By Kirby Arnold
With Giants fans now thinking about a World Series sweep, wouldn’t it be nice if the baseball season ended in October like it should? I still think the Rangers will make some sort of comeback, although right now it’s looking like baseball’s free agent shopping season could begin sooner rather than later.
With that, what are the Mariners going to do at third base?
At this point, the 2011 season looks like one of those one-and-done years at third as players within the system develop into what could be the Mariners’ infield of the future.
Dustin Ackley is pretty much the key to that. By all reports, Ackley is doing well defensively at second base but needs more seasoning, which means any notion of moving Chone Figgins from second back to third would be another year away. There are no third baseman in the minor leagues who appear ready for prime time.
Unless the Mariners decide to exercise their $4.5 million option for 2011 on Jose Lopez or pony up some really big bucks for Adrian Beltre (who made $10 million this year with the Red Sox), it’s likely they’ll pursue other options for next year.
Two names come to mind now, one told to me last season by a person on the baseball side of the club, Ty Wiggington, and another whose name popped up today in baseball reports, Nick Punto.
Wiggington, who made $3.5 million with the Orioles this year, can play first base, second, third and DH, versatility that’s attractive. He hit 22 home runs, drove in 76 runs, batted .248 with a .313 on-base percentage and .415 slugging percentage. Wiggington was mentioned a few times in trade talk during the season, primarily as a fit for the Yankees. He undoubtedly will look for at least two years, so if the Mariners really are interested they’d have to decide whether he’s a longer-range fit.
The Twins have declined their $5 million option on Punto, a 32-year-old who didn’t make an error in 48 games at third base last year. He’s a switch hitter who batted .238/313/.302 (one homer, 20 RBI in 88 games, getting most of his 288 plate appearances against right-handed pitching). Again, we’re talking about a player who made $4 million last year and will want multiple years in his next deal.
Elsewhere around baseball:
• Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders will get a little more than a month of winter ball this offseason with the Lara Cardenales in Venezuela. He’ll play there from Nov. 17-Dec. 23.
• Speaking of free agents who’ll catch the interest of Mariners fans – if not the Mariners – former M’s pitcher Jamie Moyer and third baseman Greg Dobbs are available . The Phillies decided to bump both off their 40-man roster, and both players have chosen free agency.
• Eight years ago today, the Mariners acquired Randy Winn from Tampa Bay in what essentially was a trade for manager Lou Piniella. That memory was rekindled in a Chicago Sun-Times story today about the Florida Marlins’ interest this summer in White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Nothing ever became of it, although one scenario was that Guillen could be traded to the Marlins in exchange for young slugger Mike Stanton.
• We now may have a clue why former Mariner Jose Guillen was left off the San Francisco Giants’ playoff roster. Guillen’s name has come up in an investigation of HGH shipments.
• Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima has caught the eyes of big-league teams, including the Mariners, but it now appears he will not be posted by his current organization, the Seibu Lions.