Walker, Zunino should be only untouchables

KempGetty3 300x231 Walker, Zunino should be only untouchablesThe Seattle Mariners may or may not land right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Whether or not that occurs does not impact the value of the M’s young pitching collection, namely right-hander Taijuan Walker and southpaw James Paxton. It doesn’t make them more expendable and it doesn’t mean it “frees them up” to be traded.

I get the sense, based on nothing but the lack of movement on additional position players, that the Mariners may be treating Paxton and Walker equally. I think that’s a mistake.

I get Walker. He’s still very young, has good present stuff, is very athletic… you know the drill here. I understand Mike Zunino being kept off the block, too; catchers are very, very difficult to find. So difficult that the value of solid catchers cannot be understated. The rest of the “prospects” and young, unproven talents in the organization? I don’t see any reason to make them truly untouchable in trade talks.

There is a chance Paxton turns out to be better than Walker, but it’s clear the 21-year-old has the bigger upside and his timetable isn’t that far behind Paxton’s, if it is at all. Making both untouchable or near-untouchable — AKA, being afraid to trade them — makes little sense to me.

The Mariners drafted both pitchers. The principal scouts that did so are still in the organization. The club has drafted pitchers since then — Danny Hultzen and Edwin Diaz, for example — and will continue to make solid choices on amateur talent. In an organization where the cupboard is still barren at the big-league level, particularly in terms of outfielders — true, two-way outfielders who aren’t a liability on defense and don’t come with considerable injury concerns — one would think this offseason is an opportunity to pick an untouchable, Walker, and see if there is a player on the trade market the club could acquire in exchange for a package headlined by Paxton.

That isn’t to say trading Paxton and others for just any decent outfielder is a good idea, but protecting Paxton as if he’s a surefire ace (not even Walker is that) and showing a strong reluctance to move him to acquire the right outfielder would be absurd and utterly ignorant. I don’t know the Mariners are employing this stance, I’m just saying they absolutely should not be.

Tanaka or not, this club will grow dangerously close to running out of options to make the team watchable on offense, let alone any kind of kinda-sorta first-half contender. Robinson Cano, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison will not fix the lineup. Brad Miller, Mike Zunino, Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley cannot be expected to combine to equal such significant improvements — all of a sudden, on the parts of Saunders and Ackley after two years of struggles — and Kyle Seager absolutely cannot be relied upon to be one of the three best hitters — in my opinion. Right now, he’s the second-best bat, meaning two more hitters are necessary or Cano1 is nothing but a PR move.

If I could get Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Paxton, Nick Franklin and, say, John Hicks, I’d pull the trigger so fast that not even William Henry McCarty could react fast enough to hit the kill switch.

It’s a risk, but one the Mariners cannot afford to decline. I don’t know if that specific deal, or one like it, would work for the Dodgers, but if that kind of value can net Kemp, it’s a no-brainer. He’s healing up this winter, a bit faster than some expected, too.

It doesn’t have to be Kemp, however, and it doesn’t have to be an outfielder, per se, although that is the weakest position on the roster as of today. Seattle is in no position to hoard prospects and sit around and wait for five or six young players to figure it out in 2014. The clock is ticking, both on the offseason and on Cano’s value to the baseball team.

Right this second, the club has not improved a whole lot. Kendrys Morales is gone — and it appears there is almost no chance for him to return, considering Hart and Morrison join Justin Smoak as 1B/DH types, at least some of the time — so the improvement is essentially the difference between Cano and Morales. It’s a nice bump player-for-player, especially since Cano is a solid glove at second and Morales was a DH in 2013, but in the grand scheme, the 25-man still is mediocre.

I repeat my statement from December: Make Cano count. Label the elite off limits, use a few of the other young talents and prospects to get what the club doesn’t have. That’s one of the two reason they were signed in the first place. Don’t pretend there was just one. Don’t pin the hopes of vast improvement in 2014 on the status quo finding the magic potion.

