Sunday, November 11, 2007

Offseason Priority #1

Pitching, pitching, pitching!

It's no secret, we are heading into this offseason once again looking for pitching. Last year Bavasi was so desperate that he made one of the worst trades in Mariner history, trading stud setup man Rafael Soriano to Atlanta for oft-injured and sometimes good starter Horacio Ramirez. He also went on to sign starter Jeff Weaver and reliever Chris Reitsma. We all know how those moves went. Ramirez threw a 82 MPH fastball with an 80 MPH breaking ball en route to a league worst 7.16 ERA, .400 batting average against and 1.85 WHIP, and what do you know, he got hurt! Weaver had small stretches of brilliance, including three complete games and two shutouts, but ended with a 7-13 record and 6.20 ERA in just 27 starts. Reitsma couldn't seem to stay healthy, but when we was on the field it wasn't pretty. He had a 7.61 ERA in just 26 appearances, and McLaren somehow had faith in him to let him pitch and fail in crucial situations.

No more nightmares of last season, let's look ahead. The most pressing issue surrounds the two open spots in the starting rotation behind Hernandez, Batista and Washburn. While it seems that almost anyone would be an upgrade from Horacio Ramirez and Jeff Weaver, the 2008 M's could really use a number two starter behind Felix, and a number four or five. The candidates:

In house:

Brandon Morrow - Appeared in 60 games for the Mariners in his first full professional season. He had flashes of brilliance and ended with a 4.12 ERA in 63.1 innings pitched. Control was his biggest problem, walking 50. There is some concern the the Mariners severely stunted Morrow's development by putting him on the team out of Spring Training. He spent an entire season being a two pitch, power reliever and will now have to relearn how to pitch in the starters role, using all four of his pitches. Morrow is currently working in Winter Ball as a starter.

Ryan Rowland-Smith - Up and down between AAA Tacoma and the Mariners in 2007, Rowland-Smith threw 38.2 innings in relief, posting a 3.96 ERA. The lefty showed his ability to stretch his arm out, pitching 4 scoreless innings of relief on August 22 in Minnesota (57 pitches). He is also working in Winter Ball as a starter.

Ryan Feierabend, Jorge Campillo, Cha Seung Baek - Feierabend struggled again in the majors this season, posting an ERA above eight. He is always in the conversation, however, as the organization is very high on him. Campillo made just five appearances with the big club this past season, but had a fantastic year for Tacoma. He posted a 3.07 ERA over 149.1 innings. Baek made 12 starts in the bigs in 2007, and only five good ones en route to a 5.15 ERA. Baek has been on the brink for years now and is always in the conversation.

Horacio Ramirez - Everyone had assumed that the Mariners would not offer Ramirez a contract after an embarrassing 2007 campaign, but everything I've been reading says they're giving him another look. Horacio had some decent seasons with Atlanta and is not a horrible pitcher historically. A new pitching coach and an offseason of rest should benefit him.

Also keep an eye on Ryan Rohrbaugh (13-8, 3.12 ERA, 170.1 IP between AA/AAA) and Justin Lehr (3.99 ERA over 119.2 IP in AAA). Lehr is to be a minor league free agent, but if the M's re-sign him he could be in the mix.

Free Agents:

Bartolo Colon - The former Cy Young award winning hasn't pitched an injury free season since 2005 (10 starts in '06, 18 in '07) and that should bring his price down slightly. He would be a big gamble at around $10 million per, but also has the biggest upside of anyone available.

Freddy Garcia - The former Mariner fan favorite and franchise record holder for wins as a rookie (17) was sidelined by injuries for much of 2007. Like Colon, that should bring his price down slightly, but not much in an incredibly thin free agent market. He pitched just 11 games this past season, but is typically a guy you can count on to pump out 220 innings with above average stats.

Carlos Silva - When I first started thinking about the Mariners options I originally had Silva as my favorite target. Now it is reported that he will command something like $48 million over 4 years, and that is just too much to pay for him. He's a decent pitcher, but $12 million per season is too much to pay for someone with such ordinary statistics.

Hiroki Kuroda, Japan - Kuroda is the Japanese pitcher we're hearing the most about. He sounds pretty decent but is projected to be a 4 or 5 in the major leagues. There has been other pitchers linked to the Mariners, such as Kazumi Saito, and with a plethora of Japanese hurlers expected to make the jump this offseason you know that the M's will be considered a match by analysts everywhere because of our history, our ownership (Nintendo) and our ace in the hole, Kenji Johjima. Some other Japanese starters possibly coming across: Kenshin Kawakami, Naoyuki Shimizu and Koji Uehara.

Don't be surprised if the Mariners show interest in guys like Josh Fogg, Kris Benson, Livan Hernandez, Odalis Perez, Rodrigo Lopez or Jon Lieber in this paper thin free agent market.

Through trade:

The names that have been brought up so far have been the bigger names. Dontrelle Willis, Jon Garland, Johan Santana, Scott Kazmir and possibly Erik Bedard are all thought to be available for the right price this offseason, and all of these guys have ace ability. All of these pitchers would cost a ton in terms of prospects. For Santana and Kazmir I think you'd have to give up two of the big three known as Jones, Clement and Balentien. I think you could pry Willis away from the Marlins for Balentien and some of the lower echelon prospects such as Jeremy Reed or Rob Johnson. I get the impression that Willis or Garland are the most likely to come to Seattle.

So there you go, I just rattled off 28 candidates for the two open rotation spots. As we all know, Bill Bavasi has his own way of doing things so who knows if he'll make the right move. The more pitchers the Mariners bring in from outside of the organization the better off our bullpen will be. If you can keep Rowland-Smith and/or Brandon Morrow in the 'pen then it's one less thing you have to worry about. The bullpen is in a lot better shape than a lot of people think. We should have a full season out of Mark Lowe and Jon Huber to go along with Sean Green, Eric O'Flaherty, George Sherrill and JJ Putz. Look for the Mariners to add one more veteran arm via free agency or trade. Former Mariner Brian Fuentes is reportedly on the trading block.

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