By KIRBY ARNOLD
His next lineup card won’t include the names Rodriguez or Griffey.
Lou Piniella finally, even though grudgingly, can accept that.
“It’s time to move on,” the Seattle Mariners’ manager said.
But how? And with whom?
A week after Alex Rodriguez decided to leave Seattle for a $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers, Piniella and his front-office are working on a way to replace him.
“We’ve got to get some power,” Piniella said, not in a wishful manner, but as a blunt reminder of the challenge before general manager Pat Gillick.
The Mariners have some experience at this, having followed the loss of Ken Griffey Jr. a year ago with a run six games deep into the American League Championship Series.
Nobody needs to tell Piniella and Gillick what life could be like if the Mariners don’t add some brawn to their lineup. The Mariners had only two players – Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez – who hit .300 or better last season, and the team batting average was a puny .269, 12th in the 14-team American League.
Anybody know what you call the next level below “little ball?”
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve lost close to 100 home runs in Alex and Griffey,” Piniella said. “Last year we were able to get away with it. But now that we’ve lost the second part, Alex, it’s obvious we need to inject some power into this lineup.”
It’s got to be power in the right places, though.
Much of the RBI potential available through free agency seems to reside in outfielders, the one position the Mariners are overflowing with personnel. It’s the infield where the holes are, at shortstop and third base, and the Mariners also would love to improve their offense at the catching position.
Gillick doesn’t want to clutter his outfield any further, saying “what we do probably is going to be on the infield.”
But, after the Mariners missed trade opportunities last week to obtain shortstops Royce Clayton of the Rangers and Fernando Tatis of the Cardinals, Piniella says the team needs at least two more power hitters and believes they may have to settle on the best men available regardless of position.
“Wherever the position is, except for first base, we would look at doing something,” Piniella said.
Gillick, who says he’ll pursue help via trade or free agent signings, knows this may be a project that takes a while.
“There’s no timetable,” he said. “The only timetable is before the season opens.”
The man who needs a few hitters around him the most is Martinez, who is sitting naked in the middle of the batting order. Opposing pitchers are likely to pitch around him if there’s no offensive threat before or after Martinez.
The most often-heard name in trade talks is San Diego third baseman Phil Nevin, who hit .303 with 31 home runs and 107 RBI last season. The Mariners reportedly offered relief pitcher Brett Tomko and infielder Carlos Guillen for Nevin more than a month ago, but the Padres balked.
The Mariners, Piniella said, have continued to talk with the Padres. Guillen, who may see considerable time at shortstop, no longer appears to be part of a trade package now that Rodriguez is gone.
Instead, they may need to turn loose more pitching. With a pitching staff that is potentially seven deep in starters, the Mariners have the pieces to swing a deal … or two.
“Our pitching basically is our strength and our depth,” Piniella said. “I’m hoping we can use it to get two or three players to help us offensively. We need to add to our offense as much as we can and not disturb our pitching too much.”
As the trade season enters full swing, here’s where the challenges are greatest for the Mariners:
“If we go with Guillen at short, we’re going to have to pick up somebody who can help him,” Piniella said. “Our plans now are to give him an opportunity, but at the same time we’ve had trouble keeping him healthy for an entire year.
“I saw Caruso play two years ago with the White Sox, and a few of our scouts saw him last year (in the minor leagues). They thought he was worth the risk.”
“One of the places we can add power is third base, and that remains a focus,” Piniella said.
“We like our catching,” Gillick said.
Gillick didn’t say the M’s wouldn’t add to their catching, but Piniella essentially did.
“We’re hoping Danny (Wilson) can bounce back with the bat,” Piniella said. “We’ve been talking with Lampkin about bringing him back. We’ve just got to make sure he’s going to be ready to go. That’s really been the only holdup with him.”
Lampkin was hitting .252 before he was injured, but had seven home runs and 23 RBI in only 103 at-bats. With the Mariners desperately needing another solid left-handed hitter, Lampkin’s full recovery could be vital in 2001.
“We need three more bats here, but if we get two, we’ll feel good,” Piniella said.
And the sting of Rodriguez’s departure won’t feel as badly as it did when the Mariners lost him last week.
“We’ve all got to put that behind us now,” Piniella said, “and get a few people in here who can swing the bat.”
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