Ruggiano Acquired, Seth Smith Watch Begins

proof that Seth Smith plays the outfield
(Julio Enriquez, Flickr via Wikemedia Commons)
The Mariners made a small move today that they tried to play as a big one by sending out a bulk e-mail about it to fans. They acquired OF Justin Ruggiano from the Cubs for minor league pitcher Matt Brazis.

Let's start with Brazis. He is a 25-year-old righty bullpen arm that put up some great numbers split between High Desert and Jackson. However, he is already a bullpen arm, and a bit old for the leagues he was playing in. He could prove to be replacement level bullpen arm in the majors, but it's doubtful he turns into much more. The Mariners farm system remains in tact.

Then again, the Mariners didn't acquire an incredible talent either, though Ruggiano brings some needed skills. Ruggiano, now 32 years old, broke through a few seasons ago with a surprising second-half surge in Miami. He has never duplicated that magical half-season, but he continues to flash a surprising power-speed combo with limited contact and on-base skills. He combines that with an adequate outfield glove that's even capable of playing in center field. Basically, Ruggiano is a poor team's version of Michael Saunders - or, perhaps a mirror image of Saunders. Ruggiano bats right-handed, seemingly a requirement for the Mariners to pursue a batter these days.

Justin Ruggiano is not an everyday player for a contending team, though his skillset would be very nice to have on the bench. With that said, finding Ruggiano a platoon partner could work out nicely. His wRC+ for his career against lefties is 128, while against righties it is 94. If you aren't familiar with wRC+, a score of 100 is league average. Ruggiano doesn't have a massive split, and he's not a black hole against righties, but he's clearly better against lefties. Moreover, he's better enough, and in the right talent range, that the little edge is the difference between a bench player and a bona fide starter.

So, it would make good sense for the Mariners to find another corner outfielder with a complimentary split. Enter Seth Smith of the San Diego Padres, who I will admit I have been a longtime fan of. I love his swing and overall offensive game. It should play nicely in Safeco Field. Smith, for his career, has a 123 wRC+ against righties and a suicidal 63 wRC+ against lefties. That is a truly massive platoon split, and it's so crippling (given Smith's below-average defense) that it pretty much makes Smith a role player.

Smith, by the way, should be available in the very near future. The Padres have rumored deals complete for Matt Kemp and Wil Myers, both corner outfielders at this point. There would be no logical place for Smith to play, and given his non-prospect status without a role on the Padres, he should not cost the M's a top prospect.

If the Mariners acquired Smith and paired him intelligently with Ruggiano, they are looking at slightly below average defense with a 120 wRC+ in right field. For comparison, Saunders posted a 126 wRC+ last season with above average defense. Saunders is still the better option, but at least at the dish he would not be missed too badly in this scenario.

So let the Seth Smith watch begin, because at this point he's the guy that makes both the Saunders and Ruggiano trades make sense. I still despise the Saunders-Happ trade, but I would tip my cap to Zduriencik if he finds a way to string together a decent everyday right-fielder out of non-premium prospects.

No Melky, Probably a Problem, But We Shall See

Dexter Fowler (Wikimedia Commons, author EricEnfermero)
The White Sox signed Melky Cabrera to a 3-year, $42 million deal. Why the Mariners could not match or better this deal is beyond me. I had really warmed to the idea of Melky replacing Michael Saunders* because the Mariners are a team worth spending money on.

*For the record, I fully expect the Saunders-Happ deal to turn out badly. I do not like that deal at all. Happ is a rental that might turn out to be the M's sixth best starter. Now they have a hole in the outfield. Happ is also older, more expensive, and on a shorter contract than Saunders. Happ is a decent lefty. I don't expect him to bomb, but the trade is still remarkably bad.

The Mariners really need a right fielder and the free agent market looks pretty barren at this point. Jack Zduriencik will do something, and at this point I have resigned myself to the fact that either Taijuan Walker or James Paxton will be peddled for an "impact" bat. The only realistic impact target is Justin Upton, who is a free agent after 2015 and only unblocked the M's from his no-trade clause this past year. I like Upton, but do not like the idea of trading a premium prospect for him, all things considered.