Paxton isn’t going to turn into Sandy Koufax or even Cliff Lee. Kemp might turn into Kemp of 2011, though.

Written by Jason A. Churchill

Moi2 Walker, Zunino should be only untouchables

Executive Editor
Jason founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at Inside the Park and covering prep, college and pro sports for several news outlets, local and national, including MLB.com and ESPN Insider. He currently serves as co-host of the Steve Sandmeyer Show on 1090 The Fan, CBS Sports Seattle.

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42 comments on “Walker, Zunino should be only untouchables

  1. Jerry says:

    Two points:

    1. We aren’t that good at quantifying catcher defense besides framing, so your stats aren’t all that meaningful.

    2. We just signed a guy who has a track record as an above average starting catcher to be our BACKUP for $1 mil. That’s a bargain.

    Buck will help this team, and it didn’t cost anything. That’s a good acquisition.

  2. rjfrik says:

    Okay, lets really look at Buck. Let’s look at the statistics and see just how bad (or good) he is as a defensive catcher.

    Here’s the bad:
    #1. He can’t throw runners out. He’s a -1 in rSB which equates to below average. He’s never been good at this and over 9 full seasons he has a -23 rSB. So he’s not going to help us there.
    #2. In the run saving category he’s equally as poor, posting a -3 rGFP and a -10(!) DRS. Basically he cost the teams runs on the defensive side, he doesn’t save them.
    #3. It’s widely known that he is horrible at framing pitches and effects the called strikes in a game to game basis and since 2010 has been one of the worst in baseball, posting a -17 runs saved and a -11 runs saved the last few years and this runs saved only from framing. On the other side of the coin Molina averages +35 runs saved a year from framing.

    Here’s the good:
    #1. He is actually good at blocking balls and preventing passed balls. He has a 2.0 RPP which is good and he only allowed 6 PB’s last year.

    There you have it. Three big negatives and one positive. The negatives greatly out weigh the positive. Add that to his offense, a catcher that is over the hill offensively, batting .215 the last three years. But the dingers, what about the singers? He’s averaging 14 over the last three years and hit 15 last year.

    So there you have it. John Buck.

    Let’s hope they don’t pay him a high salary or give him multiple years.

  3. ripperlv says:

    News flash. Catching is a LOT more than just framing, and Buck can do those other things. He’s a decent catcher. Your putting too much value on framing. Otherwise you could teach Montero to frame and stick him back there. You also have to include the type of pitchers you have when talking about framing. Remember, Buck caught some rather inexperienced pitchers last year.

  4. mgvernon says:

    After Dioner Novarro was signed by the Jays Buck seems to be the best currently available option. If they send Zunino down to Tacoma to learn some more Buck could function as a starter. He’s a better option than what they have now.

    I’m not a fan of Lincoln and Armstrong but I will acknowledge that they have done a good job of ensuring the team has the financial underpinning to compete in the AL West. The president should probably be more of a financial/management type than a baseball person but I’d prefer the president of business/president of baseball operations model than what they have.

    One of these guys would worth considering as a depth piece, after they sign one of the top 4 rotation arms.

    Chad Gaudin, who turns 31 in March, went to camp as a non-roster player with the Giants last season and ended up pitching to a 3.06 ERA in 97 innings while making 12 starts and 18 relief appearances, which added up to a 1.3 WAR season with 88 SO and 40 BB and a 109 ERA+. He would be a nice depth piece for the Mariners, fitting both in the pen and rotation as needed.

    Scott Baker update: Twins haven’t had interest this off-season. Told he is throwing and feels great. Only has MiLB offers. Hoping for MLB one. From: Darren Wolfson‏ at 1500 ESPN Baker who will in his age 32 season this year did not pitch in 2012 and only threw 15 innings with the Chicago Cubs last season but at least he put up +.2 WAR, with a 3.60 ERA and 112 ERA+.

  5. rjfrik says:

    Buck is a horrible catcher, one of the worst framers in the game and his bat is extremely overrated.

