The 2014 Major League Baseball season is now underway as we’re several weeks into the season. The Seattle Mariners haven’t been able to continue their early success recently and find themselves fourth in the American League West with a 7-10 record as of Saturday night. If you haven’t had a chance to acquaint yourself with what to expect in the new baseball season, now is the perfect time to do so and Prospect Insider has you covered. As with every offseason, there’s been plenty of player movement and new faces in new places, and to keep track of it all look no further than Prospect Insider’s Who’s In, Who’s Out series. You can view the player movement by division by clicking on any of the following links: NL West | NL Central | NL East | AL West | AL Central | AL East. PI also released staff predictions for 2014 campaign a few weeks ago, and you can view them here. Not one of the six writers polled selected the Mariners to make the playoffs, but they all predicted that Mike Trout will take home the American League Most Valuable Player Award and that the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and St. Louis Cardinals will win their respective divisions. If you were wondering what Robinson Cano‘s chances of winning an MVP award in his first year with Seattle are, Chris Moran has you covered. If you haven’t gotten a chance to acquaint yourselves with the Seattle Mariners’ Opening Day roster, now is as good a time as any as there have already been a few changes. Jason A. Churchill and I give a rundown on each player that broke camp this year and a brief summary of what you can expect from them in 2014. Also, if you want to know how this year’s Opening Day roster compares to last year’s, Jason has you covered. There’s a total of 17 differences between the two rosters with the most significant differences being the free agent additions of Cano, Fernando Rodney, and Corey Hart. It’s conceivable that within the next month Seattle will field the lineup and pitching staff they were expecting to this year so long as all parts manage to stay healthy and those already hurt are able to make complete recoveries. It seems as though every year there’s a strong cast of first-year major leaguers who make a significant impact on their team’s seasons. Last year’s Rookie of the Year Award winners were Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays and Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins, both of whom were essential part’s to their respective clubs last year and will be counted on heavily once again in 2014. PI’s Steve Simas walks us through potential impact rookies in both the American League and National League. While you’re watching players like Billy Hamilton steal the show, pun intended, there’s several others who could be in line for a breakout year in 2014. Brendan Gawlowski profiles several hitters who could burst onto the scene this year, including Seattle’s starting shortstop Brad Miller. He also makes note of a few players who you may not want to bet on for big years. Few years go by without at least a couple pitchers breaking out, and Chris Moran runs down several candidates from both the American League and National League. We can’t forget to mention that several players are approaching some huge career milestone in the upcoming campaign. Jason took a look at a few pitchers, including Mark Buehrle and Bartolo Colon, who are on their way to hitting some impressive career marks. I also previewed a few batters such as Albert Pujols, who are close to reaching legendary marks of their own. Last, and certainly not least, if you haven’t had a chance to take a look at the newest edition of Jason’s annual Prospect Insider Handbook, make sure you do; it’s a must read. Included in the handbook are the Top 30 Seattle Mariner prospects with complete scouting reports and analysis for the Top 10 as well as a look at the organization’s prospect depth from top to bottom.
It was an extraordinarily busy winter for the five clubs in the American League West. Each organization made significant moves, with all but the Los Angeles Angels spending big dollars to improve their respective rosters. Two of the biggest free agents — Robinson Cano and Shin-Soo Choo — joined the AL West and even the Houston Astros made noise spending some money and acquiring an impact centerfielder. Let’s take a look at what each club gained and lost over the winter, starting with the defending division champions. Oakland Athletics | 2013: 96-66 It was deja vu for the Athletics who were eliminated in the American League Division Series in five games by the Detroit Tigers for the second straight year. The A’s were lead by a deep pitching staff that combined for a 3.56 ERA, seventh best in baseball, and averaged 4.73 runs per game as one of the league’s top offences. Billy Beane has remained one of the smartest GM’s in the game and only time will tell if his latest efforts will pay off in winning a championship. Who’s In Jim Johnson, RP — 0.9 fWAR | Acquired via trade from Baltimore Orioles in exchange for 2B Jemile Weeks and a player to be named.Luke Gregerson, RP — 1.0 fWAREric O’Flaherty, RP — -0.1 fWAR | Signed two-year, $7 million dealScott Kazmir, SP — 2.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $22 million dealCraig Gentry, OF — 3.4 fWAR | Acquired via trade from Texas Rangers in exchange for OF Michael ChoiceSam Fuld, OF — -0.3 fWAR | Signed minor league contract Who’s Out Seth Smith, OF — 1.1 fWAR | Traded to San Diego Padres in exchange for RHP Luke GregersonGrant Balfour, RP — 0.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Tampa Bay RaysJerry Blevins, RP — 0.3 fWAR | Traded to Washington Nationals in exchanged for OF Billy BurnsPat Neshek, RP — -0.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with St. Louis CardinalsBartolo Colon, SP — 3.9 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with New York MetsBrett Anderson, SP/RP — 0.3 fWAR | Traded to Colorado Rockies in exchange for LHP Drew Pomeranz, RHP Chris Jensen and $2 million cashChris Young, OF — 0.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with New York MetsKurt Suzuki, C — 0.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Minnesota Twins 2014 In one of the offseason’s surprise moves, the Athletics acquired a reliever, Johnson, who will be paid $10 million this year; quite uncharacteristic for any small market team. The additions of Gregerson and O’Flaherty, who will return mid-season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, figure to give Oakland one of the best bullpens in the majors with Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle still aboard. The departure of Colon will hurt the rotation, but if Kazmir can build off his comeback year with the Cleveland Indians in 2013, they’ll have effectively replaced Colon with a pitcher still on the right side of 30. Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, and AJ Griffin return to the rotation while youngster Sonny Gray is expected to spend his first full season in the majors as well. Oakland’s lineup remained intact for the most part over the winter with Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Reddick leading the charge again in 2014. Coco Crisp was re-signed and will also play an important role in the A’s lineup once again. Gentry, who is coming off of two solid seasons with the Rangers, has quickly become one of the better defensive outfielders in the game today and could play an important role this year. After sporting just less than a $62 million dollar payroll in 2013, the Athletics 2014 payroll is expected to land around $76 million or so with Cespedes and Johnson being the only players earning $10 million or more. Oakland projects to be a top team in the American League in 2014 and shouldn’t have a problem finding themselves in either the pennant race or at the very least, the Wild Card race when September roles around. Texas Rangers | 2013: 91-72 After consecutive losses in the World Series, the Rangers failed to reach the playoffs this past year for the first time since 2009. Texas featured a top ten offence again in 2013, averaging 4.48 runs per game and hitting 176 home runs, but you could say that once again, they were done in by their pitching last year; even though the Rangers managed the third lowest bullpen ERA in the bigs. They’ll have their work cut out for them if they plan on going the distance in 2014. Who’s In Prince Fielder, 1B — 2.2 fWARShin-Soo Choo, OF — 5.2 fWAR | Signed seven-year, $130 million dealJP Arencibia, C — -0.6 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1.8 million dealTommy Hanson, SP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2 million deal Who’s Out Ian Kinsler, 2B — 2.5 fWAR | Traded to Detroit Tigers in exchange for 1B Prince Fielder and $30 million cashNelson Cruz, OF — 1.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Baltimore OriolesAJ Pierzynski, C — 1.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Boston Red SoxMatt Garza, SP — 2.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Milwaukee BrewersJoe Nathan, RP — 2.