There are some other options though! None of them are as good as Michael Saunders, but we no longer live in a world where Michael Saunders exists on the Mariners roster. With a little creativity the M's could find a nice right-fielder though. Some ideas:

  • Justin Upton - The Braves are significantly retooling, and behind closed doors I bet they would admit that they do not care how competitive they are in 2015. The Nationals are really good right now, but face some contract crunches after next season. So, I bet Atlanta really cares about being good in 2016. That makes Justin Upton rather expendable. The problem is that he probably costs either Walker or Paxton, unless Zduriencik gets creative. Personally, I wonder what would happen if the Mariners took on both Justin and B.J. Upton. Would absorbing those contracts only cost Erasmo Ramirez and a lower level prospect or two?
  • B.J. Upton - Mancrushes die hard, I suppose, because I still see a glimmer of hope in B.J. He remains an adequate defender in center field, which means he is a good candidate to be an above average defender in right. Furthermore, B.J. still sports one of the highest walk rates in baseball and he still steals bases at an above average rate. Upton is also only 30 years old, which is easy to forget with how long he has been around in the big leagues. I would not want to count on B.J. Upton to be an everyday player on a contending team, but I bet he could be had for very cheap and a change of scenery back to the American League might help him find a bit of his dynamic form from his Tampa years.
  • Dexter Fowler - Truth be told, this is the guy I would target if I were in Jack Z's shoes at this point. He is a free agent after the 2015 season, which should suppress his trade value some. I would dangle Erasmo Ramirez and I would think that the Astros would have to listen and think about that deal long and hard. Fowler is a remarkalby similar player to Melky Cabrera, believe it or not. Both are switch-hitters with similar production profiles. Fowler was worth 17.3 runs of offense according to Fangraphs, which compares quite favorably to Melky's 16.0 runs. Fowler's defense grades out worse - but only slightly worse than Cabrera while playing center field, which is a more demanding defensive position. Fowler should not be a center fielder anyway. He could be moved to right field and has a decent chance to be as productive as Melky Cabrera - and for only a shade under $6 million.
  • Allen Craig - Craig absolutely tanked last year, but was a solid 2+ WAR player for three seasons prior. However, many trends in his stats are troubling, in particular a long and precipitous fall in his power numbers. Craig would be a borderline reclamation project, which means he should not be depending on as a cog in a contending team's lineup. However, if the Mariners can't find anyone else, this would be one of their best gambles. He might be worth gambling on even if the M's find someone else for right field, particularly if they can get him for something like Stefen Romero and an organizational depth arm - a guy like Jordan Pries.
  • Colby Rasmus - The Mariners probably won't sign Rasmus, but they should consider it. Defensive ratings fluctuate wildly for him, but he remains very athletic and in his prime at 28 years old, plus he has played center field his whole career. He has a good chance to grade out as a good (or even great) right fielder. Rasmus also packs some thump in his bat, though it comes with an absurd amount of strikeouts. Rasmus is left-handed and sports a large platoon split, so that's enough to probably strike him from the M's thoughts. However, I would look at signing him and sitting him against lefties. Nelson Cruz can play right in those instances, and maybe that's enough outfield time to keep Cruz happy.
In general, my strategy and preference is to find a center fielder and convert him to right field. I think the Mariners could find some hidden value there - or, at the very least, I prefer to take a gamble on someone making that transition instead of someone who is already trying to hang on as a corner outfielder. With that said, my sinking fear is that the Mariners will acquire Dayan Viciedo from the White Sox and make him the next Carl Everett** or (gasp) maybe even the next Brad Wilkerson.

**Never forget the RALLY DINO!

Seager Staying Put

...Or, alternatively, Mariners Prove Even Mariners Can Produce AND Keep Home-Grown Position Player.

Kyle Seager (Wikemedia Commons, User UCInternational. Source: Flickr, author hj_west)
Reports surfaced this morning that the Mariners and Kyle Seager are placing the finishing touches on a 7-year, $100 million deal with an option for a $20 million eighth year. Year-by-year totals aren't available yet (and may never be officially available; Zduriencik tends to be tight-lipped) but presumably the annual money escalates for at least a little while. This deal buys out all three of Seager's arbitration years and then four of his free agency seasons. Seager is now under contract until he is 33 years old, ensuring his entire prime is played in navy and teal.

The real significance in Seager's deal comes from the dearth of contracts to players like Seager for a long, long time. However, first, the deal itself is very good for the Mariners.

Reports also surfaced this morning that both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval signed with the Red Sox, for 4 years-$88 million and 5 years-$90 million respectively. Ramirez is four years older than Seager and produced 3.4 fWAR last season, compared to Seagers 5.5 fWAR. Sandoval is only a little over a year older than Seager and posted a 3.0 fWAR.

