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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:

  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
  • Colby Rasmus, OF
  • Willie Bloomquist, INF
  • David Ross, C
  • (Miller or Taylor, depending on who is starting)
  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. James Paxton
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Taijuan Walker
  5. Roenis Elias
  • 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??

Mariners Offseason Primer

Robinson Cano (Wikimedia Commons, user EricEnfermero)
The Royals' magical run to the World Series was fun to watch, though bittersweet. They, for all intents and purposes, were the 2014 Seattle Mariners. Flawed offense, great defense, and a monster bullpen...sound familiar? Over 162 games they were a whopping 2 wins better than the Mariners despite a worse run differential. Still, I don't have an icy enough sports soul to get angry over a franchise shut out from the postseason for 29 seasons, literally since before I was born.

With that said, the Mariners are closer to the playoffs than they have been in over a decade. Sure, there were a couple fluky winning seasons sprinkled in, but 2014 does not look like a fluke. The Mariners did not beat their expected win total by an absurd amount like the ill-fated team that convinced Bill Bavasi the Mariners only needed Erik Bedard to win the World Series. They also aren't as asymmetric as the surprising 2009 squad that tried to push the extremes of pitching and defense with a worst-case result spitting out in 2010 (and 2011, and 2012 for that matter too). The offense is still bad, but not 2010-2012 bad.

I am interested to see how the M's offseason unfolds. It seems hard to predict for many reasons. Do free agents see Seattle as more of a destination now? Possibly. How much money do the Mariners have to play with as the Root Sports TV money comes in?

Most importantly, where exactly will the Mariners upgrade the team? The team can improve, but (thankfully) there aren't many glaring holes. Jack Zduriencik might have to get creative - or might not if a guy like Victor Martinez decides that he wants to be teammates with Robby Cano and guide the Mariners back to the postseason.

If the season started tomorrow, this is what the Mariners lineup would look like:

  • C: Mike Zunino
  • 1B: Logan Morrison
  • 2B: Robinson Cano
  • SS: Brad Miller/Chris Taylor
  • 3B: Kyle Seager
  • LF: Dustin Ackley
  • CF: Austin Jackson
  • RF: Michael Saunders
  • DH: Ji-Man Choi? Jesus Montero?
  • Bench: Willie Bloomquist
  • Bench: Jesus Sucre
  • Bench: James Jones/Stefen Romero
And the pitching staff:
  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. James Paxton
  4. Taijuan Walker
  5. Roenis Elias
  • Joe Beimel
  • Dominic Leone/Yoervis Medina
  • Carson Smith
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Fernando Rodney

The Mariners have a hole at DH, but they did all of last season too (sad, but true). The Mariners return, rather literally, the entire 2014 team. There is already a logjam in the bullpen! Willie Bloomquist returns from the DL, for whatever that is worth, and a full season of Austin Jackson could be interesting too. Plus, a full season of the Chris Taylor/Brad Miller shortstop monster that emerged near the end of last season could be fun too. There are reasons to think that the 2015 Mariners are already in position to challenge for the playoffs.

So what do they do? What would you do?

On one hand, a marginal upgrade could go a long way because the Mariners project to be in that magical range where one or two wins make all the difference in the world. Two more wins in 2014 and they make the playoffs over the A's - or, even more tantalizing, just one more victory OVER the A's and the M's get in the playoffs. So, upgrading the bench, or getting a steady number 4/5 starter, could actually make a worthwhile difference. I've usually argued against money spent in these marginal areas, but not with where the Mariners are at now.

On the other hand, the roster is already in nice shape. A massive move is the only way to really upgrade the team in a significant way, and that kind of move might push the Mariners from fringe playoff contenders to fringe championship contenders. However, that would cost the M's the farm. Would you mortgage the future like that? Especially if the future is guys like Paxton, Walker, and Miller - contributors already in the majors? King Felix and Cano aren't getting any younger...

Jack Zduriencik generally works methodically, which is the kind way of saying he takes long enough on deals for other teams to complain through the media about the Mariners. Maybe that will play to the Mariners favor and someone falls in their laps. Maybe it doesn't, and they miss out on some major moves. Who knows?

All I know is that the Mariners don't have to worry about signing any of their own free agents this winter, and they already have a roster that should keep them in the playoff hunt. That could mean they lay dormant this offseason or have time to get really creative. It will be hard to dial out a disappointing offseason scenario, but there's plenty of room for how exciting it could be.