Often considered to be one of the slowest months in terms of meaningful major league transactions, January has seen plenty of them over the years. In fact, the Detroit Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year deal worth $214 million on January 25, 2012. This month we’ll see a decision from Masahiro Tanaka which will, hopefully, reignite the stagnant starting pitching market with plenty of multi-year deals; some of which won’t occur until February of course. Let’s take a look at some of the notable January transactions the Seattle Mariners have made over the last decade or so.
In the Mariners’ eternal quest to stock home run bats last winter, they shipped their best hitter from the previous year for an outfielder who had only topped 20 home runs once in his career and was due to hit free agency following the season. In Morse’s defence, he did string together three decent seasons with the bat for the Nationals, and never was much of a fielder throughout his career. Injuries also played a role in his lack of production last year, but ultimately, Morse struggled mightily in his return to the Pacific Northwest, and was traded to Baltimore in August. Jaso missed some time with a concussion in his first year in Oakland, but still managed to produce 1.1 bWAR and 1.2 fWAR and is under team control for two more seasons. Both Cole and Treinen have yet to pitch in the majors for the Nationals.
At the time, the deal looked pretty darn good for both clubs; the Yanks got a young high upside arm and the M’s got a young high upside bat. Montero had a decent first year in a Mariners uniform hitting .260/.298/.386 with a 90 wRC+, but that now seems like a distant memory. This past year was one to forget for the 24-year old who not only struggled mightily in the majors, he was suspended for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, and dealt with injuries. He’ll likely get the 2014 season to figure things out at Triple-A and become a proper first baseman, but his top prospect potential is fading fast. Pineda has yet to throw a pitch in as a Yankee since a shoulder injury in Spring Training forced him to miss the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He did manage to start ten minor league games in 2013 however, and could see some major league time in ’14 although he’s no sure thing. Campos has to pitch above Single-A for the Yankees while Noesi has struggled in 134 innings pitched for the Mariners over the last two seasons.
January 18, 2012 — Seattle signs Oliver Perez to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training.
At the time, Perez was 30-years old and had missed the entire 2011 season. Of course, a minor league contract bears little risk for a team, but in this case it turned out to be a great gamble. In 29 2/3 innings of work in 2012, the lefty managed a 2.12 ERA and a 2.93 FIP. Perez was resigned for the 2013 campaign for $1.5 million plus incentives and continued to be a solid contributor out of the bullpen. In 53 innings of work he posted a 3.74 ERA which was actually beaten by his peripherals; 3.26 FIP and 3.36 xFIP, good for 0.8 fWAR and 0.6 bWAR. The 32-year old remains unsigned at this time, and there’s still a possibility he resigns in Seattle for at least another year.
January 5, 2012 — Seattle signs Hisashi Iwakuma to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million plus incentives.
Not much needs to be said about how good of a pick up Iwakuma has been for the Mariners in just two seasons’ time. The Japanese import didn’t require a posting fee to sign in North America since he had already spent ten years in the JPL, and he had received interest from several major league teams before agreeing to wear blue and teal. It’s interesting to note that the Athletics had posted $19.1 million to negotiate with the right-hander the previous winter but talks didn’t materialize. Coming off of a third place finish in the AL Cy Young voting, Iwakuma will play a big role in any success Seattle has in 2014. His $7 million team option for 2015 is almost a lock to be pick up and he will then be arbitration eligible for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
The Mariners bought low on Aardsma after he put up three disappointing seasons with three different clubs from 2006-2008. The righty tantalized teams with his ability to rack up strikeouts but did have difficulty with giving away free bags; his 4.29 BB/9 in 2009 was the lowest mark of his career. Aardsma took over the closer role in his first year with Seattle in which he saved 38 games with a 2.51 ERA and 3.01 FIP, good for 1.8 fWAR and 1.7 bWAR. He managed to carry some of that success into 2010 as he saved 31 games, but began to battle with injuries and would eventually miss almost all of the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He has since resurfaced with the New York Mets where he pitched 39 2/3 innings this past season. While he may have only been a two year wonder as a Mariner, his cost was minimal. Williamson was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2006 amateur draft by Seattle and has yet to pitch in the majors.
January 26, 2005 — Seattle signs Yuniesky Betancourt as an amateur free agent.
As odd as it may be to say it now, the Mariners actually did get a couple of serviceable seasons out of Betancourt when he first joined the club. The slick fielding shortstop impressed many with his glove work and defensive abilities early on, but was never much with the bat. In 2006, his first full major league season, he did manage to hit .289/.310/.370 with a 78 wRC+, good for 1.6 fWAR and 1.8 bWAR. One of the Cuban’s biggest drawbacks was his inability to draw a walk. The owner of a 3.17 percent walk rate in his five seasons in Seattle was only able to slightly improve over the next several seasons to his current career mark of 3.3 percent. Betancourt was dealt to Kansas City in 2009 for a pair of prospects including Dan Cortes, who at the time, was the Royals’ third best prospect according to Baseball America. Cortes managed to pitch just 16 innings for Seattle between 2010-11 however, and hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since.
Yep. This one hurt. A lot. Guillen played in three All-Star games over the course of his eight year career with the Tigers, and posted three seasons with 19+ home runs and 85+ runs batted in. He also was good for 18.7 fWAR and 18.6 bWAR over that stretch with the Tigers and a trip to the 2006 World Series. Santiago managed just 27 games with the Mariners between 2004-05 and returned to Detroit prior to the 2006 season and has been with the team ever since. Gonzalez never played a game for the Mariners and was seen playing in Italy as recently as 2012. This deal will no doubt go down as one of the worst moves in Mariners’ history, but at least it allowed for a couple of good years out of Yuniesky Betancourt right? Yeah, I didn’t think you’d buy that one either.