Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
The aging Seattle club will grow younger at no less than one position as GM "Stand Pat" Gillick stepped aside to a consulting position, likely ceding the job to either Omar Minaya or former interim GM and current Boston assistant Mike Port. Both men should follow most of Gillick's philosophies, however Port at least appears willing to seriously consider nontraditional approaches to running baseball teams after his year under Theo's direction with the Red Sox.
Manager Bob Melvin seems likely to return despite receiving no obvious plaudits, and even exchanging pending free agents by swapping Jeff Nelson for Armando Benitez didn't rid the clubhouse of concerns regarding the administration's allocation of resources. The veterans expected help at the trade deadline, and when the team added only Rey Sanchez while missing on Aaron Boone, vocal discontent only slightly preceded the team's fall from the playoff picture. Now, as Texas' core of young hitters continues to develop rapidly, the A's still possess perhaps the deepest pitching staff in the game, supported by excellent defense, and the Angels only need to remain healthy to content, Seattle faces the prospect of plummeting in the standings with several veterans facing retirement.
I suspect Edgar will stay for one more year, however Mike Cameron, Arthur Rhodes, and Shigetoshi Hasegawa all should leave in free agency. Potential ace Freddy Garcia likely will be dealt or non-tendered, and Randy Winn also could depart. Not only do the contracts of Dan Wilson and John Olerud expire after 2004, Seattle likely will buy out the last year of Sasaki's deal. Jamie Moyer should return after 2005 for one more season, yet even Bret Boone might depart at that point if the team isn't contending. Fortunately, the club remains flush with Safeco proceeds, and only the $15M due Jeff Cirillo over the next two years seems completely outlandish.
While he may cost more than his statistics indicates he deserves, re-signing the arbitration-eligible Ichiro to a long-term deal is the obvious priority this winter. His ability and marketability both appear necessary for the franchise, and I suspect he'll end up with a deal no less than $50M over five years. With Ichiro, Boone, and Moyer secure, Seattle at least keeps the veteran core intact.
The late-season struggles of Gil Meche and Ryan Franklin, along with the past injury troubles of Meche, should keep the Mariners from giving either arbitration-eligible pitcher a long-term deal. Ben Davis and Carlos Guillen also should net one-year offers, allowing Seattle to retain key components at decent prices.
If the Mariners expect to remain an elite team over the next few years, they must begin to play their rookies. Rafael Soriano and Julio Mateo are the new generation of young stud pitchers here, and if Garcia departs, Soriano will earn a deserved starting slot. Signing Joel Pineiro and Soriano to two-to-three year deals makes sense to insure some cost security. By the time Moyer retires, Seattle expects youngsters like Clint Nageotte and Rett Johnson to emerge as potential replacements.
However, even if the team loses Garcia, Rhodes, and Hasegawa, they possess the excellent young pitching needed to avoid a severe downturn in effectiveness. The problem is that the loss of Winn and Cameron, combined with the struggles of Olerud and Cirillo, along with the injury problems of Edgar, could leave the offense largely punchless even if with MVP candidates like Boone and Ichiro.
While I don't see any elite offensive prospects in the pipeline right now, Chris Snelling and Jamal Strong both could open the season in the majors, and infield prospects like Jose Lopez could reach Seattle soon. Snelling could replace Winn now without a severe downturn, and if the team is willing to sacrifice some power to give the team another speedster, potentially allowing Ichiro to move down in the order, Strong could start in center field. Lopez may be the jewel of the system if he continues maturing as his offensive production is very impressive given his age and level.
Although the next GM could set this franchise back years with a couple of bad decisions, if they start playing more youngsters in key roles, along with finding a way to jettison Cirillo while upgrading third base, they could surpass 90 wins again. If the team signs free agent Kaz Matsui and shifts Carlos Guillen to third base, Matsui, Ichiro, and Boone will give Seattle the most game-changing top-of-the-order in baseball. Any willingness by the team administration to add payroll at mid-season also will give the veterans a needed shot-in-the-arm, so barring disastrous injury, expect the Mariners to finish in the Top 3 in baseball's most competitive division, however they'll need a good dose of luck to return to the playoffs given the status of their opponents.
