As the Seattle Mariners get ready to ride into the sunset of the 2013 season, there is much uncertainty with which the organization much deal, and significant changes could be on the horizon, including a possible search for a new general manager and field manager.
The end result of replacing those two, or even standing pat with both Jack Zduriencik and Eric Wedge, is improving the roster. Before the club can go out and seek improvements, they need to come conclusions on what they have right now. Their results, I am sure, will be different than mine.
Here’s where I stand on the current roster
Note: Only those under club control in 2014 qualify, and the injured and suspended suggest special circumstances that will ultimately deserve a full assessment of their own.
Keep these players, almost no matter what.
Felix Hernandez, RHP
Perhaps the most obvious, no-brainer roster decision of all time… probably because it’s not even a decision the club needs to make. They did that before the season with $175 million.
Kyle Seager, 3B
The only instance where Seager is made trade available is in a no-brainer package deal for a young, proven impact player under control for at least three seasons. As I stated in my M’s offseason to-do list, one of the club’s first tasks when the season ends is to lock up Seager long term.
Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP
While shopping Iwakuma is a good idea, just to see if his value is high enough to warrant moving him. He’s a keeper, though, and he showed why this season. The one concern with ‘Kuma was his durability, but he’s shed the shoulder concerns and surpassed 200 innings this season. A reliable No. 2, he’d fit nice as a great No. 3 if the club can acquire another, similar performer, perhaps a left-hander, to slide into the No. 2 spot after Felix.
Taijuan Walker, RHP
He’s still a prospect and has a little ways to go before he gets to where he eventually will, but he’s already solid and will contribute in 2014, likely from the get-go.
Mike Zunino, C
Zunino isn’t quite ready to perform at the plate, but he may be next year and consideing the lack of catchers in pro ball, the former No. 3 overall pick should be treated as an elite talent in terms of value.
These players are worthy of a 25-man roster spot, and to some extent regular play in the right scenarios of roster construction and roles.
Nick Franklin, 2B
Brad Miller, SS
Miller is merely passable with the glove at shortstop but his bat appears headed for the above-average range at the position, perhaps eventually into plus territory. Franklin remains a future regular at second base, despite his troubles with the strikeouts the past several weeks. Both may be the subjects of trade talk this offseason, and it may be necessary to include one in a trade to acquire offense.
Dustin Ackley, OF/2B
Ackley’s improvement in center as well as some real progress at the plate make him a pretty valuable uber-utility type. I’d put the super-utility tag on him if he could play shortstop, although that’d make him Brad Miller, which would cause a lot of confusion when the skipper pencils in the lineup card. Ackley and Michael Saunders are a bit redundant as left-handed hitting outfielders that don’t automatically warrant everyday play, so Saunders will not make this list.
James Paxton, LHP
I’m not sure it’s a good idea to have two rookie starting pitchers in the rotation to start the season, but Paxton has shown some guile to go with his pure stuff and may have enough value as a trade chip that he’s pitched himself out of Seattle.
Erasmo Ramirez, RHP
Ramirez, after starting the season on the disabled list, was a bit up and down early in his return to the big leagues, but he’s shown enough consistency to be in the mix for a spot in the rotation next spring. Ideally, he’s the swing man, and in such a role could be terrific.
Keep these players as backup options if upgrades cannot be acquired, or if part of a time share or more fitting role.
Justin Smoak, 1B
Smoak, who is likely to make between $2-3 million via arbitration in 2014, has shown he can hit right-handed pitching. He left Detroit batting .273/.373/.497 as a left-handed batter. His struggles right-handed — .190/.268/.234 — are too deep to ignore, however suggesting he’ll be traded or will become the left-handed portion of a platoon situation. If the club had a right-handed option, too, first base, with Smoak, could be around average, perhaps better.
strong>Yoervis Medina, RHP
Medina has good stuff and put up OK numbers this season, but his control is below average and another go-round the league could be disaster for him. In a perfect world, Medina is the No. 7 reliever in the bullpen, but as long as he’s not relied upon to be the eighth inning guy, the M’s relief corps should be fairly safe from any implosions that may come.
These players should be kept around to play a reserve role or to fill in due to injury. Nothing more.
Abraham Almonte, OF
He handles the bat well, is passable in center field and has the arm to play the corners in short stints. He won’t hit for power but he runs well and can be a solid No. 4 or 5 outfielder. His skills fit nicely with Ackley’s ability to be the backup second baseman and Nick Franklin’s ability to back up at shortstop, giving the club some very valuable flexibility.
Danny Farquhar, RHP
Charlie Furbush, LHP
Both Farquhar and Furbush performed well this season and can do so again in 2014. Relievers are unpredictable, however, and in no manner should they be protected from trade packages. Farquhar is far from the worst closer option, so if he’s throwing this well next spring, he may very well deserve the job.
