Other than pitching the Seattle Mariners infield was a strong suit in 2014 and will again in 2015. Robinson Cano, though tailing off in September, finished with a .314 average, 14 homers, and 82 RBI’s. His home run production dropped, but consider he spent his previous years in the band box of Yankee Stadium, a home run haven. While 100 RBI’s would be nice, consider the one and two slots in the order fluctuated greatly, with Abraham Almonte, James Jones, and then Austin Jackson batting leadoff and none were proficient at getting on base. The same was true of the number two slot until Dustin Ackley finally settled in.
Kyle Seager at third is also a sure thing with a .268 average, 26 home runs, and 96 RBI’s. He also works extremely hard on his defense, certainly a Gold Glove caliber candidate. One of those SABR mathematicians calculated this summer that the A’s John Donaldson was the best defensive third baseman in the American League and Seager was second.
I am including Mike Zunino among the infielders because I can. He is also a lock despite a .199 average. He hit 22 homers with 60 RBI’s and those numbers along with his ability to handle pitchers, call a game, and block pitches will keep him in the lineup. As long as his hitting improves he should be behind the plate for quite some time.
Now we get to the open positions at first and short. Justin Smoak is unlikely to return. His lack of production speaks for itself. In 2014 .202 with 7 homers and 30 RBI’s in 80 games. He lost his job to Logan Morrison. He is scheduled to make $3,650,000 in 2015, but the Mariners can buy out his contract for $150,000. The Mariners have the buyout option since he did not reach 525 plate appearances.
Morrison who signed a one year contract in the previous offseason is still under Mariner control, though he is arbitration eligible, and will not be a free agent until 2017. He hit .262 with 11 homers and 38 rbis in 99 games. Five of his homers and 11 of his RBI;s came in September when he hit .342. His main job for now is to man first base until D.J. Peterson, the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year is ready. That could be sometime in 2015,
Shortstop is up for grabs between Chris Taylor, a right handed batter-which the Mariners need-hitting .287 in 136 at bats, but no homers and only 9 RBI’s and Brad Miller, .221-10-36. It could be a spring training completion, though Mariner Manager Lloyd McClendon has hinted that Miller could be a super sub. It is also very possible that one could be packaged with a relief pitcher and a young pitcher for a strong right handed bat.
What Seattle needs is a DH. Corey Hart is already gone and Kendrys Morales most likely will be as well. One switch hitter on the free agent market is the Tigers Victor Martinez who hit .335 with 32 homers (career high) and 103 RBI’s. And he can play first base if needed. His last contract was 4 years and $50 million. He will be 36 next season. If he wants 4 years what is the price and will the Mariners be willing to pay. The Mariners have said the payroll will increase, but how much?
Stay tuned for an interesting off season as Jack pursues both a bat or two and a starting pitcher. Next blog we’ll look at the outfield.
I am not concerned about a deal where prospects are traded, though they need to keep D.J. Peterson, James Paxton, and possibly Chris Taylor, who may be the better shortstop long term, not Brad Miller. My concern is whether one player can make a difference for the Mariners to get into the playoffs.
Consider the Mariner offense. Logan Morrison or Justin Smoak at first. Neither has been consistent, both barely hitting over .200 and Smoak is in Tacoma. Corey Hart, whether in the outfield, at first, or DH has done nothing. Brad Miller is hitting around .180 in July and continues to flirt with the .200 mark. Mike Zunino despite his home run power is also flirting with the .200 Mendoza line. Endy Chavez and James Jones are both slumping.
The point is the Mariners do not have the chips to make enough moves to better the lineup. They could add one bat, but that one bat can not overcome the holes in the rest of the lineup. Even after adding Kendrys Morales, another bat will not make a difference. I would not mind another right handed bat, preferably an outfielder with power, but it would be a trade that improves Seattle for the long term, not just the short term. Seattle must battle the Yankees, Blue Jays, Indians, Royals, possibly the Rays and White Sox for the wild card and Seattle is slumping.
Another arm would be good, but the price of Price is too high. I had thought a couple of weeks ago another bat and another arm would help Seattle get that final wild card slot. And while anything can happen, Seattle can not add an arm to get them that final wild card spot because the Mariners will not give up what is needed and I don’t blame them. If the mariners were in the Angels position with a 7 1/2 game lead in the wild card race go for it.
The Mariners can make a trade for a pitcher, and like the bat they seek, it should be to improve the team in the long term. But right now, there are too many holes to fill.
