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2006 Offseason Preview

With the 2005 season coming to a close for the M's yesterday, the team is once again turning the page on a disappointing season and looking towards next year. While the team was able improve (slightly), there is still a lot of work to be done. The team desperately needs starting pitching and at least another middle of the order bat (preferably one of the left hand variation).

With Don Baylor and Bryan Price stepping down this morning, the Mariners offseason officially began today. Because of this, I figured I would go ahead and compile a list of free agents (or at least the majority of them) that are available and some of the possible players who will available via trade this offseason. This isn't a prediction or "what would I do" post, that will come later. This is just something to give all those offseason junkies a fix.

Via free agency - Ramon Hernandez (Padres), Bengie Molina (Angels), Mike Piazza (Mets)
Via trade - Johnny Estrada (Braves), Javier Valentin (Reds), Josh Willingham (Marlins), Kelly Shoppach (Red Sox)
Departing - Wiki Gonzalez (won't be tendered a contract), Dan Wilson (retirbent), Ryan Christianson (likely won't be offered a contract)

The M's have penciled in Yorvit Torrealba as their starter in 2006 and will probably use either Miguel Ojeda or Rene Rivera (sigh) as the backup. Both Rivera and Ojeda are under contract for 2006, but adding a young signal caller like Josh Willingham could be a move that could pay off for the M's. With more important areas to address, the M's will more than likely focus on filling the other holes on the roster.

First Base:
Via free agency - Paul Konerko (White Sox), Erubiel Durazo (Athletics)
Via trade - Carlos Pena (Tigers), Chad Tracy (DBacks), Jason Stokes (Marlins), Sean Casey (Reds)
Departing - Dave Hansen (won't be offered a contract), Bucky Jacobsen (dropped of 40, slim chance of returning)

With Richie locked up for three more years and only the DH spot open, I don't expect the team to do much here. There are some players out there that are going to be on the trade market at first, but I don't think Bavasi will add another big name first baseman to the roster to DH. More likely, the DH spot will be filled by either Raul Ibanez or will be a platoon between Ibanez and someone else.

Second Base:
Via free agency - Mark Grudzielanek (Cardinals), Damion Easley (Marlins)
Via trade - Alfonso Soriano (Rangers), Ray Durham (Giants), Marcus Giles (Braves), Orlando Hudson (Blue Jays), Chris Burke (Astros), Jerry Hairston (Cubs)
Departing - Pokey Reese (option will be declined)

This is Jose Lopez's job, for now. There aren't many free agent second basemen on the market and for those that are out there, they aren't much of an improvment over Lopez. The trade market could be deep, with names like Soriano and Giles being thrown around. Giles is a name that interests me a lot, but the Braves would want a lot in return and would have to ensure that Rafael Furcal would be returning.

Via free agency - Rafael Furcal (Braves), Nomar Garciaparra (Cubs), Alex Gonzalez (Marlins)
Via trade - Alex Cintron (DBacks), Julio Lugo (DRays)
Departing - no one

There was a time last season when I thought that the M's would make a big push to get Rafael Furcal. That was before the M's signed YuBet and we all saw what he can do. In my opinion, there is no one currently available that will make YuBet expendable and he should be our Opening Day starter in 2006.

Third Base:
Via free agency - Joe Randa (Padres), Bill Mueller (Red Sox), Jose Valentin (Dodgers)
Via trade - Sean Burroughs (Padres), Edgardo Alfonzo (Giants), Mike Cuddyer (Twins), Mike Lowell (Marlins)
Departing - Justin Leone (will likely not be tendered a contract)

Adrian Beltre didn't quite meet expectations in his first season with the M's, falling well short of the lofty stats he posted last year. However, one year does not a contract make, and we have a 26 year old third baseman with some tremendous potential locked up for the next four years. Things could be worse. Don't expect any movement at third base this offseason.