Rett Johnson, 24, RH Starter
Regardless of whether Johnson stays in the rotation or converts to relief, he probably deserves to break camp in the majors and could reach double-digit value in almost any role. The combination of his consistently excellent command and Seattle's great defense should keep his WHIP no higher than 1.20, and he also possesses skills to emerge as a fairly dominant starter. I wouldn't risk a minor league pick on him due to his uncertain role, however feel free to roster Johnson almost as soon as he joins the Mariners.
Looper progressed almost exactly as expected in 2003, and while he didn't completely dominate AAA batters, only a surprising jump in his homer rate boosted his ERA above 3.00. Assuming he breaks camp in the majors as we expect, Looper not only could pitch effectively for the Mariners all year, he should approach double-digit roto value if given at least 10 innings a month. I don't expect him to see many save opportunities, yet, his potential contribution in the other categories make him a solid fantasy pick late in drafts.
Unless he stays healthy, Snelling never will develop into the elite hitter suggested by his minor league performance. Hopefully he at least can manage 300 at-bats for only the second time in his career next season, and if he echoes his AA performance, we should see Snelling replace Edgar Martinez at DH in Seattle. Not only does he merit at least a mid-round pick in almost any minor league draft, he owns the offensive skills necessary to succeed in the majors as soon as next summer.
Strong displayed impressive resiliency by recovering from a potentially season-ending shoulder separation in spring training to excel in his AAA debut and then earn a September cup-of-coffee. His combination of speed and plate discipline ranks him with any leadoff prospect in the game, and the likely departure of Mike Cameron and Mark McLemore leave at least a backup job if not a starting spot open in Seattle. Although a terrible performance in the Arizona Fall League might lead Seattle to send Strong back to the minors at the beginning of 2004, he possesses the skills to cruise past $10 in traditional leagues even if he just breaks camp in a reserve role. A strong 2004 season could secure a starting job for Strong with Seattle indefinitely, yet his lack of power and occasionally inconsistent skills give him less long-term upside than you might expect from an outfielder who averages well over 50 steals a season.
After posting nearly identical marks in two straight years at Tacoma, Sweeney deserves every chance to break camp in the majors next spring. His excellent control makes him a decent starting candidate, however his overall skills suggest he might dominate in relief work. Assuming he opens 2004 in Seattle as we expect, he certainly shouldn't hurt you for a buck, and I wouldn't be shocked to see him approach double-digit value even if left in relief all year.
If he wasn't left-handed, Anderson might not remain a decent prospect as his strikeout dropped from 8.9 to 5.6 and now 3.4 K/9 over the last two years. Yet he's remained an effective starter even if his hit and homer problems suggest he won't be ready for the majors any time soon. Seattle still should keep him in the rotation given his overall effectiveness, but I don't envision Anderson on winning fantasy rosters in the near future.
The 49th round pick from 1998 probably could continue succeeding as a starter in the majors, however his somewhat low ceiling apparently outweighs his great command in the minds of Mariners' management. Of course, Atchison still merits a long look in camp after two successful years at AAA, and he likely will merit fantasy consideration as soon as he secures a big league roster spot.
After missing 2002 due to Tommy John surgery, he returned to dominate both the California and Texas Leagues this year. Given his low walk, homer, and hit rates, Baek probably could pitch effectively in the majors now, though giving him another year in the minors certainly is a decent idea, particularly since he needs to rebuild his arm strength. He should join Seattle's rotation by 2006, although until he manages to pitch 150 innings in one season or starts succeeding with the Mariners, you shouldn't pay him too much attention.
Barkett's limited power and unimpressive plate discipline suggest he may never lose his rookie eligibility. However, the minor league free agent could return to the Mariners for a third straight year as he at least looks like adequate system filler.
He probably ranks as the Mariners' top pitching prospect given he offers similar skills to Nageotte but pitches left-handed; Blackley's also two years younger than Nageotte despite nearly matching the latter pitcher's performance at the same level. I wouldn't be surprised to see Blackley break camp as a lefty reliever next spring so he can learn from Jamie Moyer, and he almost certainly will join the club by 2005. Blackley merits consideration in almost any minor league draft. While he doesn't own great control right now, I envision a bright future for him.
