Forget what the calendar says about this being the last day of September. It’s Octoberfest tonight at Safeco Field, where the giveaway beer steins will be hoisted to a season that can’t go away fast enough.
Speaking of going away, the next four days could be the last chance to see many of the hometown nine in a Mariners uniform. Change is definitely coming, and that’s a good thing considering what everyone has endured since preseason hopes faded so fast many months ago.
If you’re inclined to say good-bye, even while helping push a few of these guys out the door, who are you going to miss the most (or least)?
Here are some possibilities for the never-to-pass-this-way-again list:
• Jose Lopez. He’s got a $4.5 million club option for next year (yeah, right) or a $250,000 buyout. Anything’s possible, I guess, but it’s difficult to see the Mariners bringing back a guy whose on-base percentage (.271) isn’t a whole lot better than his batting average (.240). It would end a long relationship between the Mariners and Lopez, who began his pro career with the Everett AquaSox in 2001 and has played the past five seasons in Seattle. Complain all you want about his lack of plate discipline or his rough-around-the-edges play this year at third base, but Lopez has given it a solid effort. Chances are good he won’t play in the remaining four games after dislocating a finger on his throwing hand this week in Texas.
• Casey Kotchman. So whose pipe dream was it that Kotchman would have a breakout season as a hitter? If nothing else, Kotchman made us appreciate the value of a slick glove at first base. But he also made us realize that the Mariners, lacking offensive punch at every other position, made a huge mistake by not getting it out of first base.
• David Aardsma. He might be back; he might not. Aardsma is eligible for arbitration and stands to get some good money (he made $2.75 million this year) after a 31-save season (which appears to be over because of an oblique injury). The Mariners are taking a hard look at their bullpen possibilities for next year (Brandon League, Dan Cortes, Anthony Varvaro) and easily could dangle Aardsma as trade bait this offseason.
• Ryan Rowland-Smith, Josh Wilson, Sean White, Ryan Langerhans. They’re all eligible for arbitration but wouldn’t seem to be in line for a big payday next year or tons of interest from other teams.
• Daren Brown. Personable guy, good baseball man, seems to be well-respected in the clubhouse. I just don’t see the organization bringing him back to manage next year. Wasn’t his fault he couldn’t wave a magic wand and turn the team around after taking over Aug. 9 for Don Wakamatsu. Leo Durocher and Lou Piniella could have tag-team managed this team the rest of this season and they wouldn’t have made a difference because the flaws run as deep as the 25th man on the roster.
• Russell Branyan. We’ll probably hear the concerns about his often-injured back and how it would be foolish to pay him $5 million (mutual option) next year. The man hit 25 home runs this year in 109 games, following up on the 31 he hit last year. Considering the Mariners are on the hook for $5 million to underperforming shortstop Jack Wilson next year, $5 million for a power hitter like Branyan seems like a bargain.
• Erik Bedard. Let’s see. Three years in the organization, 30 starts, three surgeries and no certainty when he’ll throw another competitive pitch. How do you say, “Time to move on,” in French?
• Chris Woodward, Jamey Wright, Josh Bard. They gave the Mariners what you’d expect from savvy veterans who know their roles on a team that is trying to develop younger players. Don’t be surprised if they’re back with the Mariners at spring training, but don’t be shocked if they sign elsewhere.