As I wrote last Sunday, the Seattle Mariners were definitely interested in Melky Cabrera for their right field opening. The switch-hitter seemed to represent about as close to a perfect fit as is available on the market this season. But now that he is signing with the Chicago White Sox, Seattle needs to find their other options.
Their in-house options consist of James Jones and Stefen Romero, both of whom saw significant time in the major leagues last season as rookies, and neither of whom truly impressed. But are there better options worth the risks?
I wrote earlier this off-season that Boston's Allen Craig could be a potential fit, and other names such as Seth Smith, Gerardo Parra, Dayan Viciedo and Andre Ethier are rumored to be available on the trade market. As is Justin Upton, who the Mariners have been linked to many times over the past few seasons. And while Seattle seems to be standing firm on not giving up either of their prized young big league starters in Walker and Paxton to land Upton, perhaps Atlanta's price could fall a bit as time moves along.
Outside of the trade route, free agents Alex Rios and Norichika Aoki are among the top remaining outfielders available, and I think it is fair to state that Rios -- a right-handed hitter who will likely settle for a much shorter and much less lucrative contract than Cabrera commanded, maybe on a one- or two-year deal around $7m or $8m annually -- stands as the favorite to join the M's at this point.
Also out there on the free agent market is Chase Headley. While Headley is a third baseman by trade, he's played more than 250 games in the outfield between the major and minor leagues and actually carries a better career WAR, wOBA, OBP and OPS than Cabrera does. He's also just three months older than Melky and has a walk rate some 40% higher than him. But while those career numbers are enticing, they are propped up -- some would say artificially -- by Headley's monster 2012 season in which he hit 18 more home runs than he ever had before or ever has since. Take away that career year and Headley's career OPS drops to .731 and his SLG drops to .390. On top of that, much of Headley's current value comes from the Gold Glover's stellar defense at third; moving him out of that position seems counter-intuitive, regardless of the team's needs. And lastly, Headley is already rumored to be receiving 4- and 5-year offers for more than $60m total.
But getting back to Romero and Jones; is there a chance that one of them -- or both of them -- could be the answer to Seattle's needs?
Over the last 15 seasons, 315 rookie outfielders have seen at least 170 plate appearances in a season, as both Romero and Jones did in 2014 for Seattle. The seasons turned in by those two rank in the bottom 14 in both fWAR and wOBA out of those 315 seasons. Romero hit.192/.234/.299 while seeing more than 64 percent of his plate appearances with the platoon split and Jones hit .250/.278/.311 while seeing nearly 72 percent of his plate appearances with the platoon split. Is it possible that one or both of those guys still could turn things around? Sure, it is possible, but in looking through this list, there are only two players in the bottom 50 -- Michael Brantley and Coco Crisp -- who endured similar struggles that have since gone on to become above average regulars. One person with the club pointed out to the inconsistent use that these two saw as rookies as a reason why you can't simply right their big league futures off now with what transpired in 2014, but with Seattle seemingly on the precipice of contention in the AL West, I doubt that the club wants to play those long odds that they are markedly better in 2015.
Which means Seattle will still be adding to their outfield from outside the system.
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