I’ve still got a ways to go on my short articles on each important free agent on the market, but now that the offseason is actually upon us, I’d like to take a quick break and post what I’m expecting to occur this winter. Now, like any prognostication, odds are that most of these will be wrong in some way or another. Some of these beliefs are based on some things I’ve been told, while others are more speculative in nature. If you’ve been reading the blog for a few months, you’ll probably be able to tell which is which. So, without too many more caveats, here is basic timeline that I believe will at least somewhat resemble this coming offseason and the Mariners involvement.
Two week exclusive negotation window ending November 10th
During the next two weeks, teams have exclusive rights to negotiate with their own free agents without interfernece from other teams. Often, when a player and team both want to extend the contract, the player will reach an agreement without ever filing for free agency. The Mariners who fall into this category are Ron Villone and Dan Wilson. While the M’s are talking to Villone, I expect him to file for free agency, and the Mariners to pursue other options while keeping Villone as a fallback plan. I believe Wilson will be re-signed to a one year contract before the end of the month. In addition, the team will likely exercise the $1.5 million option on Jolbert Cabrera, bringing him back for another year of hacking utilitiness.
I also expect Randy Winn to be traded during this timeframe. The M’s are going to pursue several outfielders in free agency and are expected to move Winn off the roster in order to free up salary and an open position. Coming off another solid average season, he has a bit of trade value, and will likely be part of a package to acquire a veteran pitcher, either a backend starter or more likely a late inning reliever. Houston, Florida, and Baltimore have been mentioned as possibilities. If forced to pick the most likely destination, I’d guess Baltimore, with Jorge Julio being the player coming back to Seattle. The Mariners would likely include a pitcher in the deal as well.
Beginning of free agency, mid-November to December 1st
If the Astros don’t reach an agreement with Carlos Beltran before he files for free agency, I expect the Mariners to come out with a “take it or leave it” offer in the range of 6 years, $95 million and a 2005 salary of about $9 million. The Mariners would love to have Beltran and will give Boras an opportunity to set the market with a contract larger than what Vladimir Guerrero commanded last year, but they have little interest in getting involved in a prolonged negotiation. If Boras intends to keep Beltran on the market and create a bidding war, the Mariners will retract their offer and move on quickly. I don’t expect Boras to accept the Mariners terms, and I believe he’ll eventually sign with the Chicago Cubs for about the same money, perhaps a little bit more, than what the Mariners original offer will be.
After moving off of Beltran, the organization will turn to target B, who many in the front office prefer anyways. Again, the team will come out bidding strong with an offer intended to knock the Dodgers out of the running; probably something in the 6 year, $80 million range, again with a significantly lower 2005 salary. I don’t believe anyone else in the market will match the Mariners offer, and I expect Adrian Beltre to be the Mariners starting third baseman next spring.
With Beltre under contract, the Mariners will turn to their #1 pitching target, Matt Clement. Hoping that a mediocre record will deflate interest and that other teams will be distracted by bidding wars for Pedro Martinez, Carl Pavano, and Brad Radke, I expect the M’s to come in with a midlevel offer of something in the 3 year, $18 million range. Clement won’t accept that, and negotiations will eventually lead to him signing a deal in the neighborhood of 3 years, $24 million with a 4th year team option and a $1 million plus buyout. Again, expect Clement’s 2005 salary to be quite a bit less than the average yearly value of the contract, perhpas in the $5-6 million range. If Clement decides to sign elsewhere, look for the M’s to offer a similar deal to Kris Benson.
Middle of free agency leading up to Winter Meetings through December 13th
By this time, the Mariners will have committed about $70 million to the roster, leaving about $15 million to fill out the roster. The last “main” piece will be either an outfielder or a first baseman, which will determine Ibanez’s position on the club in 2005. Expect the M’s to make an offer to Richard Hidalgo in the range of a 3 year, $18 million contract with incentives that would push it significantly higher. I expect Hidalgo to get a better offer, however, and the M’s to eventually make a deal with Arizona to acquire Shea Hillenbrand, who will earn about $3.5 million in arbitration next season to play as the everyday first baseman.
They also want to bring in a veteran shortstop as Jose Lopez insurance and will be willing to spend a couple million on a backup who can play several positions. Expect us to be the lucky winners of Deivi Cruz, probably for something in the 1 year, $2 million range.
The last bench spot will likely be filled with by an outfielder. The front office has a lot of Todd Hollandsworth fans, and he’s coming off a career year, but with a projected outfield of Ibanez, Reed, and Ichiro, the team probably needs a right-hander in this spot. Gabe Kapler is a potential target, and don’t count out Juan Gonzalez, despite his health problems. If he finds the market completely uninterested, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the M’s offer him a nonguaranteed contract with a ton of incentives. I’ll pencil in Kapler for $1 million here, but this spot is pretty fluid.
End of free agency, non-tender period
Due to the questionable health surrounding Pineiro and Guardado, I expect the M’s to take at least one flier on a free agent reliever released by another club. There are just too many possibilities to speculate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the team picked up a non-tendered veteran and signed them to a low base salary, high incentive contract. Think Ron Villone, part two. It could be Villone himself.
So, what does this expected roster look like?
Position Player Salary C Wilson 1.0 1B Hillenbrand 3.5 2B Boone 9.0 3B Beltre 9.0 SS Lopez 0.3 LF Ibanez 3.8 CF Reed 0.3 RF Ichiro 12.0 DH Jacobsen 0.3 C Olivo 0.4 Util Cabrera 1.5 Inf Spiezio 3.1 OF Kapler 1.0 Util Cruz 2.0 SP1 Clement 6.0 SP2 Pineiro 4.2 SP3 Meche 3.0 SP4 Madritsch 0.3 SP5 Moyer 7.5 Long Franklin 2.4 RHP Putz 0.3 RHP Hasegawa 3.0 LHP Sherrill 0.3 Setup Julio 0.5 Closer Guardado 4.5 Total 79.2
There are some pretty prominant names not included in that final twenty five. Most obviously, Willie Bloomquist. I don’t expect him to be on the 25 man roster next spring. He may stick with the organization if he’s willing to go back to Tacoma, or they may designate him for assignment. Either way, Cabrera is likely going to inherit the main utility spot, with Deivi Cruz taking over the backup middle infield responsibilities. That leaves Bloomquist on the outside looking in. On the pitching side, there’s no room for Julio Mateo or Scott Atchison, though both could make the club if Guardado isn’t healthy or if Putz struggles in spring training. Atchison or Mateo could also be included in several deals, as their value to other clubs is likely higher than it is to the Mariners.
So, what do I think about this group? It’s a decent start, but it won’t make the playoffs next year. Beltre is a good building block, but he’s surrounded by too many easy outs in the line-up. The offense can be reasonably expected to get nothing from catcher or shortstop and needs to hope for average at best production from DH, center field, and left field. The bench is still going to be poor. At best, the team will finish in the middle of the pack in runs scored.
The rotation is improved, though questions abound. If Meche and Pineiro are healthy, it could be one of the better rotations in the league. If either one of them misses significant time, there’s trouble. The bullpen hinges on Guardado being healthy and Julio improving on his mediocre ’04 season. It’s an average at best group, but at least it costs a lot less than the average bullpens we’ve built in the past.
I’d probably suggest that this team could win 82-85 games, but there’s enough young talent to build around that its finally a team headed in the right direction. The acquistions I expect and won’t like are probably going to be short term moves without a big commitment.
This is what I expect from the club this offseason. It’s a cash outlay of around $24 million and a long term commitment to a free agent, both of which would be unprecedented in team history. There’s a first time for everything, right?