Shortly after the 2014 season wrapped up for the Seattle Mariners -- a season that saw the club miss their first taste of the postseason since 2001 by the slimmest of margins -- their newly minted star, Robinson Cano, celebrated his 32nd birthday. Cano's first season with Seattle was certainly a success, as the sweet-swinging second baseman ranked third among MLB second baseman and 13th in the AL overall with 5.3 fWAR while leading the club in a number of offensive categories and finishing 6th in the American League batting race with a .314 average that was a carbon copy of his mark in New York the previous year. Cano tallied those strong offensive numbers while again earning recognition as a finalist for the Gold Glove at second base in the AL.
But with free agency season now official open, the luster of Cano's first year with Seattle is wearing off, and a sense of urgency is hopefully starting to set in for the front office of the Mariners. Cano will play the 2015 season at the age of 32, generally considered to be the typical end of most player's "prime", so adding more offense to the club this off-season to capitalize on the window of their best player seems like something the club can't just try to do. It is something that they must do. The most obvious areas where Seattle can add offense appear to be at first base, designated hitter and in the outfield.
The top free agent hitters on the market this winter in terms of their 2014 production and career marks include Victor Martinez, Hanley Ramirez, Nelson Cruz, Pablo Sandoval, Melky Cabrera, Michael Cuddyer, Billy Butler, Nick Markakis, Alex Rios, Michael Morse and the M's own Kendrys Morales. Only the latter five on that list weren't given a qualifying offer (tying in compensation), and a few of the players on the qualifying offer list have PED ties, which we now know sways the Mariners. The change in the designation for free agents with the qualifying offer is certainly something that has changed the face of free agency in recent seasons, so it remains to be seen if the stigma attached to those players will be enough to entice those players to bite on the offer. Morales and super agent Scott Boras certainly saw the effects of the QO last year, and this season's $15.3m price tag figures that it would be tough to beat for most players on that list.
The trade market is also there for all teams, of course, and there figure to be a lot of teams that would be interested in dealing with Seattle with their young pitching and middle infield depth. One potential upgrade, lefty-swinging first baseman/DH Adam Lind, was recently dealt by Toronto for pitching after they claimed former M's first baseman Justin Smoak off of waivers. Seattle has been tied to Atlanta's Justin Upton before and the Braves had a disappointing 2014 season and recently underwent a front office face lift. There have been rumors that talented outfielder Yoenis Cespedes has already fallen out of favor in Boston, and the former Oakland cleanup hitter recently switched agencies to Jay Z's Roc Nation agency, which of course reps Cano.
Seattle had rumored interest in the White Sox's Dayan Viciedo, Philadelphia's Marlon Byrd and the Rays' Ben Zobrist last year around the deadline and those guys could be in play this winter, too, but bigger names with more potential impact such as Pedro Alvarez of Pittsburgh, Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, Carlos Gonzalez of Colorado and -- perhaps the biggest potential add for any team -- Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies have also all had their names out there in trade discussions. Giancarlo Stanton is still in Miami, too, but after a better-than-expected showing from several of their young players in 2014, it seems almost impossible that the Marlins will deal him prior to the 2015 season.
With the M's All-Star core of Cano, Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager and Fernando Rodney all getting older and the young arms seemingly ready to cement themselves as big leaguers, Seattle needs to strike this off-season to maximize their potential for a championship run. How will they do it? It could be through free agency, through trades or through a combination of both. But the front office must act with urgency this off-season to make sure this opportunity in front of them doesn't pass them by.
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