After a couple tough losses to the San Diego Padres earlier in the week, the Seattle Mariners have managed to pull off a sweep of the red hot Kansas City Royals and now sit four games above .500. The previous six weeks or so have been up and down for the M’s, and have included a five-game winning and five-game losing streak, but a Wild Card spot is easily within reach at the moment. Let’s take a look at what’s been covered at Prospect Insider over the last six weeks. The month of June is always an exciting month as it hold Major League Baseball’s amateur draft. This year the Mariners held the No. 6 overall pick and chose outfielder Alex Jackson from Rancho Bernardo High School, and he is expected to take a physical in Seattle on Monday and will receive a $4.2 million bonus according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports. PI’s Jason A. Churchill gave a scouting report on the 18-year old and considers the M’s to have nailed their selection — Jackson was considered by many to be the best available bat in the draft this year. Churchill also has notes and reports on the Mariners’ picks in rounds three to ten, including a report for the M’s No.2 pick, outfielder Gareth Morgan. Last week Churchill offered his mid-season prospect report for the Mariners, including an updated top-25 list to account for the new draft picks and a projected lineup and rotation for the 2018 season. Jackson takes the top spot on Jason’s list with infielder D.J. Peterson coming in at No. 2. In other draft related content, Steve Simas offers a fantasy perspective on several of the top selections from this year’s draft including Jackson, Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon, and Trea Turner. Brendan Gawlowski has an excellent piece on his experience as an ‘advisor’ for a draft hopeful as well as his thoughts on the financial side of the MLB draft. Under the current NCAA policy a player who is enrolled is not allowed to have an agent, which leaves many players — including the young man in Gawlowski’s case — without much direction in terms of what they should ask for or expect to receive as a signing bonus. Of course each draft position comes with a slot value, but that doesn’t mean that that is the amount the player will or should receive. As expected, the lone free agent that was still tied to draft pick compensation, Kendrys Morales, signed a contract after the conclusion of the draft. Morales signed a prorated, one-year $12 million deal with the Minnesota Twins and since he waited until the completion of the draft, the M’s do not receive a compensatory draft pick for his departure. At the conclusion of day one I wrote that the market for Morales was expected to heat up with the Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, and a mystery team rumored to be the frontrunners. In 55 plate appearances so far this season, Morales is hitting .216/.273/.275 with three doubles for the Twins. Roenis Elias, the winning pitcher in today’s game against the Royals, has been a pleasant surprise this year according to PI’s Chris Moran. Those thoughts were echoed by Churchill who took a look at a quote by manager Lloyd McClendon in which the skipper said Elias’ stuff is as good as any left-hander in the league. After throwing six and two third innings of one run ball today, Elias lowered his ERA to 3.74 and his FIP to 4.02 on the season; good for the fourth and fifth best marks among rookies with at least 50 innings pitched this year. Prospect Insider’s Mariners of the Month for May were Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, while the MLB players of the month for May included Yasiel Puig and Corey Kluber. Moran took a look at King Felix’s incredible 15-strikeout performance against the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this June. Chris also analyzed catcher Mike Zunino‘s season to date including what areas he has excelled in and the ones he has struggled in. Brad Miller has also had his fair share of struggles this season, but the young shortstop has put them behind him according to PI’s Alex Gallant. Miller went 2-for-4 today to continue his seven-game hitting streak and has now brought his average up to .207 on the season. And to wrap things up on this warm summer day in the Pacific Northwest, some new scouting reports. Jason A. Churchill has thoughts and notes on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, Carlos Triunfel, Jordan Pries, and Jabari Blash as well as on the M’s Jesus Montero, Logan Morrison, Xavier Avery, and Nick Franklin. Both Montero and Morrison are with the big league club right now and Triunfel has since been recalled by the Dodgers. PI’s Matt Hervey has some in-depth reports on the Cleveland Indians’ Clint Frazier and Robbie Aviles as well as plenty of other notes to take a look at. Don’t forget there’s to vote your favourite Mariners into the All-Star Game this year — if you actually care about who makes the squads, that is.
As we pass the midway mark of June, the Seattle Mariners still sit above the .500 mark despite a struggling offence and a pitching staff that’s held together by a couple of surprise performers. There should be some reinforcements on the way however, as Corey Hart and Michael Saunders appear close to being sent out on rehab assignments and Justin Smoak began his on Wednesday night. Starter Taijuan Walker looks like he’s nearly ready to make his season debut with the big club as well after being activated from the disabled list last week and sent to Tacoma. But, with every player activated from the disabled list or called up, another has to be removed from the active roster to make room. Let’s take a look at a few players who may find themselves on the outside looking in as others begin to make their returns. Stefen Romero — OF/DH The 25-year old outfielder seems like the most likely candidate to be sent down once Saunders returns now that Logan Morrison is back from injury. Romero is now the owner of a .197 batting average on the year after picking up a double on Tuesday, bringing his hit total up to 26. At times this year the right-hander has looked overmatched and considering the fact he only has 411 plate appearances at Triple-A under his belt, it could very well be true. Combine his lack of upper minor experience with the fact he’s mostly assumed the role of designated hitter when he’s been in the M’s lineup consistently, and there’s reason to believe he may simply be struggling with all the adjustments he’s had to make. As is the case with most young players, the chance to re-focus and play everyday at Triple-A for a while could be just what Romero needs, although he does possess the right-handed bat that manager Lloyd McClendon seems to covet for the M’s roster. Endy Chavez — OF The veteran joined Seattle for a second tour of duty this year, but probably hasn’t produced enough to justify keeping him on the roster for much longer. Perhaps the biggest factor in Chavez’s favour is that should the M’s decide he’s the odd man out, they would likely designate him for assignment and end up losing him unless he’s alright with being sent back down to Triple-A. Although letting the 36-year old go would hurt the M’s outfield depth slightly, they really wouldn’t be losing much. At this point in his career Chavez isn’t much more than a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch-runner, and his 47 wRC+ across 55 plate appearances this season provides clear evidence that his offensive abilities are all but gone. Not to take away from Chavez however, as he seems to be a fairly well respected guy in the clubhouse and has provided some timely contributions at the top of the lineup this year, but realistically his loss wouldn’t be decimating in the least. Jesus Montero — DH This could be an interesting case. We’ve all heard the drama that has surrounded Montero over the last year — from his Biogenesis suspension to his lack of conditioning entering Spring Training — but he has managed to put up a decent .270/.345/.455 line in 255 plate appearances with Tacoma and has already popped a home run since being recalled. He does have a career 134 wRC+ against left handed pitching, but he’s essentially limited to designated hitter duties and offers little if any value elsewhere. And does the team really want to carry two designated hitters once Hart is back on the roster? Well, at least the previous regime did. Nevertheless, Montero can still be optioned back to Tacoma and that appears to be a likely scenario barring an offensive outburst in the next week. Logan Morrison — 1B/OF/DH This is another interesting case as Morrison has only been back with the big league club for a week after a lengthy rehab assignment. He has 3 hits in 19 plate appearances since returning and his season line now sits at a paltry .146/.222/.244 but it’s hard to really make much of his 2014 season yet with only a 15 game sample size. I’d be surprised if LoMo was sent down to make room on the roster since he’s actually been hitting the ball fairly well in the past week — it seems like every night he’s hit a ball to the warning track — and it’s not as if Smoak and Romero have done enough to take all of the first base and DH at-bats away from Morrison. Erasmo Ramirez — SP It seems to be a forgone conclusion that once Walker is ready to make his return Ramirez will be sent back down to Triple-A. This much shouldn’t be a surprise however, as both Roenis Elias and Chris Young have done enough to hang on to their rotation spots at least until James Paxton is ready to return. Despite not giving up a run in his previous two starts, Ramirez’s ERA still sits at 5.27 and his FIP at 5.77 for the year. One could even argue that it was just by luck that Ramirez didn’t yield a run in those two starts as he walked a total of nine batters in the nine and two-thirds innings he pitched. Control issues have plagued the right-hander this season and he has only managed to last six or more innings in three of his nine starts. There’s still work to do for the 24-year old, and perhaps it’s not time to give up on him entirely, yet. For my money, Chavez and Romero will eventually find themselves as the odd ones out once Saunders and Smoak are back on the roster, and I’d also be willing to guess that it’ll be Montero getting sent down once Hart returns. I’m not convinced that the club has seen enough from Morrison yet and Cole Gillespie has actually been a decent fourth outfielder for the club this year. Although Gillespie hasn’t provided anything particularly special in his first year with Seattle, he does own an 81 wRC+ for the season and has been just slightly below average in the field and on the base paths according to FanGraphs. It’s probably in both parties’ best interest to have Romero see some time at Triple-A in the near future and like it was mentioned previously, losing Chavez isn’t all that big of a deal anyway. Romero does appear to have a skill set that could potentially become useful down the road or perhaps he could be a fill-in piece in a trade to acquire a bat or another starter. Whatever the case, sitting on the bench or going 0-for-4 when he does play isn’t beneficial for the young outfielder.
