Monday, December 04, 2006

Winter meetings and The Plan

As we get into the late hours of Day 1 of the 2006 Winter Meetings, the M's have been rumored to be talking to the Red Sox about Manny (interesting), have finalized their contract with Jose Guillen (hmmm), and have now been mentioned in connection with Ted Lilly (hey, a pitcher! We need those!!). There's also a new rumor that the M's have joined the chase for...wait for it...Gil Meche. (yuck!!!)

But nothing really major has occurred just yet.

Thinking more about our offseason needs and our offense, it would be foolhardy to count on improvement or even maintenance of last year's numbers for Raul, Richie, and Adrian. Johjima could experience a sophomore slump. Even counting Broussard and Jose Guillen at their career average levels means that as of today, I expect that the offense has not improved markedly over the 2006 version, which scored 756 runs.

The lineup could still be tweaked, but indeed what the M's need most desperately is pitching. The John Thomson rumors would, in the best case scenario, give us a league average pitcher (not all bad) to add to Felix and Washburn. Let's be generous and say that despite all evidence to the contrary, Washburn might submit a 2007 in which he posts an ERA just over the 4.00 mark (inconceivable!). Thomson's more in the 4.5 range, and then the young King could conceivably begin to figure things out and turn in a nice sub-4 ERA season. Of course, that's still only three pitchers; in the best-case scenario, let's add a Schmidt who (tougher AL, but friendly park) leads the staff with about a 3.85 ERA in '07, and then Spring competition (Baek/etc.) to give us a pitcher capable of hitting about 4.60 or so in the fifth slot.

Given that we're being pretty generous, and assuming that this staff suffers no major injuries (ahh, depth is a problem as well), I still see it surrendering way too many runs for the M's to compete with the offense we've got. We allowed 792 runs in 2006; the best teams in the AL gave up 675 (Detroit) and 683 (Minnesota) last season, so if the bullpen strength holds up, let's assume that a healthy Thomson, an improving King Felix, a lucky Washburn, and a not-horrible fifth starter can approach only 690 runs allowed. (Could be better; lots of opportunities to be worse).

That's about an 88-win team, folks. That would have put us...3rd out of 4 AL West teams in 2006, but kind of in the hunt, only 5 back of the winner.

All this is to say that I'm getting pretty excited about the idea of Manny in Seattle, since that would improve our run-scoring ability significantly. The offense (as Tad rightly observed several weeks ago) simply HAS to be improved, EVEN if we land Jason Schmidt, and EVEN if John Thomson turns out to be a steal, and EVEN if everything else goes right on the mound for the M's in 2007.

If our Schmidt is really "stay out of market" or "Lilly" or...any number of awful alternatives, then there's just not enough fairy dust in the world to get the fans high enough to buy this team as a contender.

I should point out that I'm not in the camp of "must. stay. out. of. scary. free agent. market. ugh." I would be willing to give Schmidt four years at $(more money than I make). There are multiple reasons, but in the end, either we're contending in 2007, or we're not, and if not, then...ggguh. What's the point of having all the cheap starters on the roster if we're going to wait until they get arbitration/FA expensive before even trying??


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