(This post wasn't inspired by Dave's post on the exact same subject earlier today, but the overlap isn't a coincidence. On the heels of the Brendan Ryan trade, the timing just feels right, and Dave's brain and my brain work in very similar ways, which should cause some alarm to Mrs. Dave.)
Every time I sit down to address the Mariners' offseason, I feel the need to qualify what I'm saying with a statement saying something along the lines of "while Zduriencik can always surprise us-". You just can't take anything for granted. We were rumored to be in on Miguel Olivo, we were rumored to be in on Brandon McCarthy and Gregg Zaun, and then all of a sudden word spread that we'd gotten somewhere in talks about Adrian Gonzalez. It's impossible to predict the direction a Mariners offseason will take under the current front office.
But it certainly seems like no big-player surprise move is upcoming. Based on the Olivo and Ryan and Jack Cust acquisitions, it appears that the front office is taking the lower-tier approach we expected, and assuming that holds true, then there's not a whole lot left to pull off. By and large, we can draw up a good approximation of what next year's roster should look like.
Yet a few issues do still remain, and we'll begin by looking at the bench. Right now, the 2011 Opening Day Adam Moore, Milton Bradley, Josh Wilson, and a vacant spot. Or, in more readable form:bench consists of
This configuration should only last for a maximum of two months before Dustin Ackley comes up and something changes, but still, it needs to be worked out. For the time being, you can pencil either Matt Tuiasosopo or Matt Mangini into the infield role.
Depending on how you feel about Matt Tuiasosopo and Matt Mangini, you should feel a corresponding desire to fill that infield spot with a better player. And I'm all for it. I don't love Tuiasosopo as a player, and while Mangini is interesting, I'd rather return him to the minors where he can play every day than limit him to a bench role in the bigs. So that's a spot that could end up going to some cheap, available veteran.
And then you've got Bradley. Milton Bradley, right now, is the Mariners' fourth outfielder. The M's very well could go into the season like this. Ichiro's unlikely to need much time off, Michael Saunders can fill in in center if Franklin Gutierrez gets hurt, and Jack Cust can kind of wing it in a corner as well. So Bradley's unreliability and declining mobility aren't huge concerns. But I can still see the argument for having a real fourth outfielder. Someone more like a Ryan Langerhans. Someone like, incidentally, a Laynce Nix. So it remains a possibility that the M's send Bradley away.
Alternatively, the M's could look to fill that infield role with someone capable of playing the outfield as well. Jerry Hairston Jr. is a free agent, and he can play everywhere. That would allow the M's to keep Bradley around and see what he can do. But there are a lot of ways they could go with this.
So that's the bench. Now we move on to the pitching staff. The rotation locks are Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, and Doug Fister. Erik Bedard is a possibility to break camp with the team, and Michael Pineda isn't far away. Pineda's expected to be up in Seattle before long and may even make the Opening Day roster, although he could experience the same service time delays as Ackley.
But there's a small opening there - to take Pineda's starts before he comes up, or to take some of Bedard's starts if he's unavailable, or whatever. The Mariners could elect to stay in-house here, as Luke French and David Pauley are the two primary options. It isn't out of the realm of possibility that they look elsewhere, though - especially if they're able to trade David Aardsma and his salary. At the very least, we could see some warm bodies brought in for purposes of competition over the coming months.
And finally, there's the bullpen. I'll spare the analysis and just list off the names of guys who have a chance to relieve for the M's next April:
Some of those guys, obviously, are longshots, but that's a list of 17 names, competing for seven open spots. And then, of course, Shawn Kelley is expected back some months into the year. And this doesn't list any additional non-roster invitees to Spring Training that the Mariners bring in.
The point here is that the Mariners do not need to go sign another reliever. They could create a Major League bullpen out of the guys they already have. They might go get a reliever - presumably some veteran - but doing so is neither a guarantee nor a necessity. So we'll see. We know they've been linked to Jesse Crain and some other guys this offseason, but being linked to a guy doesn't say much about the degree of one's interest.
So there you go. That's about what we should expect the rest of the way. There's always that distinct possibility that Zduriencik turns everything on its head with one surprise deal, but assuming the M's aren't involved for Zack Greinke or Matt Garza, I'd say we're probably going to stay low-key. This is truly one hot sexy winter.