Win the World Series next year
I’m going to look at the same thing Dave did from a different starting point, and arrive at a far different place.
What are the barriers to the Mariners winning a World Series in 2006?
They’re not good, to begin. Stick with me, this is going to get better fast.
Huge Problem Solution 1 No starters after Felix 2 Starting rotation sucks 3 Offense sucks
That’s a little too general to do anything about. Let’s break that down further:
Problem Solution 1 Pineiro not good 2 No third starter 3 No fourth starter 4 No fifth starter 5 Poor offense at third 6 Poor offense at short 7 Poor offense at center 8 Poor offense at right 9 No catcher 10 No second baseman 11 No left fielder
To win the World Series, the team has to solve all of these.
1. Pineiro’s not good. Whether Pineiro’s done has been hashed over here many times, and there are still some who believe he could still turn into an ace. He won’t. Even the supposedly good version of Pineiro last year was a league-average pitcher. If our goal was to get to .500, that would be fine. It’s possible that we might even look at him as a late-rotation guy in a championship team (certainly, many World Series winners have some random guys in the #4, #5 slots). But Joel Pineiro, in his remaining year here, isn’t going to be a pitcher who helps the team win it all. Ideally, you want to upgrade on Pineiro.
2-4. Moyer may return, filling a spot, and handled well, that’s a reasonable gamble.
Meche may come back on another one-year deal, but again, there’s no ace Meche left. There’s no point.
5. Beltre, Beltre, Beltre. A Beltre that’s somewhere between 2004 and last year’s a big contributor. And yet, counting on a rebound is unsettling.
6. Betancourt’s a ground-ball vacuum, and even if he hits like last year all year, he might be worth playing. He’s a fairly young player who doesn’t take walks and also doesn’t strike out excessively or hit for home run power. There’s offensive potential with Betancourt, and it’s reasonable to see that coming at this stage of his development.
7. I think I wrote once that Reed, reliant on average, lack of walks, but with power, would live and die on his ability to make contact, and that sometimes he’d look like the best player on the team and seem almost unstoppable, while other times he might seem as helpless as a kitten (not as cute, though). Reed has to hit better if they’re going to win it all next year (this would be called “a breakthrough season” if he has it). It might have been Dave.
8. Ichiro is a great player if he can hit .330 or higher. At .300 he’s not helping. I’m a great fan, but that’s just true.
9. Team needs a catcher.
10. Team needs a second baseman. Lopez has now had two extended trials at the major league level, and he hasn’t hit in either of them. Whether that’s coaching or what remains to be seen, but if he’s handed a job next year we’re going to be looking for something more than Luis Rivas style prospect flop-dom.
11. Morse could be a left fielder but then, so could you or me. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
The offense doesn’t so much suck as it’s hugely incomplete. If you stuck randomly selected minor league free agents in there, it’d be horrible. Fortunately, the team’s not going to do that. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So look at that list again, with some additions.
Problem Solution 1 Pineiro not good Hope for rebound 2 No third starter Bring back Moyer 3 No fourth starter 4 No fifth starter 5 Poor offense at third Hope for rebound 6 Poor offense at short Hope for development 7 Poor offense at center Hope for development 8 Poor offense at right Hope for rebound 9 No catcher 10 No second baseman Hope for development 11 No left fielder
That’s a lot of hoping already. But for a second, let’s just assume that the Mariners go with those solutions. That leaves us with:
|3||No fourth starter|
|4||No fifth starter|
|11||No left fielder|
Fourth and fifth starters is a little misleading: adding two starters almost automatically moves Pineiro into the #5 slot. But for a moment, consider this as “the team needs two more starters.”
Let’s say the team decides to open the doors and spend like crazy: they’re going to get everyone (I know, I know, but bear with me for a minute).
A.J. Burnett signs for 5y, $50m
Millwood signs for 5y, $50m
Loaiza signs for 3y, $20m
Pineiro’s moved to the bullpen or Ellensburg
Jojima signs for 3y, $15m
Jacque Jones signs for 2y, $10m (yes, I’m with Dave on this)
Wow. What do we get?
Rotation: King Felix, A.J. Burnett, Loiaza, Millwood, Moyer
LF-L J. Jones
And then you throw some guys together for a decent bench, and the bullpen’s fine.
We’ve just gone tearing past $100m. And even though I tried to go a little high and long on those contracts, it’s likely that if the M’s went on a free-agent tear like that it would cost them even more than that. Some might argue that signing more than one premier free agent makes it easier to sign the next, but even if that were true, that’s not going to translate into a 15% off coupon.
This team wins 85 games easily, even without the crossed-finger guys coming through.
Could that team win a World Series? It could. As with all teams, there’s a lot of luck in who you draw and so on. But that’s a real, authentic contender.
What’s surprising, then, is that the gap between the team we have now and the team that could go worst-to-first isn’t that huge. The team wants to spend $85 million because the team’s ownership is a bunch of skinflint profiteers, but are the playoffs and a fair shot at World Series contention worth $20m? Even from a straight financial view, it might well be. And let’s be entirely clear: the team could run a $100m payroll and still be quite profitable. Asserting otherwise is silly: this team has revenue streams that make the Columbia River look like a neighborhood creek.
So there’s an off-season plan for you: go for it, and go for it now. All that money the team’s been socking away? Go find a hammer big enough to break open that piggy bank.
But we’ve discovered another problem that wasn’t on my original list.
Huge Problem Solution 1 No starters after Felix 2 Starting rotation sucks 3 Offense sucks 4 Tepid ownership
And as much as I’m all about proposing solutions and so forth, unless someone wants to buy the team and put me in Howard Lincoln’s seat (I’d be great, I promise, no scandals or anything) that’s one we can’t even touch.
This last problem is potentially the worst of all. If you want five cents, don’t ask for three. As long as the Mariners are content to put together high-but-not-too-high payrolls, content to authorize their baseball people to build 85-90 win teams, they’ll either succeed or fail at that. A 116-win juggernaut team out rising accidentally from this strategy is a miracle, and it’s not going to happen again.
The baseball people can get around this problem, and they’re doing it, in a way — by building a strong farm system, drafting well, signing international free agents like Felix, they hopefully can build a strong enough, young enough core that $80m can be spent around and take the team a lot farther. And then you hope that the powers-that-be don’t scratch their chins and ask “Why do we need to invest that money if we have three, four really good players only making $3m between them?”
Let’s say, then, that the $100m mark can’t be surpassed. Let’s say the bleating about $85m is real, for whatever reason. Bringing this team back to reality, you ditch some pitchers, Pineiro’s a starter instead of serving free coffee off I-90, and you’re back at Dave’s Plan or the real plan, whatever that is, and scraping.
What’s bad about blowing away the fictional budget here though is that this severely hampers their long-term flexibility while helping win in the short term. Say that Lopez doesn’t develop. You’re stuck with him until another one of the middle-infield guys develops. Reed never improves, you’re waiting on Adam Jones, and so on. The team would have a massive amount of money locked up in a set of players and only left-field would clear reasonably fast.
That’s not a good idea from a roster-construction standpoint, but that’s a whole other post.
Break $100 million. Get to the playoffs. Drink expensive champagne.