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Originally published Friday, September 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Mariners have to yield some power to new general managers

One of the Mariners' general manager candidates, a young, innovative, independent sort for the sake of this fantasy interview — let's...

Seattle Times staff columnist

One of the Mariners' general manager candidates, a young, innovative, independent sort for the sake of this fantasy interview — let's say it's Dodgers assistant general manager Kim Ng — sits down for her first serious meeting with the team's CEO, Howard Lincoln, and president Chuck Armstrong.

Imagine the conversations going something like this:

LINCOLN: Welcome to Seattle, Kim.

NG: Thanks Howard. My colleagues from the Angels have told me what a hospitable place this has been for them. They like all the wins they've gotten here.

ARMSTRONG: OK, let's get one thing straight from the start, Kim. I make the jokes around here.

LINCOLN: Let's cut right to the chase. I know you've studied our team. I know you know our woes. What's the answer?

NG: Not to sound like "Jeopardy's" Alex Trebek, Howard, but I'm going to couch my first answer in the form of a question. If I'm the general manager of the Mariners, will I have the authority to trade Ichiro?

LINCOLN (taking a sip from his mug, looks alarmed at the question and coughs his latte into a spray): Trade Ichiro?

NG: I'm not saying I would. I just want to know that I have that kind of autonomy. If I'm going to fix this team, I don't want to have to worry about what the absentee owners in Japan are thinking. If I don't have the power to trade Ichiro, I don't want the job. And no GM worth his or her salt will want it, either.

LINCOLN: Trade Ichiro?

NG: I think that is something you have to seriously consider. You guys are the charter members of the 100/100 Club. A $100 million-plus payroll and 100-plus losses. And that's with Ichiro getting close to 210 hits. He keeps getting 200 hits and you guys keep losing — 99 losses in 2004, 93 in '05, 84 in '06. Now this debacle.

LINCOLN (grimacing as he thinks about the conversation he would have with the Japanese ownership): Trade Ichy?

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NG: Your most marketable player won't speak English in public. That's a problem. Your most veteran player won't take a leadership role in the clubhouse. That's an even bigger problem. I've read about the dissension in the room. I've read that the coaches had to intervene when they heard about the anger teammates felt toward Ichiro.

Look, whoever the players are who allegedly wanted to rough him up, or whatever, they should look at themselves in the mirror. They've got problems. But let's face it, Ichiro has become a lightning rod on this team, and I think you should at least see what his market value is.

He doesn't get on base enough. He isn't chasing down balls in the gap like he used to. I'm just saying that on a team that has such low production numbers, Ichiro isn't helping. He might be more valuable on a team that can win now.

ARMSTRONG (noticing that Lincoln is having trouble speaking, interrupts): You're right, we should consider trading Ichiro. Let's move on. What else would you suggest?

NG: Quit your little tap dance with agent Scott Boras and sign your first-round pick, Josh Fields. Geez Louise, you guys give starter Carlos Silva $40-some million and re-sign catcher Kenji Johjima for $24 million and you quibble over something like a half-million dollars for your closer of the future. No offense, but no wonder you lost 100 games.

LINCOLN (regaining his voice): We already have a closer, Kim. His name is J.J. Putz. We call the ninth inning, "Putz Domination Time."

NG: Ugh.

OK, here we go. I remind you of your pioneering entry into the 100/100 Club. This is going to be painful for you guys and for everyone who has invested so much emotion and hope over the past 14 seasons, but this team needs a major overhaul. The roster is a mess. The farm system is a mess.

Chuck, you were absolutely right to say the team wouldn't be throwing millions at glamorous free agents like CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. You have to build from within. You have to restock the farm. Drastically improve your scouting. As you both know, that takes time. And in the short term you'll lose some fans. But they'll come back. Your roots in this town are firmly planted.

And you have to trade some marketable players. Putz is one of them. Remember, this can't be about winning next year. It has to be about winning consistently, long term. You can always find a closer — Jarrod Washburn, maybe — while you wait for Fields to mature.

Dump sore-armed starter Erik Bedard. Call the trade with Baltimore what it was, an unmitigated disaster, and cut your losses. I told you this was going to be hard. Let left fielder Raul Ibanez go to a contender this winter.

And, as good as he is and as much of a leader as he has become, I think it's time to trade third baseman Adrian Beltre, because I don't believe he will re-sign with you guys after 2009.

So I'm proposing that if I were your GM, I would shop Ichiro, Putz and Beltre. I would look for young position players. Guys with pop who can play the corner positions — left, right, third and first. I'd go after prime prospects.

ARMSTRONG: You've told us what's wrong, but surely there is something you like about our team, isn't there, Kim?

NG: Young arms. You've got lots of good, young arms. If you can draft phenom Steve Strasburg, you could, by the end of 2009, have a rotation that includes Felix Hernandez, Brandon Morrow, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Strasberg. Maybe they could inspire a Silva. And I like that kid Phillippe Aumont for a rotation spot maybe even in 2010.

LINCOLN: I'm feeling a little lightheaded right now. Maybe we need to break for lunch. How about quickly giving us your top managerial candidate before we go and we can talk about him at lunch.

NG: Joey Cora.

ARMSTRONG (beaming): Now that's someone we can sell.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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