Ms reloading, not rebuilding

Seattle has a busy offseason as the AL West gets tougher

If the Seattle Mariners don't duplicate the success they achieved under former General Manager Pat Gillick, it won't be because the new guy didn't try.

New GM Bill Bavasi has brought in what he hopes will be pearls. He did not land the most highly sought player, Miguel Tejada, who signed with Baltimore, but he acquired left fielder Raul Ibanez, third baseman Scott Spiezio, shortstop Rich Aurilia and lefty reliever Eddie Guardado Ñand he might not be done.

The Mariners, who open spring training Feb. 20 in Peoria, Ariz., and open the exhibition season March 4 against San Diego, reportedly covet another big bat and want a second left-handed reliever to complement Guardado.

Seattle won 393 games in four years under Gillick, who resigned last fall, but winning 93 in each of the past two seasons wasn't enough to make the American League playoffs.

And it appears the AL West Division won't be any easier, given Oakland's pitching, Texas' offense and Anaheim's offseason moves Ñ acquiring outfielder Vladimir Guerrero and pitcher Bartolo Colon should put the 2002 World Series champs back in contention.

The Mariners hit only 139 home runs last year, and 59 of those were by two players Ñ Edgar Martinez and Bret Boone. Seattle clearly needed to upgrade its offense, so it signed Spiezio and Aurilia, sacrificing defense on the left side of the infield and letting Jeff Cirillo (to San Diego) and Carlos Guillen (to Detroit) go.

'Sometimes you have to sacrifice defense for offense,' Seattle Manager Bob Melvin tells reporters. 'But Aurilia is a sure-handed guy with about the same range as Carlos. And Spiezio was always considered a fine third baseman,' although he played mostly first base for Anaheim.

Spiezio, who had clutch home runs in Anaheim's 2002 title drive, hit 58 homers in four seasons there. He signed for three years and $9 million.

Aurilia, 32, had 37 home runs and 97 RBIs in 2001 but tailed off with only 28 combined the past two years. He suffered from an eye condition that affected his vision at the plate, but apparently had the problem fixed and hit .312 in the second half last season. He signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal.

For three years and $13.25 million, Bavasi signed Ibanez, the former Mariner whose career took off in Kansas City. Randy Winn will move to center field, where Gold Glover Mike Cameron roamed for four years; Cameron signed with the New York Mets.

And the Mariners brought in Quinton McCracken, who can play all three outfield positions.

In search of more pop, the Mariners lost some defensive potential, but even though they play in pitching-and-defense friendly Safeco Field, they had to score more runs.

Like Gillick, Bavasi is reluctant to load up on one big salary, which made Tejada, who signed a six-year, $72 million deal with the Orioles, too expensive.

'You can drop all our bombs on one bat, which may leave a few holes, and those holes will find you in the course of a season,' Bavasi says. 'If you look at the real good clubs, a lot of times they're teams that just don't have holes.'

The Mariners still have John Olerud at first base and Boone at second, and re-signed Ichiro Suzuki to a four-year, $44 million deal in right field. After pondering retirement, designated hitter Martinez signed to play one more year; the Mariners need him to stay healthy. Ben Davis probably will become the primary catcher, ahead of Dan Wilson.

The pitching staff remains much the same, although the M's let Arthur Rhodes sign with Oakland. The projected starters are the same: Freddy Garcia, who signed a one-year, $6.875 million deal, veteran Jamie Moyer, Ryan Franklin, Joel Pineiro and Gil Meche. Pineiro and Meche remain unsigned, pending salary arbitration.

In time, Guardado, who had 41 saves for Minnesota last year, could replace Kazuhiro Sasaki as closer. Also returning will be Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Rafael Soriano and Julio Mateo. The Mariners signed submarine-throwing lefty Mike Myers to a minor-league deal, and they hope he can compete with righty Kevin Jarvis for the one remaining roster spot in the bullpen.