    They could have don better then Buck. Not a good pickup IMO.

  6. rjfrik says:

    Because the Mariners have went on record saying “They have had NO outside communication with any candidate.” The writing on the wall couldn’t be plainer or bolder Edman. They haven’t had ANY discussion with LaRussa.

    I’m not advocating the hiring of LaRussa, what I’m advocating is to have a sit down with the guy, one of the brightest minds in all of baseball, to here him out. The M’s are in the business of baseball. Right? So, if one of the brightest minds in the game has expressed interest in meeting with you, why wouldn’t you do just that?

    That is the question. At this point they haven’t had a phone call or a meeting.

  7. Edman says:

    I hope the rumor is true. Buck would be a great fit in that role. Zunino can’t catch every game.

  8. Edman says:

    How do you know they haven’t had phone conversations to evaluate each other’s positions? What good does a face-to-face meeting do, if you know a candidate isn’t qualified for the job that they are expected to do? You know NOTHING about what has been discussed on either side, yet you are willing to opine on it.

    You’re just trying to find away to support your belief system, not look at it practically. There isn’t a soul, other than Lincoln and LaRussa that knows what has and has not been done, so don’t try to pretend you’re somehow well informed.

    I know some of you want to believe that LaRussa would be the knight in shinning armor, to come slay the dragonlord Lincoln. You’re asking Lincoln to do what none of you would do in a similar position. Name any executive that knowingly brought in someone who didn’t believe in the same basic principles and philosophies as they do?

    The only statement that really matters is winning. If they lose 120 games and LaRussa is the President, do you think it makes the M’s look better, because they hired LaRussa? Making a brief statement now, does nothing after the season starts.

    Want proof? As damning as the Geoff Baker story was, who in baseball gives a damn about the comments made by Tony Blengino and Eric Wedge? America has a short attention span. And for all the apparent good of hiring Tony LaRussa, in a few weeks, it wouldn’t matter, because as team President, most of his functions would go unnoticed.

  9. d2ret says:

    Looks like backup catcher is solved with John Buck. Check. On a side note, that John Jaso / Mike Morse trade is looking pretty dumb. Oh well

  10. ivan says:

    I’m just laughing because this whole thread is about “untouchables,” and the name of Felix Hernandez has not appeared once.

  11. Jerry says:

    I’ve always thought the notion of “untouchable” was a bit strange.

    Any player is tradable in the right deal. Even Mike Trout is available if the offer is just ridiculous.

    This is largely a semantic argument, as I agree with Jason that Zunino and Walker are the types of players you build around. But everyone on the team should be acquirable in the right deal.

  12. Snave says:

    I suppose that’s a good way to look at it. I’m a big fan of Brad Miller, and I hope they don’t trade him. But yes, if some player is available who could provide an overall upgrade to the lineup, I think they’d have to consider doing it.

  13. Paul Martin says:

    I COMPLETELY agree with you!

  14. rjfrik says:

    But why wouldn’t you meet with the guy Edman? I get hiring internally, most times it’s done because you already have a feel for the executive, how they perform the job and most times it’s because they won’t shake things up, but stay a true company man. This is the obvious objective that the Mariners have by hiring internally, at least in my estimation from reading the statements that they gave.

    But any good organization would at least take a meeting with one of the smartest baseball guys in the business. Hear him out and listen to what he could possibly bring to the table, to the organization. Sometimes change is good and in the case of the Mariners I think that statement is doubly important.

    But this is Lincoln’s show and the last thing Lincoln is going to want is a bigger fish coming into his pond.

    So, once again….Way to go M’s!!! eyes roll

  15. rjfrik says:

    Gomez is going nowhere. With him Braun and Davis the Brewers have a VERY formidable OF, maybe the best in the National league outside of the Dodgers.

