As the Seattle Mariners complete their annual Fan Fest event, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that the club has brought back veteran outfielder Endy Chavez on a minor league deal. He will receive an invite to Spring Training in March. Dutton also reports that a minor league deal with Franklin Gutierrez is nearing completion. Chavez, 37 in February, signed a minor league contract with the Mariners in each of the past two seasons. Last year he was re-called at the end of May and would appear in 80 games. The left-hander posted a .276/.317/.371 slash line with a 97 wRC+ in 258 plate appearances. Chavez primarily played right field and saw plenty of time hitting at the top of the lineup in the absence of Michael Saunders. Although he was almost exactly replacement level (-0.1 fWAR) in 2014, Chavez did chip in offensively here and there. Manager Lloyd McLendon praised the outfielder often and described him as, “a very valuable player” and a pro. For all the intangibles Chavez brought to the clubhouse, he didn’t really add tangible value on the field. He did hit well at home with a 112 wRC+ and was a very good pinch hitter when called upon. If anything, he exceeded expectations on the offensive side of things. But he was below average in the field and on the base paths. Entering his age-37 season it isn’t a surprise to see the veteran having to settle for a minor league deal again. Longevity is certainly an asset and Chavez has managed to forge a 14-year major league career as a part-time outfielder. But as his speed and defensive skills declined, he offered little help to clubs. Entering 2015, should he surface with the Mariners at some point, he will probably assume a No. 5 outfielder role. Currently the club has Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson slated to play left and center field respectively. Newcomers Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano are expected to platoon in right field. The bench will likely feature James Jones as a pinch-runner extraordinaire and spot starter. There’s already five outfielders on the roster without considering Stefen Romero who spent much of 2014 on the big league club. Like Chavez, the Mariners had signed Gutierrez to a minor league deal last spring. Unfortunately the outfielder suffered a relapse of the stomach problems that ailed him previously and he shut himself down for the entire season. It was reported back in September that Seattle might have interest in bringing him back into the organization for another season. Gutierrez will turn just 32 in February and made 10 appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League in December. Dutton mentions that returning to the Mariners would be the right-hander’s preference as he attempts a comeback to the bigs. Gutierrez would likely start the year at Triple-A to test his body and see how he is able to perform. Gutierrez came to Seattle in a notable multi-player trade with the New York Mets and Cleveland Indians prior to the 2009 season. He would go on to have a breakout season and ink a four-year, $20.2 million extension. When healthy, Gutierrez was one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball. His last appearance in the majors was 2013 when he played in 41 games for the Mariners. He posted a .248/.273/.503 slash line with an unprecedented 10 home runs. The former Gold Glove Award showed some encouraging signs in between a myriad of injuries. But ultimately, health issues stalled what turned into a very respectable career. Neither Chavez or Guiterrez, should his signing become official, should be expected to make the Opening Day roster barring an injury to one of the regular outfielders. But both could serve as essential depth at Tacoma and as veterans should be able to fill in if required. These moves aren’t particularly shiny, but a stash of depth in the upper minors is essential to success throughout the season. Seattle knows both of these players well and familiarity between the player and organization likely factored into the decision of Chavez and pending decision of Gutierrez. The M’s know what they’re getting with Chavez and they’ve seen Gutierrez at his best and at his worst. All Seattle is hoping for is something in the middle.Go!

The deadline for teams and players to submit arbitration figures passed on Friday. The Seattle Mariners had six arbitration-eligible players for the 2015 season, three of them eligible for the first time. Three of the four projected regular outfielders, Austin Jackson, Dustin Ackley, and Justin Ruggiano, all agreed to new contracts as well as bullpen arm Charlie Furbush. Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen was the lone player who failed to reach an agreement prior to the deadline. Austin Jackson — One-year, $7.7 million Seattle’s starting centerfielder, acquired at last year’s trade deadline from the Detroit Tigers, received a decent raise from his $6 million 2014 salary. The soon-to-be 28-year old is coming off a down season and posted a 51 wRC+ after being acquired by the Mariners. He did add stability to a center field position that had been in flux but wasn’t able to produce as the leadoff hitter the club was hoping they acquired in exchange for displaced infielder Nick Franklin. Jackson is entering his walk year and will become a free agent at season’s end. The thought is that after a rough transition to the Pacific Northwest at midseason, he should be able to perform closer to his 2013 level in 2015. Although the right-hander typically boasts a high strikeout rate, he saw it increase by nearly five percent with Seattle. Regaining some of the power lost and improving plate discipline will be keys for success in 2015. Logan Morrison — One-year, $2.725 million; $25,000 bonus for 500 and 600 plate appearances The first baseman also picks up a nice raise from his $1.75 million salary in 2014 as a second-time arbitration eligible player. Morrison failed to clear the 100 games played mark for the third consecutive year as he once again struggled to stay healthy. He did manage to hit 20 doubles for the first time since 2011 and finished the year with a 110 wRC+, an improvement over recent first base production. With Justin Smoak out of the picture Morrison enters the year as the club’s starting first baseman with no real competition on the roster. The 27-year old hit well for stretches last year but missed extended periods of time. His second half performance, when he was finally healthy again, was more inspiring, but the jury is still out on whether or not Morrison can be an everyday first baseman. He’ll have to prove an ability to consistently perform from April through September this year. Dustin Ackley — One-year, $2.6 million; $50,000 bonus for 500 plate appearances Ackley cashed in on his first year of arbitration eligibility as a 26-year old. The former No. 2 overall pick continued his transition to the outfield and showed much improved range and instincts. Offensively it was a better season for Ackley as he finished with a wRC+ 10 points higher (97) than he produced in 2013 — thanks in large part to a red-hot stretch in July and August. The left-hander has become a competent defender in the outfield and likely has his focus set on making improvements at the plate. The remaining question is whether or not his bat can play consistently. For Ackley’s two great months in 2014, he also had two terrible months — the rest were about average. He is coming off a career-high 45 extra-base hits but needs to find a way to bump his batting average closer to the .273 mark he posted in his rookie season. Justin Ruggiano — One-year, $2.5 million; $20,000 bonus for 375 plate appearances The right-handed portion of the Mariners new right field platoon received a slight raise on the $2 million salary he earned last year as a member of the Chicago Cubs. This is Ruggiano’s second year as an arbitration eligible player. The power and speed numbers were down for the 32-year old in 2014 but he still finished the year with a 113 wRC+. Defensive metrics suggested he performed below average in the field last year, but he’s been a relatively competent defender throughout his career. The expectation for Ruggiano in 2015 is simple: continue to crush left-handed pitching. Whether or not manager Lloyd McLendon sticks to the traditional platoon with Seth Smith remains to be seen. But it’s likely that Smith will be the one to receive more playing time in either right or left field. Ruggiano holds a career 128 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and a 94 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. Charlie Furbush — One-year, $1.3 million The left-hander secured a raise on his $750,000 2014 salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Furbush posted a 3.61 ERA and career-best 2.80 FIP in 42 and 1/3 innings pitched across 67 appearances. The lefty specialist struck out 51 batters and walked just nine. Furbush is expected to assume the same role as lefty specialist in 2015. As it stands the 28-year old is the only southpaw currently slated to open the season in the bullpen. It’s likely that a second left-hander will be added to the pen out of Spring Training. Tom Wilhelmsen — Player submitted $2.2 million, club submitted $1.4 million The right-hander is the only player whom the Mariners were not able to agree to terms with prior to the deadline. Wilhelmsen posted a 2.27 ERA and a 3.74 FIP in 79 and 1/3 innings pitched. The Bartender regained form as one of the club’s most reliable relievers and regularly recorded more than three outs on any given night. If there was a downside to the 31-year old’s season it was some control issues — though his 4.08 walks per nine was only slightly higher than his career 3.99 mark. Like Furbush, Wilhelmsen will likely find himself in the same role this year. There had been some talk about possibly stretching out the right-hander in Spring Training to add to the starting pitching depth, but that talk has cooled. However, with Brandon Maurer no longer onboard, Wilhelmsen’s ability to pitch multiple innings of relief will become even more important to the club. The Mariners typically avoid arbitration hearings and we will likely see a deal reached somewhere in the middle of the two submissions in the coming weeks. The midpoint for the two sides is $1.8 million, which would make Wilhelmsen the club’s second-highest paid reliever behind Fernando Rodney. Arbitration hearings are scheduled to begin on February 2 and club’s can negotiate with a player until the second the hearing begins. With all but one of the arbitration numbers settled, we can estimate that the Mariners’ Opening Day payroll will fall around the $115 to $120 million mark depending on whether another addition or two is made. Seattle didn’t add Chris Young to the rotation until just prior to the start of the 2014 season. It’s possible the club will make a late depth move, possibly a veteran cut by another team, towards the end of the spring once again.Go!

