Let's take a look at 10 names the Seattle Mariners have been tied towards showing interest or being a fit with this off-season, via trade or free agency.
OUT – Josh Hamilton
I previously wrote about my thoughts on Josh Hamilton in a Seattle uniform. History does not yield that clubs need to sign Hamilton type bats to earn a trip to the World Series. Despite being a lifetime .304 hitter he has failed to hit .300 in the second half (.259 in 2012) of any baseball season since 2007, in which he took the field 26 times. Hamilton is a lifetime .224/.338/.408 hitter in Safeco Field; those numbers do not jibe when followed by 7-years and $170 million. His OPS+ (ballpark production; 100 being league average) at Angel Stadium, Oakland Coliseum, & Safeco Field over his career is 67. That is 33% lower production in those ballparks, from an established AL West player, in 110 games played. Yes, he is a former American League MVP. So was Dustin Pedroia and Justin Morneau in 2012, both of whom are younger than Hamilton, would you offer them 7-year, $170 million dollar contracts?
IN – Brian Schneider
I imagine Schneider doesn't kick off the ‘for' group in this article as strongly as you were hoping for but his presence in Seattle next season could be as crucial as bringing in a big bat. Assume the Seattle Mariners break camp with two catchers on their active roster, John Jaso and Jesus Montero. The latter did not take the steps the club needed to see in 2012 and will potentially be tried at first base and designated hitter in 2013. Who is your backup catcher in either of those scenarios? Brian Schneider. His agency, CAA Sports, has ties to Seattle in current pitcher Jason Vargas and although Schneider hit below his career average for the fourth straight season, hitting .225 through 29 games in 2012, his glove has been valuable. Allowing just four passed balls in those seasons and tossing out 5% over the league average in caught stealing last season. A platoon catcher since 2009, it seems reasonable that Schneider would sign a 1-year contract and could slip into the job well in Seattle having caught a talented group of left-handed and right-handed arms in Philadelphia the past three seasons.
OUT – Nick Swisher
2012 marked the eighth straight season of 20 doubles and 20 home runs for Swisher, dating back to his first full-season in Major League Baseball. What strikes me about his skill-set is that I would feel comfortable predicting, in an average Major League ballpark, exactly what you will get from his bat. His career numbers are eerily similar. He is a .256 hitting at home and on the road. He is a .257 hitter in the first half and a .255 hitter in the second half. He is a .253 hitter against left-handers and a .257 hitter against right-handers. The consistency of his bat makes him a hot commodity in this free agent market. But even after all of that, I am out on Swisher. His price tag comes with not only a commitment through 36 years of age and a price tag around $100 million but it costs the team their 12th overall selection in the 2013 Major League First-Year Player Draft. The Mariners have been skillfully methodic in recent seasons selecting talent from the draft. Are you prepared to lose a Top-15 pick for a .250+ hitter because he brings consistency to the plate? I'm not.
IN - Alex Gordon
Gordon is one of the most un-recognizable recognizable names in baseball. The Kansas City Royals were boisterous in announcing his arrival in 2007 as ‘the' catalyst for their ball club. Though he played well in spite of the talent around him, the team failed to win, and he was hampered by injuries during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. If there was a comeback player of the past half-decade award, Gordon would own it. He has amassed 96 doubles, 9 triples, and 37 home runs for a total of 142 extra-base hits in 2011-2012. His swing has led him to hit .298 over the past two seasons serving much of his time batting lead-off for the Royals. Gordon consistently unloads the ball into left center, consistent with the placement of Safeco Field's ‘power alley'. Though it will be trimmed down in 2013, Gordon's proven bat control could lead him to squeeze out the best this stadium has to offer in BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). There is no sugarcoating the need for left-handed pitching in the Royals organization, namely left-handed arms that are close to the Major Leagues. I am not convinced that a deal for Gordon draws James Paxton and Nick Franklin but any transaction that could take place would be expensive for the club.
OUT – Justin Upton
He may be entering his seventh Major League season when Opening Day 2013 rolls around but Upton still produces at the plate in a manner more consistent with his age than his experience.
|Year||Games||Home Runs||Runs Batted In||Slugging Percentage|
The numbers above represent two All-Star nominations (2009 & 2011) but lack the consistency to name him a perennial team clean-up contributor right now. He is set to make $14.25 million in 2013 and $14.50 million in 2014 before pursuing top Major League numbers at 27-years of age in 2016. Whereas with Gordon, you almost surely lock in Paxton as a piece, there is no pressing need for left-handed pitching in Arizona. The Diamondbacks could conceivably ask for Taijuan Walker in a package for Upton. Although GM Kevin Towers has said they do not need to move Upton, I find it concerning they are taking offers on the player they once, not long ago, rebuilt their club around.