After signing Robinson Cano, Corey Hart, and trading for Logan Morrison, there is no indication from the bridge of the Good Ship Mariner that they are coming back to port. The Mariner brass, dysfunctional or not, are still at sea looking for players to Shanghai for the Mariner Navy. (There is no Mariner Nation, we are sea bound you know and if the Seattle Mariners have not been out to sea the past few years, who has).
There is not much left in free agents for Seattle. There is no point in signing Shin-Soo Choo as he bats from the left side and the Mariners are already listing to the left in their lineup. There is shortstop Stephen Drew, but Brad Miller looks like the real deal and Nick Franklin is already out of job with the Cano signing and Drew bats from that darn left side. The Mariners need a backup catcher according to Trader Jack, but would Kurt Suzuki or John Buck sign to be backups.
The Mariners could try to resign Kendrys Morales, but they already have too many DH-first basemen with Hart, Morrison, and Justin Smoak. But they need a right handed hitting outfielder and there is Delmon Young or Franklin Gutierrez, should the M’s want to sign him to a incentive laden contract.
They still are looking for a starting pitcher and Bronson Arroyo, Pat Maholm, Jake Westbrook, and Barry Zito are available. They also want a reliever and they could fill that need with a free agent, but I think Trader Jack is trying to go the trade route as that is likely to be less costly. Seattle is willing to trade prospects like Franklin, or top minor league prospects like James Paxton, but not Taijuan Walker. Mike Zunino could go in a package deal and then sign either Suzuki or Buck.
The shopping list is clear. One starting pitcher, a relief pitcher, perhaps a closer, a right handed bat in the outfield, and a backup catcher. It would be nice to get those presents for Christmas before free agents land in other Christmas stockings and possible trades end up with Stockings full of coal.
Seattle has five free agents. One is Raul Ibanez who will be 42 next June and while he hit .267 with 24 homers and 56 rbi before the all-star game, the second half he only hit .203, 5 homers, and 9 rbi. It could be the second half he was tired, age can do that. Oliver Perez, a lefty reliever, always a sought after commodity, had a good first half, sporting a 1.75 ERA, but in second half saw an unsporting 7.94 ERA. Hard to know if Seattle wants either of these players back.
I am sure they will go without catcher Humberto Quintero and possibly Endy Chavez. The fifth, Seattle would like to sign, Kendrys Morales. But with a decent year at the plate and Scott Boras as an agent, he will be tough to sign. However, Morales’ options are limited as he is primarily a DH, so how many offers he gets is the question.
The picture above is the Good Ship Mariner coming into port, where the ship will dock and look for additional crew members, some of whom, may be shanghaied from local drinking establishments in Pioneer Square
Sailing right along, the Mariners declined options on Franklin Gutierrez, 30, because he has only played in 173 games out of the last 486 games due to injuries. Seattle can still negotiate with him. Considering how many games he missed there may not be many teams offering him a job. The Mariners could get him back cheap. He has been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory problem. He is taking medication to control the problem and the thinking is the inflammatory issue may have contributed to his other health issues. For the right price, he is worth the risk, but might be better suited for a fourth outfielder or in a platoon.
Joe Saunders is the other player whose option year was declined and his contract bought out. Left handed starters may be desired, but an 11-16 record, with a 5.26 ERA and a horrid .311 batting average against make this lefty less attractive. If they want to add a veteran free agent pitcher, which they seem to do every year, they could pursue free agent pitchers like Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, or dropping down one level, Dan Haren, Bronson Arroyo, or Scott Feldman. I say pass on A.J. Burnett, but doing so makes me think that is who they would get.
What everyday free agents the Mariners will pursue is anyone’s guess. They could use a first baseman, but only Mike Napoli, James Loney, Corey Hart (knee problems) and Justin Morneau are out there. If the M’s can’t get Morneau or Napoli (unlikely) than take a pass. The free agent market is not strong for Mariners needs, and many players want to go to a team that not only can win, but one they think is in the continental United States.
Seattle has been the top landing spot for Japanese players, but can they make an inroad for Cuban players, the new popular market for the next baseball superstar. Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, and now Jose Abreu.
Abreu has power, scouts predicting 25-30 home runs, being compared to the Pirates Pedro Alvarez, the Tigers Miguel Cabrera, even Kendrys Morales. Ask any scout and you get various comparisons. One scout said he is more like Edgar Martinez, meaning if he doesn’t hit, you get nothing. Unlike Cespedes and Puig, Abreu has no speed.