It’s a strange thing. Normally the first person that comes to mind when speaking of a professional sports organization is an iconic player or even coach. It rarely is an executive. But I guess that comes with the territory when one is portrayed by Brad Pitt on the big screen. There has been much talk with respect to what exactly the Oakland Athletics have been doing this offseason. Or more specifically, what is Billy Beane doing. Rebuilding? Retooling? Going for it, again? Recently at FanGraphs, prior to the Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar trade, Miles Wray offered his thoughts on what exactly the Athletics are trying to do this winter. He theorizes that instead of relying on superstars, the A’s are stocking their roster with as many players who project as league average or better as possible. It’s a play on the idea that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts. For context, a league average player is worth about 2.0 fWAR. Wray opines that Oakland may be of the mind that a lineup without any noticeable holes can make up for the lack of premier hitters. In discussing the A’s standing in the American League West after the Zobrist deal, I had a similar sentiment: The two infielders acquired today alongside [Brett] Lawrie and Ike Davis, who was acquired from the New York Mets, could make for an improved infield overall compared to last year. There is risk associated with all four new players … but it looks as if the departure of Donaldson won’t be felt quite as hard in terms of production. After seeing increases in payroll over the last several years, it’s possible that the A’s ownership group wanted to see total player salary decrease. That’s bad news for a club that’s already financially restricted due to it’s small market nature. There’s still plenty of time left in the offseason for Beane to throw another wrench into the mix so it can’t be said that this is his final strategy. Though it does make an awful lot of sense when you think about it. The Seattle Mariners finished the 2014 season one game behind the Athletics in the AL Wild Card race. This occurring after the A’s spent big on mid-season acquisitions of Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija. Certainly seeing a lack of success with the method of acquiring superstar-level players could inspire a GM to invest resources over multiple assets instead of the big fish. Last winter the Mariners added their big fish in Robinson Cano. Alongside Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager there’s plenty of star power on the team. With cornerstones to build around, the realistic goal for this winter was to patch holes with good players or find incremental upgrades. After all, Seattle received below average production from six different positions in 2014: catcher, first base, left field, center field, right field, and designated hitter. Several Mariners under performed last season but there were some obvious holes. So far Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith, and Justin Ruggiano have been brought aboard. It’s still possible that an addition is made to supplement the corner outfield spots as well as first base. Not to mention the fact a backup catcher is still needed. Alongside the A’s theorized goal of building a balanced roster let’s see how the Mariners roster stacks up in terms of projected production by position players. At the time of this writing reports indicate that the Athletics have agreed to deal Yunel Escobar to the Washington Nationals. But for the sake of this exercise, we will include him and his projection. The major disclaimer about these projected lineups is that we don’t know how the playing time is going to shake out yet. Chris Taylor very well could find himself at Triple-A to begin the year. What the job-share in right field between Smith and Ruggiano looks like also remains to be seen. But the specifics aren’t the focal point. The A’s utilize the platoon and player’s multi-position eligibility to their strengths. Craig Gentry is expected to spend some time in both left field and center field while Zobrist is expected to see most of his playing time between second base and shortstop, but is projected to make meaningful contributions in the corner outfield spots, too. If we make those allocations, we can begin to see that at practically every position, the Athletics project for at least 2.0 fWAR. Or, project as major league average at each of those positions if not well above average. In fact the only position that clearly projects below average, and it’s only by half a win, is at designated hitter. Ironically the A’s agreed to pay Billy Butler $30 million over the next three years to cover that position. On the Mariners side of things, the projections are similarly favorable. Mike Zunino, Austin Jackson, Cano, Seager, and the shortstop and right field platoons all project for 2.2 or more fWAR. In only three places the M’s project for below average production. At first base Logan Morrison projects for 1.8 fWAR. The big concern for him in 2015 will be health. When he was able to stay on the field in 2014, particularly in the second half, he was a fairly consistent performer. While nothing spectacular, and you’d certainly want to see better power numbers from your first baseman, a 110 wRC+ is not a bad thing. In left field Dustin Ackley projects for 1.9 fWAR. This is a position of concern for Seattle as what version of Ackley we will see in 2015 remains to be seen. He was an excellent No. 2 hitter at times last year but was also dormant for stretches. It’s possible that Smith sees some time in left field should Ackley struggle. As is the case with the Athletics, the Mariners newly-minted DH, Nelson Cruz, projects as below average at 1.5 fWAR. In terms of wins above replacement, designated hitters are penalized slightly not because they aren’t playing the field, but because there is some value in being able to defend at a replacement level. But Cruz was brought onboard to hit, and that’s all Seattle is worried about. If Cruz is indeed able to match his projection, it would still mark a marginal upgrade of 2.0-3.0 fWAR at the position compared to 2014. The Athletics lineup is projected to be very balanced, as it appears to have been designed to. Zobrist, Brett Lawrie, and Josh Reddick project to be very good players, but not Josh Donaldson-esque. Now, that isn’t to say having superstar players is a bad thing. The Athletics have simply chosen to value them differently than the Mariners have, for example, and that decision is likely resource-based. Seattle signed Robinson Cano to be a superstar. His paycheck is not just for being a premier player, it’s for being a face of the franchise as well. He’s a talking point and attraction. We could spend much more time discussing the other values that come with a superstar, and their importance to Seattle compared to Oakland, but for now we will not. Because the Athletics have had such a strange offseason, we’ve attempted to determine their formula or plan. At a closer glance, it does in fact, appear that the club has utilized the strategy that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts. Because the Mariners have invested in superstars like Cano and Seager, we know that their strategy is different. But upon comparing the two lineups, we do see some similarities. At the end of this past season we talked a lot about if the M’s could’ve gotten league average production from just one more position they would’ve been a playoff team. There’s significant value in the way the Athletics have constructed their roster. It certainly isn’t foolproof, and everything we’re saying is still hypothetical, but we can start to see how the changes should translate to the win column. The Mariners made a significant upgrade at DH this winter, filling arguably their biggest hole in 2014. The goal this winter was to add two everyday bats, and with the platoon of Smith and Ruggiano, it appears that goal has been met. Having Jackson man center field for an entire season should also count as an upgrade. Especially if he’s able to rebound. Seattle has, on paper, a reasonably balanced lineup — not quite as balanced as the Athletics are, but there isn’t an obvious hole. There is considerable risk with players like Ackley and Morrison, but you can only plan for risk. Adding an Allen Craig type of player who can play some first base and corner outfield would be ideal in alleviating some of the risk and improving depth. There’s still time for something like that to happen. The Mariners are entering 2015 with an improved lineup compared to the one that started Opening Day 2014. Typically that’s one way we determine whether or not an offseason was successful. There’s still time to go before Spring Training begins, but on paper, the depth of the Mariners lineup appears similar to the Athletics — the team that was one game better and playoff-worthy last year.Go!

