Dave’s 2010 Off-Season Plan
It’s back again – the annual winter tradition where I speculate on some potential moves the M’s could make and put together my own roster for next year. I try to be as realistic as possible, so I’m sticking to a $95 million budget and hopefully get in the realm of possibility with the dollars for the arbitration eligible guys and suggested free agents, as well as trying to compensate trade partners with sufficient talent. As always, the specific players are more just examples of the types of moves I’d like to see the team make. Oh, and yes, this is your thread for rosterbation. Go nuts.
Trade Brandon Morrow to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy.
Trade Jose Lopez, Mark Lowe, and Jason Vargas to Chicago for John Danks.
Sign Nick Johnson to a one year, $9 million contract
Sign Orlando Hudson to a two year, $16 million contract
Sign Ben Sheets to a one year, $7 million contract
Sign Russell Branyan to a one year, $4 million contract
The Mariners are in something of a tough spot this winter, caught between rebuilding and winning, and having to make some decisions that will push the organization towards one of those directions at the expense of the other. There are some young kids who deserve a shot at real playing time, but coming off an 85 win season and with some talent on the roster, the team isn’t in a position to sell a 75-80 win team as progress again next year. So, they need to add some guys who can help the team in 2010, but are not in a position where they should be sacrificing too much of the future for the present. The best solution – target guys with upside and the ability to help for several years if all goes well.
It’s not easy, but it can be done. J.J. Hardy is a great example of the kind player the M’s should be targeting. He’s 27-years-old and under team control for two more seasons with an established ability to play shortstop in the major leagues at an all-star level. He’s coming off the worst year of his career and has already been replaced in Milwaukee, so this is as low as his value will ever be. He’s an above average player headed into the prime of his career, similar in value to the departing Adrian Beltre, though significantly cheaper in salary.
He’s not going to come for free, though. The Mariners aren’t going to be the only ones interested in acquiring Hardy this winter, which is why I think it would require giving up Brandon Morrow to get him. Giving up four years of Morrow for two years of Hardy is a risk, but it’s a risk the M’s should be willing to take. Young pitchers are full of false hope, so while Morrow may indeed put it together and become a quality starting pitcher, the M’s would be better off building around a shortstop instead. The Brewers have coveted Morrow for years, and they probably won’t get a better arm in return for Hardy. It’s a win-win trade, upgrading the M’s infield while giving the Brewers a pitcher they badly need.
Now, having written all that, perhaps you’ll think it is a little hypocritical that I then immediately suggest swapping an infielder for a pitcher by sending Lopez, Lowe, and Vargas to Chicago for Danks. However, the situations are quite a bit different. Despite his age, Lopez is simply not the kind of player the M’s want to build around for the future, and his value will be maximized in another city. His best skill, power to left field, is in direct conflict with the way Safeco plays. The M’s will get less value from Lopez than just about every other team in baseball, so moving him to an environment that doesn’t clash with his skills is an efficiency maximization decision.
Danks gives the team an above average starter to slot behind Felix, but also helps build for the future at the same time. Heading into his age-25 season, he’s already arbitration eligible, which is why the White Sox would be willing to move him in the first place. As a left-handed starter with a bit of a home run problem, Safeco would be perfect for his continued development, so both main pieces of the deal would find a better fit in the confines of their new home.
Now that you’ve turned Morrow and Lopez into Hardy and Danks, it’s time to spend a little money. The organization will have already added two good young players who don’t require huge salaries, so they’ll have some budget room to spend on quality veterans to round out the roster.
Bringing back Russ Branyan is an easy call. He’ll come relatively cheap and provide +2 to +3 win upside. He would have been in line for a bigger paycheck before the back problems, but now, he’s looking at another one year deal, and there’s no better spot for him to spend 2010 than Seattle.
However, with Branyan’s health issues, the team isn’t really in a position where they can afford to carry a no-glove DH. They’ll need to have the ability to keep Branyan’s bat in the line-up without making him play the field, so ideally, they’ll get a DH who can also play first base. Enter Nick Johnson. He’s the kind of patient hitter the organization has needed for years, and his track record of health problems will prevent him from ever cashing in on a long term contract. The M’s can offer him a nice paycheck for 2010 with the ability to split time between 1B/DH in order to keep himself healthy, and Johnson can give the M’s offense a needed boost.
Having traded Lopez, the M’s will also be in the market for a second baseman, and Hudson is the natural fit. He’ll be back on the market after finding a cold reception last winter, and the M’s should take advantage of the fact that he’s still an undervalued asset. He’s not the defender he used to be, but he’s still an above average hitter who can play the position and provide solid value for several more years. Adding a switch-hitter to the line-up is a nice bonus as well, giving Wak a little more flexibility in his line-ups.
Finally, the spending is capped off with a high risk, high reward gamble on Ben Sheets. While his health risks are certainly a concern, the M’s need to take a gamble on a player with all-star upside, and they have the pitching depth to survive the inevitable trip to the disabled list. Seattle’s the perfect spot for a strike-throwing fly ball starter to re-establish his value, and Jack can offer the comfort of knowing the management team in place. The M’s can take advantage of Safeco and their defense in giving Sheets the best possible chance to line himself up for a big payday in 2011, while reaping the rewards of a high quality arm at a middling quality price.
This roster isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s simultaneously good enough to try to win in 2010 while still allowing the team to build for 2011 and beyond. Johnson, Sheets, Branyan, and Hudson give the team needed present value without tying up payroll long term, while Danks and Hardy give the team two good young players to add to the foundation of the roster going forward. On paper, it’s probably an 85 win team that would need a healthy, strong season from Sheets and a breakthrough by one of Saunders, Moore, or Tuiasosopo to really contend in the AL West. But those things are certainly possible, and the reward for having the gambles pay off could be significant.
The team would still be building for 2011, but they’d have given themselves a chance to make a playoff run next year as well. Straddling the line between contending and rebuilding isn’t easy, but it can be done.
Oh, and I forgot to mention one last part of the plan.
Sign Felix Hernandez to a 6 year, $90 million extension.
Get it done, Jack. We’ll love you even more than we already do.