While I don’t expect the Seattle Mariners to be in play for the likes of Yoenis Cespedes, Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, the club will have the opportunity to compete for free agents to supplement what amounts to an average to above-average current roster.
Jerry Dipoto is a fan of the trade route and that’s certainly going to have to be the beaten path for the Mariners this offseason.
While there are a lot of unanswered questions that will provide necessary information about the club’s overall needs — Seth Smith‘s option, who gets non-tendered, et al — here are my favorite potential targets for the Mariners.
Notes: Only free agents without options for 2017 are considered; each transaction can and does create a butterfly effect on a team’s needs and resources available; the Mariners are not ‘being cheap’ by staying away from big-money free agents; Yes, the Mariners absolutely do have trade chips. Stop buying the complete nonsense being spread by the shortsighted and ignorant.
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
Hellickson, 30 in April, posted an above-average sub-4.00 FIP in 2016 to go with just over seven strikeouts per nine innings. The right-hander succeeded in Philadelphia as a mid-rotation option because he threw a lot of strikes and kept the ball in the park enough to avoid disaster innings.
He’s not going to light up the box score with complete-game shutouts and double-digit strikeout totals but there’s enough stuff and command to bring a reliable 180 innings of American League average production.
Hellickson sits right at 90 mph with his fastball — both the four-seam variety and his two-seamer and also offers a cutter-slider, curveball and changeup. His best pitch has typically been the curveball but last season his changeup was the best its been since his rookie season.
Rich Hill, LHP
Hill is an easy read at this stage of his career; if he’s healthy he’s very good and capable of filling a No. 3 starter role, or even a No. 2 spot to split up two strong right-handers at the top of the rotation.
He’s 37 in March and cannot be counted on for 200 innings, but he’s going to get multi-year offers to come in and curveball opponents into submission. And it’s the best left-handed curveball in the game right now.
He’s still throwing 89-91 and with life and he could use a more consistent slider or changeup — he went fastball-curveball nearly 95-percent of the time in 2016 — but he commands the combo so well it’s not as necessary as it would be for the typical pitcher.
Drew Smyly, LHP — Tampa Bay Rays
Smyly had a down 2016, posting a 4.49 FIP in 30 starts, but I don’t buy it as anything but a hiccup. He wasn’t entirely healthy all year, either, and the raw stuff remains for the 27-year-old.
Smyly is arbitration eligible again this winter and is likely to garner a one-year salary in the $6-8 million range if the Rays don’t get a multi-year deal done.
Smyly won’t be free-agent eligible until after the 2018 season, so there’s still a multi-year value to acquiring him this winter.
He fits in the middle of a good rotation but can be effectively slotted in the No. 2 slot. If he returns to form, he’ll be a terrific value, even at $8 million.
Robbie Ray, LHP — Arizona Diamondbacks
Ray may be the Diamondbacks best trade piece this winter, but it’s anyone’s guess how the club will approach the offseason after a 69-93 finish and revamping the front office.
Ray’s not going to come cheap, but may be more than worth the haul. With four years of control left, the 25-year-old is coming off a strong 2016 backing up a solid 2015. But this past season Ray took it up a notch, piling up a 28.1 percent strikeout rate and seemingly showing he’s learned how to use his 93-96 mph fastball.
Ray’s best secondary is an average curveball that’s teased plus status for years. His changeup is all over the map but his command has solidified enough to let his stuff win out more often. He still needs work on that change to corral right-handed batters more consistently, but he took a huge step forward and the best be on its way.
Santiago Casilla, RHP
Cassilla, 36, has closing experience but never has put up the truly dominating season clubs typically seek as a premium high-leverage option.
But he notched a career-best 27-percent strikeout rate in 2016 and is death to right-handed batters with his plus slider.
Greg Holland, RHP
Holland is more of a low-risk, high-reward play at this stage after missing all of 2016 rehabbing from October, 2015 Tommy John surgery.
Prior to the injury, Holland was lights out. Year 1 after TJ isn’t usually the best bet, but it might be worth a shot considering the right-hander was as dominant as any reliever in the game in 2013-14, posting FIPs of 1.36 and 1.83.
Daniel Hudson, RHP
Hudson, 30 in March, has screamed ‘breakout season coming’ for two years now and while he’s been useful out of the bullpen he hasn’t yet turned the corner, nor has he found consistency from outing to outing.
Still, Hudson is intriguing; he sits 94-98 with the fastball, mixes in a plus slider and from his starting days has a curveball and changeup in his pocket protector if he needs them.
Ideally, Hudson is a middle reliever, but I’m willing to bet on the breakout one more time if the price is right.
