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

January 3, 2011 at 9:06 AM

Mariners hoping 2011 begins better than 2010 ended

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Happy New Year to all of you out there on a gorgeous Monday morning in Seattle, where 2011 has begun with a bang as the Seahawks are NFC West champions and get to host a playoff game. This is pretty much what every NFL team shoots for — other than a first-round bye — which is why, as we wrote last week, you never, EVER, sacrifice a season by tanking your final game just to move up a few draft slots. Enjoy it, because even an 11-5 season would not have guaranteed you getting any closer to a Super Bowl than this 7-9 campaign just did.
Back to the Mariners, who begin 2011 in a bit of a pickle.
Last week, we told you the team’s payroll was already pushing $88 million in committed money. Well, we forgot something important in our tabulations — the $1 million bonus hike Felix Hernandez automatically receives for winning the Cy Young Award.
So, that brings the Mariners up to $89 million and change. After that, you have Erik Bedard’s money to consider. We told you Bedard will get $1 million if he makes it to the mound, but then has another $6.35 million in incentives tacked on.
Let’s be conservative here and estimate he reaches half of that total. Which is what the team is banking on for a rotation that otherwise includes Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Michael Pineda and David Pauley/Luke French after Hernandez. Well, setting aside half of Bedard’s incentive money leaves the team smack dab at just under $93 million. The most the team will spend is roughly its $93.5 million payroll from last year.
And so, folks, what that means is the Mariners are pretty much out of money.
So, yes, the David Aardsma hip injury is indeed serious when it comes to the team upgrading its pitching ranks. Aardsma is to undergo surgery in Vail, Colo. today and should make it to a mound at some point in spring training. But that’s a long way from being trade ready. Remember, Rob Johnson made it to spring training last year after hip surgery and was actually ready to go by opening day. Didn’t turn out so well and he now admits he wasn’t as physically able as he is now.
Some have suggested the Mariners could merely trade Aardsma at the coming trade deadline and it won’t make much of a difference.
Well, that’s not exactly true. The best time to trade Aardsma was at last July’s deadline. The Mariners are now paying for the fact they did not do that. They paid about $1 million last season to keep Aardsma for the final two months, and now could pay another $2 million or more if they hang on to him until early July.
That’s $3 million total in added money paid to a closer on a team that already has Brandon League and really doesn’t need an elite closer at this stage. Also, $3 million for a team now pretty much down to fumes where its available cash to upgrade the 2011 squad is concerned.

Why didn’t the Mariners deal Aardsma last July? We’re told they had plenty of offers, including one from the San Francisco Giants right at the July 31 deadline that nearly got done. There had been rumors a few days earlier of another Aardsma-Giants proposed swap that was said to include Jose Lopez and Pablo Sandoval, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. This deal would have involved Aardsma for prospects.
All we know now is, the Mariners did not get a deal done. It was a calculated gamble holding on to Aardsma and, given what’s happened since, it was a risk that did not pan out.
A big part of this team’s remaining winter upgrades had depended on being able to trade Aardsma. Don’t forget, Aardsma is arbitration eligible and could see his salary jump to about the $4.5 million or $5 million range. By dealing him, the team could have gotten some talent back and also bolstered its finances slightly.
Even a boost of $1 million or $2 million would have helped the team, given its precariously low cash pile for 2011. Now, the team appears to be unable to sign even a project-type pitcher like a Jeff Francis for a questionable M’s starting rotation.
And let’s not forget that, prior to Aardsma’s hip surgery announcement, the team had been rumored to be in on a number of experienced relief pitchers. There was the report they were looking at free agent Koji Uehara of the Orioles during the winter meetings, then at Kevin Gregg of the Blue Jays and more recently at ex-Mariner and journeyman lefty Brian Fuentes.
It would appear that the M’s realized they could ill-afford to head into 2011 with Brandon League as their only veteran reliever. I’ll assume this was when the Mariners were still planning to be rid of Aardsma by spring.
With Aardsma gone, and Shawn Kelley still rebounding from surgery, the M’s faced the prospect of heading into 2011 with just League and a bunch of untested arms late in games. Even a rebuilding team doesn’t want to do that. Remember, lose another 100+ games and this front office might not be around to see the rest of its rebuilding plan come together.
Some of you asked me why the M’s would bother going after Fuentes — reported to be seeking a three-year, $15-million deal — at all. Well, that’s why. There aren’t all that many veterans still out there who can handle late-inning relief. There was at one point, but plenty of them are out of Seattle’s price range or have already been snatched up.
I’m not a big Fuentes fan personally, but was trying to explain the reports the M’s were interested in him. They likely would not want to pay three years, $15 million, but even that salary averages out to less than what Aardsma will be averaging per season over the next two years. If Aardsma gets to $4.5 million this year, he’ll probably be closer to $7 million in arbitration for the 2012 season before becoming a free agent in 2013.
Anyhow, that’s now water under the proverbial bridge.
With Alfredo Simon facing murder charges in the Dominican Republic, the Baltimore Orioles figure to be getting in hard on what’s left of the relief market. Aardsma would have made perfect trade sense for them a week ago. But not coming off hip surgery. And while League could also make a whole lot of sense, the M’s won’t be trading him if they were already seeking to add a veteran reliever prior to Aardsma’s surgery announcement.
Given what I’ve told you, the odds of the team adding a truly significant piece before the season begins is now a lot lower than it was when the M’s were still engaged in Aardsma trade talks just a couple of weeks ago. There is still the possibility of a trade. But if this team is serious about being committed to its rebuilding plan, it seems hard to imagine it would make a trade out of desperation — or last resort, if you will — because of this unforseen happening.
Doesn’t mean GM Jack Zduriencik can’t pull off a trade. Or find some way to squeeze drops of cash out of the remaining budget.
But it’s been a quiet start to the New Year so far. Don’t be surprised if it stays rather quiet and if any remaining moves barely register a blip on the rest of baseball’s radar.



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