The start of Major League Baseball’s 2014 amateur draft brings a sense of excitement and exuberance to the hundreds of hopefuls who have dreamt about hearing their favourite team call their name from the podium, but this year there’s no doubt the draft brings a sense of relief to a particular slugger still looking for a job: Kendrys Morales. The soon to be 31-year old is now free of the draft pick compensation that has presumably prevented him from signing the lucrative free agent contract that he sought at the beginning of last winter. Teams like the Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers, and Kansas City Royals are rumored to still be interested in acquiring the designated hitter, so it seems as though it’s only a matter of time — possibly just days — until an agreement is reached and announced. As Spring Training began in February, Morales’ agent Scott Boras made it well known that his client would be willing to wait until after the draft to sign the right deal. And by right, they likely meant most lucrative. As the season began, and stretched into May and June, Boras maintained that stance and we now know that that wasn’t a bluff. It’s also been reported that Morales turned down a three-year contract extension offer from Seattle last summer, and of course, he declined the one-year $14.1 million qualifying offer. It’s easy to debate whether or not the right decisions were made on those two offers, especially with what we know now, but presuming Morales signs within the next week or so and is ready for game action by the end of June, he will be a player that has missed the first three months of the 2014 campaign. The most obvious situational comparison here is a player returning from a major injury of some sort and requiring an adjustment period to get back to the level of production that they are capable of. An alternative comparison is the case of Stephen Drew who ended up re-signing with the Boston Red Sox in May and is working his way back to game shape after missing the first two months of the season. Seeing what he’s able to produce upon his return to the big leagues could offer some point of reference for what Morales can be expected to provide on his potential return. The reality of the situation is that Morales will be a player that’s approximately nine months removed from playing, and will require a possibly significant adjustment period. If he were to sign tomorrow, it’d be fair to suggest one wouldn’t see him playing for the signing team until the end of June, or in about three or four weeks time. On to the latest report on the Morales situation in which Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com lists the Brewers, Mariners, and a mystery team as the favourites to land the free agent. The Brewers are currently sitting atop the National League Central and the trio of Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, and Jonathan Lucroy have anchored the offence that has scored the tenth most runs in all of baseball this year. First base has been an area of weakness for the club however, as the regular starter Lyle Overbay has produced just a 65 wRC+ so far this season. It’s easy to see the potential fit here provided the club is willing to play Morales at first everyday, so depending on where the asking price currently sits, this match definitely could make sense. Certainly the M’s lineup could use a boost given the injuries to Corey Hart and Logan Morrison and lack of production from the shortstop position, but the reports of the club having little to no payroll flexibility appear to be the biggest obstacle between a potential reunion. Seattle has been finding ways to win with the likes of Endy Chavez and Cole Gillespie in the lineup of late — the M’s enter Friday with a five-game win streak — but there’s reason to think that continued success with these players playing regular roles in unsustainable. Without going into a lot more detail or specifics, it’s obvious that adding a piece like Morales to the lineup could push the team to the next level — that much has been known for a long time. It’s possible that Seattle would like to see if Morrison still has anything to add to the major league team this year before making a move on Morales. The 26-year old is currently rehabbing with Triple-A Tacoma and should be able to return to the big club sooner than later. Hart has been recovering well from his injury but is likely another month away from a return barring any further setbacks. It’s also worth mentioning that Cole Gillespie may be in line for a few more at bats after a couple solid starts in the past week. Seattle and Milwaukee both sit around the same place offensively right now as the Brewers have 254 runs scored on the year compared to the 247 scored by the Mariners and could both use an upgrade in the lineup at the first base position. It’s also interesting to note that the Mariner offence hasn’t been reliant on the long ball like it was in 2013; their 48 total home runs is the twelfth fewest in the league. While the mystery team in Heyman’s report is anybody’s guess, it’s fair to presume that the Yankees could still be involved given injuries to Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, but they’ve asked Morales to wait while they assess their players’ health according to Heyman. Money doesn’t appear to be an issue for New York, although finding playing time for Morales could be given the fact that the designated hitter role is being split between Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, and Derek Jeter as well as the pair of injured hitters. But, as with the Brewers, if the Yankees believe Morales can handle fairly regular time in the field, then finding playing time for everyone shouldn’t be much of an issue until the injured players return and muddy the roster picture. There’s really nothing all that new on the Kendrys Morales situation aside from where the potentially interested clubs sit in terms of need at this point in the season and if Heyman’s mystery team turns out to be a factor in any way. But with the draft pick compensation out of the way, expect the rumors surrounding the designated hitter to heat up over the weekend. All three of the Yankees, Brewers, and Mariners make sense in some ways, but there’s still no clear suitor that stands out above the rest at the moment. If the Mariners deeply desired a reunion with Morales they could get creative with a potential contract by signing him to a one-year deal with a low base salary with an option for next year that carries a significant buyout to make up for the low base salary. Or they could sign him to a two-year deal — it’s mentioned in the Heyman article that a multi-year deal is still a possibility — with a lesser salary in year one, and a much larger salary in year two. But without knowing exactly how the Mariners’ payroll budget works it’s all just speculation on my part. Some clubs count buyouts to the previous year’s budget, some count them towards the following year. There are several possibilities. Bottom line: does Seattle need to sign Morales? I wouldn’t say they need to, but the club is very much in the playoff race right now and an addition to the lineup could go a long way in ensuring they stay in the race throughout the summer. There’s no question that inserting a quality hitter behind the trio of James Jones, Michael Saunders, and Robinson Cano at the top of the order could pay major dividends. If I was Jack Zduriencik I wouldn’t be rushing to make a deal happen this week, but knowing that Morales has been growing impatient and possibly inclined to jump at the next club to show some serious interest in acquiring his services, it wouldn’t hurt take discussions to a more serious level if the budget allows for another medium-sized contract. There’s nothing to be gained by not signing Morales at this point now that the draft is underway, but if Seattle ends up a couple games short at the end of the year, they may regret not making more out of this opportunity.
