Offseason Outlook: Seattle Mariners

Jack Zduriencik’s search for offense continues this offseason, as the Mariners prepare to move the fences in at Safeco Field.

Guaranteed Contracts 

Arbitration Eligible Players

Contract Options

Free Agents

It’s becoming an alarming trend. The Mariners finished the 2012 season having scored fewer runs than any American League team for the third consecutive season. This team needs more offense to approach and surpass the .500 mark. 

Felix Hernandez - Mariners (PW)

If the Mariners offense was a single player, he'd be among the worst qualified players in MLB with a .234/.296/.369 batting line. It’s not encouraging that the franchise hasn’t had a player hit more than 20 homers since 2009 (Russell Branyan and Jose Lopez). Pitcher-friendly Safeco Field evidently affects the team’s offensive numbers, so the Mariners decided to move the fences in for the 2013 season. The upcoming changes should make Seattle a more inviting place, especially for right-handed power hitters.

The Mariners enjoyed some breakout performances from position players in 2012. Kyle Seager put together a solid season, establishing himself as the team's everyday third baseman. John Jaso cemented his status as a first-rate righty masher, posting a .276/.394/.456 batting line. And Michael Saunders showed promise, hitting 19 home runs as the team's primary center fielder. 

Zduriencik should have some payroll flexibility this offseason. The team has committed $40.5MM to next year’s roster, not including arbitration eligible players, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. For a team that can be expected to spend $80MM-plus on payroll, this should lead to some maneuverability.

There’s room for improvement at a number of positions. Non-tender candidate Brendan Ryan didn't add anything on offense, but that's nothing new. He's a sensational defender at shortstop, so the Mariners will have to weigh the value of his glove against their need for offense and the shortage of viable alternatives at the position.

Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero don’t have Ryan’s defensive skills, but they’ll presumably continue to get opportunities in 2013. If Smoak hadn't hit so well from September on — he hit five homers and posted an OPS over 1.000 — his roster spot might be in question. For the time being, a strong finish has helped overshadow another disappointing offensive season from the switch-hitting 25-year-old.

The Mariners could improve their offense substantially by upgrading at designated hitter or in the outfield. Seattle's designated hitters posted a .214/.287/.310 batting line in 2012, production that ranked last in the American League, far below that of the 13th-place Rays. Montero, who occupied the DH spot for about half of Seattle's games this past season, figures to get more opportunities in 2013, so spending on a free agent designated hitter such as David Ortiz doesn't make sense this winter.

Some Mariners fans will dream on the offseason’s top free agent, Josh Hamilton. Though Hamilton would undoubtedly address the team’s most glaring need, it’s unclear whether he’d select Seattle when he’ll have opportunities with teams closer to contention in more hitter-friendly places. Hamilton also bats from the left side, so he wouldn't necessarily benefit from the ballpark modifications as much as others.

While luring free agent hitters to Seattle may not be easy, there’s a way around the issue for Zduriencik. He can trade for impact players. The Diamondbacks will presumably continue to listen to offers for Justin Upton, who didn’t have Seattle on his no-trade list last summer. Upton capped off a disappointing season with a strong month of September, an indication that he's returning to form. There’s upside here, but only if the Mariners are confident the 25-year-old can weather the transition from one of baseball’s best hitters parks to one of its worst. The Diamondbacks, who are now seeking help on the left side of the infield, might ask Seattle about Seager's availability if talks pick up.

Shin-Soo Choo, another player with ties to the Mariners, also figures to be available in trades (Choo signed with the Mariners in 2000 and was traded away years before Zduriencik joined the organization). He's just one year away from free agency yet he'd be a worthwhile target if the Indians' asking price seems reasonable.

The Felix Hernandez rumors never stop, do they? Zduriencik has maintained that the Mariners ace is staying put, so there’s no reason to expect a trade this offseason. An extension for Hernandez might be in order, as he’s just two years away from free agency.

