Under GM Jack Zduriencik and scouting director Tom McNamara the Seattle Mariners have drafted well. Among the selections that have made some sort of contributions in the majors include starting third baseman Kyle Seager, regular left fielder Dustin Ackley, starting shortstop Brad Miller (No. 62, 2011) starting catcher Mike Zunino (No. 3, 2012), two frontline starting pitchers in James Paxton (Rd. 4, 2010) and Taijuan Walker (Comp A, No. 43, 2010), with Stefen Romero (Rd. 12, 2010) and Dom Leone (Rd. 16, 2012) also seeing big-league time. Others include Stephen Pryor (Rd. 5, 2010), Carter Capps (Rd. 3, 2011) and Nick Franklin, No. 27, 2009). You can certainly argue that Ackley hasn’t worked out — because he hasn’t — and that the injury to 2011 No. 2 overall pick Danny Hultzen mean those selections weren’t the wisest. Ackley, however, was the consensus No. 2 player in that draft. Overall, the M’s have put together a solid group of draft classes since Zduriencik and McNamara came aboard prior to the 2009 season. The Seager pick in Round 3 in 2009, among their better picks, is a fun story. As the club’s pick approached at No. 82 overall, the second pick in the round, McNamara asked his scouts in the draft room “where do we have Seager?!” One of the crosscheckers pointed and replied, “right here,” pointing to their board and saying “fifth round.” McNamara took a second to think and then said with confidence, “we’re taking him right here.” Now, picture the draft room at Safeco Field, much like the draft rooms shown on TV for the NFL Draft. After a pick, the group shakes hands, smiles widely, some high-five, even in the middle or later rounds. After McNamara announced Seager was the pick, he went looking for those celebratory high-fives. There weren’t any. He’d gone off the board and as a group they had Seager a fifth-round talent. He laughs about it now, since Seager has been a terrific value and reached the majors inside of two years since signing. That pick has certainly worked out well, and there are several similar choices, such as getting Walker at No. 43 in 2010, Romero in Round 12 and Paxton in Round 4 that same year. All are very good picks that appear to be huge values, especially considering where they were taken. What has not happened under this regime, however, is the drafting of a true star player. I’m not talking about a superstar, necessarily. How about a player that makes some All-Star teams and is above-average early in his career? They missed out on the chance to draft right-hander Stephen Strasburg and couldn’t reach for Mike Trout in ’09, did not have a pick until 43 in 2010, and went for the quicker return in 2011 with Hultzen — which obviously hasn’t worked out so well. Even if it had, and Hultzen was doing his thing, he’s not an ace and really never had the ace-type potential clubs generally prefer that high in a solid-to-good draft. Zunino, in terms of value, could be a star. In terms of raw production, however, the Mariners don’t have that guy anywhere in their organization, and they need to get that guy at No. 6 this June. Getting a future star doesn’t mean they have to take a high school position player. It doesn’t mean they have to take a hitter at all. If they select a pitcher, the end-result needs to be a No. 1 starter. A star. Whether it’s East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman, Vanderbilt ace Tyler Beede or a prep arm such as Tyler Kolek or Brady Aiken, who are unlikely to get out of the top 3-4 picks, the M’s need to nail that pick. The 2014 draft class is solid, led by the prep pitching class followed by the college arms. Few college hitters will garner top-10 consideration sans a pre-draft deal that saves the club pool money. San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer, North Carolina State shortstop Trea Turner and Oregon State outfielder Michael Comforto are the top college position players in the class. The top high school hitter is Rancho Bernardo High School (Calif.) C/OF Alex Jackson, a right-handed hitter with power, strength and enough athleticism to handle right field if he has to forget about catching. Olympia High School (Fla.) shortstop Nick Gordon is another potential consideration. Whoever the pick is June 5, his timetable to the majors, risk, probability and even bonus expense — provided it’s within reason and doesn’t blow up the club’s entire draft — absolutely cannot be valued so much more than the player’s upside that the ‘safer’ pick is ultimately announced. The Mariners need a star-quality player out of their fourth top-10 pick in six drafts. The time to get the player that can help sooner was three years ago. I’m not suggesting anyone has done a poor job here — I have outlined above that they specifically have done well, but the players just haven’t turned out to be good enough, particularly when selecting this high. That isn’t to say they haven’t drafted the right players, at least for the most part. Player development in Seattle hasn’t exactly drawn rave reviews as I ask around about how they do things, and that staff has the job of teaching prospects how to play in the big leagues. It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that Ackley, among others, wasn’t handled properly by the minor league staffs. I’m not accusing anyone of anything of that nature. I’m merely suggesting it’s plausible. Either way, the end result has not been good enough. That has to stop if this organization is going anywhere under this ownership and this front office. Other organizations are getting stars; athletic shortstops (Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor) and outfielders (Byron Buxton, George Springer) who get on base, show some pop and profile as high-impact talents. Corner defenders who profile as legitimate middle-of-the-order hitters (Baez, Kris Bryant), or are already (Trout, Bryce Harper). It’s time for the M’s to join that club. Thus far, Walker has been McNamara’s only upside play early in the draft. They’re at the mercy of the top five picks in the draft, but there are more than five five future All-Star talents in this class. College or high school, hitter or pitcher. It doesn’t matter one single bit. Find a future all-star.Go!