Mark Melancon, RHP
Melancon isn’t Jansen or Chapman but he may be the most sought after reliever on the market, anyway.
Melancon pounds the strike zone with average — at best — velocity in the 91-93 mph range, but he uses his cutter nearly 60 percent of the time and it’s devastating.
The right-hander also offers an above-average knuckle-curveball, enduces a lot of ground balls — 54.7 % in 2016, over 57% each of the prior two seasons — and at 32 has plenty left in the tank.
If the Mariners are willing to spend typical closer money, this is the arm they should be after.
Mike Dunn, LHP
The club could use — and says they will seek — a power southpaw for the bullpen. Dunn fits the bill, sitting 93-95 with a power slider, and despite uninspiring splits in 2016, projects to continue dominating left-handed batters — .224/.309/.330 with a .287 wOBA for his career.
Dunn has no experience closing and isn’t coming off his best season, so the price shouldn’t too high for Seattle to jump in and compete if they like what Dunn brings to the table.
Boone Logan, LHP
Logan doesn’t throw strikes as well as done and tops out at 94 or so, but recently he’s missed bats at a much higher rate — 30.5% in 2016 — and was unbelievable versus lefty bats in 2016: .139/.222/.255 with a .215 wOBA.
He also held righties to .211.338/.421 with a .305 wOBA, which is very respectable. For comparison sake, Edwin Diaz held RHBs to a .248/.302/.282 triple-slash and a .282 wOBA.
Brad Hand, LHP — San Diego Padres
Hand dominated lefties in 2016 — .124/.221/.200 — and held his own versus select right-handed batters. He did so with a 92-95 mph fastball, an effective two-seamer in the same range, and slider that at times is a wipeout option.
The Padres have holes to fill and selling relievers may be their most effective way of doing so.
Tony Cingrani, LHP — Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are one of the worst teams in baseball and stil should be selling veterans and any arm that doesn’t project high in the rotation for the long haul. Cingrani should be moved.
The lefty has made 30 MLB starts but profiles well in a relief role and is not limited to situational innings. He’s yet to put together a strong full season, but he’s heading into Year 3 as a full-time reliever, which historically suggests a peak.
The Mariners have had conversations with the Reds on numerous occasions since Jerry Dipoto took over as GM 14 months ago, but Cingrani never was central to those talks. He could, however, be part of a package.
Churchill wanted Pearce a year ago and the veteran still fits. Pearce torched left-handed pitching in 2016 — .317/.411/.622 — and brings a little defensive flexibility with his experience in the outfield. [Note: Pearce is not a good outfielder, but is playable in short stints, much like Seth Smith.]
The 33-year-old made $4.8 million this past season is likely to receive similar one-year offers this winter. If the Mariners are planning to go with Dan Vogelbach a first base versus right-handed pitching, spending a little money for a reliable, proven platoon partner is warranted.
No team that plans to win in 2017 writes in Vogelbach and Dae Ho Lee 162 times.
Wil Myers — San Diego Padres
You wanna take care of first base in one fell swoop plus add even more defensive flexibility? Wil Myers brings that.
When healthy –and he appeared to be most or all of 2016, playing in 157 games — Myers is an average first-base bat, an improving glove at the position, a good baserunner — 28 stolen bases and very few mistakes — and like Pearce can manage in the outfield, where Myers played most of his career until 2016 — and once was projected to be solid-average.
The trade cost here is the problem, of course. Myers carries three more season of control, is trending up offensively and the the poor free agent market suggest GM A.J. Preller will want a haul and a half.
It’s worth a text or two, anyway, but if it’s going to require Tyler O’Neill in a 3-4 player package, Dipoto’s reply should be fill of talk-t0-the-hand emojis.
Desmond was terrific the first half of 2016 and then faded some, but his defensive flexibility is fascinating.
Prior to his year in Texas spent in left and center field, Desmond was a solid glove at shortstop. He was a plus bat at both spot and again is a free agent.
He did fade after the break — .237/.283/.347 — but both halfs count and Desmond is just 31 years of age. He could be an option for teams at shortstop or the outfield, or in a combo role.
His free agency will even more fascinating than his defensive flexibility, particularly if no draft pick is attached to him this time.
Zack Cozart — Cincinnati Reds
The two sides reportedly talked last summer about Cozart and the idea still makes a lot of sense.
Ketel Marte didn’t progress enough in any facet to not at least see what is available and at what cost. The entire landscape may come down to Cozart, one of the better defensive shortstops in baseball and capable bat who can be relied upon daily.
Cozart will be a free agent after the 2017 season and arbitration likely nets him at least $5 million. He was worth 2.5 fWAR in 2016 and is a good bet to land somewhere in the 2.0 fWAR range next season.
