The Most Obvious Move Of The Winter

Dave · September 20, 2010 at 8:41 am · Filed Under Mariners 

As the season thankfully winds down and we run out of things to say about Felix, it’s about time we start looking ahead to the off-season. This will undoubtedly be a busy winter for the Mariners, as they set out to hire a new manager and build a roster that won’t suck as bad as this one did. Adding to the intrigue is the sheer quantity of young players that are near major league ready or should be at some point in 2011, which both gives the team some depth and also provides reason to be hesitant about filling holes with established major league veterans. The Mariners are probably going to be a pretty young team next year, as they try to find out just what they can expect going forward from the likes of Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders, and Adam Moore, as well as potentially mixing in guys like Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda, and Dan Cortes.

So, in several positions, we’re not really sure what the Mariners are going to do this winter, as they’ll have to choose between upgrading the roster and creating opportunities for some young players that make up the future of the organization. There is one position, however, where the plan looks to be pretty obvious, at least from my perspective, and that’s the closer role.

David Aardsma racked up his 31st save yesterday, and after giving up a bunch of home runs in the first half of the year, he has his ERA down to 3.44. As a guy who has now converted 69 saves in the last two years, he’s earned the label of proven closer, which still holds value to quite a few teams around the game. However, for teams who don’t want to pay market prices for high leverage relievers, Aardsma will represent a cost-effective option, as his arbitration raise will likely push his salary into the $4 to $4.5 million range. That’s several million less than what closers have been getting in free agency the last few years, and he’ll have the added benefit of being a guy with two years of club control but only one year of commitment, thanks to the arbitration process.

If the Mariners decide to put him on the block this winter, he’ll have some trade value. And, given the expected structure of the club, they’ll almost certainly make him available this winter. It would be crazy not to.

For starters, 2011 doesn’t look like a contending year for the Mariners, given how many young players they’re going to have to break in at once. “Proven Closers” are a luxury that rebuilding teams can’t afford, and that’s likely what the Mariners will be next year. And, while Aardsma will have value to a contender with a budget, that value will likely diminish the longer the team holds onto him. Even if he has a good year in 2011, his payday in arbitration for 2012 will get up into the $7 million range, at which point a lot of teams would rather shop for a better closer in free agency. While the Mariners have two more years of club control on Aardsma, only the next one has any significant surplus value, and so he’s better viewed as a guy going into the last year of his contract.

And, for this team, there’s just no reason to keep a guy who won’t be here in 2012, especially at a position where he will probably be replaced without too many problems. Even with all his pitch selection issues, Brandon League is still an equal or better pitcher than Aardsma, and should be able to handle the closer role in 2011, so the team wouldn’t see a big downgrade in ninth inning performance. In the middle innings, the organization has a host of promising young bullpen arms who could step in and provide value both in the short term and long term. Cortes, especially, provides a lot of the same skills that Aardsma brings to the table, only he’ll do so at the league minimum next year, and has a long term future in Seattle. Giving Aardsma’s roster spot to Cortes would save the Mariners a decent chunk of change without significantly downgrading the bullpen, and would allow the team to evaluate one of their better prospects at the same time.

As we’ve talked about, the M’s won’t have a lot of money to throw around this winter, so saving $4 million by moving Aardsma could create enough payroll flexibility to let them go out and make a move for a guy who can make an impact elsewhere. It’s a good winter to be DH-shopping, and the team could use another reliable starter at the back-end of the rotation as well. Moving Aardsma not only gets you value in what the team could get back for him via trade, but in what the team could acquire with the money that would go to having him on the roster next year. They won’t get anyone’s top prospect for him, but the combined value of the return in trade and the ability to redistribute the cash to other places on the roster make this a no-brainer.

Aardsma’s time in Seattle is almost certainly coming to an end. At some point this winter, the M’s will be presented with an offer for their closer that simply makes too much sense to pass up. It’s the one thing about this off-season that you can essentially take to the bank.


