|Dexter Fowler (Wikimedia Commons, author EricEnfermero)|
*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!