Nearly one month after being sent down to Triple-A after a brief stint with the big league club, Nick Franklin finds himself back in a Seattle Mariner uniform once again after Corey Hart hit the disabled list. The top prospect has already managed to make his presence felt in the lineup during Tuesday’s 6-2 win over the Texas Rangers, going 2-3 with a run scored and a run batted in. The right-hander was also hit by a pitch and stole a base while taking Hart’s place as the designated hitter role. As we heard the last time Franklin was called up, if he’s going to stick around in the majors, he’s going to be playing often and sitting on the bench as little as possible. This time around, there probably won’t be much of a problem with slotting the youngster in the lineup everyday so long as he’s producing. Hart was officially placed on the disabled list Tuesday with a grade-two hamstring strain and is expected to be out for four to six weeks. It’s an unfortunate case for the right-hander who has seen some struggles so far during his tenure as a Mariner, but barring a setback, he should be able to return to the lineup by the All-Star break. Perhaps the optimist’s approach to the injury is that it finally allows Seattle an opportunity to bring up the the owner of a .376/.481/.633 minor league line this year and immediately place him into the lineup –more on Brad Miller and the shortstop situation shortly. Franklin is expected to see some time at shortstop, outfield, DH, and possibly second base if Robinson Cano is assuming designated hitter duties. Much has been made of Miller’s struggles so far in 2014, and many have called for Franklin’s call-up and a demotion for the incumbent to come in short order. The M’s seem willing to let their struggling shortstop try and work his way out of it — at least for a little while longer — but there’s no doubt that having Franklin on the active roster makes the possibility of Miller seeing less playing time and a possible demotion all that more realistic should the struggles continue. Certainly there’s the potential that Franklin’s presence alone could help Miller snap out of his funk considering his everyday job could be on the line here, and that’d be especially true of Franklin continues to hit. Miller currently has just two hits alongside five walks in his last seven games which should be considered a positive, but there’s no doubt that the pressure is rising as each day passes. How much longer Miller will hold on to the starting job is unknown at this point, but one has to wonder when the club’s breaking point is with him will be. He’s reportedly been doing all the right things as far as most can tell — extra batting practice, one-on-one time with hitting coach Howard Johnson, and taking extra reps at short — but things simply haven’t translated into on-field production. If it’s a case where the problem is between the ears, it only gets more difficult to diagnose the problem and find some sort of solution. But, it is easy to forget that the calendar has yet to strike June so there’s certainly plenty of time for Miller to figure things out and start playing like he was expected to when he won the job in the spring. Although the M’s have downplayed the possibility of transitioning Franklin into an everyday outfield role the same way they did with Dustin Ackley, it may be the most realistic long term solution if the club plans to keep him in blue and teal beyond this season. The 23-year old Franklin has made a handful of minor league appearances in the outfield this season and started a game in his previous big league cameo, so it’s likely he’ll have an opportunity to start there in the next week. There’s no reason to break up the combination of James Jones and Michael Saunders at the top of the order unless necessary — the pair are also the club’s best defensive outfielders — which makes it possible that Franklin could start in left field with Ackley taking designated hitter duties for the game. The M’s are starting a stretch of 16 consecutive games, so it’s definitely possible that Saunders or Jones could receive an off-day during that period in which Franklin could slot in. The last time Franklin was with the big league club he saw a start at second base with Cano as the club’s designated hitter so we can assume that’s a possibility over the next two weeks as well should the club wish to give their superstar a day off in the field. It’s also worth noting that the club still has Stefen Romero and Cole Gillespie on the roster so finding them some at bats here and there could be factors in how often Franklin plays as well. Of course Gillespie, 29, is essentially nothing more than organizational depth at this point and hasn’t produce very much in the opportunities he has gotten. Romero on the other hand has seen fairly regular playing time up to this point in the season and will likely get some time at DH during Hart’s absence as well given the glut of outfielders currently on the roster. In 29 games this season Romero owns a 67 wRC+ and has a pair of home runs under his belt, so his presence in the lineup isn’t likely a priority at this point. Whatever the case may be, it’ll be an interesting next couple of weeks as the M’s lineup sees more fluctuation than usual. Considering Miller reached base twice and scored a run on Tuesday his odds of starting on Wednesday have probably increased — although nothing is certain just yet — but it’s conceivable that he makes a start in the infield within the next week. Manager Lloyd McClendon described Franklin as “not a typical DH” so penciling him in as the regular designated hitter at the moment would be premature, although it would cause the least disruption to the lineup. I would expect to see some sort of informal rotation through the DH spot over the next week or so as LMC feels out the best way to use his assortment of players and integrate Franklin into the lineup regularly. But it doesn’t appear to be as difficult to find the youngster plenty of opportunities to play this time around. It’s worth mentioning that Logan Morrison could be sent out on a rehab assignment as early as the end of the week and his impending return stands to crowd the roster further.
