In baseball the first week of December can be overwhelming for anyone. Rumors are flying, prospects are moving, and you keep your fingers crossed that your club comes away from the Winter Meetings with that prized player everyone is talking about. Let's address the Seattle Mariners first week of December, fact or fiction style:
Fact: Mariners signed Jason Bay, 34, to a 1-yr, $500,000 guaranteed deal.
Jason Bay is officially the byproduct of the Seattle Mariners 2012 Winter Meetings. Bet you didn't see that coming when the rumors started flying around Nashville. But don't be so quick to look down on his acquisition; it is nearly risk free for Seattle. The former slugger is guaranteed $500,000 under the terms of the deal, earning an additional $500,000 if he breaks camp with the team out of Spring Training. There are an additional $2 million in incentives to be earned which one has to believe, if reached, means his production vs. money earned still puts Seattle out in front.
Four years ago the Gonzaga graduate was one of the top players in baseball, establishing career highs in home runs (36) and runs batted in (119) with the Boston Red Sox in 2009. After a lackluster stint with the New York Mets came to an end this off-season the veteran slugger retains a lifetime 122 OPS+. His time in Citi Field has been reported as an ‘unhappy alliance'. Bay was injured for parts of all three seasons he spent in New York; suffering a concussion in 2010 and battling rib injuries throughout his final two seasons. The Mets exercised their $3 million dollar team option this off-season, releasing him into free agency.
Of his character former Gonzaga University head coach, Steve Hertz, said, ""He's the antithesis (opposite) of Manny (Ramirez)." Continuing that, "He was really committed to Pittsburgh," Hertz said. "
It strikes me that Bay has played ‘less inspired' baseball since leaving Boston, out of character for a player described by so many as a quiet giant in the clubhouse. If you ask me, he is just searching for a home, and what better place to find that than the Pacific Northwest. The place he called home so many years ago.
NOTE: To make room on the 40-man roster the club designated Mauricio Robles for assignment. Robles was billed as a top flight arm when the Seattle Mariners brought him into the organization in 2009. The Venezuelan native posted a 5.78 ERA in 2012, splitting time between Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma.
Fiction: Mike Napoli was the only catcher on Seattle's radar.
While the Mariners catching tandem both caught outstanding games last season, with the club's combined no-hitter (Montero) and the perfect game (Jaso), both are far from defensive minded catchers.
The club was involved in negotiations early with former Texas Rangers backstop Mike Napoli, but in the end they were not his first choice. GM Jack Zduriencik shortly after his signing with Boston, "Napoli brought things to the table that we liked. He's an offensive guy, a right-handed guy, a veteran guy. But, he's no longer available."
I advocated earlier in the season for Seattle bringing free agent veteran backstop Brian Schneider to Seattle on a short term deal. Schneider has been quiet offensively in recent seasons but has allowed only four passed balls over 172 games since 2009, throwing out 5% of runners over league average in that time. He would conceivably sign a 1-yr deal, coming from a platoon assignment in Philadelphia and moving into his 14th Major League season.
Of his current Major League catchers Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said the following from Winter Meetings, "Both guys have their skill set they bring to the table. Neither guy is what you would call a defensive receiver. Continuing to say, "We'll have our ears open certainly to see how the right type of catcher would fit."
This could mean the club turns Montero's focus towards being a full-time designated hitter in 2013 and will look to platoon Jaso with a fellow veteran behind the plate. For now, be sure to use pencil when slotting either behind the plate for 2013.
NOTE: Guillermo Quiroz, who has served four stints with the Seattle Mariners, signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants prior to the Winter Meetings. The veteran catcher was referred as a possible target for Seattle moving into the off-season due to his familiarity with the system.
Fact: The Seattle Mariners selected second baseman Eric Farris, 26, from the Brewer's organization in the 2012 Rule V draft.
This marks the second consecutive season the organization has selected a player with former ties to GM Jack Zduriencik (Lucas Luetge, 2011), who was a member of the Brewers front office from 1999-2008.
Farris was selected in the second round of the draft, meaning he must remain active on the Tacoma Rainiers roster throughout the season or be forfeited back to Milwaukee. In 2012 the toolsy middle infielder hit .286 with Nashville of the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A), stealing 35 bases and recording 138 hits in 131 games played.
Fiction: The Seattle Mariners are structuring a deal with the Kansas City Royals – returning one of either Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, or Wil Myers.
The rumors of compatibility between these two squads began in the Arizona Fall League as Kansas City openly scouted many of the top prospects, including Seattle's own Nick Franklin and James Paxton. The Royals have been forward in asking for left handed pitching in return for Myers or one of their two established Major League hitters.
It was not until shortly before the Winter Meetings however that Kansas City explained their position further. They quickly became adamant that only established Major League arms were being sought in return, which for Seattle left just Jason Vargas in their sights, an arm that would certainly require a ‘prospect push' in trade to net the Mariners the return they seek.