Center field was a position of disappointment for the Seattle Mariners in 2014. When the club acquired Austin Jackson at the trade deadline, a solution for the problem was believed to have been found. Not only for the remainder of the season but for 2015 as well. Of course things didn’t go so smoothly for the former Detroit Tiger who posted just a 53 wRC+ in 236 plate appearances. But the consensus is that Jackson is a good bet to rebound in 2015. He certainly is a better player than his performance indicated. Initially it was surprising to see the Tigers deal their star centerfielder. Even though David Price was the return, the club was deep in a pennant race and the loss of Jackson was noticeable in the outfield and the lineup. It was a banner year in 2012 for Jackson who posted a 134 wRC+ with 16 home runs alongside very strong defensive play at a premium position. His numbers took a step back in 2013, but overall, it was another solid season by the numbers. What exactly went wrong in 2014 is still up for debate. Jackson had posted a .273/.332/.398 slash line prior to the trade — all three marks being a couple of points below his career line. Upon arriving in the Emerald City, it appeared as if Jackson forgot his ability to hit for power on the plane. His ISO with the Tigers was .126 compared to .031 with the M’s. He didn’t hit a home run after the trade deadline either. His defensive play held up but he was dreadful offensively and never once moved from the leadoff spot. Jackson is under contract for 2015 as an arbitration eligible player but will than be eligible for free agency. He won’t turn 28 until February and is poised to enter the free agent market at a prime age. Another poor showing could dramatically affect his value. Though his 5.2 fWAR campaign in 2012 is still in recent memory and hard to ignore . There hasn’t been any reported extension talks between the two parties, yet. It’s more than likely that Seattle would like to see a rebound from their centerfielder before committing further years and dollars. By the time that hypothetically happens though, it may be too late. Jackson figures to be one of the better free agent outfielders available at the end of the upcoming season. Considering the lack of center field depth currently in the Mariners organization it’s conceivable that the club could still look to extend Jackson this offseason. Let’s take a look at some recent extensions handed out to outfielders similar to Jackson in age. Obviously Hunter Pence is a superior player to Jackson and was coming off a significantly better season than the Mariner had in 2014 — Jackson posted a 1.0 fWAR total in 2014. Despite the inflated free agent market, five years and $18 million per season seems like a huge stretch for Jackson. Though if he can put together a campaign similar to his 2012, those numbers could become a target for his agency. Martin Prado is a bit of a different case given his positional flexibility. But he too was coming off a career year, and would receive a four-year guarantee. The $10 million average annual salary could probably serve as a benchmark for an extension now or a free agent contract in less than one year’s time. Perhaps the best comparable on that list is Brett Gardner  The New York Yankees locked up their outfielder last winter after handing Jacoby Ellsbury a seven-year contract that pushed the incumbent centerfielder, Gardner, to right field. Gardner has a career slash line of .265/.346/.390 compared to Jackson’s .274/.336/.402 line. Both have career wRC+’s of 103. Both are regular bets to swipe 20 bags, but Gardner has a pair of 40-plus stolen base seasons. He’s also a better fit at the top of the lineup with better walk and strikeout rates. Each has had some outstanding defensive seasons — Gardner with 35 and 23 DRS in 2010 and 2011 respectively and Jackson with 29 in 2011 — and both are generally regarded as above average defenders. The Yankee outfielder was able to secure a $52 million guarantee over four years coming off a very good, but not outstanding season. He did produce a combined 10.9 fWAR between 2010 and 2011. Aside from an injury-shortened 2009 season Gardner has been a very consistent player. One thing we do know is that consistency tends to pay well in free agency. Assuming Jackson does rebound in 2015 and produces a season in the 2.0-to-3.0 fWAR range he should be able to secure a multi-year contract with a similar valuation to the Gardner deal. Melky Cabrera received a three-year, $43.5 million deal from the Chicago White Sox this winter. That’s an outfielder who’s best season to date — 4.5 fWAR in 2012 — was cut short due to a PED suspension. Cabrera struggled mightily in 2013 due to what turned out to be a benign tumor in his lower back. He did rebound in 2014 for 2.6 fWAR and managed to cash in. Seattle waiting to negotiate an extension with their centerfielder is only logical. It’s equally likely that Jackson would prefer to have a better platform season for contract talks, too. One thing that should be concerning for the Mariners though, is how aside Jackson, the organizational depth at center is very weak. James Jones saw regular playing time in center before Jackson was acquired, but the speedster doesn’t hit enough to play regularly and is better defensively in a corner spot. [pullquote]Talk has been had about moving Miller to the outfield in the spring, but the shortstop position isn’t secured by someone else yet. There is also the chance that he struggles to handle the defensive side of the game like Ackley did early in his transition.[/pullquote] Leon Landry, 25, figures to start the season with Triple-A Tacoma and really is the next player on the depth chart. He has 910 plate appearances at the Double-A level, but didn’t hit particularly well there. There’s a chance that the M’s will look to acquire some middle outfield depth over the next calendar year. The jury is still out with regards to whether or not Jackson is the long-term solution in center. Gareth Morgan, the M’s No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, could be a future solution. However the 18-year old is still very raw and has minimal minor league experience. If Jackson does rebound in 2015, the Mariners should be happy to pay him what he’s worth for 2016 and beyond. More often than not players tend to head elsewhere upon reaching free agency though. Jackson is likely no exception to that. There’s similar risk in locking Jackson up prior to the start of 2015 or letting him test the market after the season. One thing that works in the Mariners favor is the potential of a qualifying offer being extended to Jackson. This winter’s qualifying offer was worth $15.3 million and presumably next year’s will be around the $16 million mark. That’s inching closer and closer to Pence money. If Jackson does have another poor season, a qualifying offer is very unlikely. But we have seen how similar good, not great players like Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales have been hurt by the qualifying offer. As it stands, Jackson will likely begin the 2015 season in the leadoff spot. He would probably be a better fit lower in the lineup, but the Mariners really don’t have another option for the top of the lineup. Dustin Ackley and Chris Taylor saw time in the No. 2 spot last season, but don’t profile particularly well there either. The lack of depth at center is concerning, but the lack of control over Jackson isn’t so much. There will be several free agent and trade options for filling the position if Jackson does decide to go elsewhere as a free agent. Not to mention the fact there’s plenty of time this winter for a deal to take place that could factor into the club’s long-term outfield plans.Go!