Simply put, both Ramirez and Sandoval are older, inferior to Seager's overall talent level right now, and still earned average annual values in their contract right around what Seager might make in his option year, which is presumably a peak annual value. While I would expect Seager's deal to be cheaper annually because all three of his arbitration years were bought out, it is clear that the free agent seasons bought out in his contract are still well under the current going rate for starting infielders of his caliber. Financially, Seager's contract is a great deal for the Mariners.

However, the real significance of this contract comes from the echoes of Mariners history...and the echoes go on for a long time. The hallway of homegrown hitters signed to contract extensions has a long, bleak stretch that spanned unblemished until today.

Consider this stunning, depressing, and amazing fact: Kyle Seager is only the second home-grown position player the Mariners have signed to a contract extension that was drafted in my lifetime. The other is Ken Griffey Jr. and he barely counts. I was born in January 1987 and he was drafted that June. I don't particularly remember him being drafted, though of course remember him playing. Also, Griffey's extension was nothing like Seager's. It was not a long-term deal and he ultimately signed a long-term extension upon a trade to the Cincinnati Reds.

Now, if you are like me, you are probably asking, "but what about (insert several M's hitters)?" Here are those answers:

  • Jay Buhner: Not home-grown. Acquired in a trade with the Yankees, forever captured in a Seinfeld episode.
  • Ichiro: Debatably could be included, though I wouldn't say he was developed by the Mariners. He signed as an international free agent, never spent a day in the minors, and was the AL MVP in his first MLB season after making the jump. He was a free agent acquisition in my eyes.
  • Edgar Martinez: Signed as a 16-year-old in 1982, before I was born.
  • Dan Wilson: Not home-grown. Acquired in a trade with the Reds.
There are also the hitters that got away. The Mariners had some chances, a few more obvious than others:
  • Jose Cruz Jr: Had a decent career - elsewhere, after he was traded to the Jays for bullpen depth.
  • Raul Ibanez: Allowed to walk for nothing and emerge with the Royals, before coming back to Seattle a couple times.
  • Tino Martinez: Traded to the Yankees, after becoming an All-Star in Seattle, for Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock.
  • David Ortiz: Traded to the Twins for Dave Hollins, though Ortiz was a raw prospect and a no-name at the time of the trade.
  • Jason Varitek: Traded to the Red Sox (along with Derek Lowe) for Heathcliff Slocumb. Never forget.
  • Alex Rodriguez: Undeniable talent, but hard to argue the M's ultimately lost out when he signed with Texas.
The list could grow with names such as Bret Boone added, but he was traded for Dan Wilson, so that seems harsh and not really in the spirit of this post. Boone was not a missed opportunity; he was a trade chip for another long-term piece (and he even came back and enjoyed his best seasons in Seattle anyway).

The Mariners are maligned for their inability to produce hitting prospects, and to a degree they have earned that reputation. However, they had several chances to lock up home-grown hitters the past quarter century, and for one reason or another, never did.

Until today. Kyle Seager, Mariner for life. Today, Kyle Seager transitioned from lovable surprise and a secret of the Pacific Northwest to one of the core position players in all of Mariners history. He will go down as one of the best to ever play in Seattle thanks to this contract.

Making Sense of the Hanley Rumors

Hanley Ramirez (Wikimedia Commons, user TonyTheTiger)
The Mariners, reportedly, have shown initial interest in SS Hanley Ramirez. This makes little sense at first glance, and it is important to qualify that rumors are rumors. Many whispers, particularly this time of year, come from agents trying to drive up the price tag on their players. The Mariners say they have money to spend and they want right-handed hitters, so it is possibly (if not likely) in the rumor source's best interest to say that the Mariners are interested in Hanley Ramirez.

Likewise, the Mariners should be interested in Hanley at the right price. If he signs a league minimum with the M's, who would complain? However, hidden underneath the "interest" is the deeper question about money. Would Hanley be worth the money it takes to sign him? That's a tougher question to answer, but the more I look at Hanley, the more I like him as a free agent target.

To start with, Hanley is somewhere between a good and great hitter. He has some power but his real value is in finding the gaps with a nice average and on-base percentage, not unlike Robinson Cano. Fangraphs estimates that Hanley's offense was worth 21.8 runs last year,* which is in line with his career averages and somewhere between good and great.

*For context, Fangraphs estimates that Kyle Seager's offense was worth 16.4 runs last year and Cano's 28.8 runs.

