The market for some of the top hitters figures to begin taking shape today as the GM Meetings kick off in Phoenix, and the Mariners are already being connected to arguably the top two bats on the market. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted last night that the M’s have interest in Hanley Ramirez, although one source gave him the impression that Seattle’s priority is Victor Martinez. However, Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports tweets that the Mariners are “aggressively pursuing” Ramirez and have expressed to his camp how badly the team wishes to sign him.
Ramirez could fill the Mariners’ hole at shortstop, and while his defense there is no longer a plus (it is, in fact, considered to be a significant negative), his bat would be an unequivocal upgrade over the combined .239/.295/.344 batting line posted by Seattle shortstops last season. There’s also the possibility that the Mariners could have a mind to put Ramirez in a corner outfield spot after he told teams last week that he’s willing to play anywhere on the diamond, though that seems unlikely, as Ramirez hasn’t played a game in the outfield in the Majors or Minors.
If there Mariners do indeed sign Ramirez, one has to wonder what it means for the future of shortstop Brad Miller. After opening the season as Seattle’s shortstop, Miller, 24, found himself unable to repeat the offensive success he showed in 2013. He struggled to a .221/.288/.365 batting line but played at least passable, if not above average defense at shortstop and is a sound baserunner. It’s possible that he could fill a utility role based on that ability at short, though other teams would likely have interest in acquiring Miller, who just recently turned 25. The Mariners also have Chris Taylor, 24, in their ranks, and Taylor was fairly impressive late in the season. He batted .287/.347/.346 in 151 plate appearances, although that line was bloated by a .398 average on balls in play. Taylor also whiffed in nearly 26 percent of his plate appearances and showed minimal power (eight doubles, no homers) after also showing limited pop throughout his minor league career.
The Mariners were one of the possible destinations listed for Ramirez in Zach Links’ Free Agent Profile of him last week. Zach ultimately predicted a six-year, $132MM contract for Ramirez. While a contract in that range is of course a steep price to pay, it pales in comparison to the 10-year, $240MM contract the M’s doled out to Robinson Cano last offseason. The Mariners also have a rising payroll thanks to a new television deal and their success in 2014, and the only two long-term pacts they have on the books are Cano and Felix Hernandez (though that duo is significant). Rosenthal does note that some sources with whom he’s spoken doubt that the Mariners would want to take on another $100MM+ contract.
Many have speculated that the Mariners will show strong interest in the soon-to-be 36-year-old Martinez, who is said to be seeking a four-year deal. Seattle designated hitters batted just .206/.276/.335 last season, so Martinez would represent a similarly large offensive upgrade for the team. Unlike Ramirez, adding Martinez wouldn’t unseat any young players such as Miller and Taylor, and the price tag, while still steep, could be half as much as that of Ramirez over a span of two fewer years. Of course, there’s also more concern for offensive decline with Martinez, who is entering his age-36 season, while Ramirez is entering his age-31 campaign.
Both Ramirez and Martinez received qualifying offers from their former clubs, but both are considered locks to reject the QO in search of a large multi-year deal. That means the Mariners would have to forfeit the No. 21 overall pick in order to sign either player. Should they sign both — which seems unlikely, though not impossible — the team would forfeit its first- and second-round selections. I listed both Ramirez and Martinez as possible fits for the M’s in their Offseason Outlook last month.