Among American League teams, only the Rays and Athletics allowed fewer runs than the Mariners in 2012. Most of Seattle's best pitchers are set to return in 2013, when they figure to have a strong pitching staff once again. Plus, top pitching prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker could be ready to contribute within the next year. 

The new dimensions will affect Seattle's pitchers, and fly ball-prone starters such as Jason Vargas and Blake Beavan could see their numbers decline. Given this possibility, it'd make sense for Seattle to consider trading Vargas. The return wouldn't necessarily be overwhelming for a pitcher whose salary could surpass $7MM via the arbitration process, but there would be a market for the reliable left-hander.

A year ago the Mariners added pitchers such as Hisashi Iwakuma, Kevin Millwood and Oliver Perez on low-risk deals to supplement an already strong pitching staff. A similar approach should work again in 2012-13: add a back-end starter or two and sign a number of relievers in the hopes that a couple of the additions become key contributors. Convincing pitchers to sign in Seattle should be doable despite the new dimensions at Safeco Field. There's no need to devote lots of resources toward a shutdown late inning reliever — Tom Wilhelmsen has that job covered — or a lefty specialist — Charlie Furbush has excelled this year — but it never hurts to be proactive about acquiring relief pitchers given the often unpredictable nature of their performances.

Miguel Olivo's contract includes a $3MM club option for 2013. The 34-year-old provides power against left-handed pitching, but he's a platoon bat with limited defensive value. The team has reason to decline this option and find a backup more affordably. Another veteran player, Chone Figgins, may also be done with the Mariners. The 34-year-old utility player wants out of Seattle and it won't be surprising if the Mariners cut ties with him.

Vargas leads an arbitration class that could diminish in size by the time hearings take place in the new year. Ryan could be non-tendered, and Saunders could miss the super two cutoff. Otherwise the Mariners face a relatively straightforward class without any obvious extension candidates.

The Mariners have improved their record in both of the past two seasons. For the trend to continue, Zduriencik will have to keep supplementing the team's pitching staff and, most importantly, acquire at least one hitter with the goal of having a respectable lineup next season.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.

32 Responses to Offseason Outlook: Seattle Mariners Leave a Reply

  1. Seager hit 20 homers this year.

    • “It’s not encouraging that the franchise hasn’t had a player hit MORE than 20 homers since 2009 (Russell Branyan and Jose Lopez). “

  2. Seager is a keeper, pure and simple. I hate the idea of even thinking of trading Seager for Upton. I’d rather have Choo than Upton and especially not at the cost of a Kyle Seager. Maybe Vargas & Olivo for Choo or something?

    • How is that a good idea from Cleveland’s perspective?

    • Gator4444 3 years ago

      You’d rather have Choo than Upton. The Rangers, Angels, A’s and Astros would also prefer Seattle to have Choo over Upton who will get healthy and have another 6 WAR season.

      • $18224393 3 years ago

        Justin Upton is a worse hitter on the road than Choo is, for his career. (He’s also a worse road hitter than Seager.) If we’re just talking about 2013 value inside Safeco, I’d project Choo to significantly outproduce Upton, since there’s no way Choo’s terrible defensive numbers from 2012 should sustain and Upton will take a massive hit from moving into Safeco. Massive hit here meaning “if his home numbers this year are adjusted down for the Chase effect and the Safeco effect, he becomes a below average hitter”.

        Neither Choo nor Upton is desirable, since Choo is left-handed and Upton’s way too expensive.

        • Gator4444 3 years ago

          His contract isn’t expensive for a 6 WAR player. Besides he’s 25 and will still get better like Kemp. Choo has reached his ceiling, Upton hasn’t.

          • $18224393 3 years ago

            I wasn’t referring to his contract, I was referring to what it would take to acquire him via trade. Most proposals I’ve seen start with Seager and add more on top, which is ludicrous since Seager is actually quite a bit better at hitting than Upton.

