Reload: The Offseason Plan To Win in 2009
For years, I’ve been posting suggested offseason plans for the M’s, laying out potential moves they could make to improve the roster and try to build a winning team. This year, however, it’s a little different – the organization doesn’t really know what they’re going to do, since they don’t have a GM, and they seem to be leaning towards a rebuild. So, until we know what the decision on the GM is and what he feels like the team should do with this roster, there needs to be two sets of suggestions. Double the work for me, but hopefully, twice as much fun for you guys.
So, here’s part one – a step by step outline of how the organization could retool this winter and attempt to come back as a contender in 2009. There’s a ton of talent hitting free agency this winter and the M’s already have some pieces in place, so it’s possible, even coming off a disastrous season. Here’s one potential roster that could legitimately contend in the A.L. West next year.
And here are the moves that would create said roster:
Trade Jose Lopez, Wladimir Balentien, and Jarrod Washburn to the Brewers for Corey Hart and Brad Nelson
Sign Rafael Furcal to a 3 year, $40 million contract
Sign Milton Bradley to a 3 year, $36 million contract with a vesting option for a 4th season based on PA
Sign Reed Johnson to a 1 year, $3 million contract.
Sign Jeremy Affeldt to a 1 year, $4 million contract
Fairly simple – one trade, four free agent contracts, and a position change for Betancourt. I have a hard time seeing the Brewers turning down that offer (especially with how badly Hart finished 2008, and the fact that he’s arb. eligible this winter), and the contracts for Furcal and Bradley are calculated risks, offering guaranteed years and significant cash to guys with health questions. As far as make believe rosters, I think this one’s quite a bit more realistic than most of the ones I’ve proffered in the past. It requires the M’s to keep their payroll essentially even with what it was in 2008, but wouldn’t require the new GM to come in and demand to be able to trade prospects off for a win-now fix or for a budget increase to spend on veterans. This roster can be built with the resources readily available from day one.
Why would this team win?
Rough calculations put the offense at about +10 runs above average over the full season. Those projections assume a minimal rebound from Betancourt and Hart’s poor seasons, a slight uptick by Beltre and Ichiro, slightly below average production from Clement and Nelson, and Bradley only being a good hitter, not a great one. There’s certainly room for more in the offense – Hart turns 27 next year, and his power is legitimate, so a slightly better approach could lead to a big step forward. Clement could be quite a bit better than the projection, and Bradley might not regress nearly as far as this suggests.
The defense is also remarkably better. Lopez is essentially replaced by Furcal, a pretty huge upgrade with the glove. Ibanez is replaced by Hart, which is like driving by McDonalds and ending up at Mortons. Betancourt’s less of a problem at second base than at shortstop, and while Nelson/Clement won’t be very good over at first, Morse offers some potential as a solid glove there. Overall, this should be an above average defense, probably by the margin of +10 to +15 runs or so.
The pitching staff benefits from a potentially healthy Bedard, the importation of Affeldt to be the bullpen’s primary lefty, and a better back-end of the rotation with RRS, Morrow, and a version of Carlos Silva that can’t possibly be that bad again. Batista, Dickey, and Feierabend provide rotation depth to make up for the innings gap that the starting five will certainly leave, so there’s eight in house starting pitchers already around. Overall, this pitching staff is, much like the rest of the team, slightly above average. Depending on Bedard’s heatlh and the progression of Morrow and Rowland-Smith, I’ve got them at +10 runs above average, but it could jump to +30 if Bedard can pitch the whole season at peak level.
Put it all together, and you’ve got a team that looks like an 85-87 win team based on talent level. Good enough to be the favorite? No, certainly not, but a huge step back to respectability while simultaneously building to the future. No major prospects are sacrificed – Balentien is essentially replaced by Hart, a better version of the same skillset, and while Lopez is shipped off in favor of the older Furcal, Luis Valbuena gets to hang out in Tacoma and push Betancourt for the 2B job if he doesn’t improve.
The guys around which the franchise should be building are still here, and the new talented veterans give the team time to let their prospects develop while also keeping the fan base on board. The team gets younger and significantly more exciting, and the new additions create an opportunity for a playoff berth if enough things go right – Felix breaks out, Bedard stays healthy, Beltre has another monster contract year, whatever. They’re not the favorites, but they’re within striking distance, and there’s real upside on the roster.
Why would this team lose?
Easy – it’s brittle as hell. Furcal gets a huge contract for sitting four months in 2008. Bradley never plays more than about 75% of the season. Bedard’s coming off shoulder surgery. Morrow and Rowland-Smith enter spring training as starters for the first time in their careers. Those five guys are all major durability question marks, and they’re all being counted on. If more than one bites it, this team isn’t going to win. They have to stay healthy.
But what do you really lose by trying this roster out? Say Bedard doesn’t come back, Furcal’s back is still a problem, Bradley misses a bunch of time due to nagging injuries… they just get replaced by the kids you were going to play if you decided to rebuild before the year started, and you can still shop around guys like Beltre and Putz at the trade deadline if you want prospects in lieu of more draft picks.
Yea, there’s some financial outlay, but none of it is guaranteed beyond where Silva and Johjima’s ugly extensions already take us, so it’s not prolonging the years of bad money on the books. If you go into a full scale rebuild, you’re not winning for 2-3 years anyway, so the money spent on Bradley and Furcal isn’t going to push back your timetable one single day. And if the team bombs while either or both of those guys stay healthy and productive, you have a couple new trade chips to hasten your rebuild.
The team has issues, but there are players available that can address those issues, and the team has the resources to get those guys in uniform. The Mariners don’t have to rebuild – with some good roster management, they can restock the major league roster without sacrificing the future. It doesn’t have to be an either/or, win now or rebuild situation. With an offseason like this, the team could win in 2009 and rebuild at the same time.