Five keys to a successful offseason for the M’s

Hire a general manager with vision

It may be a savvy veteran or someone in an assistant’s role who brings fresh ideas and a hunger for the job. Most of all, the Mariners need someone with a vision for not only making the team competitive next year, but for years to come. That means constructing a roster for 2009 that retains some of the positive influence of veterans, but also leans on youth that will develop. It also should be a person strong in scouting and player development, because poor drafts and a weak minor league system will decimate the team in the long run regardless of any short-term progress.

Several names will surface in coming weeks as the Mariners sort through the candidates and conduct interviews. Speculation already has focused on such names as current GMs Doug Melvin of the Brewers and Kevin Towers of the Padres, and current assistant GMs Kim Ng of the Dodgers, Jerry DiPoto of the Diamondbacks and Tony LaCava of the Blue Jays.

Ng, considered a budding talent in baseball circles and sure to be on the Mariners’ list, would become the first female GM in the major leagues.

Determine how to rebuild

The days of buying one or two high-priced free agents appear to have ended. The Mariners will be in some degree of rebuilding, with a focus on young players.

The question is how? Should the Mariners retain the core of the team and restock through the draft and occasional trade? Or should they trade such productive players as Adrian Beltre, J.J. Putz and Jose Lopez in hopes of getting a windfall of young talent in return?

Lopez presents an interesting question because he is adamant that he won’t move permanently to first base, even though he played well there in a dozen games in September. It allowed the Mariners to look at impressive second base prospect Luis Valbuena, who could be in the equation next year. Lopez will be a bargain at $1.6 million next year but, given his solid offensive production, he also could garner prospects in a trade.

Offense will be a major focus, particularly in left field and at first base. If left fielder Raul Ibanez signs elsewhere as a free agent, the Mariners will lose 100 RBI. If Lopez refuses to play first base, they also will lack consistent “thump” at that position. Bryan LaHair is a possibility at first but he didn’t show enough power to make the Mariners comfortable.

Hire a manager with patience, discipline

The Mariners will look for someone patient enough to allow young players to make mistakes without fear of losing their jobs — as long as they make progress in the long run — but also a manager who makes it clear he is boss. The Mariners, young and old players alike, need a manager who’s a disciplinarian and won’t let the small things — loafing during fielding drills, jogging to first base, hanging out in the training room instead of the dugout, etc. — become big problems. Above all, it should be a person who can manage a game, particularly the bullpen, and brings a coaching staff that will help young players improve.

Get the most out of Erik Bedard

One of the Mariners’ biggest disappointments in 2008, Bedard represents great opportunity in 2009. Shoulder surgery last week revealed that he doesn’t have a tear in his labrum or rotator cuff, meaning he should be at full strength in six months.

Manager Jim Riggleman said the success of the starting rotation in 2009 may depend on whether Bedard is healthy. If he is, it would give the Mariners a nice-looking rotation of Felix Hernandez, Bedard, Carlos Silva, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Brandon Morrow.

Rebuild the bullpen

A strength of the Mariners going into the season, relief pitching was a complete uncertainty by the end. The Mariners converted Brandon Morrow and Ryan Rowland-Smith into starters, and they traded away Arthur Rhodes. It left them without a power arm leading to closer J.J. Putz and they suffered because of it.

The Mariners also finished without a left-handed specialist. If Cesar Jimenez hopes to fill that role, he must develop a breaking pitch to get left-handed hitters out.

Still, there’s hope. Sean Green, when used properly, can get much-needed ground balls in dicey late-inning situations. Roy Corcoran proved he has the backbone and stuff to not be intimidated in just about any role. And Mark Lowe, despite mediocre numbers, completed a full season with no arm issues and was throwing in the mid to upper 90 mph range by the end.

Kirby Arnold, Herald Writer

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