Beltran in Mariner Blue? (Getty Images)
With more than $25 million to spend this off-season, the Seattle Mariners are in a situation that many teams can only dream of. They have under $70 million committed to players for the 2005 campaign and there are just six spots to fill. Depending on who you listen to, they are willing spend $95 million or more in the correct situation.
What can they do with all of that money?
If General Manager Bill Bavasi stood pat (no pun intended) with the roster and just filled the holes, he would have many routes to choose from. However, many anticipate a minimum of two trades being made. One would involve the departure of Ryan Franklin and the other Randy Winn. By clearing these two, there is now over $30 million to spend on eight roster spots. Before we get to the big decisions, we must begin to fill the holes.
The first two moves appear to be the resigning of Ron Villone and Dan Wilson. Neither of these are locks and I wouldn’t even advocate either of them, but they appear likely. The two should make no more than $4 million combined, leaving the M's with about $27 million. Three of the remaining open roster spots are bench spots. They can be filled without using much cash since young players like Justin Leone can be worthy to take a spot. To keep things simple, let’s allocate $2.5 million to fill out the bench. We are now left with just under $25 million to spend. Here is where the fun begins.
The remaining roster spots are a starting pitcher, a corner infielder, and a left or center fielder. Of the players available, the Mariners are and should be considering Matt Clement, Odalis Perez, Carlos Delgado, Richie Sexson, Troy Glaus, Corey Koskie, Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran, Magglio Ordonez, and J.D. Drew. They have also considered shifting Jose Lopez to third base if a shortstop happened to fall into their laps.
How do they best spend the money? First and foremost, the team needs offense and an upper echelon middle-of-the-order hitter. Carlos Delgado once was but he is now on the back end of his career. He can still be a productive hitter but not the type the M’s desperately need. Richie Sexson is a huge risk considering his should injury. He could either become a great value or a huge bust and the M’s don’t need to take that risk unless it is the only option.
Troy Glaus, like Richie Sexson, is a big risk. He has a great deal of upside and can be the type of hitter the M’s need but he has played in just 149 games over the past two seasons. It is still unknown when and if he can return to third base. His value takes a significant hit if he is not playing third. Corey Koskie is a solid player and can be a good second acquisition but he is clearly not the type of impact player the Mariners sorely need.
Following the injury theme, Magglio Ordonez is another sizable risk. His left knee held him to just 52 games this season and he has yet to fully recover. J.D. Drew has proven that he can stay healthy for a full season and would be an outstanding player for the M’s. He is primarily a right fielder and for him to sign, the M’s would likely need Ichiro Suzuki to move to center field. Not only is Ichiro unlikely to move but Drew is unlikely to leave the National League.
That brings us down to two candidates: Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran. Adrian Beltre is two years younger than Beltran, had a better offensive season in 2004, and will cost less money to sign. Carlos Beltan, however, is the better option. Beltran is just now entering his prime years at 28. As a center fielder, he plays a much more demanding position at which he is a perennial Gold Glove candidate. He is brilliant on the base paths, stealing 42 bases while being caught just three times this past season. He has a much better track record than Beltre and has proven that he can thrive in a pressure-packed situation such as the playoffs.
In the spacious outfield in Safeco, a strong defense is needed or many outs become hits, singles become doubles, and doubles become triples. In 2004, the outfield was far from solid. Ichiro in right field is as good as you can get but he can only cover one-third of the turf, theoretically. Randy Winn and Raul Ibanez are, at best, average for their respective positions and that does not cut the grass in Safeco.
Since we have already decided to trade Winn, Beltran now takes over in center field and Jeremy Reed becomes the every day left fielder. We are now looking at a nearly identical defensive outfield to the 2003 group of Winn, Ichiro, and Mike Cameron. Beltran is Cameron-like and a Gold Glover while Reed is solid as a center fielder but excellent as a left fielder, not unlike Winn. When Ryan Fraklin’s ERA rises from 3.57 to 4.90, his doubles allowed from 25 to 50, and his AVG against from .251 to .285, a change is needed. Carlos Beltran feeds the defensive hunger.
If Beltre were to sign, it would be a great move but it would leave more unsolved problems than that of a Beltran signing. Beltre takes care of any problems at third base but he would force Ibanez back into left field and Reed in center field. It would take much of his offensive output to counter-effect the decline in quality of the outfield defense. Beltran adds to the defense in the outfield while improving the offense at a similar or higher level.
The former Royals five tool star is a true middle-of-the-order hitter. He posted a batting average of just .267 but while he was in the American League with Kansas City, he hit .278. Even with the sub par overall average of .267 he managed to post an on-base percentage of .367 and an OPS of .915. His average in 2003 was .307 and if he is able to return to that level, his OPS will rise to around 1.000.
His 38 home runs are nine more than he had ever hit in a season before but the power was always there. He had 80 extra-base hits in 2002 but took a step back in 2003 before his 83 in 2004. Most sluggers have a groundball/flyball rate of under 1.00, meaning they hit more balls in the air than on the ground. Prior to this year, Beltran’s best rate in a full season was 1.36 but this year his rate was 0.84. He has obviously altered his swing to add more power and with a little more practice and hard work, that batting average will come back to its established levels. We can expect 40 home runs with a .290 average in 2004.
Many switch hitters favor one side over another. They are much better hitters from the left side than from the right side because they get more at-bats there. With Beltran however, that is not the case. Since 2002, he has hit .279 from the right side and .282 from the left. He hit one home run in every 18.9 at-bats as both a right and left-handed hitter. In the AL West, the Mariners have to deal with talented righties such as Tim Hudson and Bartolo Colon and lefties such as Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. Beltran will be able to pound all of the opposing pitchers equally well and won’t be held down when a left-hander or lefty-specialist is on the mound.
The strangest and most amazing right-left split comes on the bases. As a RHB he faces left-handed pitchers. Lefties are notorious for having a better control of the running game. Beltran however, has stolen 47 bases when he hit from the right compared to just 29 from the left in over twice as many at-bats. That is just one example of his immense talent on the bases and in general.
Not only would Beltran, Reed, and Ichiro join each other in the outfield but they could join forces at the top of the order as well. The three can all steal as base as well as flat out hit. Ichiro is as fast as they come and Reed stole three in his 58 at-bats in September. Beltran is one of the most feared baserunners as there is. For his career he has a success rate of 89%. He was not thrown out at all in his 28 attempts while in the National League. The three at the top of the order would drive opposing pitchers crazy while they are on base, taking the pitchers’ concentration away from the batter which decreases the quality of the pitching. The three simply on base makes everyone a better hitter.
The front office has said that money is not a big obstacle this winter. They are willing to go above and beyond what they have done in the past. They would consider extending the payroll for a player like Beltran or Beltre. A Beltran signing at $15 million per year leaves about $10 million under the $95 million cap for two players. Since they would go above that number in the correct situation, a second impact signing like a Troy Glaus remains a possibility. So go ahead, go all out and sign Carlos Beltran. He is everything we could ask for and worth every penny. Spend the money now and reap its rewards later.
Here’s to Carlos Beltran patrolling center field in Safeco in 2005.