            As for his contract, you’re right, it’s good. But the idea that he’s a 6 WAR player is ludicrous. You can’t just pick a player’s peak season and say that’s who they are… is Erick Aybar a 6 WAR player? No. His value was inflated by defense for one year, and now he’s worth 2-3 WAR. Upton’s value was inflated for one year by Chase Field being unusually hot and balls thus flying further, boosting his offensive numbers in a way that Fangraphs’ park factors do not account for. Conversely, Seager’s value was deflated for one year by Safeco Field being unusually cold and balls not flying out, damaging his offensive numbers in a way that Fangraphs’ park factors do not account for. And though Seager is probably the more valuable player, most Upton trade proposals are Seager-plus. No. No thank you. Too expensive. If I’m Jack Z trading for Upton, the best guy I’m willing to give up is Franklin, plus maybe a bullpen arm or one of the less-touted minors arms. But that’s not what the D-Backs want.

  3. ugotrpk3113 3 years ago

    At what point does trading Hernandez to better the future become a top focus? They could EASILY get 4-5 prospects/major league players who can really take this team further.

    • Lunchbox45 3 years ago

      should be this year.
      FA market is thin, and not that many teams would be willing to trade pitching. price is as high as its going to be.

    • Histallness 3 years ago

      Hernandez is a known commodity. Prospects for his services doesn’t make sense. To me (although I would probably never do it) any trade for Felix would need to be at least 2 big league star hitters.

      • ugotrpk3113 3 years ago

        Well, whatever it is. Point is – It makes sense to explore trades NOW. Get multiple great pieces and try to build things back up

    • Lionel Bossman Craft 3 years ago

      Alot of these trades dont pan out. Look at all the players sent everywhere for Cliff Lee, none of those teams benefitted. Look at the Johan Santana trade, none of those prospects pan out. It seems teams as of late that trade away big ticket pitchers in relation to other types players, never seem to get prospects that dont make much noise on the major league level.

      • notsureifsrs 3 years ago

        look at the gio gonzalez and mat latos trades

        • $18224393 3 years ago

          “Oh look, two of those trades succeeded, that invalidates the idea that some of them fail”

  4. Wonder if the Royals would consider something involving Wil Myers, Odorizzi, and a couple other prospects for Felix?

    • vtadave 3 years ago

      Memo to all: if you want to increase your number of down arrows, just suggest trading Felix Hernandez.

      • ugotrpk3113 3 years ago

        Memo to Seattle – Walking into a season with a bunch of 6 through 9 hitters and a bunch of 4-5 starters gets you know where fast. Trading Felix (although not popular here for whatever reason) is a logical solution to really build your team.

        Sorry for using logic, I’m done now.

        • notsureifsrs 3 years ago

          many of them assume that felix is going to stay in seattle when his current contract is up. under that assumption, you might be patient enough to wait until you can win with him, since he will have endured the worst with you

          whether that’s a safe assumption is a separate question. it seems pretty obvious to me that it isn’t, but if you do make the assumption, you can sensibly defend the “keep felix” thing. he’s pretty awesome

          • $18224393 3 years ago

            I’m betting on the Mariners to extend Felix this offseason. He says, over and over again, he wants to stay. Unless he’s lying–which I’ll grant is a possibility, but I don’t think is “pretty obvious”–there’s mutual interest.

  5. Douglas Bath 3 years ago

    how exactly will the Mariners cut ties with Figgins? trade him straight up for Alfonso Soriano?

  6. MarinersFan1977 3 years ago

    It’s been pretty clear from listening to Eric Wedge talk about Brendan Ryan’s elite defense that the team values him highly despite his abysmal bat. He’s not being non-tendered this winter and in fact, Seattle might take advantage of his poor offensive season by signing him to a two-year, team-friendly deal (2-years, $6 mil?). I’m not saying that’s what I would necessarily do if I were running the team, but if Seattle can improve their offense this winter they can probably afford to have an all-glove, no-hit guy at one spot in their lineup. That and Ryan has never been that bad before, so he can be expected to hit closer to .250 in 2013. I’d say there’s a better chance Seattle non-tenders Vargas than Ryan.