Many pundits had written off the Seattle Mariners before the 2014 season began. The rotation had several questions marks beyond Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and the lineup lacked much punch beyond newly acquired second baseman Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. Lloyd McLendon was the new manager in town after Eric Wedge called it quits with three games left in 2013, and reports about the dysfunction in the front office created some tension. The club did have a strong contingent of young players ready to make their marks, however the group assembled didn’t resemble a playoff squad come Opening Day. A .500 team maybe, but not a team that would finish one game out of a Wild Card spot and certainly not one that wasn’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs until the season’s final day. Was the club’s 87-75 record an accurate representation of the compilation of talent on the roster, or was it a classic case of a team that played over their heads? This is rather crucial question that needs to be answered. Not because the front office needs to know how many wins they should be chasing this winter, but because the Mariners likely will do just that. If they believe they’re 3-5 wins from October baseball, they’ll go get 3-5 wins in roster upgrades. If they believe they’re more like an 83-win team, they’ll chase after 7-10 victories. At least that’s been the track record, rather than doing everything possible to become as good as the club possibly can. So, what is GM Jack Zduriencik working with as the offseason begins? Seattle’s Pythagorean record was 91-71, four more wins than they actually collected. A team’s Pythagorean record compares their runs scored and allowed in an attempt to determine how many wins a team should have based on those two factors. The Mariners had a near-historic year in terms of run prevention and allowed the fewest runs in the league with 554. However, there was a serious lack of consistency in the run scoring department and the club’s 634 runs scored ranked 19th. BaseRuns credits the Mariners with an 86-76 record, one less win than their actual total. What do these advanced stats tell us about the M’s record? In essence, they suggest that Seattle’s 87 wins are a reasonable result based on the numbers of runs scored and allowed. In a way these systems help us better understand a team’s record in the same way that a pitcher’s FIP or xFIP relates to their ERA. It’s then up to us to dig deeper and try and see what else is under the surface. By now means does a Pythagorean record tell us a team’s true talent level. Seattle got their money’s worth when it came to superstars Felix and Cano. The King is in line for his second career Cy Young award and Cano capped off an All-Star season with a Gold Glove nomination. Hernandez had a markedly better season in 2014 than in previous years, but at age-28 he was primed for his beginning of his peak years. There’s also no doubt an improved team behind him and a winning record benefited the ace. The biggest knock on Cano this year was the lack of power displayed. His 14 home runs were the fewest he’s hit since 2008, though the confines of Safeco Field were expected to impact his total power output. Overall Cano had an excellent first year in the Emerald City and gave the club some much needed star power. The holes in the M’s lineup, however, were glaring. Seattle received -2.1 fWAR from their designated hitter position, second-worst in the league to the Cleveland Indians. That’s after the team took on a slumping Kendrys Morales in July that never recovered from sitting out the first three months of the year. The Corey Hart experiment wouldn’t pay off as the slugger battled health issues. As a unit, the Mariners’ outfield combined for the second lowest fWAR in all of baseball with 1.0. Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, and Abraham Almonte were the only outfielders to produce a positive fWAR. Ackley was absolutely the player that the Mariners envisioned when they made him a No. 2 overall selection in 2009 from July 1 on, but struggled early in the season. Saunders spent significant time on the disabled list, again, and lost playing time to Stefen Romero and Endy Chavez, regularly. Had the Canadian-born outfielder been healthy for more of the year, or at least played regularly when he was, he would’ve made up for some of the -1.5 fWAR Romero and Chris Denorfia cost the team. Even trade deadline acquisition Austin Jackson went cold as soon as he put on a Mariners uniform, and only showed a glimmer of the talent he displayed in Detroit. On the infield side of things, aside from Cano, Seattle saw continued growth from Seager who made his first All-Star appearance. The third baseman lead the club in home runs, RBI, and posted a higher fWAR than Cano at 5.5. Justin Smoak continued to flail in the batter’s box, but Logan Morrison, after getting healthy, took the first base job by storm and finished the year with a 110 wRC+ in 365 plate appearances. By fWAR, the Mariners got solid production out of Brad Miller and Chris Taylor at the shortstop position but most of that is due to the duo’s excellent defensive play. Miller struggled mightily at times with the bat and Taylor’s offensive numbers were inflated by a high BABIP. Mike Zunino had an excellent sophomore season behind the plate but struggled to produce consistent offense outside of the long ball. [pullquote]Of the batters acquired in the offseason and at the trade deadline, only Cano, Morrison, and Willie Bloomquist posted a positive fWAR. Morales, Jackson, Denorfia, Hart, Chavez, and John Buck were all below replacement value.[/pullquote] Aside from Cano, Seager, and to some extent Zunino, the M’s really could’ve gotten more production out of their infield. Some might argue Seager played over his head, but his production has been trending upward for the last few seasons. First base has been a black hole for years and is an obvious source of underachievement. The shortstop position is difficult to knock since the defensive play was so strong, but it’s fair to say that from an offensive standpoint the position underachieved. Seattle’s No. 2 starter, Iwakuma, had a solid campaign including the second-lowest walk rate among qualified pitchers at 1.06 per nine innings. However the right-hander was absent for the first month of the season recovering from a sprained finger. Rookie James Paxton posted a strong 3.28 FIP but was limited to just 13 starts after being sidelined with an oblique injury for more than three months. Top prospect Taijuan Walker was also expected to cement the second half of the rotation but struggled with consistency and shoulder inflammation and was limited to just five big league starts. Had the pair of rookies been healthy for even half of the season each, the rotation definitely would’ve been stronger. The one positive thing Walker’s preseason injury allowed was an opportunity for Roenis Elias to secure a spot in the rotation, and he did not disappoint. The 26-year old had yet to pitch above Double-A prior to this season and in 29 starts earned a 4.03 FIP, slightly higher than his 3.85 ERA. Elias was excellent at times this year, but showed signs of fatigue as the innings piled up and was eventually shut down in September with arm soreness. Veteran hurler Chris Young also had a resurgent 2014 after struggling with injuries the last several years. In 165 innings and 29 starts the right-hander posted a strong 3.65 ERA but finished with a 5.02 FIP after some struggles in September. Like Elias, he had run out of gas. In some ways the success of Elias and Young cancel out the lack of production that was expected from Paxton and Walker. With that, one could say that the M’s rotation performed approximately as expected, all told. Earlier in his career Young was a dependable starter but considering the uncertainty surrounding a guy who had thrown 100 innings in just one year in 2008, Seattle was likely hoping to milk five-to-ten decent starts out of Young if they were lucky. It’s fair to expect the best bullpen in baseball would have to overachieve to some extent, but the talent was there and the staff was strong from beginning to end. Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Charlie Furbush all had excellent seasons following solid 2013 campaigns. Brandon Maurer had a successful transition from starter to power reliever in the second half and posted a 1.85 FIP in 37 1/3 relief innings. Dominic Leone had a strong rookie season and solidified the middle relief corps. Even journeyman Joe Beimel had an outstanding season as a specialist posting a 2.20 ERA but it came with a 4.18 FIP which suggests that he did overachieve. Closer and free agent acquisition Fernando Rodney also had an impressive campaign, though not quite at the level of his career year in 2012. The enigmatic star performed as expect this year, racking up saves and strikeouts while providing plenty of drama in the process. It’s fair to say that the bullpen could be a big source of overachievement in 2014 considering that seemingly everything went right. Especially since the majority of the staff that contributed to the second-worst bullpen ERA in baseball last year returned to post the best mark in the majors. Every team has to deal with injuries while riding the wave of breakout and slumping players. The Mariners were no different in that regard. It’s hard to say how much of the team’s success can be attributed to the managing of McLendon and his staff, but we do know that their management of King Felix was a crucial aspect of his performance this year. Was 87 wins an overachievement for this edition of the Seattle Mariners? From the outset maybe, and there’s certainly an argument that they did, but at a closer glance the talent for a playoff club is there. The Kansas City Royals certainly have proved that a strong pitching staff and plus defence can take a team a long way, and many would agree that the Mariners pitching staff was even better than the American League champions. The fact that nobody expected Seattle to perform as well as they did shouldn’t be indicative of whether or not they overachieved. Some players had surprise seasons, some players performed poorly. There’s evidence that suggests that this team may have even underachieved since they received less than replacement level value out of several players. But that’s an argument for another day.Go!

