Outfielders on the move, M’s stand pat

 Despite the commodity that power has become in today’s game, a trio of slugging outfielders were moved west this past week. All three were, somewhat surprisingly, acquired by the San Diego Padres.

Matt Kemp was officially acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers after some concerns arose in his physical. Wil Myers was brought on board in a three-team blockbuster with the Tampa Bay Rays. The cherry on top of the newly formed outfield is Justin Upton, acquired from the Atlanta Braves.

All three are right-handed, outfielders, and hold plenty of power. All three were also connected to the Seattle Mariners in some capacity during recent times.

There were also a myriad of free agent outfielders who found new homes as well. Alex Rios signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Royals and Mike Morse headed to the Miami Marlins on a two-year pact. Of course Melky Cabrera was also signed by the Chicago White Sox recently, meaning the market for starting-calibre outfielders is barren. Colby Rasmus and Nori Aoki remain, but there are concerns about whether either can be a regular.

The Mariners weren’t completely shut out, however, as they picked up Justin Ruggiano from the Chicago Cubs for a minor leaguer. But aside from the Nelson Cruz signing, Seattle hasn’t done anything to significantly augment a lacklustre 2014 lineup. There were reports earlier this week that the M’s were close to a significant transaction, but we are still waiting for that to happen — and it still could.

Kemp and the Mariners felt like an inevitability in the fall. Seattle had the need for a right-handed outfielder with some power and the means to assume a significant portion of the slugger’s salary. Despite his flaws, Kemp would have improved the Mariners in 2015 and 2016 at the least. In fact, there was reportedly a deal in place that would have sent Brad Miller and Michael Saunders to LA for Kemp and cash that would cover half his salary.

The Dodgers would change their minds and insist that a young pitcher, such as Taijuan Walker or James Paxton, be included in the trade. Seattle said no, and Kemp is now slated to man the position that was famously patrolled in San Diego by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.

With Upton it was a similar case as the clubs made somewhat logical trade partners and there was plenty of reported interest. The problem here though was the right-hander’s impending free agency. When Seattle had a deal in place for the outfielder around this time two years ago, they were willing to deal Walker. Upton could have spent three seasons in blue and teal. However at this point there was no guarantee he would stay in Seattle beyond 2015. At the price of a talented young pitcher with valuable years of club control the M’s also balked.

Atlanta would be unable to land the coveted young starter they desired and instead sent Upton to San Diego for what they perceived to be the best package of prospects.

The Myers trade is the one of the three that really stood out. The Braves had already moved outfielder Jason Heyward and were considered sellers. Los Angeles had an outfield surplus and a new regime looking to change the complexion of a star-studded roster.

Myers had just completed his second big league season and was still a couple years away from getting expensive through the arbitration process — usually that is the time when the small-market Rays would deal a player. But as is sometimes the case, the Rays had ulterior motives for dealing the youngster. In return they picked up promising young outfielder Steven Souza from the Washington Nationals who will essentially replace Myers in the outfield, among other players.

The Padres were highly praised for securing all three outfielders without surrendering any of the young pitching on the active roster. Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Ian Kennedy will anchor the rotation again in 2015.

Seattle’s system is unlike San Diego’s in that there really isn’t significant depth to deal from. The Padres were able to protect their top pitching prospects and now have excess pieces, such as Seth Smith, that can be dealt to replenish some of the talent given up.

  Many of the Mariners’ top prospects have graduated to the big league levels. Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, and James Paxton are now key contributors. Taijuan Walker and D.J. Peterson are the blue chippers that sit atop the system, with Walker expected to take a spot in the rotation if everything goes right.

There is obvious concern with dealing any top prospect, but there’s very little in the upper minors in terms of serious young talent. Katel Marte and Austin Wilson, among others, could take another step forward in 2015. But they aren’t considered impact players at this point in time nor do they have the lustre of a first-round draft pick or highly ranked talent.

For those reasons of organizational depth, it made plenty of sense for the Mariners to go the free agency route this winter. Nelson Cruz was given $57 million and there was plenty of disappointment when Cabrera decided on the Windy City instead of Seattle.

Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill recently compared Kemp and Cabrera and what it would cost the Mariners to acquire the outfielders. His conclusion was that it would make far more sense to commit years and money to Cabrera instead of more cash and considerable talent to land Kemp.

Kemp appears to be the better player, especially if the power comes back, but both project for similar production moving forward. Would it make more sense to have spent an extra year and $13 million on Cabrera or trade Walker? In that context it seems obvious considering the available funds and lack of success in player development.

I don’t want to suggest that the Mariners should or should not deal a younger player to improve the lineup this winter. Depending on the player, it may make sense. If Myers, a young outfielder with star potential, is the target then sure, we have a case. But a one-year rental on a guy like Upton? That doesn’t make much sense.

Both the Dodgers and Braves would only deal their outfielders to Seattle for Walker, Paxton, or maybe Roenis Elias. The Mariners wisely abstained and are most likely better off for it.

Eventually Seattle will have to take a significant risk to get that piece that they believe will put them over the top. We saw that fail for the Oakland Athletics and Jon Lester. We also saw that succeed for the Kansas City Royals and James Shields — yes, even though they didn’t win it all, that’s still a major victory for the city and club.

Upton and Kemp didn’t appear to be the right players for that job. The decision to give Cruz four years and not offer more than three to Cabrera is still puzzling, but it isn’t invalid. Myers could’ve been that player, though we don’t know for sure what conversations the Mariners did or did not have with the Rays.

It’s still early in the winter and despite the flurry of activity, there are still plenty of moves that could be made. Acquiring the second half of the right field platoon with Ruggiano — we’re all looking at you, Seth Smith — could give the lineup the extra boost it needs overall.

I had opined that there was no reason Seattle shouldn’t look to acquire Smith and Upton before the latter was dealt elsewhere and Ruggiano was brought into the fold. After all, Dustin Ackley isn’t a sure thing in left field and there is some level of concern with Austin Jackson in center.

In all reality, the M’s should and probably will continue to look for that impact outfielder that can be had via the trade route. Who that could be very much remains to be seen. If the club can start the year with Ruggiano in a fourth outfielder role or allow Miller to focus solely on being a starting shortstop in the spring, the offseason will have been successful in many ways.

Nothing is likely to happen until the new year, but there are plenty of significant players that are acquired in January.

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Tyler Carmont

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