80 Responses to “The Most Obvious Move Of The Winter”

  1. Diehard on September 20th, 2010 2:34 pm

    It makes complete sense to trade the DA when his value is high as a proven closer. The M’s have plenty of guys on the cusp of the majors who are potential closers so Jack Z just needs to do when he first got here with Putz, get as much back as possible for Aardsma.

  2. Shanfan on September 20th, 2010 2:49 pm

    It makes sense to trade Aardsma if we get a decent return but I wouldn’t be upset if we kept him either. I’ll only be upset if we dump him for salary relief or ‘opportunity cost’ reasons. Does anyone here remember any of the pre-Sasaki bullpens? In not quite two seasons Aardsma is already fourth on the M’s career saves list. Even on a non-contending team it’s crushing as a fan to have a decently pitched game get handed over to a gas can gang.

    It wouldn’t be horrible to let the young guys, injury rehabbers, and off-season pick-ups sort it out in back end and set-up roles. We can trade him next year in-season if somebody looks ready to fill his shoes. The Nat’s got Ramos (and others) for Capps this year at the deadline. The Padres and Heath Bell were in the same situation last winter and keeping him worked out fine for them.

    As for easily replacing bullpen arms, sometimes all you get off the scrap heap is scrap. This year’s Aardsma was Jesus Colume. How’d that work out? We replaced him with Chad Cordero. If effective relievers are a dime a dozen, why have we had dozens and dozens of relievers not worth a dime in our history? We’ve got other arms that already could use an upgrade out there. Sean White is still on this team, folks.

    Luxuries we can afford less than an effective closer are $12 million part-time declining DH’s, $5 million part-time banjo hitting shortstops, and $9 million half-a-WAR attitudinal second basemen. No one is going to take those first two off our hands but I’d jump at a chance for a straight salary dump ($26 million or more still owed) for our second baseman if that was possible.

    If Aardsma is traded, it’s only worthwhile in a talent-for-talent swap. Can you imagine how much more this team would’ve sucked with an Ayala instead of an Aardsma? I agree with Dave as he states that this winter we’ll get an offer too good to pass up, but if there isn’t, dumping the guy for salary relief/roster space as some suggest is a bad idea.

  3. nathaniel dawson on September 20th, 2010 3:11 pm

    Trade Aardsma and Lopez for salary relief and prospects

    I’m not sure picking up Lopez’ option in order to trade him would be such a good idea — his salary under that option would probably make him untradeable, unless we ate some of the money, which would be worse than just declining the option in the first place. The same for offering him arb — higher salary, making him less attractive to other teams. The wisest move would seem to be declining his option and letting him become a free agent.

  4. gwangung on September 20th, 2010 3:22 pm

    As for easily replacing bullpen arms, sometimes all you get off the scrap heap is scrap.

    That’s not how you replace bullpen arms. And that’s not how BAVASI developed a bullpen (which is one of the few things he did OK).

  5. ozman24 on September 20th, 2010 3:57 pm

    What ever happened with Josh Fields? Wasn’t he the next best thing in 2008?

  6. firova2 on September 20th, 2010 4:16 pm

    April and May: a bullpen full of Ayalas, Aarsdma included. We saw it. Remember Chicago? Anaheim?

    Figgins moves to third to make way for Ackley. Josh Wilson or somewhat better scrub starts at second until Dustin’s ready. A Figgins salary dump may be more doable with only two years left rather than three depending on what is available next winter and how much they think they can upgrade from him.

    I would put the chance of Cliff Lee coming back to Seattle at roughly that of Adrian Beltre. The Mariners can’t offer him the megabucks and why would he come back to this noncontending mess? I actually think that depending on how competitive Texas is in the playoffs, he may give them a discount to stay since it is close to his Arkansas home and they have a lot of young talent.

