SEATTLE – Gil Meche braced himself, knowing that more than a decade in the Seattle Mariners organization could crumble with a phone call.
Meche’s phone rang Tuesday afternoon, but it wasn’t from the Mariners.
Fellow pitcher Ryan Franklin, also a career Mariner, called to tell Meche that the team wasn’t offering him a contract for 2006.
“He told me it’s hard to leave the only team you’ve ever been with,” Meche said.
Tuesday was deadline day for clubs to either offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players or allow them to become free agents. Besides Franklin, the Mariners didn’t offer – or tender, in baseball terminology – contracts to pitcher Cha Seung Baek and outfielder Jamal Strong. It’s still possible, but unlikely, that the non-tendered players would work out a deal and return to the Mariners.
The M’s did tender contract offers to Meche, relievers Julio Mateo and Rafael Soriano, and utilityman Willie Bloomquist, keeping them with the team.
Meche remains a part of the Mariners’ starting rotation for now, although he continues to be mentioned in trade scenarios as the M’s pursue more starting pitching.
That possibility grew Tuesday night when the New York Yankees reached a preliminary agreement on a four-year, $52 million contract with Red Sox free agent center fielder Johnny Damon.
The signing leaves the Red Sox without a center fielder, and they have spoken in recent days about acquiring Mariners center field Jeremy Reed should Damon go elsewhere. The Mariners, according to the Boston Globe, are interested in Red Sox right-hander Bronson Arroyo, who went 14-10 with a 4.51 earned run average this past year.
The Mariners reportedly have offered Meche in trade talks with the Chicago Cubs to acquire Corey Patterson, who would replace Reed in center. Patterson lost his job in center field early this month when the Cubs acquired Juan Pierre from the Florida Marlins. A left-handed hitter who has never played in the American League, Patterson batted .215 this year with 13 home runs and 34 RBI in 126 games last season.
Meche, while aware that he could leave the Mariners via trade, wants a chance to rebound from a disappointing 2005 season. He went 10-8 with a 5.09 earned run average but struggled late in the season after starting 6-2.
“The last two years, I haven’t done what I expected out of myself and the team hasn’t done what the organization expects,” he said. “The changes we’ve made this offseason have filled some of the holes we’ve had. I definitely want to be there for the turnaround.”
Franklin, a fixture in the Mariners’ rotation the past three seasons, has been with the organization since it drafted him in the 23rd round in 1992. He went 11-13 and had a solid 3.57 earned run average in 2003, but followed that by going 4-16, 4.90 in 2004 and 8-15, 5.10 in 2005.
Franklin made $2.6 million this year and, with the possibility of earning at least $3 million and only a bullpen role available to him, he became expendable. He didn’t return phone calls Tuesday.
“They mentioned to him that the role they would have him in was something he didn’t want to do,” Meche said. “It’s better off letting him go. It’s sad, but he has a good chance to get a new start with somebody and be a starter. There’s some team that will take a guy like Frankie. He’ll eat up innings and keep you in the game.”
Despite his struggles the past two seasons, Franklin has been a workhorse since he broke into the majors in 1999 and has never spent time on the disabled list with an arm-related problem. He pitched more than 200 innings in the 2003 and 2004 seasons and would have done it again in 2005 but was used out of the bullpen the first two weeks of the season and was skipped for a start when the M’s adjusted the rotation after the All-Star break.
The Mariners also made two other moves Tuesday, one that probably ended Greg Dobbs’ time with the organization.
The team claimed left-handed relief pitcher Jake Woods off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels and made room for him on the 40-man roster by designating Dobbs for assignment.
If Dobbs clears waivers, the Mariners can assign him to the minor leagues. Chances would seem good, however, that another team would claim Dobbs, a left-handed-hitting infielder who has shown occasional power.
Dobbs, who began his career in 2001 with the Everett AquaSox, played 59 games for the Mariners this year, batting .246 with seven doubles, one home run and 20 RBI. After being recalled from Class AAA Tacoma on Aug. 20, he hit .269 with four doubles, one triple, one homer and 15 RBI in 32 games.
Woods, 1-1 with a 4.55 ERA in 28 relief appearances for the Angels this year, will compete for a spot in the bullpen at spring training. General manager Bill Bavasi said Woods is behind others with his arm strength but pitches with good control and a solid breaking ball against left-handed hitters.
“This gives us a shot at building up some arms that are more useful than what we have right now,” general manager Bill Bavasi said.