Vargas cemented himself as a fringe number two starter for Seattle in 2012, being named American League Pitcher of the Month for July, posting a 1.64 ERA over six starts (5-0) and allowing just eight earned runs in 44 innings pitched. On the opposite end of the spectrum his 35 home runs allowed, second in baseball, and his current arbitration status (2nd year) leave little room for negotiations in trade.
Expect the Royals to move Billy Butler this off-season, hanging onto Alex Gordon, who is a legitimate multi position gold glove winner. Wil Myers hit 37 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2012 on his way to being named the third overall prospect in baseball by MLB.com Don't be fooled by his name being mentioned alongside Butler and Gordon, he is as untouchable as Giancarlo Stanton is for the Marlins. That doesn't mean they wouldn't trade him, but as a General Manager you'd have to understand upfront you were giving up an excessive amount in order to grab a player with his abilities.
The Royals will get their left handed starter, just don't expect to see Vargas in a Royals uniform in 2013.
Fiction: Josh Hamilton is a possibility for Seattle at 3-years, $75 million.
As first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, "Sources: Mariners have discussed three-year deals with Hamilton in range of $20M to $25M per season.
Misleading does not accurately describe the above. It is possible Seattle did offer a three year contract and more than likely it was promptly turned away. If three years were on the table for Hamilton, the Texas Rangers would have already put a pen into his hand.
Fact: The Seattle Mariners are high on Michael Bourne.
Bourne is arguably the most valuable combination of speed and fielding in baseball today; ranked first overall in base running ability (40.6) and fourth in fielding (45.3), second among outfielders, dating back to the 2009 season. For perspective, current Seattle Mariners centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez, nicknamed ‘Death to Flying Things', is fifth in fielding at 44.6.
2012 marked the fourth straight season of 40 steals, 20 doubles, and 80 runs for the former Atlanta Braves centerfielder. His 20.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) dating back to 2009 is the sixteenth highest total in baseball, one spot below Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista and one spot ahead of last season's high profile free- agent signing, Prince Fielder.
Bourne is smart on the base-paths, plays sparkling defense, and has an offensive game built on contact. That sounds familiar. His skill-set plays well into the confines of Safeco Field, where the ability to avoid making small mistakes is crucial to pulling out close ballgames. He returns the ability to hit lead-off, a legitimate concern for the club after Dustin Ackley failed to impress from this position in 2012.
The official word from agent Scott Boras in regards to Seattle, "We know where they're at and they know where we stand but I imagine we'll continue talking."
Fact remains that Bourne came out of the Winter Meetings with less suitors than he entered with, one of the remaining interested clubs is certainly Seattle.
Fiction: Zack Greinke signing with the Dodgers turns Rangers focus onto signing Josh Hamilton.
Do not forget Texas had the chance to avoid free agency with their star slugger altogether. Towards the end of the 2012 season there were few reports of contract negotiations between the two sides, even fewer following Hamilton's postseason efforts.
The Texas Rangers are more likely to sign Hamilton now that Greinke is no longer available, sure. Is that amount significant? No one knows for sure.
For what it's worth, the club has leaned heavily this off-season into the Justin Upton sweepstakes. Nearly all scenarios this off-season for the younger brother of newly acquired Atlanta Braves centerfielder B.J. Upton include Texas as a suitor. While Hamilton could resume his post in centerfield in lieu of the club acquiring Upton, primarily a right fielder, GM Jon Daniels knows that even clubs with back-to-back World Series appearances have holes to fill.
Fellow Texas Rangers free-agent Ryan Dempster has re-appeared on the clubs radar. Although the veteran pitcher posted a 5.09 ERA after being acquired at the trade deadline from the Chicago Cubs he posted a 9.1 K/9 ratio (highest of his career) and finished with a 7-3 record in Texas.
Fact: The Seattle Mariners are players in the rumored four-team mega trade surrounding Justin Upton.
This is how Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports broke down what he heard during the Winter Meetings:
Rangers get Upton from Diamondbacks
Diamondbacks get Cabrera from Indians, prospect from Rangers
Mariners get Holland from Rangers
Indians get prospect(s) from Mariners
Of course it's not that easy and it certainly isn't a short process but the possibility remains that Seattle could be a ‘middle-man' in this deal and catch a break on a quality starter in Derek Holland.
Despite posting a 4.67 ERA in 2012, Holland was very strong off the mound for Texas in a competitive American League West. His full-season 1.221 WHIP was 33rd overall among starters across baseball and his 2.79 K/BB ratio (44th) came in ticks better than fellow Rangers starter Yu Darvish, and National League aces Gio Gonzalez and Yovani Gallardo.
Holland retains one of the more club friendly contracts in baseball, being guaranteed just $26 million (6.5 per) through 2016. His 2017-2018 options are pricey by today's standards ($11, $11.5) but are accompanied with team buy-outs of $1-1.5 million.
Be aware that Seattle has a number of constraints (travel, weather, rebuild), outside their lack of recent winning records, that hamper their ability to lure high profile players to the Northwest. The sheer number of confirmed rumors swirling around the Mariners confirms they are working hard to bring a better product to Seattle into the future. Have faith.
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