Dave’s Offseason Plan, 2011 Style
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, though everyone will have their own opinions on the viability of these moves. I’m sticking to a $93 million budget, about the same amount as what the team spent last year, and will hopefully get in the realm of possibility with the dollars for the arbitration eligible guys and suggested free agents. In the one trade suggested, I’ve tried to fairly compensate the other team with sufficient talent to make the deal work for both sides. As always, the specific players are examples of the types of moves I’d like to see the team make, but there are various alternatives at each position. Oh, and yes, this is your thread for rosterbation. Go nuts.
Trade David Aardsma and Jose Lopez to Arizona for OF Cole Gillespie and IF Ryan Roberts
Sign DH Lance Berkman to a 2 year, $12 million contract
Sign LHP Jeff Francis to a 2 year, $10 million contract
Sign IF Nick Punto to a 1 year, $2.5 million contract
Sign LHP Mark Hendrickson to a 1 year, $1 million contract
Sign C Gregg Zaun to a 1 year, $1 million contract
Sign LHP Jamie Moyer to a 1 year, $500,000 contract.
The Mariners are in something of a tough spot. Coming off a miserable season, they have to improve the roster to avoid alienating the fan base stem the erosion of season ticket sales, but with a good Texas team to catch and Anaheim poised to spend a ton of money this winter, contending for the division title in 2011 is probably too much to ask. There’s just too much ground to make up in one winter to get on an even playing field with the Rangers, not to mention trying to overcome an Angels team that could land both Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre this winter.
So, the team needs to make moves that improve the roster, but that also fit into a longer term picture. They’re not in the position to be using prospects in trade to upgrade the major league team, and they don’t have enough money to spend to land a marquee free agent. They also need to make sure that they keep opportunities free for the young talent that is nearly major league ready without putting out a team full of rookies that will lose 100 games again. It’s a tough balancing act, there are pieces that the team can go after that would be able to help the team in both 2011 and beyond. That’s what I’ve tried to emphasize with these moves. Let’s take them one at a time.
Trading David Aardsma is the most obvious move of the winter, and now that they’ve declined Jose Lopez’s option, moving him becomes the second most obvious move. I’ve killed two birds with one stone by trading them away in the same deal. Kevin Towers has made it clear that he has two priorities as the new GM of the Diamondbacks this winter – improve their bullpen and fix the offenses contact problems. Aardsma gives them a fairly low cost closer, while Lopez offers a player who can replace some of Mark Reynolds power with about 150 fewer strikeouts per season, as they are likely to ship out Reynolds this winter. He’d be a decent fit in Seattle if the M’s could unload Chone Figgins, but I don’t see how to make that happen, so for now we just settle on giving Arizona their replacement and their ninth inning guy.
In exchange, the Mariners acquire a couple of useful role players. Gillespie is a classic fourth outfielder in the making, as a guy with no premium tools but decent skills across the board. He draws some walks, has gap power, runs okay, and plays a decent corner outfield, but he’s probably best served as a part-time player. He’d be a perfect fit to share time with Michael Saunders in left and offer some low cost outfield depth with a little bit of upside. Roberts is a utility infielder with a little bit of pop in his bat who had a good 2009 season but flopped last year. Both are cheap role players who fill needs, and given that neither Aardsma nor Lopez have a ton of trade value, this is about what you can expect for the pair. They’re useful pieces that the team needs, and that’s good enough considering what the Mariners are giving up.
They won’t fix the offense, of course, and for the addition of some thump into the line-up, we turn to the free agent market. Lance Berkman is my preferred DH candidate, offering the best package of multiple years of production without a huge cost. He’s going to be 35 next year and is coming off the worst year of his career, but there are reasons to think he’s a good bounce back candidate – his drop in power coincided with a wrist injury that should be healed by next year, and nearly all of his other skills remained equal to his 2009 season when he posted a .386 wOBA.
He wants a full time job and the opportunity to play the field at times, and the Mariners can offer him both, as he could split time with Justin Smoak and hit cleanup on a daily basis. He provides a patient, switch-hitting bat who could take advantage of Safeco’s friendly right field porch, and gives you some depth at first base in case Smoak flops or gets hurt. Going two years may seem risky for a guy his age, but it’s worth the risk to get Berkman in the M’s line-up. If he rebounds, he’ll easily be worth the money and give the team a legitimate cleanup hitter for both 2011 and 2012.
Berkman’s not the only guy we’re handing a two year contract to, however. The other investment I’m making this winter is in the rotation, which is full of question marks once you get past Felix. In order to give the team another quality arm who will love what pitching in Safeco Field will do for his numbers, I turn to Jeff Francis, who was set free by the Rockies when they declined his $7 million option for 2011. Francis has had a reasonably solid career considering he’s spent it pitching in Coors Field, and as a British Columbia kid, would almost certainly welcome the chance to move to a park near his hometown that is paradise on earth for left-handed pitch-to-contact starters.
Francis is, in many ways, similar to Jason Vargas. They’re both soft-tossing lefties who have excellent change-ups and plus command, and while neither is a big strikeout pitcher, they have good enough stuff to miss bats when they have to. Obviously, we’ve seen how well Vargas has flourished in Safeco (like many others before him), and Francis would likely receive a similar benefit from the park. He’s now two years removed from shoulder surgery that cost him all of the 2009 season and limited him to just over 100 innings pitched last year, but his stuff is most of the way back and he actually posted the lowest xFIP of his career last year. He can provide solid innings as a middle of the rotation starter, and should be the kind of starter that the M’s can acquire without paying too high of a price.
The rest of the moves are stopgap fillers for 2011, as the team simply needs to plug some holes while waiting for kids to develop. Nick Punto is a terrific defensive infielder who can play second base until Dustin Ackley is ready, provide an alternative to Jack Wilson when he’s on the DL or traded, and serve as a quality backup infielder when not in the line-up. He’s a slap-hitter with no power, but he’s also legitimately one of the best defenders in the game, and would give Ackley a great example to learn from. His lack of offense will keep his price in the range that the Mariners can afford, and while I’m sure most of you are tired of guys who can’t hit, he’s the best option the team has for the role.
Mark Hendrickson gives the team a cheap quality left-handed setup guy who will be underrated because of an inflated ERA from last year. His peripherals are still fine, and he’s a perfect capable lefty out of the pen. With Baltimore declining his option for $1.2 million, he’s sure to come at a modest cost, and would give Eric Wedge some experience in what would otherwise be a very young bullpen.
Gregg Zaun fills the role of backup catcher, and provides a few benefits – he’s a switch-hitter, has a little bit of power, and as a 40-year-old, he won’t be complaining about playing second fiddle to Adam Moore. There are a number of candidates for the veteran backup catcher role, but Zaun is my favorite and fits in the budget.
We talked about Moyer earlier this week. He’s a perfect fit in the long relief/6th starter role, and if he wants to pitch in MLB next year, this is probably his best bet.
Is it the kind of offseason that will put the Mariners back into the mix for the AL West? No, but I’m not sure that is possible anyway. What it does give the team is a good chance for a .500 season (this roster projects out to about an 80 win team or so) while adding a couple of pieces that could still be useful in 2012. It gives the kids a chance to play while not making the team a disaster if they fail, and maintains most of the financial flexibility the team will get following next year, when Milton Bradley, Carlos Silva, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Jack Wilson come off the books.
The reality is that this team won’t be good again until Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and Michael Pineda are ready to be core pieces. That won’t happen this year, but this roster would give the team the ability to let all three get their feet wet in the big leagues while hopefully winning enough games to avoid everyone getting fired again.