The end of the World Series signals that the Hot Stove season is upon us. Free agency starts in a few days, the GM meetings follow next week, and the Winter Meetings are only a month away. The games may be over, but there’s no offseason for front offices – including the Seattle Mariners.
As the Mariners ramp up their efforts to get better, baseball blogs will also be bustling with activity. There will be both analysis on potential deals and passionate reader reaction. In that vein, Hot Stove speculation can be entertaining, frustrating, or enlightening – sometimes all three at once depending on the source and the method of delivery. This year will be no different.
Fans can expect a long list of players associated with the Mariners in trade rumors. But, most of these players won’t be playing for Seattle next year. Who cares though? There’s six months without baseball. So, talking about baseball trades, free agency, and prospects is the next best available option for a die-hard fan.
One stark reality to consider when engaging in Hot Stove speculation is that it’s hard to know whether a newly added big leaguer will actually pay off. Will they be worth it or will they be a bust? Every fan knows what I’m talking about. Mariners fans can look at two deals separated by five years, but worlds apart in recouped value.
It’s fair to say that most Mariners fan are happy that the team signed slugger Nelson Cruz during last offseason, although that wasn’t the case at the time of the all-star’s signing. Even fans who were happy that Cruz came to Seattle probably didn’t envision that he’d hit 40-plus home runs while playing half of his games at Safeco.
Conversely, plenty of fans embraced the signing of infielder Chone Figgins when he arrived in Seattle before the 2010 season. Given the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, no fan likes the Figgins deal now. Unfortunately, baseball executives don’t have the benefit of a crystal ball.
Since none of us can predict the future, I thought it’d be fun to look back at the most frequently mentioned players in Mariners trade rumors and Prospect Insider discussions and see how they did with their new teams in 2015. Did the Mariners hit or miss on “the ones that got away?”
The ground rules I’ve used to look back are relatively straightforward. With the exception of Justin Upton and Mark Trumbo, I only focused on position players who changed addresses during the offseason and were either mentioned in a Prospect Insider piece or suggested by our readers. My reasoning for not discussing pitchers is that Seattle was never a serious player for notable pitchers, especially after trading for J.A. Happ.
To help compare the offensive production of players, I decided to use the “slash” statistics of batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage. Any of these stats that were at-or-below league-average have been highlighted in yellow. League-averages for 2015 and every season can be found here at baseball-reference.com.
First, let’s look at the most frequently mentioned Mariners trade targets from last offseason. The first two on the below table – Justin Upton and Matt Kemp – ended up as teammates with the San Diego Padres, while Yoenis Cespedes was traded twice since the completion of last season. First, he went to the Detroit Tigers who then sent him to the New York Mets at the July 31 trading deadline.
Acquiring most of these players would have cost the Mariners a significant number of prospects. In Kemp’s case, Seattle would have needed to part with prospects – and maybe James Paxton or Taijuan Walker – plus assume his large salary that runs through 2019. Most of the remaining players – Upton, Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler, Adam Lind, and Cespedes – will be free agents in just a few days.
The Houston Astros acquired Evan Gattis by trading three prospects who started the 2015 season ranked in the top-20 of the Atlanta Braves’ minor league system. Although getting Gattis wouldn’t have been as expensive as Kemp, adding a defensively limited power hitter with a career .296 on-base percentage would still have been costly for a Seattle organization that ended 2015 with very few top prospects above the Class-A level.
Would it have made sense for the Mariners to part with important pieces like Paxton, Walker, or Hisashi Iwakuma or prospects like Ketel Marte, D.J. Peterson or Alex Jackson for one-year commitments from Upton, Heyward, Fowler, Lind, or Cespedes? Or players like Kemp and Gattis?
Next up are free agents who changed teams, but didn’t sign with Seattle. Based on their 2015 records, I’d describe this group as “underwhelming” when compared to the trade targets. Most were at-or-below league-average in multiple offensive categories, although Nori Aoki had a positive offensive season and Russell Martin provided value at the plate and from behind it. Otherwise, this group was unimpressive in 2015.
Two international free agents received a great deal of attention at Prospect Insider. Cuban Yasmany Tomas and Jung Ho Kang from South Korea were widely sought after by many teams, although the Mariners weren’t mentioned as an interested party in national media reports. That didn’t stop discussions at PI though.
Before his season-ending knee injury on September 17, Kang put up impressive numbers for the Pittsburgh Pirates while splitting his time between third base and shortstop. Although Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs is the front-runner for National League Rookie of the Year, the 28-year-old will certainly receive votes after a superb rookie campaign. Tomas, conversely, may have not lived up to the lofty expectations that comes with a six-year/$68.5 million dollar deal. But, his first season was hardly a bust and he’ll only be 25-years-old next season.
|Jung Ho Kang||467||28||PIT||126||121||24||2||15||.287||.355||.461||.816|
Seattle actually acquired a few players mentioned in PI pieces or by readers. The most notable was Cruz. The question going forward will be whether the 35-year-old can sustain his success for the next three seasons, while earning $14.25 million annually. The other key player added prior to the season was Seth Smith.
Some may criticize Smith’s overall numbers, but he did his job – hit right-handed pitching. He hit 11 of his 12 home runs against righties with a slash of .255/.343/.458. His numbers were solid and he reinforced his reputation as a professional major league hitter. Overall, the Mariners did well with the Cruz and Smith deals – both provided value and met or exceeded expectations.
Many may point to Trumbo’s second-half slash of .284/.343/.472 as reason for optimism going into 2016, but his season totals aren’t significantly better than his career .250/.300/.458 slash. Plus, the 29-year-old has yet to establish himself at a defensive position and will likely command over $9 million at arbitration. His best chance to remain in Seattle will be at first base, although it’s important to note that GM Jerry Dipoto has traded the right-handed slugger once before when they were both with the Los Angels Angels.
I included Kendrys Morales with the new Mariners since he was the only significant position player to leave Seattle in 2014. The switch-hitter had a great season with the World Series champion Kansas City Royals and proved to be worth the Royals’ two-year/$17 million dollar investment. For those who are inclined to bemoan the fact that the Mariners didn’t resign Morales, it’s important to note that he didn’t want to remain in Seattle and was never a realistic option for Seattle.
My takeaway from this ride down memory lane is that high profile Hot Stove targets tend to look better on paper than they’ll actually perform on the field. I’m not saying that fans shouldn’t speculate and pine for big name players. Heck, it’s fun to talk about this stuff! Just bear in mind that most won’t play at the level of Nelson Cruz.
Regardless of who you think that the Mariners should get this offseason, please visit Prospect Insider often to get our latest analysis on players and acquisitions – plus let us know what you think in the comments section. Finally, six months without baseball makes the winter a bit colder. So, have fun with the Hot Stove season as we await Opening Day!