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Detroit TigersLance Berkman, DH — -0.2 fWAR | RetiredCraig Gentry, OF — 3.4 fWAR 2014 It was a busy offseason for the Rangers who shipped their All-Star second baseman to the Detroit Tigers for a much needed power hitting compliment in the lineup aside Adrian Beltre. They also saw 130 million reasons to make Choo their leadoff hitter, another hole that needed filling, for the next several years to come. The veteran Pierzynski will be replaced at catcher with Arencibia and the returning Geovany Soto, who was re-signed back in November. Perhaps one of the biggest determinants in trading Kinsler was the fact it could open up an everyday spot for Jurickson Profar in the lineup, and he will line up at second base with Elvis Andrus. A dash of good health and consistent production should have the Ranger offence near the top of the league again in 2014. Nathan’s departure will hurt the bullpen to some extent, but Neftali Felix and Joakim Soria are still around to anchor the relief corps. The Rangers did almost nothing to add to a rotation that is susceptible behind ace Yu Darvish, and took a major hit now that Derek Holland expected to miss significant time with a knee injury. Both Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando are capable mid-rotation arms, but what can reasonably be expected from their acquisitions of Hanson, who struggled with injuries, and Joe Saunders, who struggled to be not completely awful, in 2013? If the rotation and bullpen are able to hold up and Darvish can put together another Cy Young calibre campaign, the high powered offence could be enough to land the Rangers back into the playoffs this year. Los Angeles Angels | 2-13: 78-84 Times have been tough in Disneyland as it’s now been four years without a playoff appearance for the Angels and believe it or not, Mike Trout isn’t quite good enough to single-handedly guide a team to a Wild Card berth. Despite injuries to key parts of their lineup, LA still managed to put up 4.52 runs per game which was good for seventh in all of baseball. It was the pitching staff that did them in however, as they combined for a 4.24 ERA, placing them near the bottom of the league. With the strength of the Athletics and Rangers, the Halos may have a spend another October watching from the sidelines. Who’s In David Freese, 3B — 0.3 fWARRaul Ibanez, OF/DH — 0.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.75 million dealTyler Skaggs, SP — 0.1 fWARHector Santiago, SP — 1.5 fWARJoe Smith, RP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed three-year, $15.75 million dealFernando Salas, RP — 0.0 fWAR Who’s Out Jason Vargas, SP — 1.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Kansas City RoyalsPeter Bourjos, OF — 1.1 fWAR | Traded to St. Louis Cardinals with OF Randal Grichuk in exchange for 3B David Freese and RHP Fernando SalasJerome Williams, SP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Houston AstrosTommy Hanson, SP — 0.4 fWARMark Trumbo, 1B/OF — 2.5 fWAR | Traded to Arizona Diamondbacks with player to be named later in three-team trade in exchange for LHP Hector Santiago (White Sox) and LHP Tyler Skaggs (Diamondbacks) 2014 It was a different offseason for the Angels than we’ve seen in recent years: they didn’t commit big dollars to a marquee free agent. Instead, they made a couple of trades that could work out nicely for the club. The signing of Smith will help shore up the bullpen alongside Ernesto Frieri and Kevin Jepsen, while Salas figures to contribute to the pen in 2014 as well. Although health is relatively important to any club with playoff aspirations, it wouldn’t be farfetched to say that once again, the Angels’ success this year will depend on whether or not Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton can stay healthy and produce like their former selves. Add Trout to those two, and the Angels have as good a 2-3-4 punch as any team in the league when they’re firing on all cylinders. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will once again form a very solid but perhaps unspectacular duo at the top of the rotation. Never say never with the Angels, especially since they make an interesting dark horse to win the AL West, but they’re going to have some very stiff competition for a Wild Card spot this year. Seattle Mariners | 2013: 71-91 It’s been a long 13 years since Seattle last saw playoff action and they have managed just one season above .500 since 2008. Despite a Cy Young calibre season from Hisashi Iwakuma in 2013, Mariner pitching produced a combined 4.32 ERA, the fifth-highest in all of baseball, and their bullpen ERA of 4.58 was the second worst. Even with one of the top home run totals in the league, the offence floundered for 3.85 runs per game due to a poor .237 team batting average and a lack of on-base production. The M’s spent big on an All-Star this winter, but it looks like they’re still a couple pieces away from seriously returning to contention. Who’s In Robinson Cano, 2B — 6.0 fWAR | Signed 10-year, $240 million dealJohn Buck, C — 1.6 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1 million dealWillie Bloomquist, IF/OF — 0.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $5.8 million dealFernando Rodney, RP — 1.3 fWAR | Signed two-year, $14 million dealScott Baker, SP — 2.8 fWAR (2011) | Signed minor league dealLogan Morrison, 1B/OF — -0.6 fWARCorey Hart, OF/DH — 2.2 fWAR (2012) | Signed one-year, $5 million deal plus up to $8 million in incentive bonuses Who’s Out Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH — 1.2 fWAR | Remains a free agentRaul Ibanez, OF/DH — 0.0 fWARHenry Blanco, C — -0.5 fWAR | Signed minor league deal with Arizona DiamondbacksOliver Perez, RP — 0.8 fWAR | Signed two-year, $4.25 million deal with Arizona DiamondbacksCarter Capps, RP — -0.3 fWAR | Traded to Miami Marlins in exchange for 1B Logan MorrisonJoe Saunders, SP — 0.6 fWAR | Signed one-year deal with Texas Rangers 2014 The Mariners opened their pocketbooks and landed Cano, the best available free agent, at a cost just shy of a quarter of a billion dollars. It was a peculiar move given the fact Seattle hasn’t been all that good in recent memory, but perhaps the tide could be turning sooner than later. Felix Hernandez will once again lead a rotation riddled with slightly more uncertainty than expected now that Iwakuma and top prospect Taijuan Walker are expected to miss the start of the season with injuries. Baker, who signed an incentive-laden minor league deal this winter, suddenly becomes a very important name in camp with respect to the rotation. The only problem with that is it’s not 2009 anymore when Baker was a 3.9 fWAR pitcher and he’s thrown just 15 major league innings across the past two years. If he’s healthy, and early reports from camp indicate he is, he could end up being a vital part of the pitching staff this year and hopefully can produce like one. It’s also looking like James Paxton has all but locked up a rotation spot as well. Seattle’s bullpen got a much needed boost with Rodney signed on to be the club’s new closer, likely shifting Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen into set-up or seventh and eighth inning roles. After plenty of trade rumors circulating around the likes of David Price and Matt Kemp this winter, the M’s didn’t make the big splash nearly everyone was anticipating after Cano was signed. It was reported that club had reached the top of their budget, but could make an exception for another player if it was the right situation. If Hart is able to recover from the two knee surgeries that kept him out for the entire 2012 season he could end up being the much needed right-handed slugger in the lineup behind the All-Star second baseman. There’s also a possibility that Morales could be re-signed as well, but the M’s may prefer to hope he signs before the draft so they can receive a compensatory draft pick, which would then be the pick sacrificed for signing Cano. All in all, Seattle projects to fall short of the playoffs once again, but if a couple of prospects can breakout this year and another piece is added, they just might be in the hunt. Houston Astros | 2013: 51-111 When the Astros joined the American League West prior to the 2013 season, Mariners fans began to rejoice since they could nearly rest assured that their team was likely only doomed for second last in the division. Houston hasn’t sniffed playoff baseball since losing the World Series in four games back in 2005 and have put together a streak of three straight 100+ loss seasons while they’ve been in a total rebuild. Their pitching staff was the worst in baseball with a 4.79 ERA while their offence managed a meager 3.77 runs per game in 2013. It’ll be another season of development for the Astros in 2014, but the future is starting to get a little brighter for the club. Who’s In Scott Feldman, SP — 2.1 fWAR | Signed three-year, $30 million dealJerome Williams, SP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.1 million dealDexter Fowler, OF — 2.2 fWARJesse Crain, RP — 1.9 fWAR | Signed one-year, $3.25 million dealChad Qualls, RP — 0.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $6 million deal, plus 2016 optionMatt Albers, RP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.45 million deal, plus 2015 optionJesus Guzman, 1B/OF — 0.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1.3 million deal Who’s Out Erik Bedard, SP/RP — 1.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Tampa Bay RaysBrandon Barnes, OF — 1.0 fWAR | Traded to Colorado Rockies with RHP Jordan Lyles in exchange for CF Dexter Fowler and player to be named laterJordan Lyles, SP — 0.4 fWAR 2014 Years of futility in any sport will eventually garner a club enough high draft picks that, if developed effectively, can help make the team relevant again. The Astros have developed Jose Altuve and Jason Castro into a pair of solid lineup cornerstones recently, and there’s much more talent yet to come in the pipeline. Acquiring Fowler for a couple of replaceable players was a great move for the Astros, who also opened the bank account to sign Feldman to a three-year deal and provide a little more certainty to their young rotation. Perhaps the most important moves of this past winter were the additions of Crain, Qualls, and Albers to what was the worst bullpen in the league in 2013. Despite the improvements to the major league roster, Houston still projects as cellar dwellers in the AL West once again. They will have the first overall selection in the upcoming Rule IV Draft in June which should allow them to add another youngster to a top prospect list that includes the likes of Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and George Springer. It’s reasonable to suggest that eventually the Astros will have obtained enough young talent to be competitive at some point in the next several years, but when that happens is anyone’s guess. The upcoming season is likely another write-off and 2015 only looks a little better at this point. Perhaps 2016? Whatever the case, Houston has plenty of exciting young players that should be reason for at least some optimism in 2014, and certainly the years to follow. *All player WAR’s shown are via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.
