Do the Mariners a favor--don't believe one word from them or the media if it tries to lower expectations for next season. The only reason the Mariners can't get significantly better this year is their own stupidity.
Two of the better Mariner bloggers still going--it's been a tough year on everyone--have laid out specific plans for the offseason that fall well below the publically declared budget contraints and don't morgage the future, while improving the team now and for the long haul.
Trent at Leone For Third outlines his plan and comes in at $76.2 Million. Dave at USSMariner explains his proposal and comes in at $86.1 Million. Trent's plan relies on trades a lot more, which makes it a lot more speculative, since it depends on the cooperation of other GMs. But let's look at the similarities in Trent's and Dave's plan:
Each recommends signing Adrian Beltre, Matt Clement, and J.D. Drew. Taking the highest estimates for each player, that would cost $26 Million. Each plan recommmends trading Randy Winn and Ryan Franklin, who are guaranteed a combined $6.1 Million next year. Both agree that Wilson will be back for $1M and that Guardado will be the closer, even if that's a bad idea. Both agree that the M's need a viable shortstop option if Jose Lopez doesn't work out. Both say that considering the options, sticking Ibanez at first base is probably the best route. Neither expect anything out of Spiezio.
The most important thing to take away from this is that two knowledgable fans were, in a matter of weeks, able to assess the Mariner's needs and make a plan that would fit within their resources and meet those needs.
Of course, both plans aren't as comprehensive as the a front office strategy needs to be, since they offer one scenario, not a multitude of choices if one or more trades or signings doesn't pan out. In addition, both plans are, I think, optimistic about the Mariners' willingness to let go of players that they have thought were valuable and easy to retain--Winn and Franklin. Both players play positions that can be upgraded, and the big disappointment for me would be to see the M's hedge offers to Clement and Drew because they figure they already have a full outfield and rotation.
So a big barrier to the M's succeeding in the off-season is tentativeness. They need to be decisive and resolute. If the worry about letting current players go is public perception, there's an easy response to nay-sayers: "You don't want us to field the same team we did last year, right?"
Of course, they also have to be reasonably intelligent. Being decisive about the wrong moves just digs us into a deeper hole.