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Fixing the Mariners

Jeff ClementNow that Lee Pelekoudas is taking over, the Mariners are clearly looking towards 2009. The team is already off to a good start with the news that Wladimir Balentien has been sent down and Jeff Clement called back up. Balentien needs to play every day, and hopefully he can get some confidence back with regular playing time in AAA. As for Clement, I expect him to show he is much better than what we saw in his first stint. He should assert himself as one of the best hitters in this lineup in little time. Bringing Clement back up was the obvious move that needed to be made, but here are some out things I would do to start turning things around:
  • Send Brandon Morrow down to Tacoma (with a purpose) and recall Eric O'Flaherty - It is time to stretch out Morrow and try him as a starter. If this team were in contention it would be a dumb move, but this is one of the only times it pays to be out of the race. There is no need to pull off a Joba Chamberlain here. Morrow has all the time he needs to stretch out in AAA, and when he is ready to go, I put him in the M's rotation for the rest of the year. I am not convinced that O'Flaherty has his command back, but if he is that bad he can be sent back down once Putz comes off the DL. With Morrow in the minors, I would insert Miguel Batista as the closer until J.J. is back. There is a purpose behind picking him over what would seem to be the more logical option at this point, Mark Lowe. I would also make it clear to Jarrod Washburn that if he does not start pitching better, his rotation spot will go to Morrow. Otherwise, R.A. Dickey goes back to long relief.
  • Place Jose Vidro, Kenji Johjima, Richie Sexson, Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, and Carlos Silva on waivers - It is time to start assessing the market value of veterans on this team, especially the ones with significant contracts. Placing a player on waivers is not a real public thing, and there also is no commitment. If a team claims a player on waivers, one of three things could happen: 1) The Mariners could pull the player back off of waivers and keep him. 2) The Mariners could let the player go to the team that claimed him and get nothing in return. This sounds like a raw deal, but that also means the other team takes on all of the player's remaining salary. 3) The Mariners and the team that claimed him can work out a trade. I would cross my fingers and hope that Johjima and Batista are claimed in particular. Both of them could be replaced internally quite easily, and getting rid of their 2009 salaries would clear $16 million in payroll. More than anything though, I would be using the waiver wire as a cheap, quick way to assess the market value of the players I am most willing to trade. If a team is willing to claim one of these players, they may be willing to give up a worthwhile prospect to acquire him, especially if the Mariners pay some of the salary.
  • If a team claims Vidro, work out a trade. If Vidro clears waivers, release him - There is absolutely no point in keeping Vidro around. With Jeff Clement back up, Vidro will see very little action the remainder of the year, and he is not part of the answer in 2009. I would expect him to clear waivers, and if he does, cutting him would give the Mariners another spot to play with on the 40-man roster. If some team does claim him, I would be willing to pay his whole salary to maximize whatever talent the team could get in return.
  • Make it clear no veteran on the team is off-limits - I would entertain trade offers for any veteran on this team (including Ichiro), though I would not actively shop many of them. Still, I would be looking to maximize the number of trade offers at this point. Sometimes certain teams become enamored with certain players, and I would not want to stand in the way of that team offering a lop-sided deal.
That would take care of things up to the All-Star Break. Here is what I would do around the trade deadline:
  • Actively try to trade Miguel Batista - There simply is not a place for Batista in my plan, thanks in large part to his poor performance, rather substantial contract, and availability of several cheaper arms in the system that could replace him (Morrow and Ryan Feierabend in particular come to mind). I think a market for Batista could be created by advertising him as the ultimate insurance policy. He can start, do long relief, short relief, or even be an emergency closer. He has experience in all the roles. Letting scouts watch Batista close is the reason that I would choose him to finish ballgames over Mark Lowe while Putz is on the DL. Since he still has good velocity, I think a team would take a chance on him around the trade deadline. If another team will take his whole salary, I would be tempted to give him away for nothing. More realistically, the M's will have to eat some of his salary, but it would be worth it. If Batista can't be traded, I hold on to him.
  • Actively try to trade Richie Sexson - Unlike most, I would not cut Sexson immediately because I do not see anyone in the minors that is clearly better than him. However, at the same time, Richie clearly is not the answer moving forward either. It seems that some teams have shown tepid interest over the past couple years in him, and I would let it be known that I would pay his entire remaining salary to maximize interest. The Mariners were planning on paying him anyway, and it would make Richie much more attractive if he were free. Perhaps the Indians, Mets, or Rangers would give up a borderline prospect to try to revive Sexson for a few months, especially if it was at no financial cost. If Richie is traded, I would call up either Balentien or Bryan LaHair to take his place on the roster, whichever is performing better in Tacoma. Whoever is called up would play everyday. LaHair could directly take over at first, and Ibanez could be slid over to first to make room for Balentien in the outfield. If Richie cannot be traded before the deadline, I would release him and still call up either Balentien or LaHair.
  • Trade Miguel Cairo and/or Willie Bloomquist - There will likely be a market for both players (especially in the NL), and there is no huge reason to keep either of them. They won't garner anything in return, and frankly I would prefer additional flexibility with the 40-man roster for September call-ups anyway. The first person I would call up to replace one of them is Bryan LaHair, if he is not already up. The next two in line would be Oswaldo Navarro and Tug Hulett, though Hulett's contract would have to be purchased.
  • Hope for a lop-sided trade in the M's favor, and accept it if it comes - Wouldn't it be awesome to be on the other side of a Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb deal? Expecting something so gratuitous would be irresponsible, but maximizing slim odds cannot hurt. That is the idea behind exploring trades with all veterans, and adding flexibility on the 40-man roster by trading players like Miguel Cairo and Willie Bloomquist.
Once the dust settles after July 31, the next wave of roster moves would come with September call-ups. I would place Tug Hulett and Chris Jakubauskas on the 40-man roster if they are not already, and add Matt Tuiasosopo as well. All of them would come up in September, along with Ryan Feierabend. Tui is not having a sensational season in AAA, but adding him in September would hopefully add a little intrigue to the team for fans. It also would allow the M's to rest Adrian Beltre with his torn hand ligament, or maybe even shut him down for the remainder of the season altogether.

This season is not going to get any prettier, but the Mariners can get a head start on 2009. With Sexson and Vidro coming off the books after this season, the team already will have financial flexibility heading into the off-season. Freeing up spots on the 40-man roster by trading guys like Bloomquist and Cairo will add roster flexibility too. Flexibility is key in times of change, and the Mariners can add quite a bit while not making the team much (if any) worse this year and taking a look at some younger guys that could play important roles in 2009.