The Seattle Mariners continued to tinker with their roster on Thursday after optioning Erasmo Ramirez and Nick Franklin to the minor leagues and selecting the contract of outfielder Cole Gillespie. Franklin’s demotion to Triple-A was essentially procedural as he saw just 18 plate appearances since being called up on April 16th, while Ramirez is set to start in his regularly scheduled spot on Sunday, but for the Hi-A High Desert Mavericks instead after struggling in his last three starts. The interesting piece to this puzzle is Gillespie who joins Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, Stefen Romero, and Michael Saunders in what’s quickly turning into a crowded Mariner outfield. Gillespie, 29, was drafted in the third round of the 2006 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, whom GM Jack Zduriencik was employed by at the time of the selection, and has since been a part of the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, and Chicago Cubs organizations. In 189 plate appearances between 2010 and 2013, the journeyman has put together a .225/.293/.337 line and a 65 wRC+. Although his major league stats are less than inspiring, he’s hit .364 with five home runs in his first 17 games of the year in Tacoma. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill had recently suggested Gillespie be called up, and the M’s could certainly use his hot bat right now. Where his bat will fit in the lineup however, is the tougher question. Gillespie is a RHB who doesn’t have a track record of mashing LHP. More of a reverse split guy. So, LMC will probably start him v LHP only — Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) April 24, 2014 Gillespie not a candidate for center field. — Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) April 24, 2014 Without the possibility of Gillespie starting in center field, it’s conceivable to suggest that he’ll split some time in right field with Romero and likely spell Ackley once in left field every now and then. He also fits the mould of a late inning pinch runner or defensive replacement in a game where Corey Hart starts in right field, for example. Like Jason said, he doesn’t hit left-handed pitching especially well — he’s hit at a .189 clip in 98 major league plate appearances — and owns a .266 average against right-handed pitching in 91 plate appearances. Both Romero and Gillespie are right-handed bats so the M’s quest for a balanced lineup continues. With Ackley firmly entrenched in left field as the everyday starter and manager Lloyd McClendon content to let Almonte play everyday in center, the combination of Romero, Gillespie, and Saunders will cover the right field duties unless Hart is able to step in. The club is still going slow with Hart’s return to the outfield, as they should, so the point of having that extra outfielder is far from moot. Either Gillespie or Romero could presumably DH if Hart is the starter on a given night with Saunders on the bench as a potential late inning replacement. It’s also possible that this current arrangement is simply temporary, especially if Hart is able to put another couple solid starts in the field together. Logan Morrison‘s return from the disabled list at the end of the month could require even further roster shuffling as well unless the club decides to send him down to Triple-A for a period of time. Perhaps the real point of contention is the fact that a player not named Almonte has yet to make a start in center field for the club this year. Obviously his status as the team’s leadoff hitter and lack of other alternatives has played some role in this, but the young outfielder has done very little to prove that he belongs in his given role just yet. He has just 19 hits and five walks in 94 plate appearances — good for a .213 batting average — and his 34.1 percent strikeout rate is the fourth highest in all of baseball. Aside from being awful leadoff hitter numbers, they really aren’t that good numbers for anywhere in the lineup unless the player is a defensive wizard, although the 24-year old does handle the outfield well enough. The seemingly obvious candidate to spell Almonte would be Saunders given his experience in center field, but he hasn’t produced much of anything so far this year and certainly not enough to spark the conversation of which one of the pair should be playing everyday. McClendon has gone on record saying that he believes the only way for Almonte to improve is to play everyday — that much is true — but is there anything wrong with sitting him once in a while and giving someone else the start? LMC was willing to sit Brad Miller when he was struggling and hasn’t shown this long of a leash with other players — look no further than Ramirez being sent down for a start — so there’s really no reason not to give this outfield logjam a little more fluidity by sitting Almonte here and there. There’s been little to suggest that Ackley should be the one to see less playing time since he’s hit the ball well this year and shown some encouraging signs that his bat has finally come around even though he has been hitless in his last four games. It’s possible that Gillespie will see a couple starts in left and spell the former second baseman in the coming week, but a return to the No. 8 spot in the batting order — a place he’s been comfortable in so far this season — could provide the spark needed to get the 26-year old producing like he was a few short weeks ago. Like Saunders, Romero hasn’t seen enough game action for us to really make an accurate determination on what his role with the club should be at this point in time; although I’m in the camp that believes he’d be best served playing everyday in Triple-A than sitting on the major league bench. He has five hits and one walk in 24 plate appearances and has started in seven of the club’s first 21 games. He’s a candidate to start at designated hitter on a day where Hart starts in right field as Saunders and possibly Gillespie would provide better defensive replacements for the late innings. One of the benefits of having a journeyman-type of player like Gillespie on the roster is that unlike a Nick Franklin, he doesn’t necessarily need to see regular at bats. The team also doesn’t have to worry about his development as a player that much either since he no longer falls under the description of a prospect and he’s shown essentially all that he has to offer a big league club. The 29-year old knows the type of role he’s entering with Seattle and will likely already have the right type of mindset to handle it. It will certainly be interesting to see how McClendon decides to balance his group of outfielders over the next week or two. The situation will only become murkier if Hart is in fact able to man right field regularly, but given the logjam of players available for the position, there’s absolutely no reason to rush it. Acquiring another bat is still a possibility but it appears unlikely at this point as the M’s don’t appear interested in Kendrys Morales at the moment, and he seems content to wait until after the draft to sign his next contract. It appears that the only certainty in the Mariners’ outfield can be found in left and center field at the moment with the right field situation very up in the air. Hart does represent somewhat of an x-factor, but at the moment it wouldn’t be surprising to see the club go with whichever one of Saunders, Romero, and Gillespie that’s producing. And that’s exactly what they should be doing anyways. Seattle managed to end their losing streak with a win on Wednesday and will open a new series against the Texas Rangers on Friday night with Roenis Elias set to take the mound.
It’s no secret that the Seattle Mariners have been stuck in a rut recently and after being swept this weekend by the Miami Marlins, it may be time to shake things up a little bit. Certainly the M’s would be in a better position at the moment if their rotation wasn’t decimated by injuries, but their .225 team batting average is the third worst in all of baseball and is nearly an equal cause for concern. Yes, there’s an awful lot of season to be played, but if Seattle still fancies themselves as contenders this year, now is as good a time as any to get the lineup some help while the rotation recovers. And that could still come in the form of a familiar face; Kendrys Morales. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill outlined several possible moves the Mariners could make to help the club in the immediate future and one of those suggestions was to option Logan Morrison to Triple-A, and sign Morales who remains a free agent. Of course this comes with two very important caveats: Corey Hart must be able to man right field four times a week and Morales must be willing to sign a one-year deal. Both factors are relative unknowns at this point, but one would have to think that the possibilities of both occurring do have some life. Hart started in right field this past Thursday and Sunday and after starting at first base on Friday, shifted to right field after Michael Saunders was pinch hit for. The 16 2/3 innings of action he’s seen in the outfield aren’t near enough to draw any legitimate conclusions from, but the fact that he’s actually looked decent out there is definitely an encouraging sign. Realistically it could take the M’s another month if not longer to make a determination on whether or not Hart’s knees can handle the outfield, and there’s no reason to take any course of action other than easing him back in slowly. After all, he was signed for his ability to hit a baseball, not necessarily his ability to catch one. With Hart seeing outfield time and Morrison not on the big league club like Jason suggested, there would be plenty of at-bats available for Morales who could DH when Hart plays the field and possibly see some time at first base when Hart is the designated hitter. As it stands Morrison is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so the club would have to wait until after he’s activated to send him down anyways. His contributions have obviously been limited, but a quick comparison of his results after 18 team games this year to Morales’ first 18 last year show that there’s a strong likelihood than an upgrade could be made. Justin Smoak has cooled off of late, but thanks to a hot start has his overall numbers don’t look too bad and are relatively comparable to what Morales produced in last year’s sample. It’s unlikely to suggest that he would be removed from everyday duties anytime soon. In some ways Morales could conceivably replace Morrison, but of course it’s not quite a simple trade off since LoMo hasn’t been an everyday player and he’d be taking at-bats from other players as well. But it is easy to see the potential offensive upgrade that would come with bringing the free agent back into the fold and taking at-bats from players like LoMo. The second impediment to potentially signing Morales is what it has been all along; his agent, Scott Boras. Obviously an agent wants to get their client the best deal they can, but what the best possible deal is varies from player to player of course. The trend with Boras though, has been the bottom line dollar playing the most significant part of any deal so nobody should’ve been surprised when the party announced they were content to wait in order to get that best possible deal. But perhaps as the calendar turns to May, Morales gets a little anxious about getting back into a team’s everyday lineup and the concept of a “bridge” contract becomes more palpable. After all, he’s already guaranteed that he won’t be tied to draft pick compensation next winter since he will have signed after the season started. It really is unfortunate that Morales, and another Boras client Stephen Drew, are still without contracts since the draft pick compensation has seriously diminished their value to any interested