It’s no secret that the Mariners need to upgrade in the outfield. Despite hitting a major league best 84 home runs, M’s outfielders combined to produce a .242/.307/.405 line for a 95 wRC+. Additionally, with Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse receiving significant time in the outfield and Michael Saunders manning center, it’s no surprise UZR graded the Mariners as the worst defensive outfield in the majors. Overall, their outfield totaled -0.4 fWAR. Only three teams fared worse.
So far, the Mariners have acquired Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, both of whom can play the outfield in theory. But, with Hart’s double knee surgery, and LoMo being better suited for first base, they might make fans pine for the days of Ibanez. With most of the big-name free agent outfielders off the board, and sneakier acquisitions such as Nate McLouth and David Murphy signing, possible upgrades would have to come via trade, unless the Mariners think Nelson Cruz is a viable option. He’s not. The following are a few trade targets that the Mariners could pursue.
1. Cameron Maybin. Depicted above, Maybin is an ultra-toolsy centerfielder who has had trouble both living up to his potential and staying on the field. Still, he’s not yet 27, and he’s been above-average in his two full seasons. He’s owed $21 million over the next three seasons, with a $8 million team option for 2017. From 2011-12, Maybin produced a .253/.315/.371 line for a 96 wRC+. Combine that with 66 stolen bases and solid defense, and you get 6.5 fWAR. Knee and wrist issues have limited him in other years, and he hit just .157 in 57 plate appearances in 2013. If he can stay healthy, Oliver projects him for a .250/.323/.379 line for a 101 wRC+ and 3.6 fWAR. Given his currently low value, the Padres may be reluctant to trade him, but it’s an intriguing idea.
2. Jon Jay. While he had a bit of a down year in 2013, as his wRC+ fell from 117 to 104 and his outfield defense suffered, Jay has averaged 2.7 fWAR over the past three years, which is more than Dexter Fowler. The 28 year-old outfielder has a career .293/.356/.400 line for a 112 wRC+. For his career he’s been slightly below average in center, which led the Cardinals to acquire defensive wizard Peter Bourjos. Perhaps Jay will play a platoon role for the Cards, as he owns a career 117 wRC+ against righthanders. But, with incumbents Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, the aforementioned Bourjos and tooled up prospect Oscar Taveras crowding the outfield, Jay might be expendable. With three years of team control remaining, Jay would be a nice fit, and he wouldn’t cost one of the Mariners best prospects. Though he doesn’t have the array of tools that Fowler does, he’s been better through his first three years.
3. Brett Gardner. Though the Yankees have stated that they have no intention of trading Gardner, that statement has to be taken with a grain of salt. The 30 year-old Gardner will hit free agency next offseason, and should earn at least $4 million in arbitration this year. He may not possess the wheels that allowed him to steal 96 bases from 2010-11 , but he still produced a solid 2013 season, hitting .273/.344/.416 for a 108 wRC+ and 3.2 fWAR. For his career, he’s averaged 4.8 fWAR per 600 plate appearances. Gardner is an excellent corner outfielder who can play a solid centerfield. Additionally, he runs the bases well, and owns a career .352 on-base percentage. Overall, he possesses a very similar skill set to Michael Bourn, though Gardner has been better in nearly every category.
4. Jose Bautista. This would be a major splash for the Mariners, and would likely require that they trade away either Taijuan Walker or James Paxton. Though injuries have caused him to miss 114 games the last two seasons, Joey Bats has still managed to club 55 home runs and compile 7.2 fWAR. Since 2010, Bautista has produced a .268/.390/.570 line for a 158 wRC+ while walking nearly as often as he strikes out. Even with the time missed, only Miguel Cabrera has hit more home runs. He’s also signed to a very team-friendly deal that calls for him to earn just $14 million over the next two seasons with a club option for the third. Both Steamer and Oliver project for him to produce between 4 and 5 fWAR. While rumors were swirling earlier this offseason that the Jays were discussing a Bautista trade with the Phillies that was centered around Domonic Brown, that gossip appears to be unsubstantiated. Understandably, the M’s are reluctant to part with Walker, who looks to be major league ready and has the makings of a future ace. However, they would have to think long and hard if the Jays were willing to part with Bautista, who I believe would be a significantly better investment than David Price.
Any of the above players would represent a significant upgrade to the Mariners outfield. With the exception of Bautista, they’re not splashy trades. However, they would be much better investments than Cruz, and it’s better than taking on salary by trading for Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier.