Mariners posing serious threat to Angels in Hot Stove season
Seattle stole Angels igniter Chone Figgins and are interested in John Lackey
The M's are by no means a poor team, and they have $50M coming off the books
Some think the Red Sox are more interested in Lackey than Holliday; more notes
INDIANAPOLIS -- There's something wild happening out West, where the Mariners are establishing themselves a threat to the preeminent Angels -- at least in wintertime. Seattle stole the Angels' igniter Chone Figgins by outbidding its rival to the south by one year and $1 million per year (the Mariners' winning bid was $9 million a year for four years, while the incumbent Angels were at $8 mil per for three) and appears to have its sights on two more players that interest the Angels: star left fielder Jason Bay and star pitcher John Lackey, the Angels' ace over the past few years.
Seattle has a second-year star general manager in Jack Zduriencik, who undoubtedly earned his bosses' confidence by getting Russell Branyan and David Aardsma for practically nothing last winter, and also for trading fading reliever J.J. Putz for six young players. While Bay and Lackey are the glossiest of Mariners targets, they also want to bring back Branyan and have big backup plans that include Marlon Byrd, Rich Harden, Randy Wolf, Joel Pineiro and Jarrod Washburn should Bay and Lackey go elsewhere.
"Watch out for the Mariners," warned one competing GM about the team that's already signaled it means business. The swiping of Figgins is a nice start, especially since it came for $4 million a year less than the Yankees gave Johnny Damon, a comparably excellent leadoff man, four years ago.
The Mariners are by no means a poor team, and their current coffers are significantly enhanced by close to $50 million coming off its books. The defection of unwanted catcher Kenji Johjima was an especially pleasant surprise, and only added to the windfall that came from expiring the contracts of Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, Erik Bedard and Miguel Batista. It should be noted, though, that the Mariners are also trying to lock up superstar pitcher Felix Hernandez in a long-term deal. And that could take some serious dough, as King Felix will be seeking $100 million over six years from the Mariners.
Zduriencik's team surprised folks by quickly stealing Figgins, who could play third if Beltre doesn't return (he was offered arbitration, but is said to be "unlikely" to accept), second (Jose Lopez could be moved to first or elsewhere) or even left field. But Bay, a native of Trail, British Columbia and resident of the Northwest, appears to be a strong target, though he couldn't expect to hit as many home runs in Safeco as he hit in Fenway Park.
Angels owner Arte Moreno isn't expected to sit idly by as the Mariners surpass them, though, in what promises to be a spirited competition out West. Moreno's on record saying he has about $12 million to spend, but Moreno is a competitive man, and the Angels' own fine GM Tony Reagins is juggling several interesting possibilities, as well. The Angels are thought to be dangling left fielder Juan Rivera as they pursue Bay (but not Matt Holliday, interestingly enough), and while they already have decent rotation depth, they remain interested in retaining the tough-minded Lackey while they are also thought to be pursuing what appears to be a long-shot effort to land superstar pitcher Roy Halladay.
If the Angels stick to the stated plan to spend only $12 million, that might leave room for only one big hitter or one big pitcher, and Bay or Lackey still seems more within their reach than Halladay. While Halladay's main priority is to get to a perennial winner and the Angels obviously qualify there, there's practically no chance they'd offer the type of talent needed to land such a star without a window to lock Halladay up long term, and though Halladay may be willing to go west for a year (agent Greg Landry said they'll make calls on a "case-by-case" basis), there's no assurance the Oldsmar, Fla., resident would commit to a multiyear deal with a team that plays in California and trains in Arizona. Oddly enough, there hasn't been evidence yet that Halladay will insist on an extension, but in this case, that request may actually come from the teams who see Halladay as more valuable if he comes with a multiyear deal.
Lackey isn't limiting his choices to one coast or the other, though some executives believe he'd prefer Texas, where he's from (Abilene is his home), or the West Coast, where his new wife is from. Some teams earlier sensed the Angels weren't going hard after Lackey, but if that were true, the presence of the Mariners in that derby could change things. The Angels surely will be willing to bid beyond their original spring bid of close to $50 million over four years, but one person familiar with the Angels' thinking said they won't repeat the $100 million-plus offer made to CC Sabathia last winter. He has told teams he should be north of A.J. Burnett's $82.5 million, five-year deal, and it's hard to disagree with that.
The Yankees, Red Sox, Brewers, Rangers and Nationals are among other teams known to have interest in Lackey, who like Halladay has a bulldog rep. But it's possible it could still come down to another battle out west.
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