Sunday, April 04, 2010

Grading the Mariners Offseason

It's been almost two years since the Seattle Mariners had such a drastic offseason. Coming off an 85-win season (following a disastrous 101-loss campaign) the M's look primed to take a balanced AL West for the first time since 2001. Jack Zduriencik and Co. certainly took it upon themselves to radically transform the roster in such a short time.

Let's take a closer look at the notable moves the Mariners made during this winter and spring.

C Kenji Johjima filed for free agency (A)
Kenji clearly fell out of favor with the Mariners pitching staff and his returning to Japan does a huge favor for Seattle's payroll, shedding about $8M from the 2010 roster. Of course, whether the M's gave Kenji a few million on the back end, we'll never know for sure. Johjima had a great debut with Seattle (homering in his MLB debut) but it's time to move on with Rob Johnson and Adam Moore.

Signed free agent 3B Chone Figgins (B+)
Seattle made the first big splash of the Hot Stove season by signing away a marquee player from its division rival. Chone stands to earn $36M over the next four years with a vesting option for 2014. He's a high-average hitter with good speed and is versatile enough with the glove to play all around the field. His defense should translate well with the move to second base and help form perhaps the strongest up the middle defense in the majors alongside SS Jack Wilson and Franklin Gutierrez manning center field. Figgins is an ideal player for Safeco Field who's locked up to a very reasonable deal and likely to remain productive throughout his contract.

Traded RHP J.C. Ramirez, RHP Phillippe Aumont and CF Tyson Gillies for LHP Cliff Lee (A+)
Welcome to Boner Land. If the Mariners one day erect a statue of Jack Zduriencik this trade will likely be one of the cornerstones for such a honor.

Seattle acquired one of the best pitchers in baseball for 1) a solid pitching prospect who's a couple years away, 2) another pitcher with great potential but who might end up in the bullpen and 3) a good hitter with inflated numbers from the Cal League.

Lee's acquisition immediately raised not only Seattle's national profile (it was without question the most talked about team this offseason) but greatly increased its chances of reaching the playoffs. Anytime you can add a 5-win pitcher you gotta do it. Spring injuries will dampen Cliff's impact early on in the season, but assuming he returns healthy he'll allow the M's to have the league's best 1-2 pitching combo and greatly improve the depth of the pitching staff.

If the Mariners collapse early on they can trade Lee before the deadline and recoup some value. If Lee leaves after the season Seattle will receive two first-round compensation picks. It's a win-win situation.

Signed free agent LF Ryan Langerhans (B-)
The team let go then brought back Langerhans, a player with limited offensive punch but who's a whiz with the glove. Having him on the bench gives the M's a fourth outfielder option for a low cost.

Traded RHP Carlos Silva for RF Milton Bradley (B-)
After the money exchanged this transaction boils down to Seattle essentially cutting Silva and signing Bradley to a 2-year/$6 million contract.

But Silva is an absolute sinkhole who's not even a decent MLB player at this point. In fact, he arrived into Cubs training camp out of shape and is still a terrible pitch-to-contact hurler with no discernible talent. It' says a lot about Chicago that they're willing to plug him into the starting rotation.

As for Milton AKA the self-professed "Kanye West of baseball" he's a very talented hitter with a high perchance for injuries and... err, bouts of rage. But if I'm a playoff contender I'd rather have a player with a decent chance of contributing than someone who sucks. Milton is a lot of things, and one of them is a talented ballplayer. If the M's can squeeze some production (a somewhat big if) out of him then it'll be a nice boost to a lackluster offense.

Traded RHP Brandon Morrow for RHP Brandon League and OF Johermyn Chavez (C)
I'm not entirely unconvinced this wasn't a part of gentleman's agreement to finish off the Cliff Lee trade. Either way the M's finally give up on Morrow, a pitcher who's definitely got electric stuff and maybe has the stamina to start. His career in Seattle was a roller coaster ride of tremendous highs and dizzying lows. League is a decent relief arm with upside and Chavez is a long shot prospect. Personally I think Toronto won the trade.

Signed free agent C Josh Bard (C-)
Don't expect him to play much behind Johnson and Moore. In fat, no team should really bother too much about the emergency third catcher.

Traded 3B Bill Hall for 1B Casey Kotchman (C+)
Kotchman has the unenviable task of replacing Russell Branyan's production at first base. He certainly won't slam 31 home runs (or even half that) but he is an interesting lefty bat and a great glove. I like Hall's versatile glove but the M's filled their biggest positional hole with this deal.

Signed free agent LF Eric Byrnes (B)
Seattle is only on the hook for $400K of Eric's $11M salary. If healthy Byrnes is an exciting sparkplug who'll see some playing time in left and DH. If Eric struggles like he did the past couple years with Arizona then Seattle can cut him loose and move on. Very low risk, medium-reward acquisition.

Signed free agent LHP Erik Bedard (B-)
Would you rather pay Bedard $1.5M with incentives, Rich Harden $7.5M with incentives or $10M for Ben Sheets. Erik, with his notorious injury history, will probably pitch the least effective of the trio (he's out until around June) but he very well might give his team the best bang for the buck.

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