The 2009 Core
After this series, I’d imagine that even the staunchest holdouts agree that this season is over. The Mariners would have to play .657 baseball, going 75-39, the rest of the way to have any realistic chance of winning this division. This team is just not capable of playing that well. They’ll be lucky to get to .500, honestly. The 2008 season is up in flames.
So, now, the question is no longer what the team should do to try to improve this year’s team. This year’s team is irrelevant. The 2009 team is now the one the organization needs to be building (and for the sake of this discussion, we’re ignoring the fact that the entire front office might get fired) – the nice thing about a losing season is that you get a head start on your competitors for the following year. With the resources and the talent on hand, this team can be a winner in 2009 if they make the right moves. We’re not looking at a long rebuilding project, where they should trade everyone and start over. They just need to import some talent, make some good moves, and build a team around the foundation that’s already here. It can be done, but first, they need to identify the core that they’re going to build around.
Here’s my take on who those guys should be considered part of that core.
Felix Hernandez, Starting Pitcher: He’s the franchise. Don’t trade him ever.
Ichiro, Center Field: If Felix is 1A, he’s 1B. Same deal – he retires here.
Erik Bedard, Starting Pitcher: The trade sucked, but he’s here and still good. Keep him.
Adrian Beltre, Third Base: Underrated, not really replaceable. Keep him.
And that’s the core. Everyone else is liable to be replaced by someone better depending on what you find available. There are other valuable players in the organization (Putz, Betancourt, Lopez, Clement to name four), but they’re not guaranteed jobs here. If someone wants to give you something for them that makes this team better, they go in a heartbeat. They’re all replaceable.
Now, the problem this presents is that if you’ve decided that your core is a center fielder, a third baseman, and two starting pitchers, you’ve got a massive amount of work to do to fill 21 spots around them before 2009 rolls around. Some of those will be filled internally, certainly, but you’re still looking at a pretty significant roster turnover. Where do you start with such a large job?
Well, to begin with, you figure out who isn’t part of your core and could have some value to a team trying to contend right now, and you figure out whether it’s worth it to trade them for 2009 help. This list is pretty short, unfortunately, since there are so many lousy players on the roster. Essentially, you’re looking at Raul Ibanez and J.J. Putz here. Both would bring in a decent return in trade as quality veterans with terrific contracts, but that return has to be weighted against the cost of subtracting them from the 2009 roster.
If Ibanez is willing to DH next year and be platooned against lefties, and he’ll re-sign for a reasonable amount of money, then he might be worth keeping around. If he’s not, then you have to weigh whether the players being offered are more valuable than the potential draft picks you’d get from letting him walk via free agency. Since this team is building for 2009, though, it’s likely that they’d be able to get some more immediate help in exchange for Ibanez, who has the reputation to fool someone into overpaying to get him for the stretch run.
Putz is a tougher call. When he’s healthy, he’s still one of the best closers alive, and he’s signed to a bargain contract through 2010. If the M’s are going to contend next year, they should be making their bullpen better, not worse. However, relievers have notoriously short shelf lives, and you can build a good bullpen very quickly. Trading Putz now and rebuilding the bullpen this winter could be a good strategy if you can get an everyday player that could fill a position on the 2009 team.
Once you’ve figured out what you’re doing with those two, you then need to answer the Jeff Clement question. Now that Johjima’s been re-signed through 2011, Clement isn’t a catcher in this organization anymore. He’s a good hitting prospect, but as a 1B/DH, he’s no longer a potential all-star, and he would have more value to a club that would stick him behind the plate everyday. Regardless of whether we agree with the Johjima deal or not, it happened, and it’s not going away, so Clement’s value to this organization might be highest as trade bait. If you could turn him into a similarly talented first baseman and get an additional player to boot, that’s a trade they should look at making. Call the Reds and ask them what they’ll give you with Joey Votto for Clement – if you like the second player, make the deal.
That’s where you start, but it’s certainly not where you finish. It’s a big job, but the sooner this organization gets started on a plan for 2009, the better.
Yes, we know, no one reading this wants this administration making the decisions on who will be here next year and who won’t. Put that aside and allow us to have a discussion that doesn’t center around your desire to see Bavasi fired. Thanks.