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November 27, 2009 at 12:32 PM

Millions of reasons for Mariners to give thanks ahead of the winter meetings

We’re just over a week away from the start of the baseball winter meetings and the Mariners will be looking to make a slew of additions to their roster. Some items of need include, but are not limited to, a new third baseman, first baseman, No. 2 starter, No. 3 starter, perhaps a left fielder and maybe a second baseman as well.
Hey, we can quibble about those, and throw in a veteran catcher and situational lefty if you’d like. Maybe Michael Saunders is the starting left fielder and Jose Lopez stays at second base. Maybe not. Perhaps Russell Branyan comes back, or maybe he doesn’t. That’s all up in the air. The bottom line is, the Mariners need to add some pieces.
And I’ll tell you what, heading into this winter, the Mariners are better-equipped to add those pieces than at any time in their recent history. We’ve mentioned before that the team’s $98 million payroll from 2009 has seen close to $50 million come off the books with the departures of Jarrod Washburn, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Batista, Erik Bedard and Kenji Johjima.
Now, of course, several players are due raises through arbitration, including what will be a whopper increase for Felix Hernandez. Plus, the M’s will be adding some bats and arms to offset departures, so this isn’t $50 million the team has to play with. But it’s substantial.
And the best part for the M’s is that, as of right now, they have very few players on the roster they can’t rid themselves of if things don’t go as planned in 2010.
In fact, there are ony three Mariners on the current 40-man roster who will be under contract beyond next season: Carlos Silva, Jack Wilson and Ichiro. Oh yeah, the M’s also owe Yuniesky Betancourt $1.1 million through 2011 as part of the deal that sent him to Kansas City.
Still, that’s a huge improvement over, say, two years ago.

Midway through the 2007 campagin, GM Bill Bavasi had a dozen players under contract for the following season as well, and many beyond that.
The players were: Ichiro, Raul Ibanez, Richie Sexson, Beltre, Washburn, Johjima, J.J. Putz, Jose Lopez, Betancourt, Willie Bloomquist, Miguel Batista and Jose Vidro.
That’s right. By the middle of that season, Bavasi knew that any changes he needed to make to his roster had to come after he got beyond those dozen names, or it would cost him.
In other words, the Mariners now have the type of fiscal and roster flexibility many teams can only dream of. Sure, they’ll likely soon add some players with contracts running beyond 2010. But it’s a long way to get from three players to the 12 that Bavasi was stuck with.
For me, the biggest difference has come in new GM Jack Zduriencik limiting himself to commitments made to players not factoring into the major part of a team’s success. Where Bavasi handed a three-year, $25 million deal to Batista — a career fourth and fifth starter — before the 2007 season, Zduriencik currently has seven guys — Ryan Rowland-Smith, Brandon Morrow, Ian Snell, Luke French, Jason Vargas, Garret Olson and Doug Fister — who can compete for the No. 4 and 5 jobs and are not under contract beyond next season.
In fact, none except Snell have to be under contract beyond 2009 if Zduriencik so chooses. He could simply non-tender the other six. Not that he will. They all cost relatively little. But if one or more flatlines in 2010, they can simply be cut loose with no further loing-term damage — including Snell.
I have yet to add Silva to that mix because, though he’s owed two years, $24 million, I’m not sure he’ll be in the rotation if he can’t beat those other guys out. We’ll see. Silva can’t be cut loose. Hey, I didn’t say the team’s fiscal situation was perfect. But it’s still optimal.
Bavasi was even stuck with Willie Bloomquist for another year after 2007 even though he was just a utility player.
Zduriencik heads into 2009 with potential utility guys in Bill Hall, Matt Tuiasosopo, Ryan Langerhands and Jack Hannahan. The utility role is so crowded that the team just lost Josh Wilson to free agency when he refused an outright assignment to Class AAA. Hall can be cut loose after next year for $500,000 if he flops and the rest can be dropped at any time as of right now. If they all make it to next season with the M’s, none has a guaranteed deal for 2011.
That’s flexibility.
As I mentioned, the Mariners have millions of reasons — most of them in dollars and common sense — to be thankful for heading into the winter meetings.
Oh yeah, and if you don’t think this team has been gutted since last year’s disaster, think again.
Of the position players who began 2008 with Seattle, the only ones left — starters and bench guys — are Ichiro and Lopez.
On the pitching side, you have Felix Hernandez, Brandon Morrow, Mark Lowe and Silva. That’s it, folks.
Pretty stunning to think of all that’s changed since and how few commitments this team is saddled with going forward.
Reasons for optimism. Reasons to be thankful, whether you work for the team or simply cheer for it.
Happy holidays!



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