But can the Mariners win a bidding war with Texas, Boston, the Dodgers, San Francisco, the Mets, the White Sox, even the Marlins, all of whom have been mentioned as interested in Abreu. Though the Mariners have been rumored to be interested, the Dodgers seem to have an open checkbook and are willing to overpay.
The Mariners might be better off looking at Nelson Cruz, 33, a short term fix for power in the outfield or DH. But If they want to replace Justin Smoak at first and don’t get Abreu, they can pursue Justin Morneau. Mike Napoli has power, but strikes out a lot (185 in 2013) and his defense is not that great, and the Mariners clearly need defense. James Loney is younger, but lacks power. The one thing the Mariners are looking for though is a right handed bat and Cruz is right handed.
Cruz would be easier to land than Jacoby Ellsbury. I doubt the Red Sox will let him go without a fight, and if you are accustomed to winning as Ellsbury has been in Boston, why come to Seattle.
No matter what free agent names come up, Seattle has trouble landing big name players, They could not get Josh Hamilton or Prince Fielder and in the case of Hamilton that turned out to be a good non-deal. The point is they will not get a Robinson Cano, a Bruce McCann, a Carlos Beltran, or an Ellsbury.
But there might be a free agent pitcher to land. We I will look at that on Tuesday
Kendrys Morales hit .277, belted 23 homers, and drove in 80 runs; numbers that made him an elite hitter for Seattle. There is a better than average chance, however, he will be in another uniform next season.
At the conclusion of the World Series teams have five days to submit to their own free agents a qualifying offer. The average salary of the top 125 players for the prior season is figured and that is the qualifying offer. The player then has seven days to accept or decline, thus becoming a free agent. The offer to Morales is around $13.8 million, give or take a few hundred thousand. I heard on a local sports radio station, Morales has already turned down the offer. Not surprising since last year eight of the nine turned down the qualifying offer. David Ortiz was the only player last season to accept a deal with his current team.
The Mariners knew Morales was going to turn down the offer, if indeed he did as reported. It is in the best interest of the free agent to get the best deal possible. And since Scott Boras is Morales’s agent, you can see where it is going. Last year two of the eight eventually resigned with their own club. So the Mariners will have to negotiate along with all clubs interested in Morales. His reported salary for this season was $5.25 million. Do the Mariners really want to pay more than $14-15 million. For the numbers he put up I think it unlikely.
So if Seattle chooses not to go deep into a bidding war, that leaves Jesus Montero as the most likely candidate for DH. He did not hit well taking PEDS, so how good can he hit without them? Everyone says he can hit and Montero must know Seattle is the best place for him to succeed, because catching will not keep him in the major leagues.
The other option for Seattle is the free agent market where they might be able to get someone at a more reasonable price. For now this is the first Mariner hot stove topic of the offseason. But with the Seahawks garnering the headlines, no one is sitting around the Mariner hot stove. At least not yet.
Seattle manager Eric Wedge insisted his resignation had nothing to do with him not being offered an extension or long term contract. I would like to take him at his word, but with General Manager Jack Zduriencik getting a one year extension, it makes you wonder.
Wedge did say his vision is different than Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln, who along with Trader Jack make the big decisions. Wedge is for the youth movement. “It’s just about sticking with the kids that you believe in, adding to it and being patient,” he said. Adding that “Every time you turn over, you start over again to a certain extent.”
So, if Wedge is leaving because upper management has a different vision, and if Wedge’s vision is for being patient with the youth movement, one could conclude the Mariners are planning on another turnover, perhaps unloading some of the young players for some veterans. At least that is what it sounds like.
But that makes little sense. They spent a lot of time developing these kids and many show promise. Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, Taijuan Walker, Jimmy Paxton look like major leaguers. Would they be traded? Certainly not Walker or Paxton with pitching at a premium. Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders will not get much in return.
Wedge also mentioned the Mariners roster was heavy with older players. It is true that Jason Bay, Michael Morse, Aaron Harang, Jeremy Bonderman, and according to wedge, Franklin Gutierrez, did not work out well. But Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales did work out. And he mentioned the failure of Brendan Ryan and Jesus Montero, and having to send down Dustin Ackley. The problem with what he is talking about can be said for every team. There are always some players that do not work out, and some that return to the minors and get recalled.
What a manager says to the press and what he thinks privately are not always the same, so Wedge’s reasons could be anything. It is clear Mariner upper management has no 20-20 vision. I do not know how the new ownership is going to fall out, but someone needs to take control, say adios to Chuck and Howard, putting them in a dinghy, giving them a compass and map to Pitcairn Island. They can take some Mariner dogs with them of course.