For the first time in team history, the Seattle Mariners left Fenway Park after a sweep of the hometown Boston Red Sox. The Mariner offense continued to roll with another 20-run output in the series — a good sign after the team slumped through Philadelphia and managed to score just nine runs in total. But this series sweep of the Red Sox can and should be about more than just a relatively meaningless factoid; it was a showing of what good teams do. They find ways to win games. There’s no question that starting pitching has been a strength of the M’s this year, but the best start of the weekend belonged to Felix Hernandez who turned in a very underwhelming performance on Friday. The King was definitely off his game as he needed 116 pitches to get through just five and two-thirds innings of work and he allowed three runs for the first time since May 12 — it was also his second consecutive start in which he failed to complete six innings of work. The resurgent Chris Young also had his share of troubles on Saturday as he also allowed three runs in three and two-thirds innings while walking five batters. Keeping control of the strike zone has been troublesome for Young at times this season and he’s been forced to throw a lot of pitches, but a glance at his season-to-date suggests that this performance was an outlier, as was Felix’s. Finally on Sunday, the conclusion of the series, the M’s handed the ball to Hisashi Iwakuma but again, were forced to rely heavily on their bullpen to get through the day. Kuma didn’t finish the third inning after allowing five runs on six hits, including a three-run, 39-pitch first. It simply wasn’t a good day for the normally dependable No. 2 starter, but throughout the course of the season every starter is going to turn in an underwhelming performance or get beat around for an inning or two at a time. It just so happened that all three of the M’s starters had theirs on consecutive days. As it turned out, that wouldn’t be a problem. Firstly, the outstanding bullpen cast more than stepped up to the task over the weekend. The off-day on Thursday proved crucial as it allowed manager Lloyd McClendon to have a fresh set of relievers for the series opener. Brandon Maurer took over for Felix and along with Dominic Leone and Fernando Rodney, did not allow a run in three and one-third innings. It was a similar story on Saturday as the combination of Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush, Danny Farquhar, and Yoervis Medina shut out the Red Sox for five and one-third innings. The Red Sox finally found a hole in the Mariners armour on Sunday as they managed to score a run on Furbush, but that was all they’d get in six and two-third innings against the best bullpen in baseball. That was 15 and 1/3 innings of bullpen pitching and just one run allowed.  That’s good for a 0.59 ERA, or by a stretch of a comparison, a performance of similar proportions to a pair of starts by Clayton Kershaw. And the even crazier part is that this bullpen has been providing that kind of performance all year. [pullquote]The Mariners are now 168-227 against the Red Sox all-time and take the season series five games to one. That one loss came earlier in the season when Boston visited Seattle for a three-game set.[/pullquote] Despite being shut out for eight straight innings to begin the series, Seattle’s bats showed up in a big way on Friday night against Boston’s closer Koji Uehara, knocking in five runs. The rally started with Endy Chavez working a ten-pitch walk and finished with Dustin Ackley scoring all the way from first base on a Robinson Cano single. Now, one could point out that this was actually a poor showing by the M’s offense considering they were shut down for eight innings, but to put up a five-spot against one of the most dominant closers today isn’t something to make light of. Perhaps the most interesting part of this weekend’s series was that Cano only  went 2-for-10 with a double, RBI, and run scored before leaving Sunday’s game after his second at bat with dizziness and possible flu symptoms. I mention that because as integral a part of this offense as Cano is, the rest of the club hasn’t had much difficultly finding ways to drive in runs when he isn’t and this series was no different. Good teams find ways to win even when a key contributor isn’t going 4-for-4 with two extra-base hits. Ackley continued his hot second half going 5-for-13 with two walks in the series. He hit his ninth home run of the season and added six runs batted in to his now career-high 54. Kyle Seager and Austin Jackson collected four hits each while Kendrys Morales and Logan Morrison each had three. Chris Taylor and Jesus Sucre also had a pair of hits apiece. The only Mariner to not register a hit over the weekend was Mike Zunino who recorded a single walk while striking out six times. It can’t go without being noted that the 2014 edition of the Red Sox is nowhere near as talented as the 2013 World Championship team was, but it’s not as if this is a completely pedestrian ball club — not to mention the fact Fenway Park is hardly visitor-friendly. Perhaps one could suggest that the Mariners should be able to sweep a team that’s 18 games below .500 and has long since turned their attention towards 2015. But, as we all know, it’s not quite that simple for Seattle. After all, they did lose two of three to the Philadelphia Phillies earlier in the week. August 22-24, 2014 will be remembered as the first time the Seattle Mariners swept the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park — a stat that will see mention during broadcasts in the future and provide practically no quantitative value. But I’d like to think that this weekend was another stepping stone for the Mariners. After all, rallies on the road have a funny way of uniting a club. And it’s not as if it was Felix and Cano carrying the team through the weekend, it really was a team effort. Seattle now has a one-game lead over the Detroit Tigers for the second Wild Card slot and will host the Texas Rangers for three games at home. Like Boston, the Rangers are a team that the Mariners should be capable of winning three games against, and we’ll know soon enough if this weekend was just another tantalizing performance or a sign of what could come over the final month of the season.Go!