We've been propping Curry since his impressive AA season in 2000, and given his plate discipline and potentially dominant speed upside, we believe he deserves a long look at AAA, if not the majors. If he can echo these stats as a higher level, he'll merit roto consideration as soon as he wins the big league bench job he probably deserved two seasons ago. Of course, until he finds an organization willing to ignore his faults and focus on his primary talents, he likely will continue bouncing around the upper minors.
Falkenborg started all but 3 of his last 47 games, however he also hasn't managed to stay healthy enough to pitch more than 114 innings in a season since 1997. Now he should depart Seattle as a minor league free agent, and if he finds a team that needs a long reliever, he could contribute immediately. Unfortunately, given his inconsistent skill history, don't roster him until he compile several successful outings in the majors.
I tend to believe Figueroa merits a major league roster spot now thanks to his excellent plate discipline and decent position flexibility. The problem is that his complete lack of power and speed, coupled with defensive inconsistency, makes him fairly useless other than a reserve infielder that can make decent contact as a pinch-hitter. Most teams prefer someone with a little more upside, so until he finds the necessary opportunity, ignore Figueroa.
I expect this dominant AA performance will earn Hamulack serious consideration in someone's camp next spring, and despite his AAA troubles, I'm surprised Seattle let him depart as a minor league free agent given their need for lefty relievers. Of course, we really don't know if he's ready for the majors, so make sure he finds a secure big league roster spot and at least pitches solidly in a few games before giving him any fantasy consideration.
Tommy John surgery cost him 2002, and then he simply didn't resemble the pitcher who compiled a 3.12 ERA on a 173:40 K:BB in 179 Texas League innings in 2001. Of course, the former 1st round pick certainly could bounce back in his second season following the injury. Considering his previous dominance, I expect Heaverlo at least will develop into a solid middle reliever, but until his qualitative marks improve or he converts to the bullpen, he merits little roto attention.
Consistent control problems throughout his career kept Lamber from advancing beyond AA, but he might get a chance in 2004 with a new organization. Of course, his unimpressive dominance suggests little roto upside, yet any decent left-hander likely will receive enough opportunities so that he at least sniffs the majors.
While his age and unimpressive A-ball numbers suggest a low ceiling for Leone, his five-category production this year earned him the Texas League MVP, and now he's starting for Team USA at third base. Leone is a solid defender with very good plate discipline, two attributes not found in many Mariners' prospects. I can't wholeheartedly recommend him right now since he needs to echo these stats at AAA to qualify as a solid prospect, and he also turns 27 next March, however Leone now looks like an intriguing sleeper who could approach $20 by 2006.
The fact that Lopez spent the year as the youngest player in the Texas League and still made the TL All-Star team while posting a .90 contact rate makes him one of the more unheralded top prospects in baseball. He should spend 2004 at AAA Tacoma before assuming a starting infield job for Seattle the following season, likely at shortstop. As Lopez compares reasonably well with most of the top shortstops in the game, invest in him now and you might find an unexpected fantasy anchor for the rest of the decade.
Switch-hitting utility infielders capable of handling every infield position while posting a good batting average and contributing decent speed aren't a plentiful resource. Finding one with good plate discipline is even rarer, yet Lopez hasn't received a single big league at-bat. Hopefully the Mariners at least will give him a look in spring training since he appears at least as valuable as someone like Willie Bloomquist, albeit Lopez lacks much long-term upside and therefore isn't a fantasy option right now.
The independent league refugee proved he deserved a 40-man roster spot all of this season as few left-handed starters dominate the Texas League to this extent. While his walk rate could force him to the bullpen, thus making him an unacceptable fantasy gamble right now, Madritsch will merit consideration as soon as he reaches the majors, especially if he enters Seattle's rotation within the next couple of years.
