Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason plans of every MLB team before the Dec. 3-6 winter meetings. Our series continues with the Seattle Mariners.
2007 record: 88-74
Finish: Second place, American League West.
2007 Opening-day payroll: $106 million
The Mariners play in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, yet their pitchers were mostly friendly to opposing batters last season, allowing a batting average of .294 and posting an ERA of 5.16. One of the primary architects of those foul numbers – Jeff Weaver – has departed as a free agent, and the Mariners could cut loose Horacio Ramirez, who was paid $2.65 million to post an ERA of 7.16.
To fill a hole in the rotation adjacent to fixtures Felix Hernandez, Miguel Batista and Jarrod Washburn, the Mariners have made an aggressive push to sign Japanese right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. The team brain trust visited Kuroda in his home country, and Mariner icons Ichiro Suzuki and Kenji Johjima have spoken to him. The Diamondbacks also have made Kuroda an offer, and the Dodgers and Cubs could bid for him as well.
Seattle has money and isn't afraid to spend it. The Mariners' payroll of $106 million was the seventh-highest in baseball and an $18.5-million increase from 2006. Ownership has stated it doesn't plan to whittle the number down, either, not after signing a 12-year, $400-million television contract with Fox.
And not after tasting victory after three consecutive last-place finishes. A late-season meltdown temporarily left a sour taste, but the Mariners believe they are two pitchers and an outfielder away from contending with the Angels – who obviously aren't standing pat themselves.
Besides Kuroda, the Mariners aren't keen on any free-agent pitchers. A blockbuster trade is possible, but they are preparing for the possibility of filling the back end of the rotation from within by having relievers Brandon Morrow and Ryan Rowland-Smith pitch as starters in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Ideally, the Mariners would keep them in the bullpen because there is a need for reliable set-up relievers for closer J.J. Putz. Morrow was a first-round pick in 2006 who made 60 relief appearances last season and Rowland-Smith is a left-hander from Australia who has a 3.59 ERA in seven minor league seasons.
Prospects might also find opportunity in the outfield, where free-agent solutions are thin as well. Any thought of re-signing Jose Guillen disappeared when he was alleged to have procured steroids and HGH from 2002 to 2005, so the open outfield spot probably will go to prospect Adam Jones. Another young outfielder, Wladimir Balentien, could make the club out of spring training.
Trading underachieving first baseman Richie Sexson is possible, but probably not without eating a large portion of the $14 million he is due next season. The Mariners have reconciled the five-year, $64 million contract they gave third baseman Adrian Beltre three years ago. He'll never approach the 48 home runs he hit for the Dodgers in 2004, but he's a solid hitter and a Gold Glove winner.
John McLaren will begin his first spring training as the manager. He reshaped the coaching staff and has several reasons for optimism, beginning with the fact that Ichiro is under contract for the next five years. Signing Kuroda would justify the feeling that the Mariners can compete against the Angels.
NEXT: St. Louis Cardinals