  7. Duncan Idaho on September 20th, 2010 5:07 pm

    With Tampa’s salary limitations and with Rafael Soriano almost certainly leaving, could an Aardsma for Jason Bartlett deal be possible with Brignac ready to step in for the Rays?

  8. groundzero55 on September 20th, 2010 6:08 pm

    Its a shame by the time the M’s get good enough for a playoff run Ichiro might be to old to enjoy it. It sucks they werent good enough to contend during his younger days besides 2001

    In 2002, the M’s went 93-69.
    In 2003, the M’s went 93-69.

    Those are damn good seasons. Unfortunately the AL West was very, very, I’d go so far as saying ridiculously good those years, especially 2002, when 93 wins was good enough for third place in the division.

  9. gag harbor on September 20th, 2010 6:09 pm

    I’m cool with the team going “younger” but I would be willing to believe in the Mariners a lot sooner if the front office got “younger”.

  10. wtnuke on September 20th, 2010 6:54 pm

    I know I’ll get rocks thrown at my head for this, but what about the idea of trading Ichiro and Felix Hernandez? If we’re really rebuilding, we need more good young talent, and clearly we need to spread out the value on this team.

  11. Badbadger on September 20th, 2010 8:00 pm

    I know I’ll get rocks thrown at my head for this, but what about the idea of trading Ichiro and Felix Hernandez? If we’re really rebuilding, we need more good young talent, and clearly we need to spread out the value on this team.

    Felix is good young talent. Trading Ichiro makes a bit more sense, since he will be on the downhill side of his career before we contend again.

  12. greentunic on September 20th, 2010 8:22 pm

    wtnuke, I like the outside-the-box thinking. I just don’t think it would be good for us to trade Felix.

    I do not believe we could get as much for Felix as we’d want. I would want something like a Heyward AND a Jurrjens, or a Posey AND a Bumgarner. They wouldn’t do that for us and I don’t even know if I’d do that as the M’s. Felix is perhaps the most valuable player in MLB in terms of youth + talent + “proven-ness.” He’s who we build this team around.

  13. lalo on September 20th, 2010 8:32 pm

    Agree, maybe they should trade Aardsma, but we can´t expect any good prospects in the deal, is more like a salary dump only, League could be the closer and Cortes and Lueke great arms, and these 4 millions?? maybe the Branyan´s option and the 2011 M´s will be the same crap that have been in 2010, OK, maybe with 3 great prospects (Smoak,Ackley and Pineda), and with a better Michael Saunders , but they need a power hitter, they need Dunn, they need a C,SS,2B(Until Ackley is ready), and appears impossible that they can upgrade all this season, especially with Bradley and Jack Wilson, but with Jack, all is possible, do you remember the Lee trade??

  14. TomTuttle on September 20th, 2010 8:37 pm

    Are we sure that a full-on youth movement is a good idea for 2011?

    I mean, let’s think about what the Pirates have done in 2010 for a second.

    It’s one thing if Saunders, Moore, Smoak, etc. had shown a lot of sparks and flashes of life for next year.

    But they haven’t.

    I definitely think this 2011 Mariners team could have people longing for the Tyrone Willingham and/or Paul Wulff eras at UW and Wazzu and if given the choice, I’d rather go all-in than all-out.

    But then again, it’s tough to see us EVER going to the World Series anyways with Lincoln and Armstrong running the show.

    So whatever.

  15. djw on September 21st, 2010 4:05 am

    make a full-court press for Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez

    I’m pretty sure that would require that upper management authorize a larger payroll than 2010. Do you think that’s likely? I don’t.

  16. gwangung on September 21st, 2010 8:31 am

    I definitely think this 2011 Mariners team could have people longing for the Tyrone Willingham and/or Paul Wulff eras at UW and Wazzu and if given the choice, I’d rather go all-in than all-out.

    I think that’s much closer to the Lincoln/Armstrong mode than to the local blogosphere than you realize.

