The Current Roster
There are still some holes to be filled, obviously.
Having Josh Wilson as your primary reserve infielder is a problem, as he simply isn’t qualified for anything more than a 25th man/pinch-runner role. Having him move into the starting line-up whenever anyone (read: Jack Wilson) gets hurt is simply not a good idea, and even with Dustin Ackley‘s likely arrival in the summer potentially solving that problem, the team should not be willing to go with Wilson as their primary reserve infielder for two months. With Brendan Ryan around to act as a backup SS, the team can go with a reserve IF who doesn’t need to be able to play SS, allowing them to get a better bat on the bench. That would push Wilson into Tui’s role and Tui off the roster, both of which are good things. A guy like Willy Aybar would make a lot of sense for that role.
The pitching staff still needs work as well. Pauley is probably best off in a long relief/spot starter role, and moving him to the pen would allow the team to not have to push Seddon to the majors, allowing him to serve as additional depth down in Tacoma. Relying on the hope that Erik Bedard is healthy enough to hold down the #5 spot isn’t a great idea, so the M’s should still be in the market for another back-end starter. Jeff Francis is still my ideal choice, but if he’s too pricey, Kevin Millwood would be worth kicking the tires on.
Speaking of price, the bullpen is still somewhat in flux while the club decides what to do with David Aardsma. Trading him saves around $4 million in salary which could be used to sign a guy like Francis for the rotation, so it’s worth doing even if they can’t land a big return for him. However, moving him also opens up a hole in an already thin bullpen, so the M’s will have to be on the lookout for a cheap reliever or two that they could bring in to bridge the gap in the middle innings if League and Cortes were promoted after Aardsma was dealt. Alternately, they could use Josh Lueke to fill one of those spots, but whether that happens is still up in the air.
So, that leaves the shopping list for the rest of the winter looking something like this – #5 starter, corner infielder with some offensive upside, and potentially decent middle reliever, and if he’s a lefty, that’s a bonus. If they don’t trade Aardsma, they probably only have $2 or $3 million left in the budget, depending on how Olivo’s contract is structured and what Brendan Ryan, Jason Vargas, and Brandon League end up getting to avoid arbitration. If they trade Aardsma, they have a little more flexibility and could probably expand their search a bit.
My preference? Deal Aardsma, and then sign Francis, Aybar, and Mark Hendrickson. That would give the team a better back-end starter, a deeper bullpen, and a better bench, plus whatever prospect they could get in return for Aardsma. They aren’t sexy moves, but they’re the kind of low-cost acquisitions that can fill some holes and give the team a chance to be not-terrible next year. Of course, the offense is essentially predicated on Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders living up to their minor league potential, so it could go badly wrong anyway, but that’s a risk the team has to take. They can minimize problems elsewhere in the hope that, if those guys hit, the team could actually be okay.