Spending The Rest
Felix’s extension is awesome on its own, but it also comes with a side benefit – because part of his 2010 payout is accounted for as a signing bonus, Hernandez will only take up a little more than $7 million of the payroll next year, or about $3 million less than the $10 million figure that we’d speculated on as his potential arbitration award. So, in the wake of the great news that Felix is sticking around is more good news – the team has a little more financial flexibility than previously assumed.
Now, again, I want to remind everyone about that last word – assumed. No one really has any firm grasp on what the team’s budget is. The M’s won’t say publicly, so we’ll all figure out what it is once they announce they’re done spending for the winter. Pretty much everyone who covers the team is assuming that it will be something similar to last year, but we don’t really know. We’re guessing. We could be wrong. But it’s the best guess we’ve got.
If you want to see the numbers, check out this spreadsheet from Cot’s Contracts, this post from Jeff Sullivan, or this post from Geoff Baker. They all do a good job of summing everything up, though I doubt any of them get it exactly right. Baker says that the payouts on Silva’s deal on Cot’s are flipped, with the M’s sending less this year than next year – I’d trust him on that. But he’s got Ackley’s salary at $1.5M per season, when it’s actually $1.5M over the five years, so he’s about $1M too high on Ackley for 2010. These are mostly small details, though – everyone comes out with the same general conclusion. The M’s have about $7 to $10 million left in the budget, assuming payroll is kept similar to 2009.
How the M’s spend that money is still up in the air. There are two obvious places on the roster that could use some help, then a few potential bargains in free agency that could offer upgrades to the team if they can work out the logistics. Here are the options, briefly:
Right-Handed Hitting Outfielder/Utility Guy
This is Bill Hall’s vacated roster spot. With Langerhans/Bradley/Griffey forming some kind of LF/DH job share, the team needs another right-handed bat that can play the outfield to balance everything out. It may be useful if that guy could also play the infield, as Jack Hannahan is currently projected as the only backup IF on the roster, but that may be a perk and not a necessity. Options for this guy have been discussed a lot, with names ranging from Xavier Nady to Fernando Tatis and most recently Eric Byrnes. Nady would be the priciest, and last reports had him asking for a ridiculous $6M contract – he’ll have to realize that the market has crashed and he’s coming off surgery before anyone signs him.
If the M’s were still in pseudo rebuilding mode, than giving the last rotation spot to the winner of the Vargas/Fister/French/Petit/Olson contest would not be a bad idea. But given how aggressive they’ve been in upgrading the rest of the team for a run at contention in 2010, the team should do better in the rotation. There are any number of potential options at starter, ranging from the high risk/high reward guys (Ben Sheets, Chien-Ming Wang, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Erik Bedard) to the less interesting innings-sponge types (Jarrod Washburn, Jon Garland, random old strike-throwers). The costs vary widely, even within the groups themselves.
Bullpen/Second Base/Reserve Infielder
This is the group of spots that could be improved upon, but have competent people in place at the moment. The team could choose to upgrade on the various LH relief options if a guy like Will Ohman is willing to sign for cheap, but they may prefer to give the kids a chance, or just not have a LH reliever again. The M’s are known to like Orlando Hudson, but they have Jose Lopez, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for his services in trade. If they could find a team who wanted Lopez, though, they could allocate some of the remaining money to bringing in his replacement. Likewise, Hannahan could be a useful utility player around the infield, but if the M’s could get someone like Adam Kennedy to play the same role at a discount, they may explore that option.
So those are the options. The M’s have a pool of money with which to acquire two, maybe three players, who will likely fit into one of the above categories.
Without knowing what each player’s price and willingness to come to Seattle is, it’s impossible to pick a “best plan”. In some scenarios, it makes sense to spend more on the outfielder and less on the pitcher. In others, maybe you spend all of it on the pitcher and go cheap in the outfield. Or perhaps you trade Lopez for the pitcher, then use the money to sign Hudson and a decent outfielder. Lots of options.
Odds are good that the M’s will fill these last couple of spots with quality players. If they spend it wisely, the Mariners will head into 2010 looking like a ~90 win team or so. That’s pretty amazing.