For months now, I've been operating under the assumption that Jose Guillen would still be a Mariner in 2008 (and 2009, and 2010). However, it seems the winds have shifted, as the massive team-wide collapse in August and September changed the front office's plan of action. There's still a chance that Guillen re-signs, but let's say he doesn't. Where does that leave us?
Let's make one thing clear - if Guillen walks, we're not losing a star. We'd be losing a good (not great) offensive right fielder who gives a not insignificant fraction of his productivity back with below-average defense. Even accounting for the ankle issues that plagued him early in the year, he's clearly lost a lot of his mobility, and that's a problem. Defense was the team's biggest weakness in 2007, and Guillen was a part of that.
(And don't give me the "team leader" spiel. If Guillen led this team to an overachieving 88-74 record, then he also led it to a borderline unprecedented meltdown. Whoops.)
Still, though, he was a positive contributor, and he wouldn't be that easy to replace. Let's look at the team's options for how to replace the could-be departed outfielder:
Wlad Balentien: Seems pretty damn unlikely, considering Bavasi told us flat-out in Tacoma that he doesn't want to begin 2008 with both Jones and Wlad in the outfield (and in this scenario I have Jones in LF and Raul at DH or 1B). But then, he said that when it looked like Guillen was a sure thing, so maybe he's willing to re-consider his stance, I dunno. Wlad struggled down the stretch in Tacoma after a hand injury, but overall he still took a step forward, and could approximate Guillen's total contribution next year. Dead pull hitter, but has the raw power to keep from letting Safeco get into his head like it got into Mike Cameron's. Pretty wide range of possible outcomes, but just about ready to get an extended shot.
Nobody: And by this I mean Raul stays in left and the team slides Adam Jones over to right field. This is an absolutely horrible idea. Raul Ibanez's defense in left is nothing short of crippling, and the team needs to do everything in its power to move him somewhere else. The only way I'd forgive this if it happened is in the event that the front office lands some hugely awesome bat or starting pitcher that isn't currently on the radar.
Free Agent: There are reasonable and not-so-reasonable ways to do this. Kosuke Fukudome is worth a look, even though his slugging dropped off by 133 points between 2006 and 2007. Milton Bradley and Bobby Abreu would be fine as short-term solutions (although Bradley would require a contingency plan). Guys like Shannon Stewart, Luis Gonzalez, and Shawn Green, however, should not be considered decent acquisitions. I haven't decided yet what I think about Geoff Jenkins, although if the Brewers decline his option, you better believe he'll get a lot of attention, being a local guy and all. There don't seem to be any potential disasters here, but there are certainly guys who bring more to the table than others.
Trade: This is basically impossible to predict right now, so I won't bother, outside of saying that we'll probably hear rumors about guys like Jacque Jones and one of the Devil Ray outfielders. Considering that any trade the Mariners make over the winter will probably be for pitching, though, I don't think this scenario is very likely.
This is more of a brainstorming post than anything else, since it's too difficult to imagine what the offseason's going to look like in October, so I don't really have a conclusion. I'm just looking to start a dialogue. On the one hand I'd be okay with penciling Wlad into the 2008 lineup, but on the other (A) Bavasi doesn't seem willing, and (B) Wlad's a reasonably valuable trading chip, and he'd be involved in a lot of scenarios that land us a decent starter. Of course if we're going for one of Tampa's arms then they don't have any need for a right fielder, and now this is getting complicated so ahhhhhhhhhhh forget it.
I'm not yet sure what I'd consider to be my ideal solution for right field, but I will say this - in an offseason in which the front office will almost certainly let us down with its pitching acquisitions, at least RF gives us something new and interesting to talk about. May this winter pursuit of a new outfielder turn out as well as the last one.