The Seattle Mariners signed or acquired via trade three new lineup pieces over the offseason and while I think most agree that more is needed — whether that be Kendrys Morales in March or April or a pre-summer trade — the offense is better, on paper at least, than it was a year ago. While there are a lot of scenarios that makes sense, such as Kyle Seager batting anywhere from second to fourth or fifth, to the leadoff spot where Brad Miller and Abraham Almonte could both make some sense, here is one potential lineup versus right-handed starters and one versus left-handed starters. Almonte, who by no means has a roster spot sewn up just yet, could get some starts versus right-handed pitching — he’s a much stronger hitter from the left side — and there will likely be games, mostly versus southpaws where Corey Hart remains in right field, Almonte starts in center and Saunders plays left for Ackley or Saunders sits in favor of Ackley. That could occur just as much as Saunders in center versus lefties, with Almonte sitting and Ackley playing left. It’s truly a mix-and-match four-man rotation where ultimately the top performers earn the most starts. I like Seager in the No. 2 spot, but it could make some sense to use him down a few spots, too, depending on how well Ackley, Almonte and Saunders — the other candidates to bat in the top two spots — are swinging the bat. From the outset, it should be Miller-Seager batting 1-2, but Lloyd McClendon and Trent Jewett may decide otherwise. Projected M’s Lineup vs. RHP No. Player 1 Brad Miller, SS 2 Kyle Seager, 3B 3 Robinson Cano, 2B 4 Corey Hart, RF 5 Justin Smoak, 1B 6 Logan Morrison, DH 7 Michael Saunders, CF 8 Mike Zunino/John Buck C 9 Dustin Ackley, LF Projected M’s Lineup vs. LHP No. Player 1 Brad Miller, SS 2 Abraham Almonte, CF 3 Robinson Cano, 2B 4 Corey Hart, DH 5 Kyle Seager, 3B 6 Justin Smoak/Logan Morrison, 1B 7 Michael Saunders, RF 8 Mike Zunino/John Buck C 9 Dustin Ackley, LF As you can see, I’m by no means ready to anoint Almonte a regular and there’s no chance I pigeonhole Miller as a hitter that needs to be platooned, at least in terms of where he bats in the order, versus left-handed pitching. He was terrific versus southpaws in Tacoma last year and posted a better batting average and on-base percentage against them in the bigs than he did versus right-handers. Prior to 2013, he’s more than held his own versus lefties, and Almonte hasn’t had much success as a right-handed batter, anyway, suggesting that swap is rather insane. As I stated above, there are a lot of ways this can go, especially if Nick Franklin is traded for a piece the big club can use right away, or if Stefen Romero makes the 25-man roster somehow and is used versus left-handed pitching.
It’s been a busy past couple weeks for the Seattle Mariners now that Spring Training is well underway. The best news out of camp today is that Taijuan Walker threw for the first time since being shutdown for seven days due to shoulder inflammation. The 21-year old said he felt really good but admitted that it was a tough week for him to standby and rest. Walker is still expected to be out until mid-April at the earliest, but it’s still a step in the right direction. Tests did not reveal any structural damage and the Mariners believe that he simply overthrew in his preparation for camp. There were two important signings for Seattle in the past month: the first was Fernando Rodney, who agreed to terms on a two-year deal worth $14 million, and the second was Nelson Cruz, who agreed to a one-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles for $8 million. Rodney gives the young bullpen some much needed late inning experience and gives the Mariners a potentially solid one-two-three punch with Danny Furquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen. Many of us, including myself, weren’t too thrilled with the notion that Cruz would inevitably be a Mariner, but it’ll be Baltimore who will attempt to make lemonade out of lemons this year. Instead of Cruz manning right field this year, the Mariners are planning to fill the position with Corey Hart, so long as his health is able to hold up over the course of the season. It’s still too early in camp to get a real feel for what Hart can be expected to produce as a semi-regular outfielder, but it should be considered a success if Seattle can coax 80 or more games out of him. Thankfully Abraham Almonte has put together a great Spring Training thus far and will see plenty of major league outfield time at this rate, making the outfield picture a little less murky. So long as the soon to be 32-year old Hart hits close to what he used to, it probably won’t matter all that much where he plays. The ‘battle’ between Brad Miller and Nick Franklin for the starting shortstop job is ongoing, but we did learn recently that both the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays have expressed interest in acquiring Franklin. In fact, the Rays had a deal in place for the young infielder, but it fell apart after an injury to Jeremy Hellickson. The assumption being made is that the Mariners would’ve acquired a starting pitcher in the deal since Tampa pulled out due to concerns over their depth after the injury. It remains to be seen whether or not Franklin will find a new home before Opening Day, but there’s still plenty of time for a deal to take place. Steve Simas continued with his Fantasy Prospect Rankings series for 2014 and as a gentle reminder, Steve designed his lists based on fantasy value in the upcoming season; it’s not specifically a top prospects list. Click the following links for each positional ranking: second base, center field, first base, pitchers, corner outfield, and a top 25 list. After re-signing for the 2014 season, Franklin Gutierrez told the Mariners in February that he won’t play this year after the stomach issues that kept him shelved for most of 2013 have returned. It’s a rather unfortunate turn of events for the former Gold Glove winner who appeared to have finally taken a positive turn in his health. Hopefully Gutierrez is able to make a full recovery and return to the major leagues in 2015, but it looks like he still has a long and tough road ahead of him. Prospect Insider has you covered with previews and insight for this year’s collage baseball season. Rob Balboni has previews for the Pac-12, the ACC, the Big-12, and the SEC. And if you’re not sure who to pay attention to, Jason Churchill offers a scouting report on several top draft prospects. Eric Longenhagan also has a scouting report on several notable UVA prospects including Derek Fisher. Rob brings us a list of the 2014 All-American teams and top 25 teams while Steve Drumwright offers a piece on the changes to Skyler Ewing’s appraoch. Jeff Hoffman is a name to keep an eye on as one of the top college pitching prospects according to Eric and others. Rob agrees, and has another set of names to keep an eye on. A must read for anyone who follows amateur ball and wants to understand the 20-80 scale is brought to you courtesy of Chris Hervey who gives a quick and to the point explanation.
While it may not be much of a surprise, some will be intrigued to hear that the Seattle Mariners’ plan on using Corey Hart as their every day right fielder should his health allow it. As we’ve all heard several times by now, Hart missed the entire 2013 campaign after undergoing microfracture surgeries on both of his knees, and hasn’t seen regular outfield time since the first half of the 2011 season. The Mariners had expected Hart to see the outfield a couple days a week back when they signed him to a one-year deal in December, but conventional wisdom placed him as a regular first baseman and designated hitter rather than an outfielder. Perhaps that’s changed. McClendon says Corey Hart will work mostly in outfield early in camp, tho they’ll be careful. Did everything except sliding drills yesterday — Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) February 19, 2014 McClendon says #Mariners would like to see Corey Hart in the outfield for 145 games. (Yes, that’s an absolute best-case scenario.) — Bob Dutton (@ByBobDutton) February 19, 2014 I’m going to go ahead and get it out of the way immediately: Spring Training quotes are practically meaningless. Lloyd McClendon can say whatever he wants, Jack Zduriencik can say whatever he wants, and Hart can say whatever he wants too, and we should read little into it. Of course McClendon would love to see Hart in the outfield the entire season because it means he’s completely recovered from surgery and his bat has hopefully gone back to it’s 2010 form. Not to mention it would alleviate some of the 1B/DH logjam the Mariners seem to love creating for themselves. However, seeing the 31-year old start Spring Training with the outfield group has to be considered a good sign for what may come in the upcoming season. Hart says that he’s been feeling good so far in camp and admits that his timing is still off, but that’s to be expected from a player who hasn’t seen game action in over a year. There’s absolutely no reason to try and rush Hart throughout Spring Training or force fate by playing him in the outfield if his body isn’t up to it. Many viewed Hart as the team’s primary DH heading into the season anyways, so if by chance he can consistently spend some time in right field for any stretch of the year, that should be considered a plus. Bottom line though, the Kentucky-born slugger was brought in to fill the void in the middle of the batting order, so as long as he’s hitting, the position he plays isn’t all that important. Let’s play the optimistic game and assume Hart’s knees will be ready to hold a corner outfield spot come Opening Day and the McClendon fantasy is suddenly almost realistic. Corey’s never been confused for a Gold Glove caliber outfielder, but it’s not like the guy is a complete liability in the field a la Raul Ibanez of last year. He’s actually had two seasons in which UZR has rated him positively with 4.4 and 2.0 ratings in 2007 and 2011 respectively. In both years Hart played nearly 1100 innings, mostly in right field, which translates to about 122 nine inning games. From 2008-2012 with 2011 excluded, Hart averaged about a -4.68 UZR rating in the outfield over the four seasons which is really just below average. And if he’s hitting 30 long balls, a below average defensive performance is more than tolerable. For comparison’s sake, Ibanez hit 29 home runs but had a -17.1 UZR rating. Still wondering why his WAR was practically zero? So even in the best case health scenario Hart will likely be below average defensively, but given the questions surrounding his knees, what he’s actually able to contribute on the defensive side of the ball in 2014 is anyone’s guess. Perhaps Seattle ends up with an outfielder who’s lost a step and will produce an UZR rating closer to the -8.4 he posted in 2010, the lowest of his career. If we do see that as the product of 80-100 games in the outfield this year I don’t think anyone should be too disappointed. In fact, it could be considered an almost miraculous upgrade over last year’s outfield “defence”. Looking at more realistic scenarios, the Mariners could probably plan for about 75 games in right field from Hart this year since he’s going to need a couple months to get his endurance back and get his body used to the rigours of an MLB season once again. We’re likely to see a one game in right field followed by one game as designated hitter kind of rotation for the right-hander. Like I said, there’s no reason to push Hart too hard and especially not during the early part of the season. If Seattle employs a rotation like this for April and maybe even part of May and Hart’s still standing, perhaps they begin utilizing him in back-to-back games and see how he holds up. By the time June and July hit, we should have a fairly good idea of what Hart’s outfield capabilities will be, barring any set backs or new injuries that might occur (fingers crossed). He did miss some time in 2012 with the beginnings of his knee issues and missed the first month of the 2011 campaign with an oblique strain, so concern over him being injury prone is mostly validated right now. The point though, is that when healthy, he provides plenty of right-handed power and should slide nicely behind Robinson Cano in the new look batting lineup. Nothing’s been set in stone yet, but one certainly could get the feeling that Seattle plans on using Dustin Ackley in left field and Michael Saunders in center field on a regular basis to start the year at least. Saunders would be a much better fit in right field where he’s been consistent defensively, but considering the other roster options are limited, it’s likely he’ll get the nod in center once again. Willie Bloomquist figures to play the role of utility man this year and will probably see some time in the outfield as a reserve. Perhaps Abraham Almonte could be a surprise factor in Seattle’s outfield as well. Keep an eye on OF Abraham Almonte in #mariners camp. He has a chance to make an impression with a strong spring. — Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) February 19, 2014 Although Almonte may be best served to start the year with the Tacoma Rainiers, it’s possible he could play his way on to the roster this spring as a super-fourth outfielder of sorts. If Hart does find himself rotating in and out of right field, the 24-year old may be a decent option to be the other half of that rotation. Almonte does have a capable glove and solid speed and would be very useful off of the bench, but there’s reason to think he might push for an everyday role if Ackley struggles in left and he gets off to a hot start. There’s nothing wrong with stashing him in Triple-A to start the year either and letting things play out, especially since there’s still a chance Nelson Cruz could be eating up many of the Mariners’ available right field at bats. An interesting note from today on Danny Hultzen who is expected to miss the entire 2014 season after undergoing rotator cuff surgery in October: Talked briefly with pitching coach Rick Waits. He said Danny Hultzen is playing catch 3 times a week from 90 feet. Will go to 120 ft. soon — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) February 19, 2014
Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks on their Super Bowl XLVIII championship, defeating the Denver Broncos 43-8 this past Sunday. The 35 point difference was the largest margin of victory since Super Bowl XXIV in 1990, when the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Broncos by a score of 55-10. The Seahawks and the 12th man are filling the streets of Seattle this afternoon for the Victory Parade through the streets and a celebration at Century Link Field. Even Safeco Field was opened up for fans to watch the festivities as an estimated 700,000 people have joined the celebrations in Seattle today. The Super Bowl offers a reminder that Spring Training really is just around the corner. As of today, just seven days remain until the Seattle Mariners’ pitchers and catchers report to the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, Arizona for their first workouts. Actual games don’t begin to take place until the last few days of February of course, there’s little doubt that the smell of baseball is starting to fill the air once again. The Mariners avoided arbitration with the newly acquired Logan Morrison this week, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $1.75 million with $350 thousand in available incentives as well. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, Morrison can earn an additional $75 thousand for reaching 450 plate appearances, and an additional $100K for reaching 500 and 550 plate appearances respectively. LoMo can also earn another $75 thousand if he reaches the 600 plate appearance plateau as well. Seattle had filed a $1.1 million number for Morrison’s 2014 salary, while his camp had filed a $2.5 million number. Instead of going through the dredged arbitration process, both parties agreed to a number just under the midpoint of their exchanged figures with very reachable incentives should Morrison stay healthy and produce well this year. Scott Baker was added to the rotation mix on a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training last week. The 32-year old will earn a base salary of $1 million if he breaks camp with the club and can earn up to $3.25 million more in incentives. Baker was rumored to have interest from several clubs this winter, but given the lack of stability and certainty in the Mariners’ rotation, there’s a good chance he’ll fill out a rotation spot for Seattle at least to begin the year. This move comes with virtually zero risk for the M’s as they have no financial obligation to Baker should he fail to make the team, and even if he were to start the season in the bullpen, a million bucks is a very small price to pay. After being designated for assignment to make room for John Buck, outfielder Carlos Peguero was dealt to the Kansas City Royals for cash considerations. Peguero will turn 27 later this month and has shown plenty of power in the minors, but posted a .195/.242/.380 line in 219 plate appearances spread across 2011-13 with Seattle. Earlier in January, I took a look at the notable transactions made by the Mariners in the month over the last decade. Of note: last January the M’s dealt John Jaso in a three team deal that landed them Mike Morse, while back in January of 2004, Seattle sent Carlos Guillen to the Detroit Tigers in one of the most lopsided transactions in Mariners’ history. The New York Yankees will hold the title of biggest January transaction for 2014, and one of the biggest of the entire winter when they agreed to terms with Masahiro Tanaka on a seven-year deal. As Alex Carson notes, the $155 million owed to Tanaka is similar to what the Mariners extended Felix Hernandez for over the same age period, even though the Japanese ace has yet to throw a pitch in the major leagues. Seattle was rumored to be interested in the right hander and at one point was considered to be a favourite, but ultimately the Bronx Bombers came out on top. Tanaka can opt out of the deal after the fourth year and become a free agent, which essentially makes it a four year deal worth $88 million with the $20 million posting fee paid to his Japanese club if he decides to hit the open market at age 29. Alex brought up some familiar names who the Mariners could turn their attention to in Ervin Santana and David Price. Although Santana’s asking price has reportedly dropped from the $100 million he was seeking at the beginning of the winter, he still remains unsigned. It’s tough to say how keen the Tampa Bay Rays are on trading Price at this point in the winter since his market has yet to heat up again now that Tanaka is signed. As Chris Moran discusses, perhaps the asking price of the Rays’ ace as well as Chicago Cubs’ ace Jeff Samardzija are still too high. Much has been made about Taijuan Walker being the potential center piece in any trade for Price, but the ceiling of the young righty appears to outweigh the value Price can provide in the two years before he hits free agency. Chris suggests a package focussed on lower-ceiling but MLB ready players such as James Paxton and Nick Franklin or a package featuring players still in the lower minors but with very high ceilings would be more reasonable for either starter. Franklin has been a much discussed trade chip and it’s likely the M’s are more willing to listen on Paxton than they are on Walker. Seattle doesn’t quite have any high ceiling lower lever at their disposal right now, but a good season out of a guy like Tyler Pike could help change that. I recently took a look at how the 2014 Seattle Mariners line up to the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers after Corey Hart offered a comparison of the two clubs as a reason for signing here in the offseason. Hart described the ’14 Mariners as “young and exciting” and depending on your definition of those two terms, the Mariners project to provide both this season. Like the ’08 Brew Crew, the M’s project to, once again, be among the MLB leaders in home runs by season’s end. Seattle also projects to have a relatively young team with youngsters like Walker and Paxton expected to make a push to break camp with the club. Unfortunately the Mariners lack the rotation stability the Brewers had that year, and barring huge steps forward from guys like Walker and Erasmo Ramirez, Seattle’s rotation simply isn’t good enough to contend. In a somewhat surprising turn of events, former top Mariner prospect Vinnie Catricala has decided to walk away from the game. Alex offers some insight from an interview he had done with Catricala previously, and praised the 25-year old’s dedication to the game he loved. After struggling in 2012 and for the first half of 2013, the Mariners designated him for assignment in June and he was claimed on waivers by the Oakland Athletics. Catricala was selected in the Rule-5 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers this past December, but has instead chosen to retire and pursue a career in law enforcement. Unfortunately Catricala ends his career without making an appearance in the major leagues. The team at PI wish him nothing but the best for the future. In another must-read piece from the past two weeks, Brendan Gawlowski details what it takes to get a job in baseball. Drawing from his own personal experience as a minor league video coordinator for the Everett Aqua Sox last summer, Brendan analyzes the process of everything from putting together a ‘baseball’ resume to developing contacts within an organization.