With the July 31st non-waiver Trade Deadline in the rearview mirror, the stretch drive is officially underway with an exciting race brewing for the second Wild Card slot in the American League. The Seattle Mariners made a pair of trades on deadline day — a total of three in the week — to bolster their offence. The M’s picked up outfielders Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia in a pair of deals after re-acquiring Kendrys Morales from the Minnesota Twins. I opined that the Trade Deadline was successful for Seattle, citing the fact they were able to make upgrades without giving up anything of significant future value to the club. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill had similar thoughts about the trio of trades made by the club. Churchill points out that while there were no true impact hitters available, the Mariners did well to make the additions they did without subtracting from the major league club or the team’s pool of top prospects. Yes, Nick Franklin has the potential to turn into a solid regular, but the opportunity to do so just wasn’t present in Seattle. Stephen Pryor and Abraham Almonte do have some marginal upside, but they are not irreplaceable on the M’s depth chart. It was also reported that the Oakland Athletics had Franklin as a potential target before he was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays. PI’s Mariners of the Month for July were Hisashi Iwakuma, Felix Hernandez, and Kyle Seager, while Jayson Werth and Clayton Kershaw took the honors of MLB Players of the Month. Brendan Gawlowski expects Morales to show some improvement in the near future. Gawlowski cites research done by Mitchel Lichtman on hitting trends, which suggests extended cold streaks don’t necessarily indicate a loss of true talent. Morales, 31, did not play until after the amateur draft in June and he’s hit very poorly since originally signing with the Twins. His 47 wRC+ on the year is well below the 117 and 119 marks he posted in 2013 and 2012 respectively. The Cuban is projected to hit better down the road as he stacks up the plate appearances, but he can rest assured that he won’t receive a qualifying offer at season’s end as he was traded midseason. [pullquote]The Mariners enshrined former manger Lou Piniella into their Hall of Fame on Saturday night. Piniella managed the club for ten seasons, including three division titles and a major league record 116-win campaign in 2011.[/pullquote] Gawlowski is also of the opinion that Brandon Maurer should get another chance to be a starter in 2015. The 24-year old has been outstanding in a relief role for the M’s this season after a very poor stretch in the rotation to start the year. Gawlowski’s take on the situation is relatively simple: what do the Mariners have to lose by giving him another shot? Obviously a solid starter is much more valuable than a reliever, and Maurer has the stuff, but if he were to falter in Spring Training for example, the team could easily push him back to the bullpen. It may be counterintuitive to attempt to fix something that isn’t broken, but the gamble could pay huge dividends if it were to work out. I took a look at what might be next for former top prospect Jesus Montero after he went on a hot streak with Triple-A Tacoma. The 24-year old hasn’t exactly been turning heads with his play this year otherwise, but there’s no reason for the M’s to cut their losses and move on, yet. Both Morales and Corey Hart will be free agents at season’s end and it’s possible Seattle may have an opening at the designated hitter position in 2015. I also took a look at Taijuan Walker and the struggles he’s had during 2014. Walker won’t be getting the spot start on Sunday for the M’s — Erasmo Ramirez will be re-called for the game — so it’s tough to say when he’ll make another start with the big league club. The 21-year old is still having issues with the walk and hasn’t looked especially sharp at all this year aside from a complete-game shutout performance with Tacoma earlier in June. It’s been a tough year for Walker all around between the injuries, inconsistency, and trade rumors that have surrounded him, but he seems healthy and has been working on some mechanical things so there isn’t much reason for concern at the moment. PI’s Chris Moran took a look at Stetson Allie, a former second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates and top prospect. Allie was drafted as a pitcher but has made the conversion to first base after a failing to consistently throw strikes in the minors. Moran notes that while Allie still has a very strong throwing arm, his ability to make consistent throws is simply not there as he’s even gotten wild when throwing the ball around the diamond after recording an out. The biggest question moving forward for the youngster is how well his bat will play out as he does posses plenty of raw power. In his latest fantasy update, Steve Simas has thoughts on a handful of prospects and fresh faces in the majors that were dealt at the deadline just over one week ago.Go!

Rarely does Major League Baseball’s annual July 31st non-waiver trade deadline spark as much interest as it did today. In total there were 12 trades made and several significant pieces were moved in the process. Aces David Price and Jon Lester found new homes, the Boston Red Sox cleaned house, and the Seattle Mariners added a pair of outfielders to a club in need of an offensive boost. In a market barren of impact bats and overpriced assets, the Mariners played it safe, and smart. Chris Denorfia, acquired from the San Diego Padres for Abraham Almonte and a minor league reliever, may be a veteran on a down season, but he has hit left-handed pitching well throughout his career and is an upgrade on the current Seattle roster. Austin Jackson, acquired from the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade in which the M’s sent Nick Franklin to the Tampa Bay Rays, is a true centerfielder that’s capable of hitting at the top of a lineup. He represents a significant upgrade to the roster as is. Both players are now with the club Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune tweets, and are expected to be in the lineup tomorrow night when Seattle wraps up a three-game set with the Cleveland Indians. Now as always, the first question that usually comes to mind is who’s roster spots will the new imports take? Presumably Stefen Romero will be sent down to Triple-A as the club as already used an option on him for the year and he’s now managed a 52 wRC+ in 180 plate appearances with the big club. Romero is still just 25-years old and only had one full season of Triple-A experience under his belt before breaking camp with the team this spring. He’s received below average grades for both base running and fielding according to FanGraphs and his fWAR on the year is -1.0, meaning even having a replacement level player take his spot on the roster would be an improvement. The second most likely candidate to face the roster crunch is James Jones as Jackson is expected to take over regular center field duties. Jones, also 25, burst on the scene when he was called up at the end of April and posted an impressive 101 wRC+ in May while hitting at the top of the order. He started to slide in June with a 76 wRC+ for the month before seemingly imploding in July with just five hits and a walk in his last 12 games and 48 plate appearances. Jones’ defence has been a work in progress this year and he definitely had his struggles at times, but a trip down to Tacoma to work on his defence and try and figure his offensive issues out could be very beneficial. Jones could still factor into the team’s plans in 2015 as he’s shown the ability to succeed in the big leagues, but needs to improve his game as a whole first. The pair of veterans everybody’s been wanting to see disappear, Corey Hart and Endy Chavez, are perhaps the least likely to be removed from the active roster, at least for right now. Hart’s had his struggles this year, there’s no questioning that, and between missing the entire 2013 season as well as an extended stretch in the first half recovering from a hamstring injury, it’s really been a disappointing season for the slugger. His wRC+ is now down to 72 after an 0-for-4 performance in tonight’s win, but he has started in right field three games in a row now. He’s still owed at least $3 million for the year — depending on how his incentives play out — so cutting him would be simply an exercise in opening up a roster spot as the M’s wouldn’t save any money in the process. The move could still happen, but it doesn’t seem imminent, yet. Chavez has seen far more at bats this year than anybody expected and he doesn’t have much to show for it. Often hitting at the top of the order, the seasoned veteran owns a 74 wRC+ in 173 plate appearances. He’s been below average in right field, but he’s essentially provided replacement level value with a -0.2 fWAR. Chavez hasn’t actually been that awful in his second stint with the Mariners, but if he was utilized as a No. 4 outfielder instead of a regular contributor it’s likely he would’ve provided more value. The 36-year old would hit the waiver wire in the event the M’s decided to designate him for assignment and it appears unlikely he’d accept an assignment to Triple-A, but I suppose it is possible. Simply replacing Romero and Jones with Denorfia and Jackson stands to make a potentially significant improvement to the club, and if Chavez ends up as the odd man out when Michael Saunders returns — possibly in two or three weeks time — one could suggest that the M’s would finally have a decent group of outfielders together. Between Dustin Ackley, who’s been swinging the bat very well this month, Jackson, and Saunders the club has a set of very competent defensive outfielders with a couple of decent bats to make use of in Denorfia and Hart. [pullquote]Since rejoining the Mariners lineup on July 25th Morales has just one hit in 21 plate appearances with a pair of runs batted in and one walk. His wRC+ in that time is -41.