(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:
- King Felix
- James Paxton
- Hisashi Iwakuma
- Taijuan Walker
- 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:
- 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.
- Victor Martinez: Clearly, 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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:
- Austin Jackson, CF
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Yoenis Cespedes, RF
- Kyle Seager, 3B
- Josh Willingham, DH
- Logan Morrison, 1B
- Mike Zunino, C
- Brad Miller/Chris Taylor, SS
- Dustin Ackley, LF
- Colby Rasmus, OF
- Willie Bloomquist, INF
- David Ross, C
- (Miller or Taylor, depending on who is starting)
- Felix Hernandez
- James Paxton
- Hisashi Iwakuma
- Taijuan Walker
- 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??