The Seattle Mariners held their 16th annual FanFest this past weekend and set a record with an attendance of 21,019 combined for the two days. The event offers a chance for fans to rub elbows with the players, wonder Safeco Field, and take part in various activities (zip line!). In keeping up with the trends, the Mariners had several players hit the social media booth to take questions from fans via Twitter. Newcomer Corey Hart was one of them, and offered an interesting answer to a question sent his way by yours truly. @tylercarmont They remind me a lot of the ’08 Milwaukee team. Young and exciting. #MarinersFF — Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) January 26, 2014 Hart’s comparison has some validity on the surface since the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers were relatively young and an exciting team to watch considering the explosive offence they put together. This year’s incarnation of the Mariners would be similar based solely on the fact there’s plenty of youth ready to break out, and any team that has the potential to lead the league in home runs and will send Felix Hernandez to the mound every fifth day is bound to bear some excitement. While the ’14 Mariners aren’t coming off of an 83-win season and probably need another year to see what some of their young guys can do, perhaps there’s more validity to Hart’s comment than meets the eye. The ’08 Brewers lineup featured two of today’s premier hitters entering their age 24 seasons, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, and the pair would combine for 71 home runs and 208 runs batted in on the year. Joining them in the lineup were Hart, JJ Hardy, and Mike Cameron, who all belted 20 or more dingers as well. Collectively the team finished third in the National League with 198 home runs, but finished twelfth in the NL with a combined .252 batting average. Braun would finish third in NL MVP voting that year and led the Brew Crew with his .285/.335/.553 line, although he has since admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, clouding his stats slightly to say the least. Perhaps Hart just might be on to something as the Mariners finished second in the American League with 188 home runs in 2013 led by Raul Ibanez (29 HR), Kendrys Morales (23), Kyle Seager (22), and Justin Smoak (20). However the team’s .237 batting average was last in the league and Morales’ .277 average led the team. Gone are Ibanez and Morales, but if Hart and fellow newcomer Logan Morrison are both able to stay healthy the entire year, it’s possible they could replace the production lost from the departed sluggers. Robinson Cano brings his career .309/.355/.504 line to the team as well as four consecutive finishes in the top six AL MVP voting. Currently the 2014 M’s are projected to hit 218 home runs according to Steamer, six more than the major league leading Baltimore Orioles hit last year, so the lineup will remain homer-heavy, which always carries some excitement. Cano, Hart, and Smoak are all projected to hit more than 20 long balls this year, and five others are projected to be over the thirteen mark as well. Having a homer-heavy lineup is obviously much more effective when a team can capitalize with runners on base; 19 of Ibanez’s 29 home runs last year were solo shots. The ’08 Brewers drove in 722 batters as a team compared to just 597 driven in by the ’13 Mariners. Steamer projects 683 runs batted in for this year, not only a marked improvement from last year but also a number that would’ve placed Seattle among the top ten teams in baseball last season. While the home run production is comparable between the two clubs, a key difference was that Milwaukee didn’t pay for their long ball with defence. Without dwelling on the misadventures of Ibanez, Mike Morse et all, UZR gave Seattle a defensive rating of -73.0. Ouch. The Brewers on the other hand, received a 15.9 UZR rating in 2008. Cano will help in this department, but the outfield looks almost abysmal defensively; especially if Michael Saunders spends much time in center. For what it’s worth, Seattle only stole 49 bases compared to 108 stolen by Milwaukee and Steamer only projects Saunders and Brad Miller to steal more than ten bases in the upcoming year. How important steals are is debatable, but the point being made is that the ’08 Brewers featured a much more rounded offensive than the ’14 Mariners project to field. The Brew Crew featured a steady yet unspectacular rotation until they acquired CC Sabathia in a July trade with the Indians that year. After the 22-year old Yovani Gallardo went down with injury, the staff anchored by Ben Sheets, Dave Bush, and Jeff Suppan helped combine for the National League’s second lowest ERA at 3.85. This was actually a very productive year for Sheets who had missed parts of 2007 and 2006 with injuries. In 198 1/3 innings pitched he posted a 3.09 ERA with a 3.38 FIP and 3.88 xFIP; good for 4.3 fWAR and bWAR. Sabathia was the real game changer for the rotation however, posting a sparkling 1.65 ERA in 17 starts, seven of which were complete games. His performance with the Brewers even garnered some National League Cy Young and MVP attention despite pitching half his season in the American League. Now, one would like to think that a pitching staff highlighted by King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma wouldn’t have one of the worst earned run averages in the AL, but that was the case in 2013. Only the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros had worse results than Seattle’s 4.32 ERA. Although Felix and Kuma only represented about 30 percent of the innings pitched by the staff, the other 70 percent was pretty ugly. Youngsters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton impressed in their September cameo appearances, and Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush, and Oliver Perez were effective out of the bullpen. As it stands, the Mariners’ rotation features nearly zero certainty after the top two spots. Some incarnation of Walker, Paxton, Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez, and the newly signed Scott Baker figure to fill out the remaining three rotation spots. Much has been made about the height of Walker’s ceiling, and there’s a good chance Paxton becomes a productive starter down the line, but both are almost complete question marks for 2014 and probably best served starting the year at Triple-A. Maurer and Ramirez are still young and could develop into useful pieces, but unless they’ve improved tremendously this winter, there’s no reason to pencil them in for any more than a bullpen gig. A healthy Baker is a legitimate back end rotation guy, but that’s still to be determined as well. The Brewers did get something resembling a breakout year from Manny Parra in his first full big league season. After nine appearances in 2007, the then 25-year old posted a 4.39 ERA, 4.16 FIP, and 3.81 xFIP over 29 starts and 32 appearances. That would turn out to be his the most productive season of his career thus far, but at the cost of a league minimum salary, nobody was complaining about his performance in 2008. For what it’s worth, Paxton is entering his age 25 season and if he can contribute something resembling Parra’s 1.9 fWAR and contribute over the course of the entire season, that’d be huge for the club. Even when Gallardo went down with injury, the Brew Crew were able to get a decent result out of ten Seth McClung starts. If Walker or Paxton are unable to go for whatever reason, the Mariners’ rotation once again hinges on guys like Ramirez. I’d rather have McClung, thanks. Outside of Sabathia, Milwaukee’s rotation was regarded as far from flashy heading into the 2008 season. There was still some notable hype surrounding Gallardo who was the Brewers’ second round choice in the 2004 draft, though it was less than that associated with Walker currently. Sheets had dealt with injuries the previous two campaigns and Suppan and Bush had yet to established much consistency in their respective games. But, Milwaukee did enter the year with a set of fairly dependable arms and got a little bit of luck aside from the Gallardo injury. The Mariners’ projected 2014 rotation isn’t just a little bit of luck and health away from being Wild Card calibre. Obviously Hart comparing the 2014 Seattle Mariners to the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers wasn’t meant to be analyzed this much. His reasoning could be as simple as the fact that the Mariners are going to hit a lot of home runs this year and will feature several young players with the ability to be difference makers; both are attributes of exciting baseball. The Brewers would go on to lose in the National League Division Series in four games to the Philadelphia Phillies in ’08, a result that seems too far out of the Mariners’ reach at this point. Acquiring David Price would certainly help, but maybe the M’s should allocate most of their available resources to help the outfield and attempt to bring in a Bush or Suppan circa 2008 type of starter instead. Felix and Kuma offer enough star power at the top of the rotation to allow for a Bronson Arroyo to fit in the three spot until Walker or Paxton claim it as their own. Unless Ervin Santana falls into their lap, there’s not much left for free agent starters. All in all, the Mariners may just be in a similar position to where the Brewers were six years ago. A lot will have to go right for the club to be a legitimate playoff contender this year, but a strong step towards fielding a contending team in 2015 may be just as good of a result.