Carter Capps, RHP
Capps has as much work to do as any reliever on the roster, particular in terms of command within the zone. He throws a lot of strikes, so his general control is fine. Leaving pitches up and not locating versus left-handed batters is exposing his lack of an effective pitch type to offer lefties. Spring will say a lot, but Capps may end up starting the season in Triple-A Tacoma.
Brandon Maurer, RHP
Maurer and Capps very similar in some ways; Maurer has all the pitches to be effective, even against left-handed hitters, but his delivery is inconsistent — he’s had stints where he’s fallen too hard to one side off the mound, and where he hasn’t used his lower half enough. We’ve seen how good he is when he’s on — No. 2 upside — now Maurer just need to become consistent mechanically. My bet is he starts 2014 in the minors.
These players should not return to the 25-man in 2014.
Joe Saunders, LHP
Saunders can handle the No. 5 role, but the club has that handled internally with youth and can go out and get cheaper veteran options. His option is mutual, but the Mariners will, and should, decline.
Michael Saunders, OF
It doesn’t help that he’s arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason, but Saunders is likely to be playing in another organization next season. I like Saunders, quite a bit, but we’re probably at the stage with him now where he’s not an every corner outfielder due to his bat, and not ideal for center field because his defense is slightly below-average. In the right situation, Saunders will make the M’s regret not surrounding him with better outfielders so he could have been used correctly, but it’s a move they should make. Trade is the route, as I wouldn’t non-tender any useful player for such a low salary (probably between $2-3 million.
Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP
Wilhelmsen was, for a short time, one of the better closers in the games. Now he’s an arm I can’t see making the team out of spring training next season without significant progress. If he gets even 70 percent back to where he was, he’s a big-league reliever — not a closer. And I have already discussed why he should not be transitioned into a starting pitcher.
Lucas Luetge, LHP
Luetge is a good arm to have around, and he’s improved versus right-handed batters, but his control is still spotty. His delivery is fine and he has three pitches — I’d like to see him start in the minors, if only to get him more work to prepare for a relief role in the majors.
Chance Ruffin, RHP
Ruffin is a nice back-up relief option to have, but starting the 2014 season with him as one of the seven relievers probably shouldn’t happen — unless he’s the No. 7 guy, a role which may be better played by Medina or Ramirez. There’s decent stuff here, and better command than a year ago, but he’s still a bit short on consistency to simply pencil in as a 25-man roster guy.
Hector Noesi, RHP
Not only is Noesi an arm that should not be in the majors, but he should be DFA’d this offseason. Another organization may be able to teach Noesi how to throw a breaking ball, but it’s not happening here, and some really solid pitching coaches have tried.
Bobby LaFromboise, LHP
I like LaFromboise as a third lefty in a deep bullpen, but fastball command is keeping him from more. Right now he’s org depth, but don’t sleep on him.
Carlos Triunfel, SS
Triunfel’s bat just hasn’t developed despite the physical tools and at 23 — 24 in February — chances are it won’t. He’s a good option to have in Triple-A, however, but even as a reserve, at least for a good team, he leaves some meat on the bone offensively.
Franklin Gutierrez, OF
Gutierrez is a worthy roster player when healthy. But he’s unreliable and the M’s will decline his 2014 option next month. That doesn’t mean he can’t come back on an incentive-laden deal that guarantees him a smaller salary, but if I’m the M’s I’d look around for better options before bringing back Gutierrez, and if he comes back he’s a part-time player, starting versus left-handers only.
Oliver Perez, LHP
Perez was lights out in the first half but has regressed after the break. I could see him being brought back, but he’ll likely find a little more money on the open market.
Endy Chavez, OF
Chavez could be brought back on a minor league deal.
Humberto Quintero, C
Henry Blanco, C
Both veterans are free agents and aren’t good fits for the Opening Day roster. The Mariners, who will be going with Zunino as the No. 1 catcher, should not pretend Zunino is ready to hit .275 with 20 homers while starting 120 games behind the plate. I’d spend a little money to get a catcher with at least some sort of recent track record of decent performance, and I wouldn’t hate the idea of A.J. Pierzynski, either.
Raul Ibanez, DH
Ibanez, as a I wrote earlier this week, should be thanked immensely for all he’s done and wished well on the free agent market. There’s no role on most teams (none, in my opinion) for a pure DH who doesn’t hit well enough to play everyday — and may not be able to do it due to age. David Ortiz is different. Victor Martinez is different. Billy Butler is diffeent. Heck, the next guy on this list is different. They are the only four “everyday” designated hitters in baseball.
Kendrys Morales, DH/1B
Morales may come back, and even at around $14 million for one year, the M’s should jump on it. It’s difficult enough to get players to sign in Seattle. Overpaying, particularly for one season, is necessary to some extent. The club can probably get Morales for two years at a rate that makes some sense. He’ll play the market, I suspect, being a Scott Boras client and all, and could find riches in Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Minnesota, Chicago, Oakland or Texas, most of which offer winning on top of money.
Photo of Kyle Seager by Jason Miller/Getty Images