Via free agency - Reggie Sanders (Cardinals), Brian Giles (Padres), Jacque Jones (Twins), Johnny Damon (Red Sox), Matt Lawton (Yankees), Rondell White (Tigers), Jose Cruz Jr. (Dodgers),
Via trade - Manny Ramirez (Red Sox), Adam Dunn (Reds), Ken Griffey Jr. (Reds), Wily Mo Pena (Reds), Austin Kearns (Reds), Ryan Church (Nationals), Brad Wilkerson (Nationals), Chad Tracy (DBacks), Kevin Mench (Rangers)
Departing - Jaime Bubela (likely won't be tendered a contract)

This is the offensive postion that should be the primary concern for Bill Bavasi. With Reed and Ichiro likely to fill the center field and right field positions, he has to find an left fielder who can fill a spot in the order with some power potential (20+) whether it be through a trade or free agency. It's pretty obvious that there are a lot of options to choose from, but if you limit the list to strictly left handed bats, the list shrinks. Some names aren't even serious options (Damon, Ramirez, Griffey) and others (Lawton, Cruz) wouldn't be an improvement. I'll get into this at a later date (as this is just a preview), but Bavasi has a lot of options to work with and could go in several different directions.

Starting Rotation:
Via free agency - Jeff Weaver (Dodgers), Kevin Millwood (Indians), AJ Burnett (Marlins), Kevin Brown (Yankees), Esteban Loaiza (Nationals), Matt Morris (Cardinals), Paul Byrd (Angels)
Via trade - Javier Vazquez (DBacks), Kip Wells (Pirates), Mark Redman (Pirates), Ryan Madson (Phillies), Jason Marquis (Cardinals), Aaron Heilman (Mets), Adam Eaton (Padres)
Departing - Ryan Franklin (will need to have the boot surgically removed from his rear)

It's a great year to be a free agent pitcher. If you thought last year's prices got out of whack, you haven't seen anything yet. With Burnett highlighting the thin FA corps, I don't think the M's are going to have much of a chance to lure him away from the East coast. Kevin Millwood and Jeff Weaver are real possibilities. The trade market figures to be exceptionally thin as well, with clubs that have depth at the position looking to cash in. Ryan Madson is an intriguing option and could possibly round out the rotation or fill a spot in the bullpen if necessary. Whether they shop the trade or free agent market, the M's acquiring pitching talent this offseason is going to cost the M's, whether it be cash or talent.

Relief Pitching:
Via free agency - Octavio Dotel (A's), Ugueth Urbina (Phillies), B.J. Ryan (Orioles), Kyle Farnsworth (Braves), Billy Wagner (Phillies), and a handful of set-up men and middle relievers.
Via trade - Jorge Julio (Orioles), Guillermo Mota (Marlins), Steve Kline (Orioles), Jeremy Affeldt (Royals), and a handful of set-up men and middle relievers.
Departing - Shigetoshi Hasegawa (option declined), Jeff Nelson (won't be offered a contract)

The bullpen is looking to be one of the strong points of the club again in 2006. With a bunch of young and cheap arms, the team will able to focus their attention on other aspects of the roster. The club is going to face a major decision on whether or not they will pickup Guardado's option. While picking up the option will reward him for strong year, it will saddle the M's with a major contract for an aging pitcher who showed signs of wearing down at the end of the year. Oh, and that whole shoulder hanging together by a thread issue isn't going away. I don't have to make the decision, but I would decline the team option. If he takes the player option, great. If he passes and opts for free agency, that's fine too. There are plenty of other closers both internally and externally who should be able to step in and do the job in 2006.

As far as free agents go, I'd look into Octavio Dotel. Dotel would be one of those low risk signings, with the potential for a high return. By offering him something similar to the deal the Cubs gave Scott Williamson last offseason, the M's could allow Dotel to rehab and possibly help the club down the stretch and if he returns to form and possibly replace Guardado in 2007 if there aren't any other internal candidates. Not a real important piece, but if cheap, could help.