Mariners have opportunity without Lopez

Dec 1, 2010, 9:14 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

LopezJoseBrokenBat

Update: The Mariners dealt Jose Lopez to the Colorado Rockies on Thursday.

By Mike Salk

When the deadline to offer contracts to arbitration eligible players passes on Thursday night, Jose Lopez will become a free agent.

When that happens, the Mariners have an opportunity to get better.

Yes, I know there will be those who will watch his numbers next year and complain when they improve. I’ll save you the trouble.

His numbers will get better. He’ll play in a better ballpark, in a better lineup. He’ll bounce back from a career-worst season and maybe being let go will be the wake-up call he needs to show up to spring training in shape and ready to go. Start preparing yourself for those eventualities now. Cuz I’ve got news for you.

Those things were not going to happen in Seattle.

Lopez is just a bad fit here right now. He has some interesting baseball skills but they aren’t appropriate for this team. He can pull a fastball with some pop, especially for a potential middle infielder. Put him in a park with short porch in left field and couple of stars to make sure all he sees are fastballs and I think his numbers will look good. But Seattle can’t offer those things and so this marriage needs to be cleanly severed.

Jose Lopez represented much of what was wrong with the 2010 Mariners. I know that’s a harsh statement and it’s not all his fault, but it’s true. Expectations of him were sky high after a fluky 2009. He was asked to step up into a role he could not possibly fill, and failed spectacularly as a clean up hitter.

But it was more than that.

Lopez showed up to spring training out of shape and while he may have worked his way back to an acceptable weight, I can’t help but think he might have been able to keep himself at his natural second base position if he had shown up at the appropriate size.

He made mental errors and baserunning mistakes, topped off by the awful play when he became the fourth Mariner in a week to make an easily avoidable out on the basepaths. After the game, there were teammates who were unimpressed with his lackadaisical attitude.

Perhaps new manager Eric Wedge could have worked magic with Lopez and found a way to get the most out of him. Perhaps he would have held him accountable and gotten Lopez to play up to his potential. But why ask your new manager to try when you can bring in fresh blood instead?

Ah yes, the fresh blood. Who should replace Jose Lopez?

The answer to that is probably linked to the next question: can the Mariners deal Chone Figgins?

If the M’s can trade Figgins, there are tons of options. It would allow them to find a power hitting third baseman while Dustin Ackley takes over at second. Premier third basemen aren’t available in the free agency market this year (unless you want Adrian Beltre, Round Two Electric Boogaloo) so that would require a trade or an internal solution. I’m not sure Matt Tuiasosopo is an everyday player (although I wish we could have seen him play every day at the end of last year so we had a better idea) and Matt Mangini’s defense apparently isn’t major league quality. They would be the two most likely internal options.

mark-reynoldsThe name I keep returning to is Arizona’s Mark Reynolds who Buster Olney tells us could be had for very little. Reynolds may struggle to hit for average, but he has legitimate power (crushing 44 home runs just two seasons ago). His contract is reasonable and he is still young. Yes, he is right handed and strikes out a ton, but the increased power would be a huge upgrade over Lopez. And yes, he hit all those home runs in the NL like Beltre did right before he signed, but this came after the Mitchell Report and the team would be buying low because Reynolds is coming off a down season.

If Figgins is still in uniform next year, I would guess the M’s would want him to return to third base, his best defensive position. That would allow Ackley to take over either on opening day or at some later date. They could sign a cheaper alternative to keep second base warm for the kid or they could find a defensive player who could make the transition to shortstop as Jack Wilson’s deal comes off the books in 2012.

One other note, if they think Ackley is going to be ready within a month or two of the start of the year, I would happily accept Josh Wilson as the starter out of camp knowing that he would be transitioning to a utility role.

The Winter Meetings start Monday and we’ll once again be the only show in Seattle to broadcast live from Orlando (follow us on Twitter @BrockandSalk for updates). The Mariners have some choices to make at second and third base, but at least they got the ball rolling by removing Lopez from the equation and allowing themselves the freedom to operate and improve.

* * *

Besides Lopez, the Mariners must decide whether to offer contracts to a few other players by 9 p.m. on Thursday. Ryan Rowland-Smith, Josh Wilson, Brandon League, David Aardsma and Jason Vargas are all arbitration eligible. The team must offer them contracts to keep them from becoming free agents. I concur with Geoff Baker in that I’d assume Aardsma, League and Vargas to get offers. Wilson and RRS are questions…

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Mariners have opportunity without Lopez