IN – Carlos Villanueva
Outside the first three spots in the rotation there is a gray area that could decide the outcome of 40% of the Mariners games in 2013. Despite a slew of names contending in 2012 for the bottom two spots in the team's rotation this coming season, it seems they are none the wiser on a solution. Erasmo Ramirez has shown he can pitch out of the rotation in the AL West while a number of other youngsters, including possible bullpen conversion Blake Beavan, seem to be sticking it out despite lower than expected performances this past season. The rotation is in need of a veteran infusion by the name of Carlos Villanueva. The right-hander has a proven American League arm posting a 4.16 ERA in a tough American League East division this past season with Toronto, striking out 122 in 125.1 innings pitched. His arm adds the possibility of an 8.0 K/9 pitcher near the bottom of the rotation. I don't have to tell you how valuable strikeouts are in the West with a number of in division bats near the top of the Major Leagues in production. Coming off an injury shortened final arbitration season, Villanueva could be open to an incentive based 1-year guaranteed deal in the $3-4 million dollar range.
OUT – Billy Butler
280 of his past 311 games played have come as designated hitter. His value at first base, where his other 31 games are attributed, is questionable at best. Simply put, he is not an everyday position player. If Butler is dealt there is no denying that his contract would favor the receiving team. He is set to make $8 million per through $2014 with a $12.5 million full team option for the 2015 season. Sounds great, but I am not ready to limit what Jesus Montero can do and neither should you. The impending arrival of Mike Zunino pushes the young Venezuelan slugger into primarily a 1B/DH position. The arrival of Butler, via trade, would turn him into either a platoon bat or a full-time first baseman, neither situation is ideal for Seattle at this time. Although Butler projects to be a perennial All-Star from the plate, this club has built itself around athleticism and flexibility and would best be served to stick with this trend, not move away from it.
IN – Angel Pagan
Earlier in the off-season I wrote about the Mariners dealing for Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp. While I still support the possibility of such a deal it's important to address other available lead-off options, specifically those not named Michael Bourn. After the Giants declined to make a qualifying offer on the 30-year old outfielder he is free to sign with any Major League team. His name has been kicked around Atlanta and Philadelphia at length early in this off-season, however it hasn't found its way to Seattle just yet and I am a little surprised. I have said it before and I will say it again, the only stadium in Major League Baseball that was comparable to Safeco Field in 2012 was AT&T Park in San Francisco. The park factors behind runs, hits, and home runs are eerily similar when compared to the other 28 Major League ballparks. The outfielder, nicknamed Crazy Horse, hit .286 at home with 87 hits in 79 games played. Pagan led off ball games for San Francisco at a .276 batting average and hit .290 overall from the lead-off spot on the season. He is valuable in the outfield, mainly in centerfield, totaling seven assists this season and fielding a career high 1279.1 innings. Pagan brings with him the ability to steal 40 bases and hit 40 doubles in a season, numbers he has nearly reached the past three seasons. Pagan is rumored to be seeking a deal around 5-years, $50 million. An amount the club could certainly afford for a player who led the Major Leagues in triples (15) this past season.
OUT – Mike Napoli
I believe the Mariners would be making a crucial mistake this off-season in signing Mike Napoli to anything over 2-years, $18 million. Since those numbers are completely fictional, continue to follow along that I am out, out, out on Napoli. It has been reported that the C/DH will be seeking 3-years, $30 million to come to the table. Why am I out on Napoli? It's not just his .238 batting average in 2010 or his .227 batting average in 2012, really, it's not. I don't see him as a game-changing player like many baseball analysts tend to do. In ‘Late & Close' games he is a .215 career hitter while with ‘2 outs, RISP' he is a pinch better at .218. He is marginally better in games where his team is leading (.281) to those in which his team is trailing (.255) and is a life time .220 hitter in the eighth and ninth inning. He has been afforded a .332 average throughout his career on fly –balls, a trend that most certainly would not carry over to Safeco Field. Seattle's environment is conducive to the clutch hitter due to the amount of ‘Late & Close' games that are played, an attributing reason this fan base is endeared to Kyle Seager and John Jaso after little time spent playing in this city. It is not conducive to the bat of Mike Napoli.
IN – Ronny Cedeno
The Mariners released 2012 pinch runner and platoon middle infielder Munenori Kawasaki and are looking thin on the bench outside rookie Carlos Triunfel, who has shown his ability to field both second base and shortstop. The 25-man and 40-man rosters are going to be tight in 2013 as the club continues to see the fruition of their rebuild become reality. With such a young team on the field it is important that this team not skimp on their bench presence. Cedeno, primarily a shortstop, fielded well at second base in 2012 with the New York Mets hitting .259 in 78 games played. What strikes me from his 2012 season is a .741 OPS, which from a platoon middle infielder can be a real difference in a late innings game. Of his 43 hits he knocked 16 for extra bases, including 11 doubles, for a total of 37% (16/43) of his hits. Though he was quiet on the base paths this past season, he swiped 12 bases in 2010 and is regarded as intelligent when rounding the bases, a trait that is just as important as speed when serving as a pinch runner. He's not an impact bat but is 25-man capable in the infield and will not cost the Mariners more than 2-years, $6 million in dealings.
These names cover conceivably five of the holes the Seattle Mariners are looking to fill this off-season. While I believe they will be successful in searching for an impact bat, they cannot lose sight of the overall roster. Fielding the strongest team possible is an important task for a rebuilding team and can deliver those extra four or five wins in a season that place a club over .500.
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