Saturday, June 18, 2005

Trading Faces

The M's called up Jose Lopez yesterday and immediately inserted him into the lineup, where he went 2-4, including a run-scoring double. He also nabbed a stolen base. Subbing for the injured Adrian Beltre, he performed adequately although he did toss one wildly beyond the reach of Big Sexxxy for an error (or as Rick Rizzs would say, "an err"). As we all know, this is Lopez' second trip to the Show. Last year, in 207 AB's, he hit .232 with five homers and 22 RBI's. Not outstanding, but certainly good enough to indicate that he's got a future in the league. Tonight's showing did nothing to hurt that impression.

Speaking of the future, the face of the M's team of the future is beginning to take shape. Remember when the system was nearly devoid of strong position player talent in the high minors? That has changed significantly, in no small part due to the M's struggles last year. In fact, barring trades, this could be the 2006 Mariners' opening day lineup:

RF Ichiro
CF Jeremy Reed
3B Adrian Beltre
1B Big Sexxxy
DH Raul Ibanez
2b Jose Lopez
LF Sin-Soo Choo/Chris Snelling
SS Mike Morse
C Miguel Olivo/Wiki Gonzales/Rene Rivera

That is one hell of a lot of minor leaguers making the jump over a two-year period. Reed has already done it and, to date, has performed well. Morse has risen meteorically and if he can maintain his grip on the position, may spell the end of the Pokey Reese era before it even began. Left field shapes up to be a real battle between Choo and Snelling. Where's Randy Winn? Adios, muchacho.

Catcher is the weakest slot in this projected lineup, but never fear, Jeff Clement may be riding to the rescue before we know it. Some scouts have predicted that he'll need just a year or two of seasoning before he'll be ready for the majors. It's even been hypothesized that he could make the jump straight to the Show. Called the "best power hitter" amongst college players in this year's draft by Baseball America, he's 21 years old and seems an ideal fit for Seattle's needs, as well as the short porch at Safeco Field.

The starting pitching next season, to a degree, will be a work-in-progress. Felix Hernandez is all but assured a spot in the rotation. Meche and Piniero, assuming they find their consistency this season, are as well. Madritsch will be penciled in if he recovers sufficiently from his arm troubles. The last spot could go to a veritable cornucopia of maybes, including a re-signed Moyer, Jose Campillo, Cha Seung Baek, Ryan Franklin or another up-and-comer from Tacoma. It's more likely, however, that the M's dip into the free agent market for a premier arm. None of the listed candidates is a sure-fire ace at this point in his career, and Seattle is going to desperately need that ... as they do right now, for that matter.

The good news about the position players coming up and earning their keep in the majors is that the money will be freed up to acquire a true ace, along with other needs as they are determined by management. The starting nine may have combined salaries in the $20-25 million range next year, a $10 million+ cut from this year. That's more than enough to get the best pitcher out there.

As for relievers, J.J. Putz appears to be the leading candidate to replace Everyday Eddie as the M's closer, assuming he is not re-signed next season. I suspect that Seattle will go fishing in free agency to fill that need as well.

All in all, the Mariners' future is starting to coalesce and it looks pretty solid. There is speed, defense, some power (with more to come as Clement enters into the picture), good arms, and best of all: youth. This is a club that could stay together for a number of years to come. Now, they just have to learn how to win.


At 7:45 AM, Blogger Tad said...

Nice post big guy. If Felix stays healthy, he can absolutely be the ace. He's got the stuff. I don't think there will be any future aces available this offseason anyway, especially now that Brad Penny and Ben Sheets have signed.

To upgrade their pitching, the M's will likely have to make a trade.


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