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Contend In '09: What We've Got

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With the Mariners spending yet another season trying to pull themselves out of the crapper, there's been a developing groundswell of arguments that they need to tear everything down and rebuild. "Trying to win now was a giant mistake," people say. "This organization badly needs to start from scratch, because the roster in place is far too flawed to ever compete."

It's easy to understand where they're coming from. This is a bad team. This is the fourth bad team we've been forced to watch in the last five years, and after so many seasons of having the front office shuffle things around in an effort to create the right spark, people are getting fed up. And people who're getting fed up want to see big sweeping changes, because generally speaking, that's the most effective way of leaving a disappointing present day behind. If the now sucks, why try to build off of it? Better to take it apart and reassemble with newer parts, right?

Here's the thing: these guys were expected to contend for a reason. And while a lot has clearly gone wrong, I still think the roster has enough talent to fill out the bulk of a 2009 contender. So what follows is my list of guys in the organization who I think have it in them to hold significant roles and help this team make a push for the playoffs.

But first:

Constraints/Assumptions

-Miguel Batista is untradeable
-Carlos Silva is untradeable
-Kenji Johjima is not untradeable but sticks around anyway
-the team won't try to deal Yuni
-Jarrod Washburn is tradeable and is traded
-Ichiro stays in right because God dammit McLaren

Now then. On with it.

Infield

Jeff Clement: Ignore the small sample size struggles at the plate; Clement's going to hit, and he's going to hit pretty well. And while his defense is a concern, (1) it's light years ahead of where it used to be, and (2) there are worse defensive catchers holding down regular jobs right now. Johjima extension or not, the team's smartest course of action would be keeping Clement behind the dish where he holds the most value.

Kenji Johjima: Nothing we can really do about this, I don't think. There are worse backup catchers.

Jose Lopez: Lopez seems to have turned himself into a decent hitter for his position, and with average/plus defense and a low cost, he's a valuable asset. He'll only turn 25 in November, so there's also still a fair bit of growth potential left in his bat.

Yuniesky Betancourt: Yuni's defense sucks and his offense hasn't really progressed at all, but then almost to a man the American League has terrible shortstops, so whatever. The team could probably find somewhere to trade him if it looked hard enough, but for purposes of this post, I'm taking the safest route and assuming that won't happen.

Adrian Beltre: Stud.

Outfield

Ichiro: Why bother writing anything? We all know what Ichiro brings to the table every single day. I'm not wild about the switch back to right, but I'll do my best to overlook that and focus on how he's a nice building block for a strong defensive outfield, which this team badly needs.

Jeremy Reed: I wrote Reed off. I wrote him off completely and was prepared to let someone else take him off our hands for nothing. So what does he do but go and turn himself into a useful player? Reed turned 27 a few weeks ago and will spend the next couple seasons in the middle of his physical prime, a prime during which I think he could hit something like .270/.330/.400 with reasonable defense and a low low cost. In center, that's a value. If you think about it, Reed potentially rebuilding himself a Major League career may be an even bigger 2008 bright spot than the emergence of Brandon Morrow. By many indications, he seems to have gone from backup outfielder to legitimate regular, and the team should be thrilled that a free everyday center fielder may have just fallen back into its lap.

Starting Rotation

Felix: Megastud.

Erik Bedard: There's a lot of talk out there about how Bedard might be back on the market, but to me, trading him away would be a sign that the front office doesn't intend to compete next year, because as of this writing he's a pretty big piece of the hypothetical puzzle. Bedard's a great pitcher when he's healthy and a good pitcher when he's a little bit broken, easily one of the top #2's in the league. This team stands a better chance of competing next year with him than they do with whatever they could get in return.

Carlos Silva: Nothing we can do about this one, either, but hey, he's not terrible. He just isn't very good. We know the contract sucks. Might as well just focus on his contribution, and his contribution should be similar to that of a #4 starter.

Brandon Morrow, RRS, or RA Dickey: I think any one of these three would be perfectly capable of bringing up the rear. They all have their flaws - Morrow doesn't really have a pitch against lefties, RRS barely has any stuff, and Dickey's just a regular dude with an irregular pitch - but good luck finding a #5 who doesn't have anything wrong with him. Being a #5 starter isn't that hard. You basically just have to throw 5-6 innings without giving up more than 3-4 runs. A lot of people can do that. These people could do that for cheap. I don't want two of them in the rotation for depth purposes, but one should be no problem.

Bullpen

JJ Putz: Won't ever be as awesome as he was in 2006, but there's little reason to think he won't be effective. Should still be a fine closer.

Brandon Morrow, RRS, or RA Dickey: This is where you put the two who miss out on the #5 slot. We know that Morrow's basically unhittable as a one-inning atom bomb of awesome. We know that RRS can come up big against lefties. And we know that Dickey can soak up multiple innings without embarrassing himself. All of those things have value, so no matter which way the three go in this hypothetical, they're still doing some good.

Miguel Batista: >:(

Sean Green: Sean Green remains way awesome and way underrated. Provided his arm doesn't run away screaming, he should once again be a big part of the pen.

Mark Lowe: Impressive stuff, erratic command, inconsistent results. If you think that sounds like Mark Lowe, you're right. It also sounds like every single other middle reliever in the league. If middle relievers were awesome, they wouldn't be middle relievers, so as far as I'm concerned, having Lowe's stuff and upside handling the odd 6th and 7th inning is just ducky.

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So there you have it. That's 17 players off of the current roster that I think could help this team win in 2009, and I didn't even bother really thinking about the bench. Hell, you might be able to throw Wlad and Josh Fields in there too, although I'm not going to get ahead of myself. Let's just go with what I listed above. Here's what it looks like overall:

Mariners09_medium

That team's at least average almost everywhere, with enough big-time talent to keep things interesting. It also only costs somewhere around $80m, which gives you $35-40m to spend on filling out the rest of the roster. What are the needs?

SP
LF
1B
DH
Utility
4th OF
Bench bat
Bench bat/reliever

...I'll save the particulars of that discussion for Part 2. For now, the big point I'm trying to make is that I don't believe for a second that this team is in dire need of reconstruction. Resurfacing, perhaps, but even that seems to imply something more dramatic than I think is necessary, because we already have a lot of the pieces to build a contender. We're just being dragged down by some heavy, heavy anchors. Anchors that won't be coming back after the season.

This team is capable of winning, and it's capable of winning pretty quick in a fashion that doesn't at all require sacrificing the future. Like I said, I'll address some of the additions we could make in Part 2, but for the time being, be encouraged. This team isn't a lost cause, and with a better-qualified GM running the show, we could be back in contention in a God damn hurry.