club, especially since there are more than a few teams who could benefit from the addition of one or the other. However, now that the Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired Ike Davis — the Pirates were rumored to be a moderately serious suitor for the first baseman/designated hitter — would Boras really be able to get a multi-year deal for Morales even if he waits until after this June’s draft and is freed of draft pick compensation? It’s been reported that the Mariners had offered Morales a three-year deal worth $30 million last summer, and at the time it probably seemed likely he could top that offer once he hit the open market. But, considering the fact he’s all but limited to designated hitter duties, did Boras really anticipate a bidding war to break out for his services? Sure, Morales has been a capable defender at first base in the past and he is another year removed from the broken leg he suffered at the beginning of the 2010 season, but a team is could be taking a lot of risk if they are signing him to be their everyday first baseman. It’s really no different than the Mariners signing Hart to be their everyday right fielder, but they didn’t sign him for that purpose; the fact he may actually be able to play in the field is pure gravy at this point. Teams would be lining up to give David Ortiz a multi-year deal to be their designated hitter since he’s a legitimate game changer; Morales is not at that level. Throughout the offseason, and even after the Hart signing and Morrison trade, Seattle was considered to be the most logical landing spot for Morales. Perhaps they became even better suitors after adding the pair considering the team’s affinity for stockpiling designated hitter types and then deploying them regularly in the field. But after the Baltimore Orioles agreed to sign Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal worth just $8 million — remember, both he and Morales had rejected the one-year $14.1 million qualifying offer — many figured that a potential Morales deal would probably be of the same term but with a slightly higher dollar amount. And with the Orioles and now Pirates out of the picture, are there really any other options outside of Seattle? Barring an unforeseen injury, probably not. The question that has to follow pertains to whether or not the Mariners even have room for Morales on their roster at the moment. Let’s say Morales is reluctantly willing to accept a one-year deal worth the pro-rated portion of the $14.1 million qualifying offer to spend another year in the Pacific Northwest. Of course there’s still the question of whether or not ownership would allow the club to take on further payroll since this could all be a moot point if they say there’s no more cash to spend, but let’s remove that hurdle for right now. Although he has been working out regularly, he’ll need to spend at least a couple of weeks in extended spring training to get close to game speed, and will likely require an adjustment period at the major league level as well. Even if Morales was signed today, he’s probably three or four weeks away from actually producing something tangible for the club. If it’s in fact determined Hart can regularly spend time in the outfield, Morales should be able to slide nicely into the regular designated hitter slot. The next question to be asked is who takes the hit as the 25-man roster casualty? Jason suggested sending Morrison down to Tacoma and I’d agree with that since letting him get back to basics and gain some confidence could be beneficial and he still does have an option available. As does Stefen Romero who’s been used sparingly thus far and has seen little success at the major league level. The 25-year old would definitely benefit more by playing everyday in Tacoma instead of seeing pinch-hit duty and the occasional start. Another suggestion of Churchill’s was to send down Romero and call up Cole Gillespie, a 29-year old journeyman, who could fill Romero’s role of right-handed hitting outfielder and would have minimal downside. It would appear that both Romero and Morrison would be better served playing everyday in Triple-A as opposed to sitting on the bench and pinch-hitting late in games. Sending down Romero and calling up Gillespie doesn’t solve the 25-man roster issue however, so even if the pair were to trade places, adding Morales would require another roster move. Perhaps Michael Saunders, who’s become the odd man out in the outfield, could be dealt for pitching help. It’s very surprising to hear that Saunders has found himself in the fourth outfielder role after appearing to be a near lock to play everyday in the outfield just a few months ago. He hasn’t hit well in limited action this year, but does represent an upgrade defensively and on the base paths compared to what Romero and Abraham Almonte provide. That’s pure speculation on my part however and there’s no real benefit to selling low on Saunders right now. The club also doesn’t have the necessary depth to deal an outfielder right now anyways. Certainly there’s a scenario in which the club could fit Morales into the everyday lineup and there’s little doubt that he does represent an upgrade over some of what’s there now. His .280 career batting average would fit quite nicely in a lineup in dire need of a boost. Any kind of a boost. Players like Brad Miller and Kyle Seager will see their averages come around eventually and others will see their lines even out as the plate appearances add up, but the club is failing to score runs and that presents a huge problem when there’s only one proven starter currently in the rotation. A lot of stars will have to align for Morales to wear blue and teal again, and by stars I mean Hart’s knees and Boras’ contract demands, but it could still happen. The roster moves will likely sort them out — LoMo or Romero being sent down make the most sense — so it really is just a matter of patience on the Mariners’ part and seeing whether or not things might work out in the favour for once. A few more weeks and we should have an idea what the extent of Hart’s outfield abilities will this year and Morales’ camp might get a little more anxious about getting him playing time sooner rather than later. The 2014 Seattle Mariners can still be a .500 team as-is, but that extra bat would push the scales further in their favour and they could really use that right about now.
After the offense exploded for 18 runs in the first series of the season, the Seattle Mariners’ bats have cooled of late scoring only 25 runs since, including three seperate occasions in which they were shut out. We’re barely halfway through April, and you’ve heard this a million and a half times by now, but it’s still early. The club is now 7-6 after Tuesday night’s loss to the Texas Rangers and remain second in the wide open American League West. There is some change in the air however, as Nick Franklin and James Jones have been called up from Triple-A Tacoma after Blake Beavan and Logan Morrison were placed on the disabled list. On the injury front, Beavan hits the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis in his shoulder and will fly back to Seattle to receive further treatment. The right-hander made his first start of the season on Tuesday but was limited to just four innings of work before being lifted. Apparently mentioned before the game that he was having trouble “getting loose” and struggled with maintaining his velocity last night. Morrison on the other hand, left Monday night’s game before the second inning after feeling tightness in his right hamstring. Prior to Tuesday night’s game, LoMo told manager Lloyd McClendon that he was able to hit but unable to run, so his 15-day DL stint is simply a matter of giving him time to return to 100 percent. There’s no doubt that the big news of the day is Franklin’s call up, and he’ll see game action tonight against the Rangers as the designated hitter. The top prospect is red hot at the moment — he’s put together a slash line of .395/.469/.744 in 11 games at Triple-A — and should provide a spark to the Seattle lineup that could use a bit of a boost right. As PI’s Jason A Churchill alluded to last night, it’s entirely possible Franklin could get regular at bats without taking away from the club’s regulars. Otherwise, as Jason and others have said, it’s a waste of time to have the youngster sitting on the major league bench when he could be playing everyday in the minor leagues. McClendon says Franklin will “move around.” Probably play second tomorrow with Cano at DH. Will play some SS, 3B and OF. — Bob Dutton (@ByBobDutton) April 16, 2014 After a hot start to the year, Brad Miller has cooled of late and has seen his average dip down to a .214 mark. It’s not as though Miller has completely fallen off the map however since he does have hits in four of the last five games. But the fact he has struck out in all but two of the club’s thirteen games this season and has only one walk to his name aren’t overly encouraging. Again, it’s still early, but if Franklin comes out hitting and the team is winning games with him in the lineup, it’s not inconceivable to suggest he could displace the incumbent Miller at shortstop if his struggles continue, but that’s jumping to too many conclusions far too fast. McClendon said Franklin could play some OF. He wasn’t too concerned about the lack of game experience — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) April 16, 2014 Although he didn’t see any time in the outfield in the minors this year, it seems as though the club is willing to throw him and out and see what happens. But so long as Michael Saunders isn’t starting regularly, the club could take advantage of Franklin’s bat for the first two thirds of the game before inserting Saunders to shore up the defensive side of things; similar to what they’ve done so far with Stefen Romero. Many have deemed Franklin’s future as a Mariner to be in the outfield, which is certainly still a possibility, but he still represents a very attractive trade piece. It’s unlikely it’s played a factor in the M’s decision to promote the young infielder, but maybe, and just maybe, the call-up could be a showcase of sorts for the top prospect considering the dire straits the rotation has found itself in. It’s no secret that the pitching staff could use some help now that James Paxton has joined Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker on the disabled list, and Franklin could still potentially net a quality young arm. That’s purely speculation on my part though based on what we were hearing in the spring. The trade rumor front has been quiet as it typically is this time of year, and it doesn’t sound as though there’s been much moving in the young infielder’s market. He definitely won’t immediately garner as much attention as Franklin will, but Jones could be one to watch as it’s expected he’ll be more of a situational player than a regular while he gets his first taste of major league action. McClendon said they called up Jones to use him in several ways – defense, pinch running and pinch hitting – with games in a NL park. — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) April 16, 2014 The outfielder has also had a solid start to the year hitting .310/.370/.405 in 11 games and provides another real option in center field. It’s no secret that Abraham Almonte hasn’t had the best of times so far in the season, remember he’s still just 24, but the Mariners seem married to the idea that he should be the club’s leadoff hitter for the conceivable future and it’s unlikely his status will change just yet. It’ll be an interesting next couple of weeks as the club works with several moving parts in the lineup, but for tonight, King Felix Hernandez goes up for his fourth straight win to start the 2014 campaign against Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers. Happy Felix Day!