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.Go!

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!Go!

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.Go!

It’s a small sample size — most of the affiliates have played six or fewer games on the schedule — but a positive start is better than a negative one and several noteworthy prospects in the Seattle Mariners farm system have done just that — start fast. That group is led by the draft class of 2013, including the club’s first three picks last June, and the previous class highlighted by rounds 3-6. Dom Leone, that class’ 16th round picks, joined No. 3 overall selection Mike Zunino in the big leagues late last week. It’s early, but here are some scouting notes that include some looks from scouts left over from spring training. Clinton LumberKings — Class-A | Midwest LeagueTyler O’Neill is off to a promising start to full-season ball after being selected in Round 3 a year ago and being considered a bit raw for a prep draftee. He won’t turn 19 until late June but creates great torque and top-end bat speed with strong hands, wrists and forearms. His lower half is sturdy and despite the explosion that occurs at contact, O’Neill his head still and on a swivel as he rotates his hips and shoulders through the ball. He’s just 7-for-27 thus far (.259/.333/.519), but has three extra-base hits, including two long balls. Perhaps the best sign is that he’s not chasing pitches out of the zone. “I haven’t seen that yet,” one scout told me via text Thursday. “He’s been unfazed by the assignment (to Class-A from rookie league) and he looks comfortable in the outfield even though he needs to keep working on the fundamental there.” Austin Wilson may not be long for Clinton if he continues what he’s started this season — .296/.387/.481 — after finishing strong at Short-season Everett last summer. He’s putting on impressive BP sessions, one club’s pro scouting director said this week, and the swing continues to progress with consistency. Wilson could find himself in High Desert by mid-June and that may not be the end of his trek in 2014. Clinton’s catchers have been hot early on, but it’s Marcus Littlewood‘s defense that is the real topic. He’s 9-for-18 with just one strikeout — contact has been an issue for the former second-round pick — but defensively he’s making slow, steady strides after transitioning from shortstop two years ago. His catching mate, Christian Carmichael, is better fundamentally than is Littlewood, but that only helps him remain steady in his work. Receiving is perhaps Littlewood’s biggest obstacle, but he has the hand strength to do the job and he’s already shown the ability to shift laterally. His pop times have shaved down under two seconds but there’s work to do getting off quick throws without sacrificing accuracy. Carmichael, too, has hit early on and there’s a couple of pro scouts who believe he could be backup in the big leagues with the right work ethic. He was suspended last year for violating baseball’s JDA, so there are questions about that very thing — work ethic — Carmichael will have to answer. Right-hander Edwin Diaz is the LumberKings best arm and he’s picking up where he left off last season in rookie ball. Diaz, who just turned 20 last month, continues to get stronger — he’s up to about 173 pounds after weighing in at 155 before signing two summers ago. Diaz has made two starts and punched out 13 of 39 batters faced and allowed just six hits. “Everything is explosive,” the pro scouting director said of Diaz. “He’s got that Pedro Martinez build and even some of the athletic actions. I had him 90-92 and up to 95. There’s ride to his off (glove) side and he knows how to use his slider.” That slider is typically 78-82 mph and his changeup, while behind his other two pitches, is a full grade better than when the M’s popped him in Round 3 in 2012 Draft. Keep An Eye On: Clinton has two other arms to keep an eye on as the season progresses. Emilio Pagan, who is pitching in long relief in preparation for a starting role later on, has been nails, led by a 92 mph fastball and two average off-speed pitches that play up out of the bullpen. Carlos Misell, who was signed as a minor league free agent and has a JDA suspension in his past, has terrific arm speed and shows the potential for a plus change and slurve. He’s likely a reliever but is starting for Clinton. High Desert Mavericks — Advanced-A | California League It’s a haven for home runs, long games and crazily poor field conditions that make it even more difficult to prevent runs, but the Mariners assigned left-hander Tyler Pike to start the season there. Pike, in two outings, has held his own, lasting five innings twice and allowing just two earned runs despite six bases on balls. Pike lacks premium, bat-missing stuff so he’ll have to throw more strikes and command his fastball better if he’s to reach his ultimate potential as a No. 3 or 4 starter. Gabriel Guerrero already is teasing scouts with his plus raw power, bat speed and easy swing, but despite