  16. Edman says:

    Advocating does not equal being accessible. Exactly why would the Brewers want to trade Gomez. Are you willing to overpay to get him, because that’s likely what it would take to get the Brewers to trade their starting centerfielder. You overpay key players that can make a difference. I see Gomez as an improvement, not a key.

  17. Edman says:

    I agree. I like Miller a lot, but with Franklin, and Taylor following, he is not untouchable. Should he cost another team a goodly return, to acquire him, absolutely. You can’t make a cake without breaking eggs. I would hope he stays, but if it’s what it takes to get someone to make a substantial inprovement in the outfield, then Franklin or Taylor isn’t a bad fall-back position.

  18. Rudolf says:

    According to MLB.com, B.A., and KLAW, Michael Pineda was ranked 13, 15, and 21, respectively, on top 100 prospect lists. Not exactly “out of nowhere”. A little research maybe next time.

  19. Jason A. Churchill says:

    No, absolutely not, Miller should NOT be untouchable. I like him, he’ll hit some, but he’s a 40-45 present SS glove that may be able to get to the 50 mark. Nobody is suggesting giving anyone away, not Franklin, not Paxton and not Miller. But making Miller untouchable is absurd.

  20. Edman says:

    Yes, because you know so much about the qualifications of the other candidate? In your estimation, it’s more important to hire a name brand, than it is to hire the most qualified person, be that internal or external?

    As much as some here would love to jump at the name brand product, there is also something to be said for an organization that hires from within, especially when it’s far more an administrative job, than it is for making on-field decisions.

  21. Edman says:

    davis09,

    Are you saying Almonte can’t put up those numbers? So, we shouldn’t trust any player who doesn’t have a proven MLB record, even though they have never had the opportunity. Your argument is beyond reasonable logic.

    Your comments are not anywhere close to a thought-out conclusion. De Aza is a LF only, and an average, at best, defender. Almonte can play all three position, including CF.

    I’d rather not waste trading prospect and/or money, for what you may already have in either Saunders and De Aza. If that’s the best you can do to improve the team, think harder.

  22. rjfrik says:

    Mariners to pass on La Russa?

    Was a headline in the rumors section on ESPNinsider.

    Let’s see LaRussa has a real interest in leaving the MLB front offices and joining the Seattle Mariners, taking over Armstrong’s role, but the M’s would rather do it internally and not meet with La Russa.

    Way to go M’s!!!! eyes roll

  23. davis09 says:

    De aza is a major league outfielder Almonte has done nothing. He has never put up real numbers in this league only a small sample. I dont think De Aza is the greatest but he has played some complete seasons and has very decent numbers. If Almonte makes your team as the 4th OF that is a very poor outfield. So you say Almonte is as good as any player that put up those # s for a couple full seasons?

  24. Edman says:

    And you know what Almonte would have posted with a similar number of ABs? You do know about sample size, I assume. Going by basic math, with De Aza having approx 8.4 times as many at bats, here’s how the numbers compare for Almonte.

    Avg = same, 264
    Runs scored = same 84
    HR = same 17 (16.8)
    RBI = 75, almost 13 more than De Aza
    SB = 8

    The point is, they are as close to two players being identical, as you can find. No doubt Almonte could easily steal 20+ bases. And, not to mention that Almonte is a better fielder than De Aza.

    Yes, the numbers are rough, considering small sample size. But it’s reasonable to assume that Almonte is completely capable of replicating De Aza’s numbers.

    Almonte certainly is not a AAAA player, at this point in his career. Will he be a star? I don’t think anyone knows. Can he be an adequated forth outfielder? Absolutely. Why go get what you already have, especially considering cost and length of service?

    De Aza isn’t anything special.

  25. Garry says:

    One thing to note, Pineda came out of NO where the year he made the rotation out of ST. Pineda wasn’t anywhere near the top MLB 100 prospects when he was invited to ST. He only had 2 pitches, but threw a mean 98+ mph FB. Interestingly, he was stellar in the 1st half, made the All-Star team, but it took 1/2 the season for the hitters to figure him out. He got pounded in the 2nd half, but his final ERA that year was still under 2.4 ERA.