With 2014 just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at how each team is shaping up at this point in the offseason. With several marquee free agents still available, expect these numbers to fluctuate over the next couple months, making this exercise exactly what it’s meant to be; a rough estimate at this point in time. Firstly, we’re going to look at how American League West teams, including your Seattle Mariners, project in 2014 and compare it to their 2013 seasons. -All numbers are provided by FanGraphs Looking at the Mariners, most of us will be happy to see that the team projects to be 15.5 fWAR better in 2014 than they were in 2013. A lot of that increase comes in the form of Robinson Cano and his 5.1 projected fWAR, but the additions of Logan Morrison and Corey Hart project to add 1.7 fWAR and 1.9 fWAR respectively to the M’s lineup as well. It’s interesting to note that both LoMo and Hart are projected to be almost completely average defenders in left field in 2014. That I’ll believe when i see it. Catcher Mike Zunino is also projected to be worth 1.9 fWAR in what stands to be his first full season in the majors. Shortstop Brad Miller is looking to take another step forward after a strong 2013 campaign, and is projected to be worth 3.3 fWAR in 2014; nearly double his 1.7 fWAR in 2013. The only real subtraction to the M’s lineup from 2013 appears to be Kendrys Morales who provided 1.7 fWAR in 2013 as the primary DH. The M’s pitching staff projects to provide similar value in 2014 despite projected declines in value for both Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Felix will still be Felix, but Iwakuma isn’t projected to repeat his sensational 2013 campaign. Relievers Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush are also projected to regress from their 2013 seasons by nearly 1.0 fWAR each. With the 2014 bullpen situation not entirely clear quite yet, the bullpen projections should be taken with a grain of salt. The real wild cards in the rotation come in the form of prospects Taijaun Walker and James Paxton as it’s unknown what their contributions are expected to be next year. In 140 innings, the pair are projected to be worth 1.5 fWAR and 1.3 fWAR respectively. While most have reserved a rotation spot for one of Walker and Paxton, it would take the acquisition of at least one decent rotation arm for both to not be the best in-house options for the 2014 staff behind Hernandez and Iwakuma. The M’s may prefer to see both spend a little more time at Triple-A, the new plans of contention in 2014 could dramatically alter the timetable for the youngsters; as would a trade of Walker or Paxton for possibly an establish pitcher. Realistically, the M’s are likely to at least pick up some back end of the rotation fliers to compete for jobs in Spring Training. There’s no sense in banking on two pitchers who’ve thrown a combined 39 innings at the MLB level, especially when a pitcher like Matt Garza is available and will only cost money. If Seattle is truly serious about competing in 2014, they’ll need to add at least one more rotation piece, and probably two to provide a safeguard for the rookies. Overall, the Mariners project to be a better team in 2014, but that much appeared to be obvious. The new-look lineup and the continued progress of other youngsters will provide a strong boost to the M’s offence in 2014. Ideally the M’s add another arm to the middle of the rotation and at least one veteran reliever, perhaps an Oliver Perez reunion would make sense, to consider their 2014 staff to be improved. There’s a lot of good pieces in place, but it doesn’t appear to be enough compared to the rest of the division as Seattle projects to be the fourth best team in the AL West. The Texas Rangers project as the top team after opening their pocketbooks this winter to better a championship contender who fell short once again last season. Not only did the team spend big on acquiring Prince Fielder, they also made a splash in the free agent market when the brought Shin-Soo Choo onboard. Despite the additions, the Rangers are only projected to be 0.7 fWAR better in the batting department due to the losses of Ian Kinsler and Craig Gentry who were both dealt. Joe Nathan‘s departure from the bullpen leaves the closer role vacant, but the Rangers have plenty of internal options. The bullpen will remain a strong point in 2014 as Neftali Feliz returns and Joakim Soria is still around. A healthy season from Matt Harrison would help to offset the projected decline of Derek Holland in the rotation that’s still headlined by Yu Darvish. Pitching doesn’t look to be an issue heading forward if Feliz and Harrison are about to contribute full seasons of work. The Rangers are the favourite it win the AL West, but they won’t be without competition. The Oakland Athletics will be looking to defend their division crown after a fury of transactions this offseason, but like the Rangers, they project to be a few fWAR worse in 2014. Free agent acquisition Scott Kazmir and his projected 2.7 fWAR come in to replace the departed Bartolo Colon and the 3.9 fWAR he produced last season. Sonny Gray should stick in the rotation for the entire year after a great performance throughout the stretch drive last season. The A’s made a peculiar decision to acquire a star closer in Jim Johnson since the All-Star is likely due $10 million in ’14. The A’s bullpen is projected to regress despite Johnson’s presence though, but that could change depending on how the rotation ends up looking. Slugger Josh Donaldson is projected to come in shy of his 7.7 fWAR 2013 season, but a 5.0 fWAR year is nothing to make light of. Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie both project to produce approximately 1.0 fWAR less each than they did in 2013, but they still figure to set the table well for Donaldson and the rest of the A’s batting order. Even with a bit of regression from some prominent players, the Athletics should provide plenty of challenge for the Rangers. The Halos rotation has proved to be troublesome beyond Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson the past couple seasons, and with Jason Vargas leaving for greener pastures, the Angels brought in Tyler Skaggs to help shore up the rotation. It’ll probably be a year with some growing pains for Skaggs as he’s just 22, but he’ll have plenty of room for error with the infamous Joe Blanton still in the picture. Times weren’t so good for the Los Angeles Angels last season, both on but off the field. Between injuries to recentfree agents signings Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and turmoil in the front office with management, dysfunction was a term often associated with the Angels. Not to be overshadowed by the mess though, was phenom Mike Trout who posted a tremendous 10.3 fWAR season. Trout projects short of the 10.0 fWAR mark, but the sky appears to truly be the limit for 22-year old. The Angels have avoided the big ticket free agents so far this winter, and instead acquired David Freese to add some pop to the middle of the lineup. Overall, the Angels project to be in the hunt for a playoff spot next summer, although their projected 4.3 fWAR increase hinges on Pujols and Hamilton staying healthy and producing closer to the levels they’re paid to play at. If not, it’s going to be another long year in Disneyland. No it’s not a figment of the imagination; the Houston Astros are projected to be the most improved team in the AL heading into 2014. Coming off a third consecutive season with 100 or more losses, the Astros decided to boost their young nucleus with some veteran talent in the form of Dexter Fowler, Chad Qualls, and Scott Feldman to join budding stars Jason Castro and Jose Altuve. The additions seem slightly surprising as the Astros have worked with an incredibly small payroll the last several seasons, but with new television money coming in, the time may be right to supplant the young core with some more experienced pieces. Houston has stayed the course with their rebuilding plan the last several seasons and have plenty more quality prospects coming up through their system. Even with a projected increase of 24.4 fWAR for the club, next year looks to be just another step in the rebuilding process as the club projects to land near the bottom of the American League once again. Feldman is the top Astros pitcher on paper, but there’ll be plenty of room for their youngsters to make some noise. Houston has all the time in the world for their youngsters to develop and form what’ll likely be a very good team several years from now. Despite what the fWAR projections say, it’s easy to see how every team in the division could be improved in 2014. The feeling among many right now, and projections as well, is that the Rangers have an upper hand on the division, with the A’s a close second behind them. Depending on a number of factors, the Angels and M’s figure to hold the three and four spots in the division, and despite a very good offseason in Houston, they appear headed for cellar dweller status yet again.
With the final days of 2013 just around the corner, the baseball hot stove season tends to take a slight break for the holidays; although I’m sure more than a few baseball executives will be checking their iPhones between helpings of turkey. That likelihood increased with new reports suggesting a decision on Japanese superstar Masahiro Tanaka could come on Chistmas Eve or Christmas day. The Seattle Mariners have been linked as an obvious destination for Tanaka given Seattle’s proximity to Japan as well as their previous success with Japanese imports, not to mention the presence of Tanaka’s former teammate Hisashi Iwakuma as well. PI’s Jason Churchill argues that the M’s should stay committed to right hander when one considers his value on a long term contract compared to the top available starters, and the considerale commitment ownership’s made to Robinson Cano and GM Jack Zduriencik. Cano isn’t going to be a superstar forever so now is the time to add a serious boost to the M’s rotation in 2014 and beyond with a Tanaka signing. Speaking of the top available starters, Chris Moran compares Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez, and finds Garza to be the safest bet among the three. There’s been plenty of speculation surrounding the three starters as they represent the top arms available via free agency, but their markets have been held up while clubs wait for a resolution to the Tanaka situation. Seattle is reportedly looking to add another top of the rotation arm, and it’s worth noting that signing Garza will not cost the club a draft pick as he was traded midseason. The Winter Meetings came and went with very little news on the Mariners’ front. Jason summed up some of the rumblings as well as provided several free agent and trade candidates that could be considered. Jason also provided an in-depth analysis on Jose Bautista as a potential trade candidate. While dialogue between the Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays has been minimal, there is an obvious match as the M’s possess the young pitching the Jays desire, and Seattle is still on the lookout for offence. Bautista would slot in nicely behind Cano, but with the Jays looking to make noise in the AL East this season, it’s unlikely they’d move their right-fielder unless they were blown away. Even if the slugger is deemed unavailable, there’s plenty of other right handed fish in the sea for the M’s to consider. It wasn’t long after the meetings finished up that the Mariners made their moves, as the acquisitions of Logan Morrison and Corey Hart came in literal back to back fashion. As Alex Carson noted, Hart’s deal is of the one-year variety with a base salary of $5 million and incentives that could push the total value of the contract to $13 million. Morrison was acquired from the Miami Marlins for reliever Carter Capps who posted uninspiring numbers in the M’s bullpen in 