his ability to square up fastballs one has to wonder if he’ll learn to be a little bit more selective. He’s failed to draw a walk this season in 32 plate appearances after just 21 a year ago. He does handle right field just fine and offers a plus arm and the bloodlines — in case you didn’t know, gabby is Vladimir Guerrero’s nephew — but watch his walk and strikeout rates. He doesn’t have to walk a lot, but if he’s striking out 25 percent of his plate appearances, he’ll need to counter that some with a few walks to go with his power. One scout wondered aloud if Guerrero was the second coming of Jeff Francoeur at the plate. That wouldn’t be fun, and the good news is Guerrero is just 20 and has time to polish his game. Third baseman Patrick Kivlehan, a middling prospect for me, is hitting again in the Cal League, but I do believe it’s somewhat telling that he was reassigned to High Desert after spending last year with the Mavs. This may be because the club doesn’t expect D.J. Peterson, also a third basemen, to remain in Adelanto very long. If Kivlehan started in Jackson and Peterson was promoted in June, Kivlehan would have to be demoted. This way, the club avoids that scenario. Both players are hitting early, though Peterson has made some fundamental errors in the field fueling the fire that he’ll have to move to first base. Ignore the errors; Peterson’s shortcomings in the field at the hot corner are about range, not really hands and arm, though both grade out as merely average for the position. The Mariners believe Peterson is the kind of worker that can turn him into a passable third baseman — very much the way Josh Donaldson did after going from third base in college to catcher back to third base. He’ll likely play primarily third base until the club is convinced he can’t do it, then he’ll move across the diamond and become the club’s long-term first baseman. “He’s a good bat,” an NL East scouting coordinator told Prospect Insider Thursday. “He’ll hit .280 with walks, some strikeouts and 25-30 home runs.” Keep An Eye On: Jordy Lara, who will be 22 in May, has a sweet right-handed swing and may be putting it together in High Desert. He’s 12-for-30 with six extra-base hits — two home runs — in his six starts. Lara is athletic for a first baseman and he can throw. He began his pro career as a third baseman. Jackson Generals — Double-A | Southern LeagueJabari Blash returns to Jackson where he was perhaps the most improved player int he system a year ago. He’s a tad old for the league at 24, but he’s not likely to be there long if he performs. He’s begun the season well, showing some pop to go with his natural patience. Sometimes he’s too patient, leading to high strikeout totals — seven so far this season — but he’s closing that gap and will be tested by Triple-A pitchers once he arrives this summer. Right-hander Victor Sanchez skipped High Desert — good for him — but the reason he did so was command. The Mariners believed his three-pitch mix could survive the Southern League because he can throw them for strikes and with consistency. Sanchez lacks the big upside of most 21-year-old arms in Double-A; he’s listed at 6-foot and 255 pounds, suggesting there’s little to zero projection left physically. His low-90s fastball isn’t likely to improve in velocity, but his curveball teases plus and his changeup is already average or better at times, lacking only consistency. “He’s brought that mix here, but the fastball was soft for me,” said one scout who witnessed Sanchez’s firsts tart with Jackson. “He was mostly upper 80s. I’ve seen it better, though. It’s April, he may not be loose.” Sanchez, indeed, showed similar velocities early last season before loosening up some and hitting 90-92 more often. Keep An Eye On: Right-hander Stephen Kohlscheen can pitch and though he’s without a big out pitch or huge velocity — sound a little like Jim Johnson to you? — he gets outs and misses enough bats. Kohlscheen, a 45th-round pick in 2010, throws downhill and pounds the strike zone with a 91-93 mph sinking fastball. Shortstop Ketel Marte makes a lot of contact and has some bat speed that helps him reach the gaps and he’s at least a 60-grade runner. There’s enough arm to stick at short and he’s smooth ranging to both sides. He’s hitting early in Jackson and doing so from each side of the plate, though he’s much stronger from the left side. Marte is just 20 and there’s some physical projection left in his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame. For those wondering, it’s pronounced Ket-tle, just like the kitchen appliance. Maybe that’ll help you remember his name. Tacoma Rainiers — Triple-A | Pacific Coast LeagueProspect Insider’s Brendan Gawlowski went down to see Tacoma and Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate Albuquerque and wrote up what he saw right here. Nick Franklin is doing his thing — three homers in 23 at-bats — and right-hander Brandon Maurer is showing off the 70 slider again, but neither are technically prospects, and the same goes for Jesus Montero, who