    Seattle sold Pineda on a high, and I was hoping they would do that. We needed Offense, and Montero didn’t turn out as expected based upon scouting reports. I knew Pineda wasn’t not going to do very much going to the Yankees. I didn’t expect the injury though, but Pineda still doesn’t have that 3rd needed pitch to stick in the majors as a top arm. He would make a better RP, but should be sent back to AAA to get that 3rd pitch he needs.

    So, like you mentioned. Seattle could attempt to showcase Paxton the 1st half of 2014, expecting hitters to take 3 months to attempt to adjust to him and figure him out. I think it would beneift Seattle a lot to gamble on Paxton doing all-star type numbers in the 1st half and trading him on a high by July! If Paxton pulls a Pineda, his trading value is going to skyrocket and ‘could’ end up being a main piece in a Stanton or Bautista trade by the deadline.

    It will be interesting to see how this works out.

  26. Jerry says:

    I’m sure that Kemp is available for the right price. I think he’d be a great addition to the club. Although he comes with significant risk, he has upside far beyond anyone else who has been rumored to be available.

    Regarding Miller, I think many of you guys are overrating him. He’s a very good player, but I think he’s more of a first division starter/solid player than a star.

    A 4.5-6 WAR peak would put him into the company of Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, and Derek Jeter: elite players. Miller just doesn’t have the same skill level. If Miller ends up being of similar value as guys like Yunel Escobar or Steven Drew, they should consider themselves lucky.

    Don’t get me wrong: he’s a good player at a premium position, and the M’s have him under team control for another 5 seasons. But the expectations of some people in this thread are more realistically his absolute, best case scenario projection.

  27. davis09 says:

    If De Aza was on our team last year he would have been:
    2nd in BA .264
    1ST in Runs scored 84
    4th in HR 17
    4th in RBI 62
    1st in stolen bases with 20.

    Almonte is not even a AAAA player just a spare part

  28. baseball4ever says:

    Franklin is the ONLY decent trade chip the Mariners have, except Cano if he were tradeable. I hope Cano can pitch too for that kind of money. The bull pen gave up 23 games last year. With just Cano, the Mariners are not that payroll caliber of a team.

    Why would you trade a kid learning to be a MLB and 2nd baseman? His position is SS which he showed against the Angels that he definitely can play and hit. His average was raised the highest of all of the young guys to .293(both sides) and .304(left side).

    So I would not give up on a young Franklin who led the team in total chances, assists, range factor, and field percentage. He was on target for bypassing Cano who played 60 more games. Move Cano to 1st. His numbers are more for a corner, but he was blocked by Tex in NY.

    But, we do not make the decisions and I hope a good team picks him up to play. He is too good a player. The Mariners 2009 first rounder has shown me a lot of heart and guts that the team has been missing.

  29. Garry says:

    I have been advocating Gomez all offseason. Brewers moved Aoki though, and I just don’t see that happening now, but the Brewers do have way too many holes to fill and Gomez could get them a great start to their rebuilding program.

    Initially, I didn’t think we would need to include Paxton in a Kemp deal. I thought Franklin/Saunders/++ would get it done…maybe Pike. At this point, I could see Paxton going, but I think Seattle was waiting on the Tanaka results prior to including Paxton in any deal. With Franklin/Paxton/Saunders for Kemp, I still bet LAD would have to kick in salary so Seattle would be on the hook for $16m of Kemps salary.

  30. rjfrik says:

    I might hold onto Paxton as well, unless someone blows you away with an offer. If Paxton comes out and does a Michael Pineda next year then he could net you a TOP young player (hopefully this player will pan out) or you can just keep him as a long time future piece.

    Personally I think Paxton continues to grow and becomes a solid MLBer

  31. Edman says:

    Not sure what all the De Aza love it about. What can he do that Almonte can’t do, other than reach arbitration sooner?

