The Next Big Test
Last year, we saw Zduriencik and crew come in and ace the off-season, making a bunch of terrific moves to re-shape a bad roster and take an organization out of a death spiral and into a strong rebuilding effort. However, with no disrespect intended, that was the easy part. Getting a roster from 60 wins to 80 wins isn’t nearly as large of a challenge as getting from 80 to 90 – you have to be able to identify some undervalued assets that can plug gaping holes, solidify some depth with some nice bargains, and fill around your core pieces with not-terrible players, but those tasks are far easier than upgrading decent talent to good talent.
This winter, the M’s front office has a new challenge. They’ve shown they can find nice complimentary pieces and fill out a roster without having to spend a lot of money. However, for the M’s to become a real contender again, they’re going to need another core player. If we assume Beltre is probably not coming back, the M’s have three guys that you could safely call above average major leaguers: Felix Hernandez, Ichiro Suzuki, and Franklin Gutierrez. There are some other guys who have the talent to play at an above average level next year, but it can’t be counted on.
Three above average guys – that’s not a big enough core. The M’s need another building block (or two) to form the foundation of the team, and while the role players the organization has already acquired are nice pieces, you can’t add them to the Hernandez/Suzuki/Gutierrez trio and hope to win a World Series. You can’t realistically compete with the New Yorks and Bostons of the world with three good players and a bunch of guys who aren’t terrible. You can finish .500 that way, but you’re not going to have a parade without another high quality player.
For the M’s, adding that kind of player is going to be a priority this winter. They were able to strike gold with Gutierrez, and they may be able to do so again, but we have to remember that the M’s surrendered real value in that deal. J.J. Putz was one of the main assets on the team and Luis Valbuena was a promising young player that was nearly major league ready – the M’s didn’t get Gutierrez for free (though, the deal is still a massive, huge win for the team).
So, now the M’s need to add a Gutierrez-caliber of player at some position, but they also have to limit the amount of major league talent they give up. That’s not easy, especially considering that the roster doesn’t have too many glaring holes any more. Replacing Miguel Cairo with Russ Branyan is easy. Replacing, say, Brandon Morrow with a quality mid-rotation starter… that’s a lot harder.
We know Jack and Tony are good at gathering assets and building the end of a roster. This winter, they’ll have to improve the front of the roster, too, and that’s more of a challenge. Whether it’s making a big splash on a young 1B/DH type (Prince Fielder, perhaps?) or hitting on a home run on a high risk/reward pitcher (Ben Sheets?), the team is going to have to add a 3-5 win player this winter. The Bill Hall/Jack Hannahan/Ryan Langerhans/Luke French types are nice and all, but we now have a full house of role players. We need another building block.