M's trying to find bargains in the free-for-all
Look for the Mariners to go the more traditional route when it comes to sizing up free-agent Japanese pitchers this winter. Sources say the team...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Look for the Mariners to go the more traditional route when it comes to sizing up free-agent Japanese pitchers this winter.
Sources say the team will not bid for the rights to negotiate with Hanshin Tigers left-hander Kei Igawa when he is posted by his club in coming days. Mariners owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, who recently balked at joining the bid process for Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka, has let it be known to front-office types that he has no overt interest in Igawa.
That means more typical free-agent pitchers, including Japanese-born major-leaguer Tomo Ohka, will be the ones general manager Bill Bavasi pursues. Ohka is by no means Seattle-bound, but the 20-page prospectus his agents circulated is getting a look from teams seeking value in a market where even mediocre arms are getting pricier.
"I see Tomo going to a team that needs to fill out their third, fourth and fifth starter in a rotation," said Jim Masteralexis, the lead agent representing Ohka. "If you want to have a quality pitcher in the No. 4 or No. 5 spot, you can't do much better."
There are plenty of teams in that category laying the groundwork for deals at the GM meetings in Naples, Fla., this week. They include a Mariners squad expected to go hard after free-agent pitcher Jason Schmidt. But even if Bavasi lands Schmidt, rumored to be asking in the $14 million annual range, and plugs the No. 5 spot in his rotation with a minor-leaguer, another midrange arm will still be needed without using up a boatload of cash.
The process of agents putting out an information packet, or prospectus, on top free agents gained notoriety at the GM meetings six years ago. That's when superagent Scott Boras handed teams a booklet, dozens of pages thick, on free-agent superstar Alex Rodriguez before he signed a $252 million deal with Texas.
Ohka's packet isn't nearly as exhaustive, and, as its pages insist, he symbolizes something opposite the fiscal insanity that preceded the A-Rod signing. They mention Ohka's historical lack of run support and five-pitch repertoire.
Seattle's ownership has already approved a payroll hike over the stated $95 million allocated to past and present salaries in 2006.
The cost of landing Schmidt, a second free-agent arm and an extra outfield bat could run as high as $20 million per year. Some of that will be offset by the loss of Gil Meche and his $3.7 million salary to free agency, but it will leave the Mariners with a payroll pushing upward of $100 million.
Ohka and others like him present intriguing options in a market where even Meche, 11-11 with a 4.48 earned-run average last season, is rumored to be headed for a payday of $10 million per annum.
As Ohka's prospectus mentions, the 30-year-old has posted a .500 record (41-41) and 3.88 ERA since 2002 with secondary statistics that compare favorably to fellow free agents Meche, Adam Eaton and Vicente Padilla.
They were enough to get the Mariners interested early, with Jim Na, the team's director of baseball administration, putting a call in to Masteralexis the first week of November. That was before the information packet on Ohka was even sent out, and Na has since received a copy and followed up his original call with a second conversation last Friday.
One key factor not found in Ohka's packet? That his 97 innings worked in 2006 because of an injured shoulder and hamstring will keep his price tag within a more earthly realm than healthier pitchers.
"We're going to let the market dictate the salary issue," Masteralexis said.
That's fine for him. But the Mariners, who might have to blow the bank on their primary pitching acquisition, will likely let their thinned-out wallet dictate who the secondary arm will be.
• The Mariners signed nine players to minor-league contracts Tuesday, including SS Rey Ordonez, who hasn't played in the majors since 2004. Also signed to Class AAA contracts were pitchers Renee Cortez and Jesse Foppert, outfielder Tony Torcato and infielder Brant Ust. Signed to AA or A deals were pitchers Cibney Bello, Josh Kite, Michael Wagner and Jared Eichelberger.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com
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