Mariners Analysis

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Offseason moves
While we wait to see how Joel pitches tonight against Anaheim, I thought I'd look back at the moves the M's made, and the moves they didn't make over the offseason.
After the World Series, there were several areas that needed to be resolved before '04:
- Who is going to be your GM (would Gillick return)?
- Would Kaz return as the closer? (rumors he was interested in returning to Japan)
- How to fix the second-half collapse that doomed the M's to watching the postseason on TV the past two years.

The rumors around Gillick leaving had been on-going for several years, usually centered on the fact his wife remains in Toronto and Gillick was ready to return home. It was somewhat a surprise when Gillick announced he was indeed leaving, but not retiring from the game, and was open to future opportunities.

Right after the World Series, rumors intensified that several Japanese clubs were interested in negotiating with the M's to acquire Kaz. Usually where there is smoke there's fire, and we all know how this turned out. Too bad the M's couldn't have anticipated this better and used the money freed up to pursue free agents.

But the biggest news during the offseason was of course following who the M's pursued, and who they didn't pursue. With the collapse yet again during the year, the M's brass knew they had to make changes. The question was where to begin.

When you looked at the club, it was pretty obvious where they had options, and where they didn't. First and second with Olerud and Boone was locked up, as was Ichiro in right. Beyond that, anything should have been open for improvement.

Going into the offseason, I really felt the M's were going to sign Matsui as their new shortstop. In fact, I would have said there was an 80% chance, given all the positives.
- Young (M's are aging rapidly)
- Hits for power
- Great defense
- Doesn't require giving up draft picks to sign
- Great speed
- Great marketability with the Asian market
- Continues original idea to convert Guillen to third with Cirillo gone

However, not only did the M's not sign Matsui, they didn't even really become a serious player. There were rumors that Matsui did not want to play with Ichiro, but I haven't seen anything that officially verifies this, and don't believe this would prevent the M's from signing him. Given the reasonable price tag that Matsui signed with the Mets, it really made the lack of interest even more puzzling.

Instead, the M's announced they were focused on Tejada. Of course if you compared the two, it is not hard to see why the M's like Tejada over Matsui- he is a proven commodity, excellent leader in the clubhouse, and would show the fans the M's are not afraid to make a big splash in free agency. Of course the M's front office had to know that Tejada would not come cheap, and they appeared to be gambling the market would be soft and they could sign him far below market value.

As we now know, Tejada signed with Baltimore when the M's refused to pay top dollar for one of the top free agents in baseball. By putting all their eggs in Tejada, the M's suddenly seemed to go into a reactionary mode that made little sense to M's fans. Rather than looking at the available free agents and creating a new plan, the M's looked at the next available shortstop and reacted- acquiring Omar Vizquel from Cleveland. When the team needs to get younger and find a power bat, the M's trade for a 36 year old infielder coming off major injuries with no power!

Fortunately for the M's, Omar failed his physical. However, this led to plan D- the next best shortstop available was Rich Aurilia, so they traded Guillen to Detroit and signed Aurilia. Hard to call this an upgrade, but the M's went ahead, numbers be damned. The fact that Aurilia had remarkably similar numbers to Guillen, was older, and cost more money seemed to matter little to Bavasi, who is counting on Aurilia to build off his career year of 2001.

Combined with the signing of Ibanez in left, the M's had a new shortstop and a new left fielder, which contributed to the notion of shaking up the team that had faded the last two seasons.

What was interesting, but hardly surprising to those who follow the M's front office, was the complete lack of attention the M's showed to other free agents. Javy Lopez hit 43 home runs last year for Atlanta, but the M's had no interest, letting him sign with Baltimore after they outbid them for Tejada. Jose Cruz Jr., who would be a huge fan favorite and carried a modest price tag, was seemingly ignored. Vladimir Guerrero, the best free agent of them all- never considered. Pudge, looking for a 4 year deal- no chance. Jose Guillen, take your power and your arm somewhere else.

I find it crazy the M's are looking at Jason Kendall from the Pirates- no power, high price tag, injury prone, long contract, require giving up prospects, and yet never seriously considered Lopez.

I'd much rather have Matsui at short, Cameron or Winn in center, Carlos Guillen at third, Cruz or Jose Guillen in left, and possibly Lopez behind the plate. This is well within the budget, and wouldn't have required any long term contracts.

Bavasi better have a much stronger offseason next year if he wants to keep up with Anaheim and Oakland- or else expect to see a lot more empty seats at Safeco.