Despite hit and homer problems at AAA Tacoma last year, Matos still managed a 95:35 K:BB in 135 IP as a starter, so a double demotion to the San Antonio bullpen made little sense. He belongs in AAA and likely could contribute in the majors in the near future given the opportunity, and hopefully Matos will find that chance elsewhere as a minor league free agent.
While Myers acquitted himself nicely in his second AAA tour, he remains a largely unimpressive player with little obvious upside. He offers decent power, speed, patience, and defensive skills, yet given the number of right-handed outfielders with at least intriguing upside on one of those areas, I don't know if Myers ever will get more than a cup-of-coffee or two in the majors.
Spending next year at AAA will place Nageotte at the front of the line for any rotation slot that opens by 2005. Since there's any chance only Joel Pineiro still will be with the team in two years despite the current rotation consistency, Nageotte is a very good fantasy choice since he also could move to closing quickly if he falters as a starter. You won't be disappointed if you select him in your minor league draft, although consider anything he contributes to your team next season a bonus.
One more year of seasoning certainly wouldn't hurt Putz, but if he can maintain a decent walk rate, he appears prepared to succeed in Seattle. While I don't view him as a primary relief option for the Mariners, a strong showing in spring training should win Putz a job. Given his success as a starter at AA San Antonio as recently as 2002, he definitely shouldn't hurt a fantasy team, and like any Seattle pitcher with decent skills, he could dominate surprisingly quickly thanks to the advantages of Safeco.
Signed from the Northern League as this year's Bobby Madritsch, Sherrill obviously dominated the Texas League. Of course, since we have no idea if he can echo that performance at a higher level, you shouldn't consider him in any spring draft.
Despite consistently strong strikeout rates, Simpson's control problems could limit his time in the majors. Until he at least drops his walk rate below 4.0 BB/9, ignore him in fantasy leagues.
Unlike fellow Tacoma right-handers Brian Sweeney and Aaron Looper, Taylor struggled badly in the majors, and his inability to post an ERA under 8.50 in either of his two cups-of-coffee leaves him behind Sweeney and Looper on Seattle's depth chart headed into camp. The odds of the team taking more than two rookie right-handers appear negligible, so if Taylor doesn't impress everyone in spring training, he will head back to Tacoma for another couple of months. However, Taylor's tools rank him in front of Seattle's other relief prospects, and if they eventually promote a homegrown prospect to replace Kaz Sasaki at closer, Taylor is the best bet, making him a good long-term pick but with little guaranteed short-term value.
I probably shouldn't include Thornton since he appears to need a full year in the minors after missing much of the last two seasons due to Tommy John surgery and a herniated neck disc, however Seattle likely will give him the chance to break camp in the Mariners' bullpen. Since Thornton didn't even excel in the Texas League in 2002 and struggled with his control at lower levels, wait until he either regains his effectiveness in the upper minors or posts a few good outings in Seattle before considering him for your team.
In Williams' first season pitching for an affiliated minor league team since 1999, he dominated AA before losing much of his effectiveness at Tacoma. I suspect he'll plateau as a AAAA reliever, but if he takes advantage of every opportunity he finds, we could see Williams post decent numbers in the majors for a few years, although he probably needs at least a full year at Tacoma.
Aside from players listed above, no other Seattle prospect deserves consideration in 2004 fantasy drafts.
Seattle might not see any rookie earn even $5 of fantasy value next year if they go with veterans in the outfield and bullpen, however the solid team defense and forgiving home park makes any rookie reliever with strong skills a potential double-digit player. Of course, while the overall depth here is impressive, I don't see any impact players ready to contribute unless Strong wins a job. Snelling, Jose Lopez, Nageotte, and Blackley all are excellent long-term options and merit selection in almost any minor league draft, however don't expect any of them to help before September of 2004.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2003, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Minnesota Twins(Restovich, Mauer, Crain, Balfour, Bartlett)
7:00(CDT): New York Yankees @ Florida
While we missed on the results of each of the last two games, Alex Gonzalez's heroics at least helped Florida to even the Series, giving us the expected three-game match-up for the title. Given Florida's momentum and the home crowd, I see no reason to deviate from our predictions at this point.
1. Jamal Strong, OF
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