The Mariners and free agency

The Seattle Mariners have a multitude of needs if they plan to rectify the issues that kept them from building upon their 87-win season of 2014. Hundreds of free agents are on the market as of Friday, free to sign with any club. Many make some sense for a club like the Mariners. Some do not.

The M’s need pitching, at least one more starter, probably even if Hisashi Iwakuma is re-signed or accepts the qualifying offer. The bullpen needs at least three new names, including a high-leverage arm that can handle the late innings. The catcher’s position must be addressed, both in terms of the big-league roster and Triple-A depth. The outfield is a deserted lot at this point and with Brad Miller now in Tampa, a solid utility player couldn’t hurt, either.

General manager Jerry Dipoto‘s track record suggests he prefers to develop and trade his way into winning, rather than rely on free agency. But no club can ignore the open market. Just don’t expect the Mariners to go above and beyond the way they did for Robinson Cano two offseasons ago.

Here are some free agents the Mariners should consider; The * indicates a minor league free agent with service time remaining before full, six-year, big-league free agency is reached.

Starting Pitcher
Doug Fister, RHP
Scott Kazmir, LHP
Mike Leake, RHP
Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP

This is an area Dipoto already has addressed with the acquisition of Nate Karns from the Rays. Iwakuma or not, the club needs more starting pitching. While it’d be ideal to add a true No. 2 starter, the free agent market isn’t likely where the Mariners will land such an arm. Kazmir, however, could fit the mold and isn’t likely to break the bank the way Zack Greinke, David Price and Johnny Cueto are expected to this winter. Leake is an ideal replacement for Iwakuma; reliable, quality stuff that plays at Safeco Field and a great chance he’s worth whatever the market allots through and perhaps beyond the length of even a five-year contract.

Fister, like Iwakuma, is more typically a risk with recent injury history, but his value in free agency likely will reflect that with lower guaranteed numbers in both dollars and years. The former Mariners draftee is a good upside play in this market. Adding Iwakuma or Fister plus Leake or a trade acquisition would be a banner year repairing the depth of the club’s rotation. It’s more reasonable to expect one of the latter.

Relief Pitcher
Jonathan Broxton, RHP
Trevor Cahill, RHP
Neftali Feliz, RHP
Michael Kohn, RHP*
Shawn Kelley, RHP
Mark Lowe, RHP
Tommy Hunter, RHP
David Hernandez, RHP
Jean Machi, RHP*
Brian Matusz, LHP
Dustin McGowan, RHP*
Ryan Madson, RHP
Edward Mujica, RHP
Darren O’Day, RHP
Alexi Ogando, RHP*
Franklin Morales, LHP
Rafael Soriano, RHP
Joakim Soria, RHP
Tony Sipp, LHP
Vinnie Pestano, RHP*
Ernesto Frieri, RHP*

A number of the above arms have experience closing, but picking which ones can still get the job done isn’t easy. Injuries and aging has clouded the secondary closer market. O’Day and former Mariners Lowe and Kelley make the most sense for me, and a flier on a lefty like Matusz intrigues.

In terms of finding the ‘best reliever’ for the late innings, a Broxton, Soria or Madson might make sense if the market doesn’t balloon too far. Still, the trade market will be at play here. Stay tuned.

Kohn, Pestano, Cahill, Frieri and Hernandez are the four names most familiar to Dipoto, which may come into play during evaluations and negotiations.

Catcher
Brayan Pena, C
Chris Ianetta, C
A.J. Pierzynski, C
Geovany Soto, C
Alex Avila, C
Dioner Navarro, C
Michael McKenry, C*

Any two of the first five would be a tremendous coup for the Mariners. What’s more plausible is one of the first five, plus one of the bottom two or a similar trade acquisition. Dipoto certainly knows Ianetta well from their time with the Angels. McKenry is more of a bat first backstop in the mold of John Jaso, but there are some plate skills there which may be idea for a two-days-a-week catcher. Pierzynski’s advanced age suggests he’s a better fit with similar playing time.

None of the above warrant more than two years on a guaranteed contract. The good news is, there’s absolutely no reason to pretend Mike Zunino is some kind of pray-for-rain option for the long haul.

Corner Outfielders
Shane Victorino, OF
Ryan Raburn, OF
Franklin Gutierrez, OF
Alejandro De Aza, OF
Nori Aoki, OF
Dom Brown, OF*
Grady Sizemore, OF

Aoki, Raburn and De Aza make some sense in part-time roles, as does Gutierrez. Sizmore, Victorino and Gutierrez all come with rather significant injury histories.

Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon all were extended qualifying offers. While Gordon is a fine player, he’s not likely leaving Kansas City, even if the Royals are outbid. Anything competitive probably keeps him in blue and white. Heyward may end up with a deal in the $200 million range. While that fits the ‘star’ qualification for sacrificing the No. 11 pick, somehow luring Heyward, a Georgia native, to the Pacific Northwest likely would require even more an overpay than did Cano.

Upton simply isn’t worth the draft pick and the $100-plus million it’s going to take. If he was the final piece, I’d consider going down that road. But unless Upton’s market disappears and he learns to start, close and catch four days a week, pass.

Center Fielder
Rajai Davis, CF
Denard Span, CF

With Colby Rasmus and Dexter Fowler each receiving qualifying offers, I’m out of the market for either player. Neither are clear cut long-term all-star types that warrant sacrificing the No. 11 pick in the 2016 Draft.

Span is a bit of an injury risk and is merely average defensively, but when healthy he’s solid at the plate and fits Safeco Field with a line drive game plan that comes with high contact rates.


You’ll be disappointed if you are hoping the Mariners jump into the deep end of the free agent pool. It simply doesn’t make sense for them to do so. But that doesn’t mean they can’t and won’t be active, it will just be for role players, for the most part. And as we’ve discussed recently, the Mariners need a few good role players.

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Jason A. Churchill

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