The Most Obvious Move Of The Winter
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.