It’s that time of the year again when the Hot Stove cools to barely a broil, despite the fact plenty of top free agents still remain unsigned. That should change soon however, as a Masahiro Tanaka decision is expected by Tuesday or Wednesday. It doesn’t appear that the Seattle Mariners are finalists for the Japanese ace at the moment after being labelled as favourites earlier this month. Of course a lot can change over the next 48 hours, but considering the Mariners didn’t meet up with Tanaka and his representatives when they were in Los Angeles recently, they can be considered a long shot.
In front office news, talk has cooled on Tony La Russa possibly taking over for Chuck Armstrong as president of the club. The former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals doesn’t think he’ll even get an interview for the job. It appears that the Mariners prefer utilizing an internal option for the role, and Geoff Baker suggests Bob Aylward and Kevin Mather as the most likely candidates.
Michael Saunders avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract worth $2.3 million plus incentives in his first year of eligibility. I recently took a look at the 27-year old’s career to date and how he projects in 2014. While center field has hurt Saunders’ defensive value and his bat cooled after a 20 home run 2012 season, he could still be an above average contributor in a corner outfield spot. As it stands, the Canadian could be in line to start the year in center field, but that will depend on Franklin Gutierrez‘s health, and whether or not Dustin Ackley has improved over the offseason.
The Mariners’ other two arbitration-eligible players, Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak, have filed their numbers and could see a hearing sometime in February if they can’t come to terms. Morrison is seeking $2.5 million and the Mariners countered at $1.1 million; Smoak is looking for $3.25 million and Seattle countered at $2.025 million.
The Mariners did make a splash in free agency this week when they agreed to terms with veteran catcher John Buck. Not only does he represent an upgrade over the other backup catching options on the roster, he’s been great defensively (pitch framing talk aside) throughout his career, and has shown an ability to hit for power. Should Mike Zunino struggle this year, Buck is a viable option to play more than just once or twice a week. The deal is for one year and a million bucks, no reported incentives or options, so there’s very few scenarios where this deal could backfire on Seattle. Outfielder Carlos Peguero was designated for assignment to make room for Buck on the 40-man roster.
Elsewhere in free agency, PI’s Chris Moran took a look at some quality buy-low options for the Mariners. He notes Chris Capuano as an interesting veteran to add to the bottom half of the rotation after the 35-year old spent the past two season with the Los Angeles Dodgers where he started 55 games. With Joe Saunders unlikely to return, it would do the M’s some good to add another innings eater to the rotation given the uncertainty surrounding some of the younger pitchers. Chris also notes Grant Balfour and Chad Gaudin as some potential relief options. I also took a look at several available free agent relief options.
Sticking with the bullpen, Jason Churchill recently had a conversation with reliever Danny Farquhar in which the righty revealed he’s been looking to add a change-up and an improved two-seam fastball to his repertoire. As it stands, the 26-year old is the most likely in-house option to start 2014 in the closers role. He saved 16 games after taking over the role from Tom Wilhelmsen, who also remains in the mix moving froward. The addition of a proven closer such as Balfour could change that though.
In another piece, Jason argues that only Taijuan Walker and Zunino should be untouchable in trade talks. He gets the feeling that the Mariners might be valuing James Paxton the same way they are Walker given the lack on inactivity on the trade front. Given the Mariners’ team looks fairly similar heading into 2014 aside from swapping Kendrys Morales for Robinson Cano in the batting order, there’s no reason for Seattle to sit on their prospect stash and wait. Especially since the $24 million annual instalments set to enter Cano’s bank account begin in a little over two month’s time.
Nick Franklin has been a topic of trade debate ever since Cano’s signature was printed on his massive contract. Considering Franklin plays a premium position and will be very cost effective for the next several seasons, Chris suggests he could be the main piece in a deal for a young starter like Jordan Zimmermann or an affordable outfielder like Jay Bruce. There hasn’t been much reported for trade talks surrounding Franklin, but that’s partially because an obvious match such as the Toronto Blue Jays simply don’t have the right pieces to offer in return. Letting Franklin rake in Triple-A to start the year wouldn’t be the worst possible scenario. Perhaps a contending team’s starting baseman goes down early in the season and would be willing to pay more to acquire a player like Franklin.
PI’s Rob Balboni gives us an update on the MLB Rule IV Draft order for the upcoming year. The Mariners will pick sixth in the first round, and should Morales sign with another team before the draft, will sacrifice their Competitive Balance Round A pick for Signing Cano who had decline a qualifying offer from the New York Yankees. If Morales doesn’t sign before the draft, the Mariners will forfeit their second-round draft pick as compensation.