Nick Franklin was pulled from Tacoma’s game Tuesday night after eight innings and no injury was reported. This could mean nothing, but this kind of move usually means something. It could mean Franklin was just traded, but more likely the switch-hitter is being summoned to the big leagues. If that is the case, I’d bet Logan Morrison is being placed on the disabled list. Now, that doesn’t mean Franklin comes to Seattle and plays right field every day. But it doesn’t mean he won’t play there, and if he hits, Lloyd McClendon is going to leave him in the lineup. Franklin played right field in the Cactus League once, for an inning or two, and had to borrow a glove more fitting of an outfielder — middle infielder’s gloves are small so they can get the ball out quickly. Outfielders glove are longer with a bigger pocket. Three weeks ago Nick didn’t have an outfielder’s glove. Maybe he does now. But for the shorter-term the Seattle Mariners could, in this scenario, find at-bats for Franklin without interrupting the rhythm of any of the other regulars. Over the next few weeks at least, Robinson Cano could be used at DH once and given a day of rest. Same goes for DH Corey Hart and shortstop Brad Miller. In theory, Franklin could DH, fill in at second and short and not play the outfield at all and it would be worth the call-up. In the long run, he needs a position or it’s a complete waste of talent. Part of the reason why Franklin shouldn’t be thrown into the outfield fire with any regularity without dozens of game experience in the minors is because he could actually struggle there enough to hurt the team. He could also hurt himself; he doesn’t know where the outfield walls are, the shorter barriers in foul territory either, and he’s not well-schooled in anything an outfielder needs to do on tweener fly balls and pop-ups. All of the above are big risks. The more he plays right field without the proper work to get him ready for it, the higher the risk he hurts the team or himself — or even another player. And again, he’d also be high risk to make fundamental mistakes that hurt the team. The M’s aren’t producing offensively with any consistency, however, and Franklin would immediately become one of the best nine bats on the team. Therefore, he should be recalled — if there is a move coming clearing a 25-man roster spot — and he should be used in whatever way he can get into the lineup.
It wasn’t one of the busier divisions over the last several months, but the National League East still saw plenty of transactions. Each of the teams, with the exception of the Miami Marlins, acquired a solid rotation arm via free agency or trade. In an almost surprising move, the Marlins hung on to their core roster players and made some additions to help team in 2014 and beyond. Let’s take a look at what each team gained and lost over the winter in the NL’s Eastern Division. Atlanta Braves | 2013: 96-66 After three consecutive second place finishes in the NL East, the Braves finally nabbed the NL Crown in 2013, although they were eliminated in the Division Series. While their offence placed around the league average mark in most categories, it was their pitching staff that lead the way with a league best 3.18 ERA, 3.18 and a league lowest 548 runs allowed. Who’s In Gavin Floyd, SP — 0.2 fWAR | Signed one-year, $4 million dealRyan Doumit, C — 0.1 fWAR | Acquired via trade with the Minnesota Twins for LHP Sean GilmartinErvin Santana, SP — 3.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $14.1 million deal Who’s Out Brian McCann, C — 2.7 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with New York YankeesEric O’Flaherty, RP — -0.1 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Oakland AthleticsTim Hudson, SP — 1.7 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with San Francisco GiantsPaul Maholm, SP — 0.7 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Los Angeles DodgersScott Downs, RP — 0.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Chicago White SoxLuis Ayala, RP — 0.1 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Washington NationalsElliot Johnson, 2B — 0.0 fWAR | Signed minor-league deal with Cleveland IndiansReed Johnson, OF — 0.2 fWAR | Signed minor-league deal with Miami Marlins 2014 While the Braves are definitely going to miss veterans like McCann and Hudson this year, there’s plenty of young talent in the pipeline to fill the holes. Evan Gattis, 27, projects to be the everyday catcher in 2014 after getting his first taste of big league action in 2013 and filling out the regular role when McCann was on the disabled list. A healthy Floyd should be able to fill some of the void left by the departed Hudson, especially if he’s able to regain the 4.0 WAR form he had as a member of the Chicago White Sox just a few years ago. Freddy Garcia returns on a minor league deal and if he’s effective in Spring Training he could also find himself filling one of the open rotation spots. The biggest news out of Braves’ camp recently was the signing of Santana to a one-year deal after righty Kris Medlen went down in a game and will likely require Tommy John surgery. The Braves owe a lot of their 2013 success to their young core which will be together for a long time after Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran, and Craig Kimbrel to long term deals between four and eight years in length. Jason Heyward was also signed to a two-year pact which will cover his final years of arbitration eligibility and it’s likely the club will do their best to keep the young superstar reaching free agency after the 2016. The five players, all of whom are have yet to reach their 26th birthdays, will receive a combine guarantee of $280 million over the course of their respective deals and figure to be vital to the success of the Atlanta Braves in 2014 and beyond. Washington Nationals | 2013: 86-76 The Nationals couldn’t quite recapture the success that won them the NL East in 2012 and finished second in the division to the Braves. Like Atlanta, Washington featured a fairly average offence this past season and put up a 3.59 team ERA that was good for eighth in the MLB. With plenty of youth in the fold, the Nationals didn’t have a need for any drastic changes heading into 2014 Who’s In Jerry Blevins, RP — 0.3 fWAR | Acquired via trade with Oakland Athletics for OF Billy BurnsDoug Fister, SP — 4.6 fWAR | Acquired via trade with Detroit Tigers for LHP Ian Krol, 2B/OF Steve Lombardozzi, and LHP Robbie RayNate McLouth, OF — 2.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $10.75 million dealJose Lobaton, C — 1.4 fWAR | Acquired with LHP Felipe Rivero and OF Drew Vettleson via trade with Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Nate KarnsLuis Ayala, RP — 0.1 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1 million dealJamey Carroll, 2B/3B — -0.9 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract Who’s Out Dan Haren, SP — 1.