Anti-Meche Clan; Where Can M’s Get a Bat?
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on April 22, 2006
Not only does Gil Meche toss six solid innings versus the Detroit Tigers in which he fanned seven, but one his potential replacements didn't fare so well in Triple-A Tacoma.
Kevin Appier's line of 5ip, 5 h, 3 er, 2 bb, 4k doesn't look bad at all. He even threw 46 of his 73 pitches for strikes and retired the last 10 men he faced.
Appier showed resiliance by recovering from a 29-pitch first inning to hold Fresno to an unearned run over the next four frames. But the right-hander is still a long ways from proving he can handle a big-league rotation spot.
Sitting in the 84-86 range with his fastball, which is probably 3-4 mphs off where he needs to be, won't get the job done in Seattle. Just ask Eddie Guardado.
Appier's command was not great, but it wasn't terrible, either. His slider had a sharp, late break, as it did in his one-inning stint on the recent road trip. His fastball has decent movement and he's certainly a pitcher that will battle and win the war of wits with most hitters.
The mind is willing, but the body isn't able, at least not yet, and I'd be very surprised if Appier ever pitched effectively in the majors ever again. Not as a starter, anyways.
The M's might be able to use him in relief if he can regain his arm strength, which Appier claims is still not whwre he wants it to be.
"I'm at about 70-75%," said Appier after his first start of the season. "Velocity isn't much of a concern for me right now. I need to make my pitches, hit my spots and stay in the game as long as I can so I can build up. My fastball will come back with time."
If it does, and that's a big if, Appier has a spot in the big leagues waiting for him. If he was ready right now, the M's would certainly make a move to get him on the roster.
Meche also had the one bad inning, followed by a couple of trying frames where his three walks didn't help him much. But he did fight his way out of it, which is something he could not do at any point a year ago.
Like Joel Pineiro, Meche is certainly better this season than last, though unlike Pineiro he's probably only marginally better, at least judging from his four starts in 2006.
It's a littel confusing right now to some fans that look around see Moyer, Washburn, Pineiro and now Meche toss out some really quality starts on a regular basis, and then check the standings and see that their favorite team is in last place.
That's because this club's achilles heel is still the offense, just as it has been the past two years. They still have holes in the lineup that don't produce regularly – a lot of spots in the lineup. There are many nights that NINE of the spots in the lineup are shutdown, which would be okay if it happened once in awhile.
But the Mariners have exactly zero bats that can be the catalyst when the rest of the offense sputters. Richie Sexson is a power-hitting first baseman, who should always belt 30-40 home runs and drive in 100+, but he's not Edgar Martinez or Ken Griffey junior or Alex Rodriguez. He's not a hitter that will drive pitchers crazy as they try and find ways to get him out.
Ichiro doesn't take enough pitches for that role. Beltre is more like David Bell every day. Everett's best offensive skill right now is drawing a walk, and he certainly isn't going to get better as the year goes on, not at 34 years of age.
While the gaping holes from 2005 are gone, filled by Jose Lopez, Kenji Johjima, Yuniesky Betancourt and a better Jeremy Reed, the lineup is about three impact hitters from being a good offense.
I really like Jeremy Reed and believe he's a 285/350/440 guy who plays very good defense and can swipe 15-20 bags a year. But it might be time to start seeking a more impact offensive player, and Reed may have to be part of any deal to acquire such a player.
Dozens of clubs need a defensive center fielder with above-average upside and a cheap salary attached, and if the M's are willing to part with Reed, a live-armed pitching prospect within two years of the big leagues and one of their catchers, they could probably land a high-quality bat.
Here are some of the players I would target if I were the M's front office –
Carlos Lee, OF – Milwaukee
Lee is 29, in his prime, a free-agent-to-be and can flat out hit. One of the game's most underrated players, Lee can also defend at an above-average level and is a good athlete, especially for his size.
The only issue with acquiring Lee is that his contract is up at year's end and the Mariners certainly aren't going to part with the necessary package for a player who's likely to leave in two months. Not while they sit in the cellar of the division.
Lee is a 12 million dollar per year player on the open market and while the Mariners are probably willing to pay that for a MOTO bat who can play left field at Safeco, but the pre-trade deadline extension window is highly unlikely.
It's also unlikely that the M's would be able to land Lee next winter, so a trade is probably their only chance to get him. Milwaukee does not have a young center fielder in their system and could use Reed immediately.
They are also void of a legit catching prospect.
Pat Burrell, OF – Philadelphia
Burrell is also 29 and set to make $27 million over the next two seasons after drawing $9.5 million in 2006. That's a lot of money but Burrell may almost be worth it.
He's hitting his peak as a hitter and is no longer just a slugger. He'll still strike out like Sexson (160 times in 2005), but he's learned to draw the walk and had a career-best 99 last season.
He hit just .250 last year after a hot start, but is more of a .270s bat, like Sexson, whose ability to hit the ball the other way would dictate whether he hits .250 as a Mariner or .270, thanks to the Safeco Field factor.
Ideally, the M's would be better off staying away from the high-strikeout, right-handed power bats, but there aren't many left-handed power bats on the market, let alone one who doesn't fan 150 times a season.
Burrell's teammate, Bobby Abreu isn't a bad idea, either, though he's already 32 and will earn $28 million in 2007 and 2008 combined.
The Phils, however, are not in need of a center fielder and both Burrell and Abreu have full no-trade clauses, which would certainly complicate things.
The one lefty stick I'd go after really hard is Chad Tracy, IF/OF – Arizona.
The D'Backs system is loaded, and do not need Reed, expecially with Justin Upton moving to center field as apro. But Upton is a few years away and Reed is highly inexpensive, so he would add some value to a deal with Arizona.
The D'Backs would have to get a catcher in a trade with Seattle, and though Stephen Drew is close to big-league ready at shortstop, Arizona could use a middle infielder that's getting close, too, if they don't believe Alberto Callaspo is their future at second base.
And everyone needs pitching, but the M's really don't have that one arm that teams crave.
Unless Tracy fits as a long-term answer at third base, which he probably doesn't, Arizona is going to have to move him. With Conor Jackson manning first base, Shawn Green under contract through 2008 and Carlos Quentin one step from the big leagues, there isn't room for Tracy in their outfield.
Arizona also has Upton and Carlos Gonzalez in the lower minors and both are elite offensive prospects who play the outfield.
The problems here, aside from the fact that Seattle doesn't have the pitching to add to a package, is that Zona doesn't have an immediate answer at third to take over for Tracy.
The more one looks around the league for free agents and potential trade partners, the more it seems as if the M's would have been better off starting from scratch after the 2004 season and built the team at a slower pace, waiting for the right talent to become available as their prospects become ML ready.