    If the infrastructure isn’t there, it makes no sense to go all-in. And because of years of past management, the infrastructure isn’t there.

  17. kennyb on September 21st, 2010 9:34 am

    Why are so many people wanting the M’s to go after Cliff Lee? His salary next year will be more than the M’s can add to their payroll.
    It just doesn’t make sense.

  18. crf3616 on September 21st, 2010 9:37 am

    I like the idea above of trying to trade the DA to the Rays for Bartlett. He’s having a bit of a down year, so I think it’s a do-able deal.

    As far as a couple of other do-able ideas to make this young team work watchable:

    – Sign Xavier Nady at 1B/DH/OF/Bench. He’s making $3.5M this year, and it probably wouldn’t take much more to sign him next year. He’s a career .279/.333/.449 hitter, and would be one of the better offensive players on the team without much $ out the door.

    – Sign John Buck at C. Making $2M per year this year with 18 HR and .271/.300/.480. He’s probably in line for a bit of a raise, but is only 30. I’m not convinced that Adam Moore is a MLB catcher, and it’s the most obvious spot to add offense.

    That gives the M’s decent upgrades at 3 offensive positions (Bartlett, Nady, Buck) for relatively little money. Ichiro, Figgins, and Guti aren’t going anywhere. Then the final 3 starting spots would likely be filled by youngsters (Smoak, Ackley, Saunders?). It’s not a team that would be contending for the playoffs, but it would be significantly more exciting to watch than the current version.

  19. gwangung on September 21st, 2010 9:56 am

    Why are so many people wanting the M’s to go after Cliff Lee?

    The George Steinbrenner mode of thinking. Go after the biggest, most well known name, not necessarily the most effective.

  20. kennyb on September 21st, 2010 10:11 am

    Maybe, but our payroll can’t take that kind of thinking.

  21. LongDistance on September 21st, 2010 10:18 am

    This is Devil’s Advocate time here, but… You know… I’m not so sure it’s so absolutely necessary to consider dumping Aardsma as being the Most Obvious Move of the Winter.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve seen so often… for the sake of Pencil Pusher’s Logic… this guy or that guy get put on the block. Yes, yes… it’s the “right” time to send him down the road to some more deserving team willing to spend the bucks.

    But… dammit… I’m tired of watching the bottom line baseball “business” logic always have to be the politically correct choice. We’ve thrown away SO many contributors, just because it would have been supposedly embarrassingly stupid… from a business logic point of view… to have kept them. And what have those guys done? Contributed to bettering other teams.

    And we end up with a “high” score for business logic… and lousy teams.

    Damn. It. Keep Dave Aardsma. Me, I don’t think he’s going to tank suddenly because of some Mariner’s Jinx. He’s a contributor, and he’s worth his salary. And instead of… every damn time… sending whatever we’ve got that has any worth at all down the road. Keep it, and build on it.

    There are plenty of other things they need to be thinking about for getting some foundation into to this club. (I refuse to use the term rebuilding. “Rebuilding”??? What. A. Joke. Rebuilding from what….?). Decimating whatever elements could contribute to what little foundation they’ve got… may be the “smart” money choice.

    But winning baseball is more than just adhering to the smart money theories. It’s knowing when to believe in a few people.

    And I don’t mean some stupid Sexson-style high-roller gambling form of belief. I mean: just take a look at these guys, and decide who are, or are not, clubbers.

    For my money, Aardsma’s a keeper.

    Let’s move out the real deadwood.

  22. gwangung on September 21st, 2010 10:30 am

    But winning baseball is more than just adhering to the smart money theories

    No, it isn’t.

    It’s PRECISELY spending money well on good talent. No more, no less. Anything else is bad baseball. See Branch Rickey.

