One man's trash is another man's treasure. And that trash was put out last night in the form of non-tendered players. 19 of the league's 30 teams made cuts off of their 40-man rosters -- including the Mariners, who let right-handed reliever Dan Cortes and catcher/utility-man Chris Gimenez go, as I detailed here -- and now the other 29 teams will be looking through the trash to see if they can find a worthwhile player to add to their roster.
The Mariners are certain to take long looks at these players to see if a cheap answer to their problems can be found, and I believe that these players will hold the team's attention the longest.
The Mariners have stated that they are interested in a veteran starting pitcher with names like Jamie Moyer and Jeff Francis being tossed around, but 30-year-old left-hander Joe Saunders is now on the market, and he could be a much better fit for the club than those two, if his price is right. Saunders, formerly of the Angels, pitched 186-plus innings for the fourth straight season in 2011, this time in his first year in the NL for the Diamondbacks. The southpaw owns a career 4.16 ERA (4.65 FIP) and 1.37 WHIP over nearly 1,000 big league innings and was a 17-game winner and American League All-Star in 2008.
His low career SO/9 rate (5.02) and underwhelming assortment of pitches usually lead most stat-oriented baseball people to dislike him, but Saunders biggest enemy over his career has been his susceptibility to the long ball, particularly versus right-handed hitters who have touched Saunders up for 105 of the 124 home runs that he has allowed in his career. But, as you well know, Safeco suppresses homers -- especially right-handed homers -- meaning that his biggest weakness could be mitigated if pitching for the Mariners. True to that point, Saunders has never lost at Safeco Field (6-0) in eight starts and he put up a 1.20 ERA while allowing just one "Funk Blast" in his last 45 innings of work against the (admittedly power-starved) Mariners between 2008 and 2010.
Arizona is said to be interested in retaining his services, but Seattle should at least get in touch with Saunders's camp to see if there is mutual interest at a reasonable price.
One of the top "low-risk/high-reward" candidates on this list is former Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, another former All-Star. Kuo, also 30, has now endured five surgeries on his throwing elbow during his 12-year pro career. He also was battling an anxiety disorder during the season in 2011 when he had his worst season by far as a professional, posting a 9.00 ERA and 1.74 WHIP in 27 innings of work (40 games) for LA. But from 2008 to 2010, Kuo posted a 1.75 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP out of the bullpen while racking up 10.6 SO/9.
For his career he has held left-handers to a .201 AVG while striking them out 38.2% of the time. His fastball still averaged 92.5 miles-per-hour last season and his latest surgery this past October was just arthroscopic surgery designed to remove some loose bodies, but the anxiety disorder and Kuo's assertion that retirement was a possibility are real concerns from the mental side of the game. Nevertheless, if the Mariners feel that he is recovered from his various ailments, he would fit perfectly for a team that has long been searching for a reliable left-handed bullpen option.
Outfielder Jeremy Hermida, who was once rated as the fourth best prospect in all of baseball, was non-tendered and will now be seeking employment with his seventh organization. He'll turn 28 before camps get underway next Spring and he owns a .257/.334/.415 mark in seven seasons of major league action and a .291/.396/.453 line in about the same number of at bats in the minors. He struck out in 26 of his 66 big league plate appearances in 2011 between Cincinnati and San Diego and really hasn't had an impact at the major league level since he was 23-years-old back in 2007 for the Marlins.
But the Mariners have been connected to him before, and although he has many of the same weaknesses as some of the club's in-house options, his combination of power potential and plate discipline is on another level than most of them. Hermida has managed just a .389 SLG and his strikeouts have climbed noticeably since 2007, but his left-handed bat might still be worth a look for Seattle.
Another name that the M's have been connected to in the past, Luke Scott, was also let go by his club, the Baltimore Orioles. Scott had posted a .847 OPS between 2007 and 2010 and was voted the club's MVP in 2010, but he fell off to .220/.301/.402 during the 2011 season while battling a torn right labrum and playing in just 64 games. Now 33 and not offering much on defense, Scott could infuse some power to the lineup if he is fully healed but he is best suited as a DH only at this point and he likely can't be counted on as an everyday player, either. That type of player may not be in the cards for the Mariners at this time.
The last possibility is Ryan Theriot. Theriot took over as the primary shortstop in St. Louis last season after the Cardinals dealt Brendan Ryan to Seattle, but his bat (.662 OPS), glove (-8.5 UZR) and speed (just four steals in 10 attempts) all disappointed the Cards and they went out and acquired Rafael Furcal before the deadline to take his spot. I wouldn't expect a big increase in offensive production from Theriot, but his plate discipline, defensive value and baserunning are more of an asset to Seattle than Luis Rodriguez, who looks to be the infield backup at this point. Another move that won't change the face of the division but that could make sense from a roster construction standpoint.
Will any of these five players be worthy of consistent playing time in 2012? Tough to tell, but the Mariners certainly should take a look at each of them and see what they could offer to Seattle.