Harris v. Meche, Franklin

While the Seattle Mariners continue down the road of mediocrity, another 90-loss season to tide over the faithful, the decisions the club has to make are going to start being put under a microscope.

Not the same over-analysis that we see 24 hours a day, 7-days a week during the season. But rather the type of evaluation-style big brother assesment process that usually results in executives either getting contract extensions and a pocket full of "kudos", or a faded red sheet of paper serving as one's termination from employment.

Unless the positive grossly outweigh the negative,- and if I were a gamblin' man - I'd bet on the latter.

These decisions are all crucial to an organization's success. From 1 to 25 on the player register, each spot must be filled with most valuable player possible. Sometimes these decisions are made easy – Felix Hernandez and Richie Sexson are surefire inclusions on the roster in 2006.

Other times these choices are not quite as obvious. The job of the personell executives is to decipher which commodities fit best within the business plan at hand.

Case in point: What to do with Jeff Harris in 2006?

Harris has certainly shown enough poise, stuff and pitching smartsthis season to get a long look next spring. There will surely be spots open in both the starting rotation and the bullpen for such a solid arm with the versatility of Harris.

The 31-year-old has thrown 27.2 big-league innings in his life and he's one of a handful of pitchers that the M's maybe able to count on next season. At first look, that's a testimony to how dreadful the staff has been this season. But it's also a tribute to the impression that Harris has left on the club in his five appearances.

Looking ahead to next season, the starting rotation is void of as many as four spots. Jamie Moyer is a free agent, Joel Pineiro has been awful, save for five of his last six starts, and both Ryan Franklin and Gil Meche may have worn out there welcome in Seattle after failing to live up to expectations this season.

Meche and Franklin are each eligible for third-year arbitration and after making a combined five million in 2005, could earn as much as eight million combined in '06.

With Felix Hernandez the only given for the rotation, the club is certain to be extremely aggressive in the free agent and trade markets this winter, in attempts to add as many as two frontline starting pitchers to send out to the hill every fifth day.

Moyer may be re-signed to a short-term incentive-laden contract that is likely to be payroll friendly. The 42-year-old may have enough left in the tank to get it done for another season, perhaps a perfect fit as a middle-to-back-end of the rotation starter.

Pineiro will likely be back, as his $6.3 million guaranteed contract commands. Pineiro, too, could be a valuable starter , but only if the 27-year-old is not counted on to carry the staff and is allowed to work from the reverse edge of the rotation. A trade involving the right-hander, however, is not out of the question

Assuming the M's land a free agent to plant somewhere at the front of the rotation and Bobby Madritsch returns healthy, the club is left with two remaining choices concerning the starting five; who gets the final two spots in the rotation?

Moyer, Franklin, Pineiro, Meche – and Harris.

Considering the money it could take to retain Franklin, and based on his performance and distracting antics this summer, it's nearly a given that the 32-year-old's career in Seattle is over.

Meche, despite his plus fastball and solid curve ball, seems to have very little clue how to put his natural talents together to take form of a solid major league pitcher. Not to mention that his "stuff" is as overrated as Conan O'Brien is tall, funny and red-headed.

Meche could demand as much as $4 million via arbitration, based on service time and his age of 27.

If Franklin and Meche are elminated from contention, the lingering candidates include a second free-agent signing, Pineiro, a re-signed Moyer and Harris.

With payroll limitations always an issue in Seattle, especially when the subject of offensive shortcomings rears its ugly head once again, the Mariners could very well decide that they cannot afford to employ both Moyer and Pineiro, choosing between one or the other.

This reduces the options to one of the Moyer-Pineiro duo, a second addition from theopen market or via trade, or, once again, Harris.

For this exercise, let's assume that Pineiro is traded, even if it means the M's have to send a small amount of cash and a mid-level prospect to lighten the blow of the contract burden. This leaves Moyer and Harris as the only in-house candidates.

It's possible that Moyer is deemed to close to the end of his career and the club decides against re-signing their all-time wins leader. Moyer will be 43 when the 2006 season beginss, and at some point soon, one has to believe that the crafty veteran will lose enough command and velocity to render him ineffective.

At this point Harris stands alone. He and an unknown, unnamed starter yet to be determined.

Why is Harris such an easy choice over Franklin and Meche? Talk about lobbing one up...

Let me take you back to August 30 - the New York Yankees facing Harris in his fourth start as a big leaguer. In the first inning, Harris lost control of his arsnenal and walked Hideki matsui with one out. He proceeded to walk Alex Rodriguez as well, and Jason Giambi followed with a single to right to load the bases.

With Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada coming to bat, Harris had his work cut out for him. But instead of folding up like a Pee-Chee at the end of the school year, Harris buckled down. Williams flied weakly to center and Posada popped out to left.

Again in the second, Harris was in a bit of a pickle. With two on and two out, Matsui, a left-handed hitter, stepped to the plate with a chance to drive in Mark Bellhorn from second. Instead, Matsui, a career .311 hitter with runners in scoring position, flew harmlessly to center.

Despite five walks and 11 total base runners, Harris fought through jam after jam, minimizing the damage and picking up his second career victory.

Now, imagine the same first-inning scenario with Meche or Franklin on the mound. Nevermind, don't do that to yourself.

Harris doesn't have the pure stuff that Meche possesses and he doesn't have as many different pitches to choose from as does Franklin. Harris's fastball tops out at 90-91 mph and his slider-splitter combo aren't exactly filthy offerings. But the journeyman has something on both Meche and Franklin; Command and pitching intelligence.

Harris never gets beat with the same pitch twice in the same game. He rarely makes a mistake with his third best pitch and he almost always makes his opponents beat him, rather than beating himself.

Harris throws all three of his pitches for strikes and knows how to think his way through tough innings, as well as those starts in which he doesn't have his best stuff.

Franklin and Meche have no idea what to do when things aren't set up perfectly for them. If the strike zone is not in their favor or they just don't feel right on the hill, the chances that either will last past the fourth or fifth inning before throwing 90 pitches is very slim.

Both struggling righties fight with themselves each and every time they take the ball, and in each instance, the hole they already stand in gets deeper and deeper. It's mighty tough to win ballgames when you are battling against an extra player – yourself.

The only fights you'll ever find Harris participating in on the baseball field are with the hitters that steo in the box against him and the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation in Peoria next spring.

When March rolls around in 2006, the M's will have some healthy competition to evaluate for the starting rotation, and Jeff Harris may very well be among those in the running.

If I were a gamblin' man, I'd bet on on Harris. After all, he could save a personell executive his job.

But one thing is for sure, Harris runs circles around Franklin and Meche. And those odds are good on gamedays, too.

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