Buyers Or Sellers – Why Choose?
The non-waiver trading deadline is now 10 days away. Teams have a week and a half to reshape their rosters, either for the stretch run, or for next year and beyond. The trading deadline is an annual exercise in hype with a lackluster payoff, as I don’t remember the last time the deadline came and went when we had a flurry of deals that could actually be classified as exciting.
The local angle, of course, is that the Mariners have 10 days to decide whether to be buyers or sellers. They’re only 5 games out of first place in a division where no one looks particularly good, and despite the recent losing road trip, they played highly competitive baseball with two of the better teams in the American League. Fans have set through several miserable seasons, and the team is wary of throwing in the towel on what still has the potential to be an exciting September that might just draw them back to Safeco Field.
The counter argument is pretty obvious, however. While the team is still not out of the race, they’re still in last place, trailing three teams, and are just 4-10 in July. They also have the toughest remaining schedule of any AL West team, playing Boston, Cleveland, and Toronto before they have to decide what to do with the roster. Considering the opponents, its unlikely the team goes on a 8-1 or 7-2 run that would catapult them right back into the thick of things, so the odds are that this team is sitting in a similar or worse position when the deadline rolls around.
Thus, Bill Bavasi and company are looking at having to decide to add players to a team in last place or remove players from a team within striking distance of a division title. The big question in the front office the next 10 days will be “buyers or sellers?”
In my opinion, this is a great chance for the Mariners to show some creativity for the first team in, well, ever, and steal a page from Billy Beane’s playbook. Don’t choose – be both buyers and sellers.
The team is too close to the division title to waive the white flag, and for all our opinions on the relative strengths of the teams in the division, absolutely anything can happen in a two month stretch of baseball. However, the team also has a strong core to build around, and the last thing the organization needs to be doing is to remove players from the roster who could be substantial parts of the ballclub in 2007. So, instead of taking the normal route of either unloading players or picking up marginal improvements at the cost of young talent, I suggest that the Mariners spend the next ten days rebuilding the guys around the core by both shipping out current players from the roster and bringing in new faces to help contribute right away.
I’d define the core group of players, who I’m not interested in moving, as Felix, Ichiro, Lopez, Betancourt, Johjima, Jones, Clement, Putz, Soriano, and Lowe. I also am willing to accept the fact that the Mariners will never trade Raul Ibanez, so he’s included in the core by default. He’s just not getting moved while the current management structure is in place.
That means I’m willing to move significant talent off the major league roster. Gil Meche, George Sherrill, Jeremy Reed, Adrian Beltre, and Richie Sexson will all draw interest from different ballclubs. However, the goal is not to simply unload these guys (well, not all of them, anyways), but to use their value (and some of the non-essentially minor league guys) to acquire players who fit the team’s needs down the stretch and next season. Easier said than done? Probably. It would take an epic series of moves and a willingness to change up a roster in mid-season, but in the end, I think the team could be better both now and going forward, if they’re willing to take a few chances. And yes, this is almost all 100% speculation. I’ve heard some backdoor rumblings about potential matches for some of our players, but don’t take any of this as legitimate possibilities.
Step 1: Send Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo, and Julio Mateo to San Diego for Ryan Klesko and Dave Roberts.
Step 2: Send Richie Sexson to San Francisco for Todd Linden and Steve Finley.
Step 3: Send Gil Meche and George Sherrill to the Atlanta Braves for Wilson Betemit
Step 4: Send Wladimir Balentien, Yung-Chi Chen, and Cesar Jimenez to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Sean Casey and Kip Wells
This would leave the M’s with the following line-up for the rest of 2006:
1. Ichiro, RF
2. Lopez, 2B
3. Ibanez, LF/DH
4. Betemit, 3B
5. Casey, 1B
6. Johjima, C
7. Snelling, LF/DH
8. Betancourt, SS
9. Roberts, CF
The bench would consist of Finley, Bloomquist, Perez, Quiroz, and Linden holding the job until Klesko gets healthy. Everett would be released, and Rivera and Jones would be returned to the minors.
The rotation would be Felix-Moyer-Washburn-Wells-Pineiro. The bullpen would be Putz-Soriano-Lowe-Cruceta-Fruto-Woods, and if Cruceta pitched well (read: threw strikes) out of the pen, he’d take Pineiro’s spot in the rotation.
This team isn’t significantly better than what the M’s are putting on the field right now. You could argue that they’re a little bit worse. Casey/Betemit are an improvement over what we’ve gotten from Sexson/Beltre, but the dropoff from Meche to Kip Wells is pretty staggering. The pitching is certainly worse, and Hargrove would hate a bullpen with only one lefty, but the offense would be significantly improved. Overall, I think the new roster would be about as competitive, if different in character, than the current roster.
So why make the moves? Financial freedom. At the end of the season, you’d lose the contracts of Sean Casey ($9 million), Steve Finley ($8 million), and Ryan Klesko ($10.5 million), who you essentially swapped out Beltre and Sexson’s deals for. That’s $27 million you wouldn’t have had available to play with had you kept the status quo. $27 million buys a lot of talent.
In the process, you’ve acquired a guy who you think can be your third baseman for the next several years and a stop-gap center fielder to allow Adam Jones to return to Tacoma.
Looking ahead to ’07, you’d have a complete offense minus first base, which is the easiest position in baseball to find a competant role player. Depending on what you wanted to do with Reed/Jones in center, you could try to retain Roberts or pick up another veteran CF to hold the job a bit longer, but that shouldn’t cost much money.
You’d have a rotation of Felix-Washburn-three holes, and a bullpen that lacked a lefty setup guy. But once you remove the salaries of Moyer, Everett, Pineiro, and Wells, in addition to the $27 million you saved by letting Klesko, Finley, and Casey walk, you’re staring at about $40-$45 million in available cash to fill out the pitching staff.
$40 to $45 million. I’m pretty sure the M’s could find three starting pitchers, a first baseman, and a lefty setup guy for $40 million.
It would take a bold series of moves to reshape the roster that dramatically, but this team is capable of making transactions that would both avoid waiving the white flag in 2006 and still allowing them to improve their chances of contending in 2007 and beyond.