Greetings from above the clouds. Thanks to Google Chrome, we are getting free wi-fi on flights for the Holiday Season. Now if they just had free cocktails too. I'm en route to Orlando for the baseball winter meetings that start on Monday from the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
As for coverage of the meetings, it's all me on the blog this week. And I will also be active on Twitter as well, you can follow me at @TNTMariners (I'm considering changing the name eventually). I'm planning on doing a couple live chats. I can't decide whether to do it on Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday. I will keep you posted on that. I'm leaning toward Tuesday and Thursday.
Here's my preview for today's paper.
In that preview, I mention this ...
Keeping Figgins and Bradley on the payroll causes problems. Right now, the contracts of Ichiro Suzuki ($17 million), Felix Hernandez ($10 million), Bradley ($12 million), Figgins ($9 million), Gutierrez ($4 million) and Jack Wilson ($5 million) will account for $57 million of the Mariners’ payroll next season.
That’s a problem since all indications were that the Mariners won’t exceed the $91 million dollar payroll they had last season. In somewhat good news, the payroll won’t be trimmed. But it leaves just $34 million remaining.
That limits Zduriencik in what he can do in terms of acquiring free agents to help the offense. And the free agents he could acquire would need to be lower-salary, reclamation projects, like Russell Branyan a few years ago.With those kind of limitations, what can we reasonably expect from the Mariners and Zduriencik?
With the exception of trades, any other moves won't garner much headlines. The Mariners can't go after Carl Crawford or Cliff Lee? They don't have the money or the successful organization to draw top free agents in. Nope, it will have to be second and third tier free agents.
I'd be highly surprised if anyone takes Figgins or Bradley, and if they do, the Mariners are going to have eat a good portion of those contracts. And right now, it doesn't seem like they are in position to trade a ton of prospects for immediate help.
Zduriencik certainly has holes to fill. The 25-man roster is far from a finished product. I am guessing Aardsma will be traded. But the Mariners won't get a ton for him. They will also look to find some cheaper veteran free agents. Here's a few notes ...
Rebuilding the MarinersNeeds
Second baseman: After trading Jose Lopez to the Rockies, it seems likely the Mariners will move Chone Figgins back to third base where he’s more comfortable. Figgins led all second basemen in baseball with 18 errors last season. That leaves an opening at second base. The thought is top prospect Dustin Ackley would fill that spot. But he’s still very inexperienced. And getting some insurance at the position would be important.
Left Field: Michael Saunders was given every opportunity to win the everyday left-field job last season. He didn’t do it. Sure he showed glimpses of being able to, but he lacked consistency. The Mariners could look for a right-handed hitting outfielder to platoon Saunders. But they will settle for any outfielder with the potential to hit more than 15 home runs in a season.
Catcher: It wasn’t that long ago when the Mariners were viewed to have a wealth of young catchers. Now … not so much. Seattle catchers combined to hit .201 with 10 homers and 42 RBI last season. Seattle still hopes Adam Moore is the catcher of the future. Rob Johnson appears to be nothing more than a backup at best. The Mariners will still look at established catchers, particularly ones with some offensive skills.
Designated hitter: It’s supposed to be a power position. But last year, Mariners’ DHs combined to hit .194 with 21 homers, 60 RBI and a .340 slugging percentage. With the departure of Russell Branyan, Milton Bradley seems like a logical fit. But for a team in desperate need of power, this is a logical place to find some.
Starting pitcher: Really, it’s Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister. Yes, they are doing the yearly dance with Erik Bedard’s shoulder. And there’s super prospect Michael Pineda, who’s only 24 years old. The old adage, you can never have enough pitching is said over and over for a reason.
RHP David Aardsma: He’s coming off back-to-back 30-plus save seasons. Last year, he wasn’t quite as dominant as 2009. But he’s still considered an established closer, and teams without one will listen to general manager Jack Zduriencik offers.
2B/3B Chone Figgins: Last season was miserable Figgins, who struggled switching from third base to second base and going from lead-off to second in the batting order. A decent second half of the season made his numbers respectable. But he’s making far too much money for his production. He still could help a contending team.
OF/DH Milton Bradley: The Mariners took what seemed like a smart gamble by getting Bradley in a swap for Carlos Silva. But Bradley managed to underachieve for even modest expectations. He couldn’t stay healthy. The Mariners would still have to pick up a portion of his salary. Still, the question is: would anyone want him?
Free agents who MIGHT fit
Catchers: Gerald Laird, Dionner Navarro, Josh Bard.
Second basemen: Willy Aybar, Jerry Hairston Jr., Orlando Hudson.
Outfield: Jeremy Hermida, Andruw Jones, Austin Kearns, Rick Ankiel.
Designated hitter: Russell Branyan, Hideki Matsui, Jack Cust, Vlad Guerrero.
Starting pitchers: Jeff Francis, Andrew Miller, Rich Harden, Jeremy Bonderman.