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Los Angeles DodgersChad Tracy, 1B/3B — -0.6 fWARIan Krol, RP — -0.3 fWARSteve Lombardozzi, 2B/OF — -0.7 fWAR 2014 The Nationals’ offseason was highlighted by their acquisition of Fister, a top-10 pitcher in the league last year, for a couple of replaceable pieces in Krol and Lombardozzi and a semi-interesting prospect in Robbie Ray. While it remains to be seen exactly how much of a heist this deal actually was for Washington, adding Fister to a rotation featuring Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann that will once again be a strong point for the club could be huge in the long run.The acquisition of Fister also helps make up for the departure of Haren, who signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers. The addition of Blevins to an already strong bullpen will only solidify the Nationals’ pitching staff further and Ayala, brought in on a minor league deal, will serve as additional veteran depth as well. Washington’s lineup will remain essentially the same as it was in 2013 with the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, and Ian Desmond among their core group of hitters. Look for Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos to increase their contributions in the upcoming season and play key roles at second base and catcher respectively. It looks as though the Nationals are pretty well set for 2014 after a slightly disappointing 2013 campaign, and as the old saying goes “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. There’s been some talk of a potential extension for Desmond already and you can probably expect to hear about a potential extension talks for Harper as well this year. New York Mets | 2013: 74-88 It’s now been seven years since the Mets last saw playoff action, but perhaps the drought could be near an end as some of their explosive young pitchers start making an impact at the major league level. New York hit .237 as a team last year and their 3.82 runs per game was well below league average. The Mets’ strongest point in 2013 was their rotation which combined for a 3.68 ERA, but with Matt Harvey out for the season, they’ll have their work cut out for themselves to keep up with the rest of the division. Who’s In Curtis Granderson, OF — 1.4 fWAR | Signed four-year, $60 million dealBartolo Colon, SP — 3,9 fWAR | Signed two-year, $20 million dealJose Valverde, RP — -0.5 fWAR | Signed minor-league, $1 million dealChris Young, OF — 0.5 fWAR | Signed one-year, $7.25 million dealJohn Lannan, SP/RP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed minor-league, $1.5 million deal Who’s Out Frank Francisco, RP — 0.1 fWARAaron Harang, SP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed minor-league deal with Cleveland IndiansLaTroy Hawkins, RP — 0.8 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Colorado RockiesJohan Santana, SP — 1.4 fWAR (2012) | Signed minor-league deal with Baltimore OriolesDavid Aardsma, RP — -0.7 fWAR | Signed minor-league deal with Cleveland IndiansScott Atchison, RP — -0.1 fWAR | Signed minor-league deal with Cleveland Indians 2014 Probably the most disappointing news of the Mets’ offseason came in late October when Harvey underwent Tommy John and it was announced he was expected to miss the entire 2014 season after his breakout campaign in 2013. Colon is a nice addition to the rotation however, and at a cost of $20 million for the next two years, he could be a very valuable addition. But, he will be 41 in May and you have to wonder whether or not he will be able to replicate his 2.65 ERA and a 3.23 FIP from 2013, or if he’ll regress back to the 4.00 ERA and 3.83 FIP he posted in 2011. Either way, and PED related facts aside, Colon has been effective whenever he’s been healthy. The Mets did very little to shore up a bullpen that produced a league worst 6.96 K/9 last year. Granderson is the other big ticket acquisition coming to New York on a four-year pact that’ll pay him $60 million. He missed significant time in 2013 recovering from a broken forearm and a pinkie injury, but he’s been a solid 3.0+ fWAR player on average over the course of his career otherwise. Like Colon, you have to wonder when age will begin to factor into Granderson’s production as he’s already seen his defensive numbers decline from his Tigers’ days. Team captain David Wright will once again lead the charge for the Mets who have some great young talent in Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud, Daniel Murphy, Noah Syndergaard, and Dominic Smith who will contribute in the next couple seasons. Philadelphia Phillies | 2013: 73-89 It appears as though the Phillies’ days of NL East dominance are over for now as the club missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Calling 2013 ugly could be considered an understatement as the team posted well below average offensive numbers and their combined team 4.34 ERA was the fourth worst in all of baseball. The core that helped lead the franchise to five straight division titles from 2007-2011, including a World Series victory in 2008, is aging and injured and there doesn’t appear to be much help on the way in the form of prospects. Who’s In Marlon Byrd, OF — 4.1 fWAR | Signed two-year, $16 million dealAJ Burnett, SP — 4.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $16 million dealBobby Abreu, OF — 0.0 fWAR (2012) | Signed minor-league, $800 thousand dealBrad Lincoln, RP — -0.3 fWAR | Acquired via trade with Toronto Blue Jays for C Erik KratzWil Nieves, C — -0.1 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1.125 million dealRoberto Hernandez, SP — 0.2 fWAR | Signed one-year, $4.5 million deal Who’s Out Roy Halladay, SP — -0.8 fWAR | RetiredErik Kratz, C — 0.7 fWARJohn Lannan, SP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed minor-league deal with New York Mets 2014 After being arguably the most dominant pitcher of the last decade, Roy Halladay hung up his spikes in December after dealing with back injuries for all of 2013 and deciding he wanted to spend more time with his family. The Phillies brought in Burnett, Halladay’s former Blue Jay teammate, and the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona, to help shore up a rotation that struggled mightily. Burnett, 37, had somewhat of a renaissance since he was traded to the Pirates prior to the 2012 season and posted a 3.30 ERA, a 2.80 FIP, and a 2.92 xFIP in 2013; all of which were career bests or equal to. Byrd is coming off his best season since 2010, but will turn 37 later this year and has seen a consistent decline in his defence over the last several seasons. Longtime Phillies Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz were re-signed at different points in 2013 and will remain alongside Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard in the lineup; all of whom will play at age 34 or older in 2014. Closer Jonathan Papelbon will once again anchor the bullpen which was probably the Phillies’ biggest strength in 2013. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are still young enough to pitch at the top of their games, but the rotation could be a single injury from disaster, especially if Burnett sees much regression. Philadelphia is in the tough spot of having too many high priced, depreciating assets (with little trade value) to not compete, but not enough young talent close enough to the majors to start a rebuild. Unless guys like Howard and Rollins can find a way to reset the clock back to 2008, and while your at it reset the clock to 2004 because yes that really is Bobby Abreu at camp right now, the Phillies are unlikely to make much noise this year. Miami Marlins | 2013: 62-100 The Marlins haven’t tasted playoff baseball since they won the World Series in 2003, and despite finishing above .500 just four times since, they lost 100 games for the first time since 1998. Their team batting line of .231/.293/.335 was a league worst in all categories, and their 3.17 runs per game was the lowest in baseball by over half a run. At least they have Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton. Who’s In Carter Capps, RP — -0.3 fWAR | Acquired via trade with Seattle Mariners for 1B/OF Logan MorrisonJeff Baker, 1B/2B — 0.4 fWAR | Signed two-year, $3.7 million dealReed Johnson, OF — 0.2 fWAR | Signed minor-league contractCasey McGehee, 1B/2B/3B — -0.1 fWAR (2012) | Signed one-year, $1.1 million dealGarrett Jones, 1B/OF — -0.2 fWAR | Signed two-year, $7.75 million dealJarrod Saltalamacchia, C/1B — 3.6 fWAR | Signed three-year, $21 million dealRafael Furcal, SS — 0.8 fWAR (2012) | Signed one-year, $3 million deal Who’s Out Logan Morrison, 1B/OF — -0.6 fWARChad Qualls, RP — 0.5 fWAR| Signed free-agent deal with Houston AstrosJuan Pierre, OF — -0.4 fWARRyan Webb, RP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Baltimore OriolesAustin Kearns, OF — 0.0 fWARPlacido Polanco, 3B — -0.2 fWARChris Coghlan, OF — -0.5 fWAR | Signed minor-league deal with Chicago Cubs 2014 Well, there was no fire sale in Miami this winter, and one can actually see a solid core of youth slowly starting to make an impact at the major league level. Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and Jacob Turner all carry varying levels of upside in the rotation behind Fernandez, who was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2013. Christian Yelich and Adeiny Hechavarria will also look to solidify themselves as everyday players at left field and shortstop respectively. It looks like the Marlins will use Furcal as their second baseman to start the year at least, but he fits the mould of a veteran guy contenders could seek to acquire at the trade deadline if he’s healthy. The 36-year old missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last March to repair a torn ligament. Saltalamacchia was Miami’s biggest acquisition this winter, signing a three-year deal, and will fall somewhere behind Stanton in the batting order. After hitting .289/.371/.512 with 27 home runs in Japan’s Pacific League in 2013, MacGehee returns to the MLB on a one-year deal and figures to be the most interesting the players brought in by the Marlins this winter. Miami didn’t do a whole lot this offseason, and that was to be expected as they continue to rebuild and see top prospects like Jake Marisnick start to reach the majors and contribute. Look for the trade rumors surrounding Stanton to heat up once again as he inches closer to free agency. The Marlins say they want to build around the slugger, but we should know by this time next year whether or not he will be spending the next several years of his career in South Beach. At the very least, the 2014 Marlins will actually take the form of a mostly legitimate MLB team. *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.
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.
It’s that time of the year again when the Hot Stove cools to barely a broil, despite the fact plenty of top free agents still remain unsigned. That should change soon however, as a Masahiro Tanaka decision is expected by Tuesday or Wednesday. It doesn’t appear that the Seattle Mariners are finalists for the Japanese ace at the moment after being labelled as favourites earlier this month. Of course a lot can change over the next 48 hours, but considering the Mariners didn’t meet up with Tanaka and his representatives when they were in Los Angeles recently, they can be considered a long shot. In front office news, talk has cooled on Tony La Russa possibly taking over for Chuck Armstrong as president of the club. The former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals doesn’t think he’ll even get an interview for the job. It appears that the Mariners prefer utilizing an internal option for the role, and Geoff Baker suggests Bob Aylward and Kevin Mather as the most likely candidates. Michael Saunders avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract worth $2.3 million plus incentives in his first year of eligibility. I recently took a look at the 27-year old’s career to date and how he projects in 2014. While center field has hurt Saunders’ defensive value and his bat cooled after a 20 home run 2012 season, he could still be an above average contributor in a corner outfield spot. As it stands, the Canadian could be in line to start the year in center field, but that will depend on Franklin Gutierrez‘s health, and whether or not Dustin Ackley has improved over the offseason. The Mariners’ other two arbitration-eligible players, Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak, have filed their numbers and could see a hearing sometime in February if they can’t come to terms. Morrison is seeking $2.5 million and the Mariners countered at $1.1 million; Smoak is looking for $3.25 million and Seattle countered at $2.025 million. The Mariners did make a splash in free agency this week when they agreed to terms with veteran catcher John Buck. Not only does he represent an upgrade over the other backup catching options on the roster, he’s been great defensively (pitch framing talk aside) throughout his career, and has shown an ability to hit for power. Should Mike Zunino struggle this year, Buck is a viable option to play more than just once or twice a week. The deal is for one year and a million bucks, no reported incentives or options, so there’s very few scenarios where this deal could backfire on Seattle. Outfielder Carlos Peguero was designated for assignment to make room for Buck on the 40-man roster. Elsewhere in free agency, PI’s Chris Moran took a look at some quality buy-low options for the Mariners. He notes Chris Capuano as an interesting veteran to add to the bottom half of the rotation after the 35-year old spent the past two season with the Los Angeles Dodgers where he started 55 games. With Joe Saunders unlikely to return, it would do the M’s some good to add another innings eater to the rotation given the uncertainty surrounding some of the younger pitchers. Chris also notes Grant Balfour and Chad Gaudin as some potential relief options. I also took a look at several available free agent relief options. Sticking with the bullpen, Jason Churchill recently had a conversation with reliever Danny Farquhar in which the righty revealed he’s been looking to add a change-up and an improved two-seam fastball to his repertoire. As it stands, the 26-year old is the most likely in-house option to start 2014 in the closers role. He saved 16 games after taking over the role from Tom Wilhelmsen, who also remains in the mix moving froward. The addition of a proven closer such as Balfour could change that though. In another piece, Jason argues that only Taijuan Walker and Zunino should be untouchable in trade talks. He gets the feeling that the Mariners might be valuing James Paxton the same way they are Walker given the lack on inactivity on the trade front. Given the Mariners’ team looks fairly similar heading into 2014 aside from swapping Kendrys Morales for Robinson Cano in the batting order, there’s no reason for Seattle to sit on their prospect stash and wait. Especially since the $24 million annual instalments set to enter Cano’s bank account begin in a little over two month’s time. Nick Franklin has been a topic of trade debate ever since Cano’s signature was printed on his massive contract. Considering Franklin plays a premium position and will be very cost effective for the next several seasons, Chris suggests he could be the main piece in a deal for a young starter like Jordan Zimmermann or an affordable outfielder like Jay Bruce. There hasn’t been much reported for trade talks surrounding Franklin, but that’s partially because an obvious match such as the Toronto Blue Jays simply don’t have the right pieces to offer in return. Letting Franklin rake in Triple-A to start the year wouldn’t be the worst possible scenario. Perhaps a contending team’s starting baseman goes down early in the season and would be willing to pay more to acquire a player like Franklin. PI’s Rob Balboni gives us an update on the MLB Rule IV Draft order for the upcoming year. The Mariners will pick sixth in the first round, and should Morales sign with another team before the draft, will sacrifice their Competitive Balance Round A pick for Signing Cano who had decline a qualifying offer from the New York Yankees. If Morales doesn’t sign before the draft, the Mariners will forfeit their second-round draft pick as compensation.
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
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.