Ten offseason suggestions for the Seattle Mariners:
1. Identify a full-time skipper without scrounging through the obscurity bin. Ignoring the franchise milestones achieved by the widely recognized Lou Piniella, the front office hoped the likes of Bob Melvin, John McLaren and Don Wakamatsu would turn into managerial stars. None survived more than two years.
Bobby Valentine, the ESPN baseball analyst who guided the 2000 Mets to the World Series and has won a championship in Japan, is an obvious choice, although his gruff candor might not be a good fit for a team wary of controversy.
Another intriguing possibility is Padres bench coach Ted Simmons, an eight-time All-Star catcher who briefly worked with M’s general manager Jack Zduriencik in Milwaukee. Simmons’ Wikipedia bio describes him as “a volatile competitor with an intense desire to win.”
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Yep, that’s the same guy I remember.
2. Admit that the $12 million owed to outfielder/designated hitter Milton Bradley for next year is a sunken cost, wish him well in his next endeavor, and move on. Bradley’s struggle with anger-management issues wasn’t the only headache brought upon this season’s Mariners, but it was the first. Besides, Bradley’s knees won’t allow him play much in the outfield, and he did nothing with his bat to merit consideration as a permanent DH.
The $12 million due Bradley is gone. Assuring him a place on the team simply to justify the investment would be a waste of a roster spot, as well.
3. Say goodbye, too, to third baseman Jose Lopez. It’s no secret that the Mariners long-term plans (or short-term plans, for that matter) don’t include Lopez, whose contract has expired. Yet for reasons that remain inexplicable, Wakamatsu and interim manager Daren Brown not only gave Lopez the chance to play every day, they gave him the chance to bat cleanup on most of those days.
4. Which brings us to Russell Branyan, who finished with 25 homers, 15 of which were hit after the Mariners reacquired him from Cleveland.
The team’s only power threat, Branyan turns 35 in December. His health history suggests he turned 35 in 1950. He bruised a toe this season on a hotel table, and hurt his back after a chair collapsed on him in a pizza parlor.
Rebuilding after 101 defeats is difficult enough with strong kids. How do you rebuild with guys who have dangerous encounters with tables and chairs?
5. Hope that another constant injury risk, shortstop Jack Wilson, can string together a few serviceable months while prospect Nick Franklin continues to progress in the minor leagues. The Mariners have to pay Wilson $5 million next season, and as much as I’d like to see them settle on a shortstop who is less fragile, why spend money for a free-agent shortstop, in a weak market, with Franklin waiting in the wings?
6. Oh, about the free agents: Hideki Matsui is on the verge of retiring – he’s 36, and the Angels don’t appear to be inclined to re-sign him – but check out his stretch-run numbers at Anaheim: Six homers and 27 RBI after Aug. 14. (He finished with 21 homers and 84 RBI.)
Matsui is a left-handed hitter who thrives in Seattle (over 35 games at Safeco Field, he’s batting .319 and slugging .593, with nine homers and 25 RBI.) Concerns about Matsui’s creaky knees found the Yankees reluctant to re-sign the 2009 World Series MVP, but the knees held up in 2010.
“He came out like gangbusters in his last 100 at-bats,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times the other day. “He still has the bat speed, and we’re all impressed with how his legs have rebounded. He’s run well, and that bodes well for the future.”
Anaheim picked up Matsui for one year at $6 million, and he won’t command anything more than that this winter. The M’s could do worse.
7. Explore trade possibilities for second baseman Chone Figgins, whose marketability is severely compromised by the $26 million he’s due from the Mariners through 2013. A disappointment on the field and surprising source of angst off it, Figgins’ value is enhanced by his versatility, and the fact his reputation as a popular, respected teammate was golden before he got to Seattle.
(Please work with me. I’m trying to increase the trade value of a marginally productive 32-year who sulked about batting ninth for a few games – during a prolonged spring slump when he was fortunate to be batting at all – and got away with it.)
8. Commit to a full year of Michael Saunders playing left field, every day, facing lefties as well as righties. If he fails to hit his weight– he’s 212 pounds, and he hit .211 – consider the experiment done. But Saunders is 24, a 6-foot-4 athlete who runs with the grace of a wide receiver and competes with the ferocity of a hockey player.
He’s worth the experiment, isn’t he? So commit to it.
9. Turn over the closer’s job to Brandon League, with the master-blaster rookies, Dan Cortes and Josh Lueke, ready to work the setup roles. As for Lueke and his infamous police record, he should be given every opportunity to resume his professional life – with the caveat that something as minor as a parking violation will be his ticket out of town.
10. Be honest with fans. If a youth movement is what’s happening – and with Justin Smoak at first, Dustin Ackley at second, Adam Moore catching and Saunders in left, that’s a youth movement –embrace it, have fun with it, make it the focal point of the TV commercials.
If the Mariners promotions department is strained for ideas on how to celebrate this youth movement with a breezy motto, here’s one.
“It Can’t Get Worse.”