[/pullquote] The acquisition of Kendrys Morales should weigh in to the review of the Mariners trade deadline success, and in exchange for the three bats acquired, the team gave up nothing off of the big league roster and nothing of real significance to the future. As I mentioned earlier, Franklin has all the talent to be a very good player but it just wasn’t going to work out in Seattle for him. Almonte is an okay depth piece but he’s replaceable, as is Stephen Pryor. The M’s received some flack from Jeff Passon of Yahoo! Sports for being involved in the Price trade but not coming up with the player they had coveted for so long and the additions they did make only brought them back to mediocrity. Let’s look at the facts: Seattle was lukewarm at best when it came to including Taijuan Walker in a deal of any kind and didn’t have another comparable player to Drew Smyly to include in the deal. If the M’s offered Franklin, a Smyly-type of pitcher, and a third high-upside prospect they would’ve landed Price. The pieces simply didn’t meet up for the Rays and M’s, and I don’t believe that’s for lack of effort. I do agree that the return for Price may look slightly on the lighter side, but it was likely still more than the M’s should’ve been comfortable dealing at this point in time. Remember, this wasn’t a club that was one piece away from being a World Series contender. This is a club that was a couple pieces away from even being a serious playoff contender down the stretch, and paying a premium price for Lester, or any other rental, just doesn’t make sense for this club. General manager Jack Zduriencik did well to turn Franklin, an asset who had no opening within the organization, into Jackson who fills several holes on the club and is controllable for the 2015 season as well. If that was the only move Jack Z made, I would’ve been happy with the day. Adding another bat, albeit low impact, only helps improve the club further. As will the returns of Saunders and James Paxton. Again, even getting back to mediocrity in right and center field is still a boost considering how outstanding the entire pitching staff has been. Think of all those times the M’s had an opportunity to cash in an extra run or two but came up empty. Having Denorfia take the place of Romero, for example, on even a handful of those spots could net the team some extra wins, or at the very least the extending of an inning to create a better chance for victory. Bottom line, Jackson and Denorfia make the current roster better. In terms of true impact bats, there really was nothing available. I’m surprised the Philadelphia Phillies weren’t able to move Marlon Byrd, though their asking price sounded totally unrealistic, and that the Texas Rangers held on to Alex Rios as well. I don’t blame Seattle for passing on the $16 million that would be owed to Byrd for the next two seasons following this one, but I’d be curious to know why Rios didn’t end up getting dealt. There were several reports of trade talks occurring, but the Rangers obviously didn’t get an offer that they deemed to be worthwhile. Yoenis Cespedes was dealt today, and he would’ve been a huge addition to the Mariners, but look at the context: the Oakland Athletics were able to bolster their rotation even further with Lester and Jonny Gomes makes for an interesting addition as well. Not to mention the A’s re-acquisition of defensive specialist Sam Fuld as well which will help offset the loss of this year’s Home Run Derby Champion. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the A’s were going to move Cespedes this winter regardless since they didn’t feel they could lock him up to a long term deal before he reaches free agency just over a year from now, and decided to cash in now. Not to say that Oakland would or would not deal Cespedes within the division, but the Mariners simply didn’t match up well with the A’s. Who on the club is comparable to Lester and could actually be given up? I suppose there’s an argument that Hisashi Iwakuma could be of similar value though he’s not as good as Lester, but there’d be no reason for the M’s to deal him. Aside from Cespedes, there wasn’t another high impact bat traded today. The Mariners got better without hurting the future. That’s the biggest thing to takeaway from today, in my opinion. Zduriencik didn’t collapse under the pressure he faced and overpay for a player like Price. One could argue that Jack Z should’ve made the flashy acquisition, but I have no problem with the pair of moves made today since they improve on players like Romero and Jones who’s contributions have been sub-par, as well as the Morales acquisition from earlier. Seattle still has a solid chance to grab a Wild Card slot, and today they were able to improve their chances while a team like the Toronto Blue Jays did not. It’s going to be a fun next two months.Go!

How’s that for a trade deadline day, eh? Unexpected teams involved, a couple aces trading places — and some of us expected today to be boring. Anyways, the Seattle Mariners actually ended up being one of the more active teams today, and were involved in a blockbuster, though they didn’t end up with the big fish they had been linked to for the past couple months. However, one can’t say that the M’s aren’t better today than they were yesterday, and they didn’t have to mortgage the future to do it. The M’s acquired veteran outfielder Chris Denorfia from the San Diego Padres in exchange for outfielder Abraham Almonte and right-hander Steve Kohlscheen. Denorfia, 34, owns a .242/.293/.319 slash line on the year with a single home run across 268 plate appearances. Although he has just an 85 wRC+ against left-handed pitching on the year, he owns a 128 wRC+ against them for his career as well as a .301 batting average, which should add a boost to a team that’s had some struggles against lefties on the year. Denorfia is owed about a million bucks for the rest of the year and will be a free agent this winter, which makes him a rental. Seattle did give up their Opening Day centerfielder in the trade, but after a weak first six weeks in the big leagues Almonte has been playing at Triple-A Tacoma where he’s put together a .267/.333/.292 line. The 24-year old has some potential that could still develop, but at the moment he has the makings of a No. 4 outfielder who could draw into the lineup often given his speed and defensive abilities. Almonte will join the Padres major league club, but it’s not yet clear if he’ll see regular playing time there throughout the remainder of the season. Kohlscheen was a 47th-round draft pick in the 2010 amateur draft and has been enjoying a decent season in the minors. In 56 and 2/3 innings spent between Double-A and Triple-A, the right-hander owns a 2.70 ERA. The 25-year old does offer some upside as a potential major league reliever, including the fact that he is 6-foot-6, but isn’t one of the M’s more interesting pitching prospects. Not to say he won’t have any value in the future, but this is the type of player a club can deal without too much fear that he’ll come back to haunt them, especially given the volatile nature of relievers. The Tampa Bay Rays did deal staff ace David Price today, but he ends up with the Detroit Tigers while the Mariners sent infielder Nick Franklin to the Rays and acquired outfielder Austin Jackson from the Tigers in a three-team deal. [pullquote]Jackson has seen most of his at bats come in the No. 1 and No. 6 spots in the lineup this year and his skill set will likely fit well at the top of the Mariners’ order in front of Cano and Kyle Seager.[/pullquote] Jackson, 27, has manned center field for the Tigers for the past four and a half years and has posted a .270/.330/.397 slash line in 416 plate appearances for an even 100 wRC+ so far in 2014. The former eighth-round draft choice of the New York Yankees has typically been a plus defender so far in his career — UZR gives him a 7.2 rating in nearly 6000 innings of work — but hasn’t quite played as well in the field this season. However he does give the Mariners a true center fielder and strengthens a strong defensive outfield between Dustin Ackley and eventually Michael Saunders, though Corey Hart has started the last couple games in right. Jackson is arbitration eligible for the final time in 2015 and is owed around $2 million for the remainder of this season. He also has familiarity with manager Lloyd McClendon as he was the hitting coach in Detroit before joining the M’s. After several months of speculation Franklin finally finds himself a new home, and it’s with a team that has reportedly had interest in him for a while now. The infielder has struggled in a handful of major league plate appearances this year but has posted a .294/.392/.455 slash line at Triple-A. The 23-year old still has all the makings of an above average major leaguer, but with Robinson Cano, Brad Miller, and Chris Taylor in the middle infield picture for the foreseeable future, there was simply no room for that to happen with Seattle. And with the Rays’ excellent player development program, it’d be no surprise to see Franklin have plenty of success in the American League East. The Mariners were also linked to super utility player Ben Zobrist, but the Rays elected to hang on to him for now. Overall, general manager Jack Zduriencik made well on his “Trader Jack” moniker today and the M’s were able to address their most glaring need: the outfield. The team is also better off heading into 2015 with Jackson set to be their everyday centerfielder, while notgiving up anything of real significance. Yes, Franklin will likely turn out to be something great, but understanding that that probably wouldn’t happen with the M’s, it’s great to see the team get very good value for him, and to see him get an opportunity to succeed.Go!