  23. spankystout on September 21st, 2010 10:40 am

    David Aardsma is a shaky closer. There is no logic to keep Aardsma when the team has League, Cortes, Kelley (if healthy), Lueke, and maybe someday Fields. All of these guys have closer ‘stuff’ with an out pitch. Something Aardsma has had to develop on the fly this season. Aardsma is going to earn roughly 4-4.5M next season. This money can pay for League, Kelley, Cortes, and Lueke. That is 4/7 of our bullpen paid for, they are younger, cheaper and have upside that Aardsma doesn’t.

  24. kennyb on September 21st, 2010 11:34 am

    OK LongDistance,
    Let’s say the team follows your advice. They keep Aardsma and upgrade exactly what? And with what money?
    The team as you would have it is still a poor hitting team. They need to upgrade the offense somehow. Where is the money going to come from? Jack can’t exactly make a good case for increasing payroll, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see payroll cut a little. If Aardsma is going to cost 4M that eats up a big chunk of the dough. Trading Figgins would help save money, but if the team wanted to go that route they would have made the move at the deadline. Plus they would probably keep Lopez (my fingers hurt typing that).
    Don’t get me wrong, I have no hope for a San Diego like turn around next year, and I don’t think it really matters if the team keeps Aardsma for 2011 or uses that money to make a small upgrade to the offense. The team is not going to contend until at least 2012. But if they can turn Aardsma into a moderate prospect and $4m they have to do it.

  25. Duncan Idaho on September 21st, 2010 1:30 pm

    Let’s not just assume Aardsma is at 4-4.5 mil next year. Second year arby closers get between 4 and 7 million so if the case actually went to the arbitrater and Aardsma asks for 5-6 he could get it. 4.5-5 seems like a likely compromise point but I would say 4 million would mean that the team put in a lowball arby offer and won.

    Long distance has an interesting take above and there is one circumstance where I would want the Mariners to retain Aardsma. If JackZ could sell Aardsma on a 3/12 million deal I would rather keep him and trade League. As far as aquiring prospects is concerned I see League as the more valuble trade piece anyway. Aardsma seems like a trade piece that will net the Mariners a player or two who are expensive or are about to be.

  26. terry on September 21st, 2010 3:12 pm

    Do I have a better idea? Not really, though if Kelly or Lowe are healthy, I’d probably pick either of them over League at this point.

    Since we’re picking guys from other teams, i’d rather have Mariano Rivera…

  27. lalo on September 21st, 2010 7:26 pm

    -Sign Tejada, Eckstein or Uribe as a SS, three are better offensively than Jack and Josh (4 MILLIONS)
    -Sign Buck or trade for Arencibia, or Jaso.(2 MILLIONS)
    -Resign Branyan or sign Matsui (4 OR 5 MILLIONS)
    -Release Kotchman
    -Sign Kevin Millwood (1.5 MILLIONS)
    -Sign high risk pitchers like Bedard or Sheets (2 MILLIONS + INCENTIVES)
    -Trade Aardsma for any prospect.(-5 MILLIONS)

    All of this for aprox. 15 millions, – 5 of Aardsma, 10 millions, and a more watchable team.

  28. cjhenry on September 22nd, 2010 8:19 am

    Dave, I agree with you almost entirely. However the one point where we differ is on Brandon League. They should move him in the offseason as well. He really isn’t any good and doesn’t hold leads well. Once he’s frazzled a bit, he get’s destroyed. I don’t see that changing. But hey, nobody wants to admit we got fleeced in the Morrow trade, so we have to believe in Brandon I guess.

    You are probably right that he’ll be the closer next year, but hopefully only as a target for some young tough guy looking to take his job away.

  29. cjhenry on September 22nd, 2010 8:22 am


    I think Adam Moore got his shot and blew it. I’d be interested to see an analysis starting catchers, now or in recent history, to see how may of them hit this poorly in their first 200 mlb at bats and stayed a starter, or even stayed in the majors.

    I think they will give up on him in the offseason.

  30. Badbadger on September 24th, 2010 12:02 pm

    200 abs isn’t enough to judge a player. .

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