  7. dcwidman 3 years ago

    Unless they plan on trading Jaso, going after a DH doesn’t make much sense since the team is committed to Montero, and Zunino is already close to ready. That’s three guys with bats who can’t all play at the same time. One needs to catch and one needs to DH. I’m okay with giving Smoak one more year. Pitching looks solid. Parting with Vargus, Figgins, Ryan, Millwood seem right. Triunfel and Franklin are good — not as good — as Ryan defensively, but both have more potential offensively. The outfield corners seem the best places to upgrade the offense.

    • I would be fine if the Mariners traded Montero to create some room. Getting David Dejesus and Josh Willingham would be awesome, and be a huge improvement over the current outfield. Saunders/Guti can share center.

  8. Jim 3 years ago

    breaking news, Mariners sign Josh Hamilton……

    lol jk, but when the offense stuff came up this was all I could think of haha

  9. Edgar4evar 3 years ago

    I hope the Mariners focus their FA dollars on the best offensive outfielder who can still play some defense, and pitching. Everywhere else they could add offense they’d be blocking the progress of a young prospect. Smoak, Montero, Jaso and possibly Zunino have all earned the job share at C/DH/1B next year. Kyle Seager looks legit at 3B.
    For pitching the team should start by trying to re-sign Iwakuma. He looked very good to end the season. Erasmo Ramirez also was a bright spot in the second half. The team should look to add another top starter, however, as the team’s top prospects aren’t pushing to start the year on the big club. Maybe Greinke would prefer the slow pace of Seattle to some big, fancy, probably-going-to-win-a-lot team? Maybe? This is another place I’d like some money to be spent.
    For cuts I think they should move Vargas. He’s going to get killed at Safeco next year. Find a not-very-good GM to give you something for him. Obviously Figgins and Olivo need to go. You don’t want Olivo to block Zunino for even one minute. Find a cheap organizational catcher to start the year with the club and dump him as soon as Zunino is ready.
    Teach Beavan an out pitch. He was right behind Cliff Lee in BB/9. You don’t toss that aside, but right now he’s a number 5 at best.
    I want the M’s to keep Brendan Ryan to start the season, but he could be pushed out by Nick Franklin. Ryan is a guy who could make a good defensive-replacement type and doesn’t cost too much.
    Other than that the strategy is to wait for young players to develop. I’m looking at you Ackley, Smoak and Montero.
    You’ll note I didn’t mention the bullpen. Do not touch. It is perfect.

  10. dcwidman 3 years ago

    How many times did Ryan come up with the bases loaded or runners on 2nd and third with two outs? And, how many of us went to the fridge to get a cold drink when that happened because we didn’t want to see the inevitable? No question Ryan has a great glove. He’s a lot of fun in the clubhouse. And, he does a great DeNiro imitation. But bottom line he’s every opposing pitchers dream.Gets them out of trouble every time.

  11. bigpat 3 years ago

    Taillon, Marte, McPherson, Hanrahan, and Snider for King Felix?

  12. I would have rather lost all these games with Jones in a Mariner uniform rather than Orioles…! Jack Z needs to huddle with the other bottom feeder GMs and find some talent as other teams do with Seattle. Its not the ball park dimensions, its the dug out that keeps talent away from the NW. I’m sure someone is going to be offended but i will say it anyway… bring in a Latino or African American manager if you really want talent to come in and win games. The front office has tried everything else, why not? Born and raised on Mariner Baseball… I do not like being 10 to 15 games out of 1st place by Memorial weekend every year.

  13. Marinersforever71 3 years ago

    Mariners should sign Melky Cabrera to play outfield as he is also out there to help the M’s in 2013 since he won’t be playing for San Francisco Giants next season. Trading Chone Figgins, Jason Vargas, and minor league pitcher Moises Hernandez or Steve Garrison to Baltimore Orioles for Third baseman Chris Davis (who can also play third/first baseman/outfielder), and Jim Thome if he is not a free agent nor retiring who can teach the young team to win games by making the playoffs every year or Nolan Reimold.

Leave a Reply