Major League Signings
- Hisashi Iwakuma, SP: one year, $1.5MM.
- George Sherrill, RP: one year, $1.1MM.
- Shawn Camp, RP: one year, $750K (later released).
- Hong-Chih Kuo, RP: one year, $500K (later released).
- Total spend: $3.85MM.
Notable Minor League Signings
Trades and Claims
- Acquired C/DH Jesus Montero and SP Hector Noesi for SP Michael Pineda and SP Jose Campos.
- Acquired C John Jaso from the Rays for RP Josh Lueke.
- Claimed RP Lucas Luetge from the Brewers in Rule 5 draft.
- Chris Gimenez, Jack Cust, Wily Mo Pena, Aaron Laffey, Adam Kennedy, Josh Bard, Jamey Wright, Pineda, Campos, Lueke.
The Mariners couldn’t do without offense any longer, even though it meant trading away one of their most valuable assets: 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda. The 6'5" rookie had more strikeouts than innings pitched last year and remains under team control through 2016. Naturally, the Mariners were reluctant to give him up.
“I think a lot of clubs really try to hang onto the young players,” GM Jack Zduriencik said in January after the trade was announced. “They realize how good those players are for an organization.”
But Seattle, which finished last in the American League in runs scored in 2010 and 2011, had the opportunity to acquire Jesus Montero. Yankees GM Brian Cashman says he's never traded a better player and scouts and prospect analysts agree that Montero will handle MLB pitching. Zduriencik said spacious Safeco Field won’t be an issue for the 22-year-old, who has an .867 OPS as a minor leaguer.
The trade between Zduriencik and Cashman highlighted a Mariners offseason that began tragically when 24-year-old outfielder Greg Halman was stabbed to death in November. Halman joined the Mariners' organization as a 16-year-old and appeared in the Major Leagues in 2010 and 2011.
Zduriencik spent cautiously this winter, committing less than $4MM to players on guaranteed contracts. That didn’t stop the Mariners from obtaining veteran rotation depth in the form of Kevin Millwood and Japanese starter Hisashi Iwakuma (though the latter will begin the season in the 'pen). Seattle's front office believes newcomer Hector Noesi can start at the MLB level and he'll begin his Mariners career in the rotation. Even after trading Pineda, the Mariners have top pitching prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker working their way through the minor leagues. For now, however, the Mariners' rotation looks average, even with Hernandez leading the way.
The Mariners released David Aardsma this offseason and saw Jamey Wright sign with the Dodgers, but they added left-hander George Sherrill and right-handers Shawn Camp and Aaron Heilman, among others. Seattle’s bullpen doesn’t figure to dominate in 2012, especially if Brandon League gets traded this summer. But spending big on middle relievers doesn’t make sense for a non-contending club looking to lower payroll, so I like Zduriencik’s decision to add upside affordably.
The Mariners deflected the usual inquiries on Felix Hernandez — Zduriencik must have the script memorized by now — and League, but they did complete one trade besides the headliner, acquiring catcher John Jaso from the Rays for reliever Josh Lueke. Jaso’s left-handed swing, control of the strike zone and above-average on-base skills should complement Miguel Olivo nicely. Jaso’s presence also allows Montero to focus on his offense. The Mariners figure to ask him to catch here and there, but he’ll be in Eric Wedge’s lineup as the DH most days.
Bounce-back seasons from Ichiro, first baseman Justin Smoak and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez would help Seattle improve on last year’s 67-95 mark. But Gutierrez is out with a right pectoral injury and Ichiro won’t be leading off for the first time since 2001. The 38-year-old enters the final year of his contract with the knowledge that he’ll be removed from the leadoff spot, where he has played 1722 of his 1749 MLB games.
The Angels added the best player in baseball and the Rangers are arguably better on paper than they were in 2010 or 2011, so the Mariners don’t figure to contend in 2012. Their offense, while improved, still projects as below average. The 2009 Mariners won with tremendous run prevention and a weak offense, but don't count on a repeat performance from this year's team. Even though Zduriencik successfully added depth to the pitching staff plus a controllable young bat, the most likely outcome for the 2012 Mariners seems to be 70-75 wins and a third or fourth-place finish.