Ramirez also plays shortstop, a premium defensive position, though he has never been noted as a good defender (or all that bad either.) Chris Taylor is certainly a better defender than Hanley, and Brad Miller is arguably a better one too. Hanley could potentially switch over to third base or left field (he's reportedly willing to do either), but he certainly won't supplant Kyle Seager and even Dustin Ackley isn't a gimme to be supplanted anymore at this point. It's hard to imagine Ramirez playing a better left field than Ackley, which means he would have to outhit by a sizeable margin. He might do that, but at that point is the financial burden worth it?

However, Hanley Ramirez is a good enough hitter that he might still make good sense. He compares quite well against the popular Mariners target in rumor circles, Victor Martinez. V-Mart makes perfect sense. He's already a full-time DH and he absolutely raked last season. Martinez is the seemingly natural fit for the Mariners.

Indeed, Martinez was amazing last season. His offense was worth a whopping 40.7 runs last season, the 7th highest total in all of baseball. But the 2014 version of Victor Martinez has come and gone. The real question is what the 2015 version will do...

...and the odds are that 2015 V-Mart will be a good hitter, but not 2014 good. He just enjoyed the best season he will ever have. Martinez's best offensive season before 2014 was 2009 when he got traded from Cleveland to Boston and totaled a value of 20.4 runs. Yes, Victor's 2014 was literally twice as good as any other season he ever had.

It would be foolish to project anything beyond a value of 20 offensive runs from Victor Martinez, which, coincidentally is right around what Hanley Ramirez produced in 2014 in what was a rather normal season by his standards. Additionally, Hanley Ramirez is six years younger than Victor Martinez and can still play some defense around the diamond.

Hanley's relative youth is likely to get him a longer deal than Victor Martinez, but there is no guarantee a team will have to pay Hanley more per year than Victor at this point. The free agent market is in its infant stages and still developing. Who knows what happens.

For now, I would hope that the Mariners have reached out to Hanley Ramirez. If they are hellbent on getting a right-handed slugger for Safeco Field, I would much rather have Ramirez than Martinez if the annual salaries are close to equal. Of course, I would probably pass on both of them at the prices they are likely to demand, but if Victor Martinez makes sense for the Mariners then Hanley Ramirez makes even more sense for them.

Mariners 2015 Offseason Plan

Yoenis Cespedes
(Kieth Allison, wikimedia commons)
It is impossible to say what the Mariners will do this offseason. The free agent and trade markets are too dynamic. So, instead of fearless predictions, I offer the strategy I would put together if I were Jack Zduriencik with targets that fit the plan.

The Mariners have the luxury of finally having a pretty decent team without a ton of glaring holes. That gives them some flexibility and I am curious to see how they use it. Here is how I would go about the offseason:
  • Pick up Hisashi Iwakuma's 2015 option ($7 million): Total no-brainer here. One of the best deals in Major League Baseball. The rotation looks pretty solid with Iwakuma back in the fold. It would go something like this:
  1. King Felix
  2. James Paxton
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Taijuan Walker
  5. Roenis Elias
Yes, I'd put Paxton second, for a couple reasons. First, his power stuff from the left side contrasts with both Felix and Kuma's deadly offspeed repertoire from the right side. Second, Paxton, Walker, and Elias all are yet to prove they consistently get deep into ballgames. I want some more certain rest for the bullpen spread throughout the rotation instead of bunched up at the top.