2013 but still has some potential moving forward. Many in the Mariners community were in favour of signing Hart and there’s minimal risk on a one-year deal. The 31-year old smashed 87 home runs in the middle of the Milwaukee Brewers’ lineup between 2010 and 2012, and looks to hit in the middle of the Mariners’ batting order in 2014. As Jason notes in his analysis of both transactions, Seattle could just be looking to add depth given their interest in Billy Butler and Nelson Cruz. It’s noted that Morrison and Hart appear to be very similar players on paper. Both are better suited to DH/1B roles due to knee injuries, but with Justin Smoak still in the fold and no incumbent left-fielder, it’s likely both will see plenty of time in left field. Morrison has actually spent more of his career in the outfield than first base, but he was somewhat of a defensive liability even before his health struggles. Rounding out the M’s recent transactions was news that Franklin Gutierrez would be brought back into the fold on a one year deal with a base salary of $1 million. The former Gold Glove winner hasn’t played a full season since 2010 due to a plethora of injuries, but he provides insurance as a fourth outfielder with some upside if he can regain his health. Like the Hart signing, there’s little risk in the transaction but high reward if the players can rebound. Considering the other available free agent depth-type outfielders, re-signing Gutierrez made the most sense because he brings defensive value to the table in a way that Rick Ankiel can’t. Shin-Soo Choo found his way back to the AL West on saturday after reportedly agreeing to sign with the Texas Rangers. It was looking unlikely that the Mariners would be serious contenders for Choo’s services, but now that the Rangers are unlikely to further pursue Nelson Cruz, it only increases the possibility that Cruz winds up in blue and teal in the coming months; a very unpopular thought among M’s fans. Elsewhere at PI, Steve Simas takes a look at shortstop prospects in the most recent instalment of his Fantasy Prospect Ranking series; Chris stacks King Felix Hernandez up against some of the best starters of all time, and it’s very easy to forget Felix will turn just 28 this coming April; Rob Balboni takes a look at the acquisition of Mark Trumbo by the Arizona Diamonbacks and offers some insight into the baseball mind of GM Kevin Towers; Mike Zunino needs a catching partner, and I took a look at some viable options (although Kurt Suzuki has since signed). Of course, we can’t forget to mention… Thank you for such a great welcome, Seattle. pic.twitter.com/85BsubQfbT — Robinson Cano (@RobinsonCano) December 12, 2013
Reports are coming in early Saturday morning that outfielder Shin-Soo Choo has agreed to a seven-year deal worth $130 million with the Texas Rangers. The deal marks a return to the AL West where the former Seattle Mariners’ prospect began his career. Choo boasts a career line of .288/.389/.465 and was expected to receive more than $100 million as a free agent this offseason. Despite a poor career split versus left-handed pitching and poor defensive showings the last couple seasons, the 31-year old is an OBP machine who carries twenty plus home run power and plenty of pop, not to mention a great arm that should benefit with a move back to right field and the ability to steal a handful of bases too. Early projections like Choo to contribute around his career norms in 2014 which would represent a 3+ fWAR season for the newest Ranger. The Mariners were rumored to be interested in Choo throughout the offseason, but found his price tag to be too hefty and were more interested in adding a right-handed bat to a very leftt-handed heavy lineup. The New York Yankees reportedly offered Choo $140 million over seven-years but that offer was turned down. While the South Korean native may not be the first player teams would like to pay close to $20 million annually, there’s no question he adds definite improvement to the Rangers’ squad and still would’ve been a significant upgrade to the Mariners. First and foremost, the Mariners’ dreams of competing in the AL West in 2014 took another hit today as the Rangers will feature one of baseball’s most potent lineups. My goodness is the Rangers’ potential lineup scary: Andrus, Choo, Beltre, Prince, Rios, Moreland, Profar, Soto, Martin. — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 21, 2013 Alongside the addition of Price Fielder, Texas will have a lot of new life in their lineup, especially towards the top of the order. It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from the young Jurickson Profar as he embarks on his first full season in the majors, but his potential emergence would easily offset the loss of Ian Kinsler and possibility make the team even better up the middle. If the Rangers can get good pitching performances and manage to stay relatively healthy, there’s no doubt they’ll be a powerhouse in the AL West. If there’s one thing the Mariners can take solace in with Choo wearing Rangers’ colors, it’s that this signing all but removes the Rangers from the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes should the right-hander be posted. With the new posting system agreed upon, even the subtraction of one potential suitor could make a world of difference for the Mariners. While it’s still up in the air as to whether or not the Rakuten Golden Eagles will post Tanaka, it’s conceivable that the Rangers are no longer likely suitors for the likes of Matt Garza or Ervin Santana if they’re out on the Japanese ace. Hopefully that’ll aid in the M’s pursuit of another rotation arm. Perhaps the worst part of the Choo deal from the Mariners perspective is that Nelson Cruz appears to have only one real suitor left. It’s no secret that the Mariners’ community is largely opposed to a potential Cruz signing as the 33-year old is coming off a PED-suspension, is destined for a DH role, and is looking for at least a three year deal that will pay north of $15 million annually. There’s more red flags on this player than there were thrown by NFL coaches during the referee lockout. The Rangers were said to have offered two years to Cruz, but he was holding out for a third guaranteed year. As much as it pains me to say it, Cruz does offer what the Mariners desperately need; right-handed power. He’s far from an ideal fit in Seattle as the Mariners have already acquired two more DH/1B/LF types in Logan Morrison and Corey Hart this winter. Cruz can’t play center, although Choo couldn’t really either, and would see his value maximized if he received the bulk of his at-bats as a DH. The Mariners are far better off keeping the DH spot open so they can preserve Morrison and Hart’s knees while hopefully having someone much more defensively competent playing the field. Adding Cruz would appear to be a regurgitation of last offseason when the team acquired Mike Morse, Jason Bay, and Raul Ibanez; three players that shouldn’t have seen much time in the outfield. Of course Ibanez wasn’t brought in to be the everyday left-fielder and he did manage to knock 29 long balls at age 41, but he still ended up playing 100 games in the outfield. Bay was coming off of a series of concussion-related injuries so his underperformance wasn’t completely unexpected, and Morse was coming off of a career year that he was unlikely to repeat anyways. The M’s should be far more concerned with adding a legitimate everyday outfielder to the fold even after bringing Franklin Gutierrez back into the picture. Surely there’s a scenario where Cruz’s market becomes so saturated that the Mariners can sign him to a deal that’s completely on their terms. Perhaps that’d be something like two years and roughly $26 million, but that’s a case we’re unlikely to see unless Cruz is still unemployed in late January, but stranger things have happened before. There’s been some banter that the M’s could look to flip LoMo, or incumbent first-baseman Justin Smoak, but unless they do so, Cruz only further complicates the DH logjam and there’ll once again be someone spending far too much time roaming the confines of Safeco Field. Maybe the Mariners benefit from the Choo deal if Tanaka gets posted and they’re able to sign him, but that’s really the only situation where the team can get substantially better after the Rangers added another key bat to their 2014 equation. While we still sit ten days removed from January, time and players are starting to run out for the Mariners to improve their roster with. Cruz, Garza, Matt Kemp, and David Price are all still out there representing upgrades for the Mariners’ 2014 ensemble. There’s arguments for every team in the AL West being improved this winter and the M’s still have plenty of work ahead of themselves if they’re even remotely serious about competing in 2014.
The Seattle Mariners signed Corey Hart to a one-year contract Wednesday, and shortly after a report surfaced that the cub had traded right-hander Carter Capps to Miami for Logan Morrison.Both players are best suited for first base and/or designated hitter. Why did the Mariners acquire both? If you ask them, at least today, they’ll tell you they’ve just added depth, suggesting the moves do not mean Justin Smoak is now trade bait. In April, if all three players are on the roster, one of them will either be on the bench or in the outfield. None belong in the outfield at all. It is, however, December, not April, and a lot can happen between now and then. The Mariners still need outfielders, plural, whether Hart or Morrison ultimately end up getting time there or not. In September, GM Jack Zduriencik admitted the club was taking a risk at putting together an outfield that included Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez. The M’s know this kind of defensive setup doesn’t work all that well. The problem is it’s difficult to be fully convinced they’ve learned their lesson. The club has been linked to another should-be DH Nelson Cruz all offseason, and Prospect Insider learned Wednesday that Billy Butler is still among the Mariners’ targets. There’s a chance that Smoak is traded, and it’s not out of the question that Morrison is included in another trade, too. If Cruz or Butler are acquired, I’d imagine both Morrison and Smoak are dealt before Opening Day. There are a number of teams looking for inexpensive first base options, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers, who attempted to retain Hart, so there could be something to such an idea. A deal with the Rays could be independent of, or connected to, a trade involving left-hander David Price, but it truly sounds as if the M’s are unwilling include Mike Zunino or Taijuan Walker in a package deal. Would Tampa value James Paxton, Morrison or Smoak plus Nick Franklin enough? If it were me, I’d want at leas one elite talent in a deal for Price, but the market for the former Cy Young winner appears to be quite soft. Of course, Tampa could just hang onto Price, pay him around $13 million via arbitration in 2014 and explore their options in July or next offseason. In Hart, the M’s have a power hitter that can do some damage versus left-handed pitching — a glaring weakness a year ago — and when healthy a solid bat that can produce and one not completely useless versus right-handed pitching, either. Hart will be 32 in March, but is coming off knee problems that forced him to miss all of 2013. Before the knee issues, he was considered a fringy defender in right field — not awful, but acceptable. He spent 2012 at first base where he looked out of place at times, but if he’s fully healthy he may be significantly better in 2014. Considering he’s two years older and has gone through the surgeries on each knee since the last time he played even a fringe-average right field, it appears to be a bad idea to send him out there much going forward. The outfield, versus first base and designated hitter, also is much harder on the legs, suggesting he’s