Mariners Rumors: Iwakuma, Upton

 The past couple of days have been busy in the rumor mill, though the Seattle Mariners remain among the many clubs that have yet to strike a significant deal this offseason.

We did get the Michael Saunders news Monday — he changed agents, not teams (yet), and the club did announce the signing of Cuban left-hander Misael Siverio. The 25-year-old figures to provide depth in the upper minors with a shot to see the big leagues in some capacity.

Joe Beimel is a free agent, so there is a potential need for a second southpaw out of the bullpen, though the idea that two lefties are a necessity is short-sighted, in my opinion. Siverio could be among those vying for that spot in spring training.

Boston Eyeing Iwakuma?
In more significant rumors, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported Sunday that the Red Sox have at least had internal conversations about Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma is under contract for one more year at $7 million. Cafardo mentions a deal swapping ‘Kuma for Yoenis Cespedes could make sense.

In theory, yes, it does. The Mariners need offense and the Red Sox are looking for starting pitching. Beneath the surface, it’s a terrible idea for the M’s. Seattle’s rotation, as I wrote here last week, was not superb last season beyond the top two starters — Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma — and the tip candidates to fill out spots 3-5 — James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias — are far from sure bets in both availability and performance/development terms.

Seattle’s starting pitchers ranked No. 7 in the American League in FIP and No. 11 in innings. The bullpen, and occasionally some defense, were highly cooperative with the rotation, particularly beyond the top two starters.

Trading Iwakuma shouldn’t be out of the question, but doing so without reinforcements in place first is weakening one area to strengthen another. The overall trade-off could even make the club worse. Both are projected to post somewhere in the range of 3.0 WAR.

Justin Upton 2.0?
Two winters ago the Mariners reportedly had agreed to a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks that would have sent Taijuan Walker and at least two other strong prospects and a big-league reliever to the desert in exchange for right fielder Justin Upton. Upton’s no-trade clause allowed him veto, and he did so. Eventually, he was dealt to Atlanta.

Upton, however, has removed the Mariners from his no-trade list — well, he essentially just replaced them with other clubs — and Bob Nightengale Tweeted Monday that even though they have dealt Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Braves still could move Upton this offseason.

The 27-year-old has one year left on his deal and will earn $14.5 million in 2015. This does not mean contract extension before a trade, it does not mean hope for a contract extension after the trade. Not from the Mariners’ position going into the idea. The acquiring club is trading for one year of Upton. Not one year of him plus the chance at an extension. The chances he passes up free agency are closer to zero than slim and once he gets there all 30 clubs have the same shot at him.

The question here is: What is one year of Justin Upton worth? First, he costs $14.5 million. Second, in this scenario he’ll be added to the roster before the start of the regular season, so ultimately losing him lands the acquiring club a draft pick if he’s tendered the Qualifying Offer and signs elsewhere.

After that it’s about what the player brings to the table. Upton has posted .342/.491 and .344/.460 OBP/SLG combos since the trade to Atlanta. Turner Field is as fair a ballpark as there is in assessing a batter’s ability to hit in neutral environments. He’s played 159, 150, 149, 154 and 144 games the past five years and has been a 3.1 and 3.9 fWAR player the past two years. He’s still young-ish and should be better defensively than the metrics says he’s been, but he’s not thought of as a liability with the glove. He’s a solid baserunner and his career year still may be in front of him.

What the Mariners can’t do here is give up five years of control of a Walker or Elias for one season of Upton. What they can do is try and make this deal a lot bigger than Upton and a young arm. If they’re going to move one of their young starters, making it worth their while is imperative. Demanding more than Upton — perhaps including Evan Gattis — can take care of the lack of control; Gattis has four years of club control left.

The Braves, who received right-hander Shelby Miller in return for Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden, are looking to stockpile young pitchers, so there may be no way around such an asking price in any deal. But the other pieces may be easily settled upon from the Mariners perspective. Atlanta does not have an obvious future second baseman, nor are they stacked in the outfield, particularly if they are trading away Upton and/or Gattis. Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller and Chris Taylor all could be intriguing pieces if and when the two clubs exchange ideas.

Prospect Ketel Marte also could interest Atlanta. He’s a shortstop with a chance to stick, but could be a plus glove at second and is about a year from the majors.

Again, however, the Mariners have to cover themselves if they deal away Walker, Elias or Paxton, and if they were to move Miller or Taylor, they’re essentially counting on the other to handle the position in 2015. The alternative is going after other shortstop options this winter, potentially including Hanley Ramirez, Elvis Andrus, Alexei Ramirez and Stephen Drew.

The sequence of events doesn’t have to be clear, but they do have to occur at some stage of the cold months.

Buzz
Among the clubs that I’m told have expressed interest in Saunders include the San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays … Seattle has touched base with Melky Cabrera’s reps, but there are no indications serious conversations have taken place … Jon Lester, profiled here, is taking the free agent tour after meeting with the Red Sox this week, but it’s unclear at this stage if he has any interest in Seattle or if the M’s have any level of interest in the southpaw … I’m also told the M’s are telling agents and other clubs that they have not ruled out any scenario of acquisitions this season. Multiple trades and/or free agent signings, no position other than second base is off the table (interest in a third baseman suggests he plays another position, however), and no one financial presentation is out of the question … Speaking of third basemen, at some point over the next three months the club and Kyle Seager’s agent, Andrew Lowenthal of Jet Sports, have to have serious discussions regarding a multi-year solution for the All-Star. Some level of contact has to have been made by now, but like I’ve been pointing out for six months, the longer the wait the more expensive Seager gets. Seager clearly has committed himself to the Mariners. Time for the club to reciprocate, and there’s little chance they don’t get it done before the start of the 2015 schedule.

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Jason A. Churchill

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