Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Seattle Mariners.
2008 record: 61-101
Finish: Last place in American League West
2008 opening-day payroll: $117.7 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $90 million to $100 million
The first correct thing the Seattle Mariners did in 2008 was fire general manager Bill Bavasi, who, in his five years on the job, signed the following players to the respective contracts:
• Richie Sexson: four years, $50 million
• Carlos Silva: four years, $48 million
• Jarrod Washburn: four years, $37.5 million
• Ichiro Suzuki: five years, $90 million
• Kenji Johjima: three years, $24 million
• Miguel Batista: three years, $25 million
Sexson was so bad the Mariners cut him just to keep him away. Silva is a No. 5 starter getting paid like a No. 2. Washburn is a No. 5 getting paid like a No. 3. Ichiro is a slap hitter getting paid like a cleanup monster. Johjima shouldn't be on a major-league roster. Batista allowed 220 baserunners in 115 innings last season.
It's little wonder that Seattle introduced 100-100 – as in $100 million payroll and 100 losses – to the baseball lexicon last season. Bavasi's disaster is now the pet project of Jack Zduriencik, the scouting guru who loaded the Milwaukee Brewers' system and gets his first crack at a GM job in one of the more fertile markets. The Mariners rake in revenue and can sustain nine-figure payrolls without much strain.
Problem is, when so much of it is devoted to slop – Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Silva, Washburn, Batista and Johjima will make a combined $67.35 million this season – it handcuffs Zduriencik. So the Mariners have been relatively quiet this winter, trading closer J.J. Putz in a deal that netted them seven players, watching free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez leave for Philadelphia (and give Seattle two extra draft picks in the process) and hanging on the periphery of the corner-outfield market.
Seattle wants to make a play for Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell or Milton Bradley, and each would fit in left field and add power to a team in desperate need. The price has dipped enough that the Mariners can afford one, though any long-term deal should be verboten – at least until next year, when the contracts of Beltre, Washburn and Batista expire.
In 2007, the Mariners sneaked up on an unsuspecting AL West and won 88 games. Though the same seems unlikely this year, the division is so full of holes (Los Angeles' lineup, Oakland's youth and Texas' pitching) that Seattle, with a few strokes of luck, could be respectable if not in contention.
Should Seattle's rotation resemble what was expected last season, hope is legitimate. Felix Hernandez proved himself an emerging ace last season despite his 9-11 record, and he doesn't turn 23 until opening week. Erik Bedard, for whom the Mariners mortgaged their farm system last offseason, missed most of April and didn't pitch after July 4. If he reverts to 2007 form – or even '06, if the Mariners don't want to be greedy – they might have the best Nos. 1 and 2 starters in the AL outside of New York and Boston. Brandon Morrow, the hard-throwing 24-year-old, could round out the rotation or fill the vacated closer's role.
Granted, it was Seattle's lineup that proved the biggest difference between '07 and '08. The Mariners' 794 runs in 2007 were 123 more than last season, and manager John McLaren's insistence on playing dead weight – Sexson, Jose Vidro, Johjima, Willie Bloomquist – only contributed to the issues.
Now that everyone but Johjima is gone – including McLaren, replaced by Don Wakamatsu – the Mariners can give at-bats to power-hitting catcher Jeff Clement and outfielder Wladimir Balentien. It's imperative to see if either can deliver, because Seattle's farm system is stocked with high-ceiling, high-risk players with long paths to the big leagues.
Sounds a lot like the road Zduriencik must travel. It's studded with mistakes of the past, ones he can't afford to make if the Mariners have any hope of long-term success.
NEXT: Atlanta Braves