  32. Edman says:

    Word on the street? You mean one report on MLB Rumors that supposedly, Tanake would prefer to go to one of three contenders? When did the Angels enter into the discussions? It was the Red Sox, Dodgers and Yankees. Personally, I’ve always thought it would be a long shot anyway. But, I take those crappy rumors nothing more than either his team trying to position themselves, or gloating suporters for the big spending teams trying to charge their fanbase.

  33. safecochatter says:

    I don’t think Kemp is available either. “Maybe” if the Dodgers won the Tanaka derby they might change their mind. Even the Dodgers don’t have endless pockets. I’d be more inclined to move Franklin and E. Ramírez for Avisail García or a Oswaldo Arcia type of trade.

  34. mgvernon says:

    The Dodgers have said they are not trading Kemp while his value is low. I believe them. Arms are more important to the Mariners than bats because of Safeco so I would hold onto Paxton. If he proves himself in the first half of the season he would have a much larger value at the trade deadline but only if they have a strong rotation and he can fill a big hole. Franklin is the easiest trade chip to give up with some minor pieces and might bring an outfielder from the Yankees or Royals.

  35. davis09 says:

    I agree with Walker ,Zunino,Miller. I would definately trade Franklin straight across for De Aza ,Cain,Dyson type CF. There is no way Saunders out performs De Aza Saunders is a 4th OF at best he has shown that. In that role I think he is very valuable but not as an everyday starter. I wonder if a package of Franklin/Paxton/Saunders + could get Gomez or Bautista.

  36. ripperlv says:

    Rumors. Simply rumors. Latest rumor on the internet has Seattle as Tanaka’s favorite US city. I think they are the favorites to sign him.

  37. ripperlv says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head Jason. Last year the M’s were prepared to give up everyone for Upton. I think Paxtons late season call-up drove up his asking price in the M’s eyes. As far as prospects go, I would think a couple of them like Paxton and Franklin are about max. value. Hopefullly, the M’s have a few things on the burner and are waiting on the best possible deal. Maybe they are waiting to see if Kemp is healthy enought to even play?

  38. docmilo says:

    Oh, by the way, when is CBSSports going to buy this site and turn it into it’s MLB section for it’s Seattle page. There are a lot of city pages out there fore CBSSports. Is Seattle not worthy without a NBA/NHL team?

  39. docmilo says:

    Yes, I agree with cladd. Miller should be on that list. Big kid, lightning fast hands, runs like an ostrich. He’s .300/.400/.500′d it at all levels. If I’m Mr. Zduriencik, that’s the kid I attempt to make a Mariner for life. Miller, to Cano, to I don’t give a crap.

    De Aza? I think there’s a reason the White Sox went after Eaton. I have a gut feeling Saunders outperforms De Aza this season.

    Paxton, Franklin, Hicks for Kemp? Sign me up! It would probably take Diaz, too. That’s fine.

  40. rjfrik says:

    Word on the street is that we are out of the Tanaka sweepstakes, so I guess moving on. It looks like it’s the Angels or Dodgers at this point, with the Yankees as his third option. It would really suck if he goes to the Angels and we have to see him and Darvish beating up on the M’s for the next 5+ years.

    I really wish we could land all of the elite Japanese players, it just seems right. Like we should land them. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking.

  41. diderot says:

    Well, Kemp is a nice pie-in-the-sky idea…but on a more realistic level, would you do Franklin straight up for the presumably available De Aza or Jay?

  42. cladd says:

    Brad Miller has to be basically untouchable, no? Steamer, ZiIPS, Oliver… everyone agrees that he’s arrived. Seriously, let that sink in. It took only 330 ABs to convince everybody that he’s already a well above average starter. He might be better than Seager already. Giancarlo Stanton would be just about the only name I would consider for him at this point…. and even then my stomach churns a bit.

    I really think Miller has a 4.5 – 6 win peak in him, maybe as soon as 2015.

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