  • Sign a DH. The market isn't great for hitters but the Mariners can take advantage of the DH and get someone serviceable at a reasonable price. Aging sluggers that are defensive/injury liabilities won't get much attention from NL clubs. The Mariners could dangle an offer for significant playing time on a potential playoff contender, instead of a chance to pinch hit every now and then. That should appeal to some batters. I would prefer an aging slugger with defensive liabilities because I think that's the kind of player who can have an impact on a cost-effective, short-term deal. My targets, in order of preference:
  1. Josh Willingham: Willingham finished the year on KC's bench and never saw the light of day with Ned Yost's..."steady hand" at the helm. He should have played more than he did. Still, Willingham is about to turn 36 years and has never been noted for his defense. Willingham brings power and on-base skills from the right side, and because he got buried on the Royals bench he might come a bit cheaper.
  2. Victor MartinezClearly, V-Mart is the most talented option, but I cringe at how much money (and the length of the deal!) that would pry him out of Detroit. Plus, he won't duplicate 32 home runs ever again, meaning he hits the market at a peak value he'll never reach again. The Mariners don't need an albatross of a contract sitting at DH.
  3. Billy Butler: Butler played ahead of Willingham for the Royals but that doesn't mean he's the better hitter. Butler doesn't have Willingham's power and his eye seems to be deserting him too. Plus, thanks to all the playing time in the middle of the order of a World Series team, Butler will probably be more expensive - thought not by much since he's perceived as a pure DH. Butler is only 28 years old, so perhaps he can bounce back with a change of scenery, but I still like Willingham better. I'm not looking for a long-term option at DH - and if I am, I might as well pay a clearly superior Victor Martinez.
  4. Mike Morse: Would the Mariners dare a third try with Morse? He has hit for power when he's not with the Mariners and makes some good sense at a reasonable price if he can put a season more like his ones in Washington and San Francisco. Third time's a charm?
  5. Michael Cuddyer: The Rockies, interestingly, put a qualifying offer on Cuddyer, which jacks up the price for signing him quite a bit. It's too high of a price, in my opinion, given his age and mounting injury history.
  • Dangle Michael Saunders and Yoervis Medina in a trade for a corner outfielder. I really like Michael Saunders, but I wonder how much damage the M's did when they questioned his work ethic publicly. It might make sense for Jack Z to shop him around and avoid any awkward tension next season. Along with that, the M's bullpen already has too many good arms. I would ship out Medina, but really just about any arm would do. My trade targets:
  1. Yoenis Cespedes: Boston might shop Cespedes because he has only a year before free agency. He brings a thunderous right-handed bat and is also cost-friendly at only $9 million. Given all the affordable team controlled years Boston adds in a deal for Saunders and Medina this is a trade that makes quite a bit sense and could happen.
  2. Matt Kemp: Kemp isn't the defender he used to be, but he had a very good season at the dish. If he can be convinced to move to a corner outfield spot, and the Dodgers take on a hefty chunk of what he's owed, this deal could make some sense. The Mariners could kick in a prospect like Tyler Marlette to knock the price tag down further.
  3. Marcell Ozuna: Everyone talks about Giancarlo Stanton, but Ozuna patrols Miami's outfield with Giancarlo and has quietly developed in a hurry. This is probably wishful thinking on my part. There's no reason the Marlins would trade him (or should trade him), but I would at least ask. Maybe they'll be pleasantly surprised that someone called and did not ask for Stanton.
  • Take a chance on a bench player. I would look to add a player who projects as a bench bat but could turn into a regular contributor one way or another. I would look for ways to add some upside. Basically this is my way of carving out some room for bats that intrigue me. My targets:
  1. Colby Rasmus: Rasmus had a disastrous 2014 campaign but still posted a positive WAR. He has contact issues but also offers power with legitimate defense in center field. He could provide nice outfield depth and compliment a right-handed DH well.
  2. Yasmani Tomas: The 24-year-old Cuban slugger is unproven and will likely cost a good amount of money. However, if he's a little more like Cespedes and a little less like Dayan Viciedo, he will be a wise investment. This would be a risky move but could give the Mariners a power bat locked up at a reasonable price for a long time. He wouldn't be a bench bat if he pans out, but for 2015 he could make sense on the bench as he figures out life in the Major Leagues.
  • Sign David Ross...or a similar legitimate backup catcher. I'd like to see Zunino get some more games off. Ross is a veteran with solid defense and a power stroke with holes in his swing. He would be similar to Zunino and might even serve as a decent mentor for Zunino as he develops into a star.
Here is what my potential 2015 Mariners would look like:

STARTING LINEUP
  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Robinson Cano, 2B
  3. Yoenis Cespedes, RF
  4. Kyle Seager, 3B
  5. Josh Willingham, DH
  6. Logan Morrison, 1B
  7. Mike Zunino, C
  8. Brad Miller/Chris Taylor, SS
  9. Dustin Ackley, LF
BENCH
  • Colby Rasmus, OF
  • Willie Bloomquist, INF
  • David Ross, C
  • (Miller or Taylor, depending on who is starting)
STARTING ROTATION
  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. James Paxton
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Taijuan Walker
  5. Roenis Elias
BULLPEN
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Joe Beimel
  • Dominic Leone
  • Carson Smith
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Fernando Rodney
The lineup is deceptively good, especially if the Miller/Taylor shortstop duo and Mike Zunino take steps forward. There shouldn't be an automatic out, and that might go a long way with what could be a dominant pitching staff if Paxton, Walker, and Elias realize the potential they flashed at times in 2014. The projected lineup could be a league-average lineup, especially in the current environment that is so pitcher-friendly. It is also more balanced, which should make it less susceptible to southpaws. Also, who wouldn't want to watch the show Cespedes puts on in batting practice??