much more apt to wear down or even re-injure himself playing his natural position. Morrison has played more outfield in the big leagues than he has first base, and he, too, has had knee problems. He’s just 26, suggesting he’s a better bet to put the injuries behind him than is Hart. Morrison, however, has never shown playable in the outfield. To be fair, he’s battled nagging injuries to his legs for much of his short major league career, but it’s clear he belongs at first base, which is where he spent most of his minor league career, sans the 2008 Arizona Fall League where he split time between left field and first base, and stint near the end of 2010 when he spent the final few weeks almost exclusively in the outfield. Morrison’s value, if he’s to have any on the field, will come from his bat. He came through the minors batting nearly .300 with high on-base percentages. He flashed above-average raw power at all stops and has teased the same in several stints with the Marlins. Morrison is patient, controls the strike zone and employs a doubles swing via slightly above-average bat speed. The problem is he hasn’t turned that natural ability into consistent production at the big-league level, and he hasn’t stayed healthy. Yes, he’s also very active on Twitter and at one point, at least in the eyes of the Marlins, it went too far and it’s believed he was demoted to the minors as some form of punishment. Morrison, like Smoak, is arbitration eligible for the first time this season and figures to earn between $1.5 and 2.5 million in 2014. The cost for Morrison was Capps, a pure reliever with a big arm and perhaps enough upside to suggest he could serve in the ninth inning at some point down the line. Capps has just the one year of service under his belt, so the M’s took on a wee bit of salary in this deal. If Morrison were to bottle what he showed in the minors and in 2010 in the big leagues, it’s an easy win for the M’s, regardless of what Capps accomplishes with Miami. As much as I like Capps, he is just a reliever, a position that is relatively easy to fill and one the M’s can replenish within their own system — Dom Leone, anyone? Taking a shot at Morrison is probably worth Capps. This deal becomes a no-brainer if Smoak or Morrison become part of a bigger deal to add an impact player. There continue to be signs that such a move is in the plans — nothing is imminent or even close — considering ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick’s latest report. A source tells Crasnick that Seattle will remain in the mix for Cruz. Unless Zduriencik is looking to repeat the mistakes of last season with the awful defense in the outfield, particularly the corners, adding Cruz to the rotation would mean one of the 1B/DH would have to go. Butler is another pure DH, though there is no risk of Seattle using the former prep third baseman in the outfield. If this were Wall Street, I’d advise Mariners fans to wait and see how things play out over the next several weeks. Even if the club passes on Price and he goes elsewhere — meaning neither Smoak nor Morrison is being dealt to Tampa Bay — many scenarios are possible, and some of them look pretty good. Ya know, like not relying on awful defensive outfielders and having multiple options at first base and designated hitter. That alone is an upgrade over what took place a year ago. Pitching still probable The Mariners have not forgotten about pitching as the markets for relievers and starters has yet to develop much — see what Fernando Rodney is apparently requesting? — and the M’s are considered one of five teams in the running for Joaquin Benoit. Among rotation candidates, it appears the Mariners are either out on Matt Garza or are keeping their interest close to the vest. Same goes for Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. Garza, tweets ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, has told interested clubs that he may sign in the next 24-48 hours. There is no progress with Masahiro Tanaka, though it appears his team’s owner would prefer not to give his ace away for a mere $20 million. Tanaka, however, is believed to badly want to play in the states. If Tanaka is posted and the system is approved with a $20 million maximum bid, I can’t imagine Seattle not giving it a shot, despite the contract likely exceeding what Yu Darvish cost the Texas Rangers. Tanaka is not as good as Darvish, from what I have seen on video. He typically sits 91-93 with good life up in the zone and with good command and deception, and offers two breaking balls — both slurvy, one sharp and one more like a slow but true curveball, and split-change like offering. Stuff wise, he’s better than any of the three top starters on the free agent market, and a better investment since he’s just 25 years of age. I’d bet at least 10 clubs make a bid if he’s posted.
With unofficial word coming out Friday that the Seattle Mariners and free agent second baseman Robinson Cano have come to terms at 10 years and $240 million, the M’s have one job: Make it count. Regardless of whether or not $240 million is a good investment in a 31-year-old, the Mariners now must make sure Cano doesn’t stand alone on the club’s acquisition list when spring training starts in nine weeks. Call it a responsibility to themselves, but this team has to keep adding talent this offseason and make sure they are capable and legitimate contenders in 2014. Anything short of that and the Cano signing becomes a mess. Why? Because the latter portion of the contract is bound to be a time when Cano isn’t worth what the team will be paying him. That makes the first five or six years critical, and wasting even one season with Cano greatly reduces its value to the team. General manager Jack Zduriencik and his staff have put their irons in nearly every fire in baseball. Even after the Cano commitment, the Mariners are expected to be major players for free agent outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Rajai Davis, starting pitchers Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, first basemen Corey Hart and Kevin Youkilis, and a number of relievers and part-time players. They also were mentioned as an interested party in the trade availability of left-hander David Price earlier this week. Price is under club control for two more years, but will earn about $30 million over those two years. Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp have also been linked to Seattle. Butler’s availability seems to be tied to the Royals’ acquisition of another hitter. The M’s have just over $33 million committed for 2014 before adding Cano to the ledger, plus whatever numbers arbitration-eligibles Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak settle at — if they aren’t included in trades — and the team-controlled contracts, which go for around $500,000 a pop. We don’t know for sure what the club’s payroll limits will be for next season, but it appears there is still plenty of money remaining. Is Price worth Walker? The cost for Price in terms of trade bait is going to be high. The expectation is that top prospect Taijuan Walker will have to be included. While this remains a possibility, there are indications that Zduriencik much prefers to keep Walker and add a significant No. 3-type starter via the free agent market. There are mixed reviews on Walker’s future, however. There are those believe Walker is more of a No. 3 starter and more than a year from being a real value to a major league rotation. I believe he’s a future No. 2 starter, possibly a No. 1, and that he can help in the big leagues right away, perhaps right out of spring training next spring. Trading six years of club control of a talent of that caliber that is ready to contribute in exchange for two years of almost any player in baseball is not a sound decision, in my opinion. The upgrade of Price over Walker for 2014 and 2015 may not be very large, either. Price’s best season was 2012 when he posted an fWAR of 4.8 and he’s totaled 13.5 fWAR over the past three seasons. Assuming the 28-year-old maintains similar performance, he’ll be worth somewhere between 8.5 and 9.0 wins above replacement during his final two seasons before he hits free agency. Price will do so earning about $13 million in 2014 and probably between $16 million and $18 million for 2015. It would not be out of the realm of expectations for Walker to surpass that production over the next 3-4 seasons, as 1.7-2.2 WAR per season is only slightly above league average for starting pitchers. Walker is too much to sacrifice for Price, and on top of that it could cost more than just the 21-year-old right-hander to pry the former Cy Young winner away from the Rays, who will undoubtedly have other offers for their ace. One possible exception: If the Rays are willing to give up more than just Price in a package deal — perhaps an outfielder such as Desmond Jennings — the equation changes. Until then, the wise decision is to pocket Walker, pass on Price and spend more money on a starting pitcher and perhaps another hitter or two. Trades can still be part of the process, possibly including Kemp. Considering his contract and the risk with which he comes, the trade cost to acquire him must be fairly modest, unless the Dodgers send cash along with the outfielder, who would likely play right field in Seattle. In October, I wrote about Milwaukee centerfielder Carlos Gomez being a potential target, and while the Brewers’ trading of Norichika Aoki to Kansas City may very well nix any chance of Gomez being available — if there was any shot in the first place — but right-hander Yovani Gallardo could be a fairly inexpensive alternative, provided he’s healthy. Absolutely not done The baseball world has every reason to believe the Mariners will do exactly what I’m suggesting and urging here — make the Cano deal count, and right away. The Mariners are not done, by a long shot. The smart bet is that the club adds at least one significant starting pitcher, at least one more significant bat, and 1-2 other upgrades to the lineup — first base, outfield — that aren’t considered big names but are still deemed better than what the club finished with in 2013, and at least one veteran relief pitcher, possibly more. That could mean Garza, Santana or Jimenez, for example, plus Hart, Youkilis, Butler, Nelson Cruz or Kendrys Morales, an outfielder such as Kemp, Gerardo Parra, a catcher such as Michael McKenry, Ramon Hernandez or even Kurt Suzuki, and a bullpen option such as Jose Veras or Joaquin Benoit. Not bad, eh? Adding Cano is a major coup for the Mariners. Their ownership, CEO Howard Lincoln as well as Zduriencik and his staff all deserve a lot of credit. Lincoln and the ownership for being bold and understanding the kind of financial commitment it takes to climb out of the hole they have been in for years, the GM and his group for properly identifying the one player in this year’s market worth overpaying for, and for communicating that properly to Chuck Armstrong and Lincoln. Sure, we can blast them for not taking such necessary risks in the past, and we can sit on our couches and claim the only reason they are making such inroads now is because of the expected influx of revenues from the acquisition of the regional sports network — Root Sports — but it’s still a major financial risk and a potential sacrifice of future profits. Give credit where credit is due, and credit is due here, to everyone involved in these personnel transactions. The above scenario post-Cano is a special offseason. It’s one that completely changes the culture and overall view of the franchise. A week ago, such an offseason was an absolute pipe dream. Today, it’s more than plausible. In fact, it’s closer to probable than it is anything else. Last offseason, I started to write a piece on the M’s needing their ‘Bam Moment’ the way the Seahawks had theirs when they acquired Percy Harvin and a sent a message to the rest of the NFL. Cano is it, M’s fans. Bam.