While that’s certainly worth $5 million, will it be worth the trade cost?
Davis was a target last winter and should be again. Seattle has exactly zero secondary options in center field after Leonys Martin, including Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia, who have yet to show their bats warrant a 25-man roster spot.
Davis is a terrific baserunner, a solid defender in all three outfield spots and can handle the bat enough to be valued as a fourth outfielder.
Reddick remains interesting but I can’t put my finger on why he’s declined so fast and so much defensively and where his power went in 2016.
I tend to lean toward the opinion that 1500 innings of defensive data isn’t enough to put stock into, but Reddick struggled for extra-base hits in 2016 and lefties owned him — .155/.212/.155.
If the Mariners are keeping Smith — the club picked up his option this week — Reddick may not fit, since neither can handle left-handed pitching, play center field or offer reliable defensive value in a corner.
Adam Eaton — Chicago White Sox
Eaton can play any of the three outfield spots well and was plus-plus in right in 2016. But he’s also a strong bat, posting .346 and .344 wOBAs and 119 and 115 wRC+ the last two seasons.
Eaton’s contract calls for $4 million in 2017, $6 million in 2018 and $8.4 million in 2019. Club option for 2020 and 2021 would be worth $20 million total with individual $1.5 million buyouts, making his guarantees $19.9 million over the next three years.
In Seattle, Eaton’s not likely to post .431 and .428 slugging percentages but everything else the 27-year-old does should be coveted by the other 29 teams. The lefty-hitting Eaton even handles left-handed pitching.
Like Myers, the trade cost may simply be too much for Seattle, but have the conversation, be willing to trade almost any prospect and zero-to-three in the organization and the stuck-in-the-middle White Sox may not have much choice.
Ender Inciarte — Atlanta Braves
Inciarte is among the best defensive outfielders in baseball and in three seasons has compiled a career .292/.337/.385 triple-slash.
He runs well, can start in a corner and backup in center, and bat somewhere in the bottom third of the lineup without concern he’ll hurt the team game-to-game.
The Braves aren’t necessarily going to shop Inciarte, but John Coppolella is always open to talking and the organization still is after catching, middle defenders — shortstop, second base and center field — and, of course, young pitching.
Odubel Herrera — Philadelphia Phillies
Herrera is a legitimate centerfielder and has proven a strong top-of-the-lineup option with 41 stolen bases, a .351 on-base percentage and improving contact rates.
He’s four years from free agency, so he’s not going to be cheap in any sense of the word, but he might be the National League’s version of Eaton.
Marcel Ozuna — Miami Marlins
Ozuna interested the Mariners last winter and may again this offseason. Ozuna is arbitration eligible for the first time, which means three more seasons until free agency arrives.
He’s 26 this month and a solid but unspectacular player in all facets. He’s average center field — may be plus in either corner — has two 20-plus homer seasons and while he’s no on-base machine did post a career high 7.1 percent walk rate in 2016.
The club shouldn’t sell it’s soul for Ozuna, but treating him similar to Eaton (Eaton is better, but costs more in salary, and probably trade, too) makes sense.
Ramos, 29, had a huge year at the plate in 131 games — .307/.354/.496, .361 wOBA, 124 wRC+ — before requiring surgery to repair a torn ACL.
He may not be ready to go until May or June, but is the best option on the free agent market.
Miguel Montero — Chicago Cubs
With David Ross retiring, Montero will get more time in 2017, even with Wilson Contreras slated to be No. 1 on the depth chart to start the season, but Montero is again set to make $14 million and might be worth more to the Cubs in trade — a dearth of catching options in baseball add to his value — than he is splitting time with Contreras.
Contreras isn’t likely to play a lot of outfield, even though Joe Maddon has shown a willingness to do that to get other players into the lineup occasionally, to warrant a $14 million bench player.
The Cubs aren’t concerned with the latter — $14 million is exactly what Montero made in 2016, too, and he still was benched for many games down the stretch and in the postseason — but the return for Montero could be convincing.
Worth a text, for sure, but it’s worth noting Montero will be a free agent after the ’17 campaign.
Stephen Vogt — Oakland Athletics
Vogt may be among the more realistic targets for clubs looking for catching, considering the A’s like to make deals, make deals involving controllable talent and avoid potentially expensive arbitration scenarios.
Vogt will hit arbitration for the first time this winter, though he’s doing so after a down 2016 where he batted just .251/.305/.406 in 137 games.
Vogt remains a solid catching option — he’s a fringy framer but solid receiver and underrated thrower.
Your trading for three years of an above-average catcher, so it’s going to be pricey, and Vogt is 32 years old, already.
Jason A. Churchill
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