The Detroit Tigers have reportedly lost starting shortstop Jose Iglesias for an unknown but extended period of time, and now have some level of interest in Seattle Mariners infielder Nick Franklin, multiple league sources told 1090 The Fan and Prospect Insider. The Tigers could look to lure free agent Stephen Drew, who shares the same agent as does Iglesias — Scott Boras — but he’d cost a multi-year deal plus a draft pick. As with the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays here and the Baltimore Orioles here, let’s take a look at what the Tigers might have to offer the Mariners in a deal for Franklin. One caveat: It’s difficult to imagine any team, especially a contender such as the Tigers, dealing away a club-controlled regular in a deal for Franklin. It fills one hole, but creates another. For example, some have wondered whether or not the M’s could sweeten the deal to try and pry centerfielder Austin Jackson from Detroit. Despite the presence of Rajai Davis, doing so would create a hole in center for the Tigers, both in the field and in a lineup that sacrificed some offense when they traded Prince Fielder to Texas over the winter. The Mariners do not have a replacement to offer. The same goes for prospect Nick Castellanos, who projects to be the Tigers’ starting third baseman this season. Drew Smyly, LHP Smyly is the No. 5 starter for Detroit as the spring schedule nears the final two weeks, which on the surface suggests he might be available in trade. The problem is, the Tigers do not have a clear replacement. Left-hander Kyle Lobstein may be closest, but he’s made just one start this spring. Trading one of their five starters the third week in March creates some issues getting the next arm ready. They traded away Doug Fister this offseason and did not possess another big-league ready arm. Smyly profiles as a No. 4 starter, perhaps a shade better, but he spent 2013 pitching out of the bullpen — very well, by the way — although he was solid, posting a 3.77 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) in 19 starts in 2012. If I am Seattle, who had interest in the southpaw when they eventually dealt Fister to Detroit in 2010, I’d love to have Smyly, but if he’s the headliner in a trade for Franklin I’d pass unless there’s another similarly-valuable piece coming back, even if that dictates sending another player to Detroit with Franklin. Rick Porcello, RHP Porcello is a pitcher Seattle showed interest in a year ago, but things have changed a bit since then. For one, he’s now just two years from free agency. Secondly, he’s set to earn $8.5 million this season with another arbitration raise on its way before 2015. The same rotation issues for Detroit apply here as for Smyly: Who replaces Porcello? Porcello’s salary could also be a significant issue for Seattle, but what’s far more concerning for me is the lack of club control. Franklin is two full years from arbitration eligibility and five years from free agency. The value in controlling a player’s contract and reaping the benefits of his team-friendly salary is understated. Robbie Ray, LHP Ray was part of the return package from Washington in the Fister trade, but is not ready for the majors, nor does he profile as more than a back-end starter or reliever. The changeup is solid-average and his fastball jumped a grade to the 90-95 mph range in 2013, but the breaking ball is below-average and appears at least a year from becoming more than a show-me pitch. Jake Thompson, RHP Thompson, among the scouts to which I have spoken, is a better prospect than is Ray if you’re looking for probability, and he doesn’t lack upside and projection, thanks to a 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame, 92-94 mph sinking fastball, potentially-plus slider and promising changeup. He’s working on a true curveball that could end up a fourth weapon. Still, Thompson is likely 2-3 years from threatening the majors as a reliable rotation candidate. Any Outfielders? other than the obvious need of starting pitching the Mariners also could use an infuse of young, athletic outfielders, but the Tigers lack such talent, both in their farm system and on their projected 25-man roster. Torii Hunter is nearing retirement and has one year left on his contract, while Andy Dirks, Don Kelly and Davis are part-time players that lack the upside of an everyday player. It’s also worth noting that the Tigers do not appear to have any catching depth from which to deal, something few clubs have, all clubs are seeking and willing to consider accepting in any trade. Again, it’s difficult to find a match here, but if somehow Smyly is a player the Tigers are willing to discuss, a deal could be built that could make some sense. I’ve stated consistently and from Day 1 that any return for Franklin absolutely should consist of talent that helps the Mariners’ 25-man roster right away, not in June or July, not in 2015 or 2016. Right now. That’s what Franklin is to the other team, and that’s what his value to the Mariners should be, regardless of the fact that there is no regular place for him to start 2014. In the end, I’m not confident a deal will be struck between the two clubs, unless each agrees to expand the trade to include multiple pieces heading in both directions, though that concept complicates the process and likely lowers the chance any trade is made at all.Go!

The Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners have hooked up on a few significant trades over the past several years, including the deal that sent right-hander Doug Fister to Detroit, and the last-decade transaction that shipped Carlos Guillen to the Motor City. The two clubs, like most others, have had conversations over the past year or so, though nothing else has come to fruition. The two could once again match up this winter, however. The Tigers just fell to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, to no fault of their starting rotation, of course, but there have been reports suggesting Cy Young favorite Max Scherzer could be shopped this offseason. There are others that Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski could dangle to try and shore up the club’s weaknesses in the bullpen and outfield, and perhaps create more payroll space to fill the few holes the American League Central champs showed this month. Rick Porcello, RHP Porcello is arbitration eligible again and is set to earn a healthy raise from the $5.1 million he earned in 2013. He’s free-agent eligible after the 2015 season but could earn as much as $18-20 million over the next two seasons via the arbitration route. He’s 25 this December and performed well beyond his 4.32 ERA, posting career bests in strikeout ratio (7.22/9 IP), ground ball percentage (55.3) and FIP (3.53), and may be part of Dombrowski’s trade bait. The Mariners cannot ignore their rotation, despite the presence of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, or youngsters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, who appear ready to legitimately compete for a spot in the big-league starting five in March. It’s worth noting that the two clubs discussed Porcello last offseason. Austin Jackson, CF Jackson is also arbitration eligible for two more seasons before free agency and made $3.5 million this past season. He’s a strong defensive center fielder with above-average power, though he will strike out and isn’t of superstar status. The Tigers aren’t necessarily going to try and deal Jackson, as center field is a difficult spot to fill and it’s not like the club lacks the ability to fund their full payroll, but if they can get package that answers multiple questions and creates additional financial flexibility it’s plausible to think they could make such a move. If they do so, they’ll either need to acquire a legitimate starting-quality replacement in center in the deal, or be on the trail of the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury via free agency. Max Scherzer, RHP I do not see Scherzer, or Tampa Bay’s David Price, for that matter, as a target the Mariners can grab without parting with Walker and then some — which is somewhat counterproductive considering their current state — but there has been chatter that the Tigers could consider moving the CY Young favorite one year before free agency. Scherzer’s status could impact that of Porcello and Jackson — if the Tigers trade Scherzer, more future funds could be committed to the former pair. Drew Smyly, LHP The Mariners would have to view Smyly as a rotation candidate to have serious interest, despite his success in relief for the Tigers the past year and a half, though Detroit could make the same move with the southpaw if they trade Scherzer or Porcello. The 24-year-old will not be eligible for arbitration for two more seasons, so payroll and salary aren’t factors in the least here — the return package is. Andy Dirks, OF Dirks isn’t an everyday player, but as we’ve discussed late this season the Mariners need more legit major leaguers, even those that serve as role players. That’s Dirks. He’s a decent option off the bench versus right-handed pitching and is a solid defensive corner outfielder. He’s another arbitration eligible as a Super Two this winter, but the salary isn’t much of a deterrent for a part-time player. I don’t know if the Mariners have exactly what Dombrowski will be looking for in exchange for any of the above players, but the Tigers have pieces that may be available to some extent that GM Jack Zduriencik should have interest in this winter. And all the Mariners have to offer, really, is inexpensive players with a little bit of upside and no salary attached. There could be a match somewhere, particularly regarding Porcello.Go!