie Sexson will be gone by next season. Jeff Clement could replace him at first base. But he has to start playing that position more regularly.
Or, do you blow the bank on a second free-agent bat and bring in a guy like Mark Teixeira? Think it’s that easy? Let’s say he signs with Seattle, against all odds. Teixeira is not exactly known as a great clubhouse guy. Would that matter at all to you, given what has taken place with the team this year? Again, something to think about.
Finally, there’s the middle infield. Are you happy with Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez going forward? I’m not worried about Adrian Beltre, who is back for one more year in 2009. Beltre has been playing with that damaged ligament in his wrist. I’m sure that’s caused some of the errors he’s made this season. Probably isn’t helping his bat. He’ll get that surgically repaired at some point, no doubt, and begin 2009 with a clean slate. But what about the double-play twins? Are they the guys? Or do you look for a free-agent second baseman or shortstop? Do you trade for one?
Finally, can these two or three moves solve every offensive woe this team has? Because if they do, and you like the pitching on a whole — throwing May aside — the plan for contention would appear to be back on again, crazy as it sounds.
Or, remembering that this is a last place team, are the problems too deep-seated for a handful of moves to make much of a difference?
Are the M’s deluding themselves in thinking they are “two or three players away?” Should they trade Bedard, trade Putz and “go for it” in 2011? Think that sounds a little far-fetched? It’s not. If you rebuild now, 2011 is the earliest this team could reasonably hope to contend.
Most rebuilding efforts take three to five years unless you’re very lucky.
So, that’s it. Play GM. What does this team do next?
In my mind, it’s gone all-in on Bedard and has no choice but to try to contend next year by making those two or three moves. Especially with a payroll of $117 million or whatever it’s now at. You’ve got one more shot with Bedard and have to take it. I’d make those two or three moves, get Brandon Morrow in the starting rotation and take a shot. That’s if I’m Bill Bavasi. If someone else is brought in, who knows? Would he (or she) keep the ego in-check enough to admit Bavasi was two or three moves away and finish the job? Or would the rebuild begin right away?
Some interesting calls coming up for this organization. They aren’t made easier when the team does an about-face like it has this week.



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