Maybe in the perfect world for a Mariners fan, Adam Jones joins Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro in the outfield, Chris Tillman shares the top of the prospect list with Dustin Ackley. Maybe Asdrubal Cabrera is still around. But as much as these fans wish it didn’t, the Bill Bavasi era did happen, and numerous young talents are in other organizations because of it. But, things are getting pretty good in Seattle, and I won’t be the first person to tell you why: Jack Zduriencik and friends.
I’m not going to tell you that Zduriencik is the best General Manager in baseball. That, I think, would be impossible to achieve without years of experience in the position. However, he is undeniably one of the game’s great talent evaluators, and he’s surrounding himself with informed opinions from intelligent people. The foundation is built for future success, both because of the personnel in the front office and the personnel on the field. This begins, like it has with every team in this series, with the stars: in Seattle, that’s Ichiro Suzuki and Felix Hernandez.
When Ichiro starts to significantly decline will always be at the heart of the Mariners future, as it’s hard to imagine ownership ever letting him don another uniform. In a perfect world, he has five more seasons with 200 hits and plus defense in him, as his 4-5 WAR contributions are essential to future success. With Felix, the hope is merely that he peaks when the average player does, as he is under team control through his age 28 season. If his 2009 is a level that can be sustained, the Mariners will be able to boast the best pitcher in the game, a distinction that certainly can’t hurt.
Joining Felix in Seattle until October 2014 will be Franklin Gutierrez, signed to an extension in January that promises a placement on Dave Cameron’s Trade Value series. I can’t believe Gutierrez is a +25 fielder, obviously, but if he’s +15 and makes minimal strides with the bat, he can be a 4.5 WAR player. And there’s Chone Figgins, tied down to the same timetable as Felix and Franklin, and seemingly just as unique as the previous three players. The hope is that Figgins understands his value was never as strong as it was last year, when he worked 100 walks. If he’s that patient again, then Figgins tenure in Seattle will go just fine.
This is the Major League core, and while it’s not typical, the players give Jack Z a very nice start for the next five seasons. Adam Moore will probably be there for all of them behind the plate, and you know how I feel about him. Some people took exception to my Moore projection, but I truly believe it was complimentary — Moore’s floor is very high. The pitcher version of this would be Ryan Rowland-Smith, who will have his modest success in Seattle as long as Safeco Field is standing. The bad news in Seattle is that the pitching really thins out after The Hyphen; there’s quite a bit of young relievers around Brandon League, but Zduriencik will have to be creative in building a rotation for the future.
If the pitching must come from outside the organization, the Mariners must keep their offense cheap outside of Ichiro and Figgins. They’ll get some help in this regard in 2011, when Michael Saunders should effectively replace Ken Griffey Jr., and Dustin Ackley should take over for Jose Lopez. The latter is another key to the future, as he must take to second base fairly quickly. While defense and power are still question marks for Ackley, his ability to make solid contact is an unbelievable skill. He’s a leadoff hitter the same as Ichiro and Figgins, which means the Don Wakamatsu will have rooms for lots of creativity in filling out his lineup card. Saunders, meanwhile, should play a good left field in Safeco (surprise, surprise) and will bring a touch of power to a lineup that lacks it.
There’s no doubt that by acquiring Cliff Lee, the Mariners dipped into what was already a shallow farm system. But Jack surely did so with the understanding that his team is going to rebuild this farm system quickly. They started last year, unafraid of the bonus demands of Nick Franklin and Steve Baron after spending big money on Ackley. Tom McNamara and his staff in the scouting department are very good at what they do, and I have total faith this team will be churning out young players in a few years. Until then, Jack Zduriencik must continue to be creative while building around the most unique core in Major League Baseball.