ICYMI: December 8-22

 With the final days of 2013 just around the corner, the baseball hot stove season tends to take a slight break for the holidays; although I’m sure more than a few baseball executives will be checking their iPhones between helpings of turkey. That likelihood increased with new reports suggesting a decision on Japanese superstar Masahiro Tanaka could come on Chistmas Eve or Christmas day.

The Seattle Mariners have been linked as an obvious destination for Tanaka given Seattle’s proximity to Japan as well as their previous success with Japanese imports, not to mention the presence of Tanaka’s former teammate Hisashi Iwakuma as well. PI’s Jason Churchill argues that the M’s should stay committed to right hander when one considers his value on a long term contract compared to the top available starters, and the considerale commitment ownership’s made to Robinson Cano and GM Jack Zduriencik. Cano isn’t going to be a superstar forever so now is the time to add a serious boost to the M’s rotation in 2014 and beyond with a Tanaka signing.

Speaking of the top available starters, Chris Moran compares Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez, and finds Garza to be the safest bet among the three. There’s been plenty of speculation surrounding the three starters as they represent the top arms available via free agency, but their markets have been held up while clubs wait for a resolution to the Tanaka situation. Seattle is reportedly looking to add another top of the rotation arm, and it’s worth noting that signing Garza will not cost the club a draft pick as he was traded midseason.

The Winter Meetings came and went with very little news on the Mariners’ front. Jason summed up some of the rumblings as well as provided several free agent and trade candidates that could be considered. Jason also provided an in-depth analysis on Jose Bautista as a potential trade candidate. While dialogue between the Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays has been minimal, there is an obvious match as the M’s possess the young pitching the Jays desire, and Seattle is still on the lookout for offence. Bautista would slot in nicely behind Cano, but with the Jays looking to make noise in the AL East this season, it’s unlikely they’d move their right-fielder unless they were blown away. Even if the slugger is deemed unavailable, there’s plenty of other right handed fish in the sea for the M’s to consider.

It wasn’t long after the meetings finished up that the Mariners made their moves,  as the acquisitions of Logan Morrison and Corey Hart came in literal back to back fashion. As Alex Carson noted, Hart’s deal is of the one-year variety with a base salary of $5 million and incentives that could push the total value of the contract to $13 million. Morrison was acquired from the Miami Marlins for reliever Carter Capps who posted uninspiring numbers in the M’s bullpen in 2013 but still has some potential moving forward.

Many in the Mariners community were in favour of signing Hart and there’s minimal risk on a one-year deal. The 31-year old smashed 87 home runs in the middle of the Milwaukee Brewers’ lineup between 2010 and 2012, and looks to hit in the middle of the Mariners’ batting order in 2014. As Jason notes in his analysis of both transactions, Seattle could just be looking to add depth given their interest in Billy Butler and Nelson Cruz. It’s noted that Morrison and Hart appear to be very similar players on paper. Both are better suited to DH/1B roles due to knee injuries, but with Justin Smoak still in the fold and no incumbent left-fielder, it’s likely both will see plenty of time in left field. Morrison has actually spent more of his career in the outfield than first base, but he was somewhat of a defensive liability even before his health struggles.

Rounding out the M’s recent transactions was news that Franklin Gutierrez would be brought back into the fold on a one year deal with a base salary of $1 million. The former Gold Glove winner hasn’t played a full season since 2010 due to a plethora of injuries, but he provides insurance as a fourth outfielder with some upside if he can regain his health. Like the Hart signing, there’s little risk in the transaction but high reward if the players can rebound. Considering the other available free agent depth-type outfielders, re-signing Gutierrez made the most sense because he brings defensive value to the table in a way that Rick Ankiel can’t.

Shin-Soo Choo found his way back to the AL West on saturday after reportedly agreeing to sign with the Texas Rangers. It was looking unlikely that the Mariners would be serious contenders for Choo’s services, but now that the Rangers are unlikely to further pursue Nelson Cruz, it only increases the possibility that Cruz winds up in blue and teal in the coming months; a very unpopular thought among M’s fans.

Elsewhere at PI, Steve Simas takes a look at shortstop prospects in the most recent instalment of his Fantasy Prospect Ranking series; Chris stacks King Felix Hernandez up against some of the best starters of all time, and it’s very easy to forget Felix will turn just 28 this coming April; Rob Balboni takes a look at the acquisition of Mark Trumbo by the Arizona Diamonbacks and offers some insight into the baseball mind of GM Kevin Towers; Mike Zunino needs a catching partner, and I took a look at some viable options (although Kurt Suzuki has since signed).

Of course, we can’t forget to mention…

 

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Jason A. Churchill

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