has looked fine at the plate and terrible in the field at first. James Jones is a prospect and he’s hit some line drives and handled himself well at the plate overall in the early going. I’m not convinced he’s a centerfielder, but he can play right and has a big arm. If he can hit for enough average there’s a place for him on the 25-man roster. Chris Taylor is a legitimate major-league shortstop glove and we’ll see what he can do with that swing against Triple-A pitching. It’s flat and he’s often late to good velocity because for a player without much power he loads deep, and worst of all most of that load moving his hands horizontally. He’s got some of Brad Miller’s self-scouting skills, though, and has already made some changes that have allowed him to get this far after some clubs didn’t believe he could hit beyond Class-A ball, which explains why he lasted to Round 5 two years back. He has maintained a patient and disciplined approach at the plate, but hasn’t had any luck on balls in play just yet — his swing tends to generate ground balls and fewer line drives than is generally acceptable. Keep An Eye On: Carson Smith is a no-brainer here. He’s struggling with command in his first few outings, but he’ll get it going and before you can say ‘Tom Wilhelmsen’ Smith will be sitting 92-95 mph with a plus low-80s slider thrown from a low three-quarters arm slot. First baseman — and former catcher — Ji-Man Choi is worth watching because he has a chance to hit for average but the power isn’t going to play regularly at first. Logan Bawcom is a solid middle innings relief prospect and should see the majors at some point this season. Xavier Avery once was a top-10 prospect for the Baltimore Orioles and could be a useful major leaguer at some point. He and Abe Almonte are redundant, however, and Almonte is clearly ahead of Avery on the depth chart, so Avery may have to wait awhile to return to the big leagues. He is swinging the bat well for Tacoma right now, though it’s all singles. Photo: D.J. Peterson by Shari SummerfieldGo!

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

Seattle Mariners infielder Nick Franklin has been linked to trade rumors since the club signed second baseman Robinson Cano earlier this offseason. The new York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays have been mentioned in some reports nationally, and I have noted that the Toronto Blue Jays also may make a lot of sense. The problem has been the lack of an obvious return package that suggests Jack Zduriencik should pull the trigger. I discussed some of those pieces here. Thursday, CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reported that the Baltimore Orioles are another team that has expressed some interest in Franklin. Right now, it appears the Orioles are planning to use Jonathan Schoop at second base. He’s not all that much different than is Franklin in terms of what he projects to bring to the table, including some power from an up-the-middle position. Moving forward, however, it easy to see why Baltimore would like the idea of Franklin. Shortstop J.J. Hardy is set to hit free agency after the 2014 season, and the buzz on the contract extension progress is, well, nonexistent, suggesting perhaps the two sides have hit a snag. If Hardy is traded as a result, or more likely leaves via free agency next offseason, the Orioles would almost certainly shift Manny Machado back to his natural position of shortstop. Schoop could then move to third, where he profiles better defensively, opening up second base for a player such as Franklin. Again, however, it’s difficult to find an ideal match. It’s been my argument that despite the M’s not having a spot for Franklin on their 25-man roster, trading him for a piece that doesn’t improve the big-league team immediately doesn’t make much sense, unless the talent offered in returned is an elite one that could help later in 2014 or from the get-go in a year. I have compiled a list of some Baltimore players that may be among those discussed between Zduriencik and O’s GM Dan Duquette. For the record, there do not appear to be any one-for-one deals that make sense for both teams, which may mean we’re looking at a three-to-five player deal if something is to get done. Zach Britton, LHP Britton had shoulder problems in 2011, but is reportedly back up to the low-90s with his fastball and has touched 95. There are questions as to whether or not he can hold up as a starter, but when he’s right he has the stuff to do it. Currently, Baltimore appears set to use him in relief. Nolan Reimold, OF Reimold, too, has had some injury issues and has been passed on the depth chart by Henry Urrutia. Reimold has power and profiles as an average corner defender, and he’s out of options, so he either has to make the Orioles 25-man roster or be traded, unless he’s hurt again and starts out on the disabled list. Brian Matusz, LHP Matusz, a starter by trade, has been used mostly in relief since struggling mightily in the big leagues initially. He’s been effective out of the bullpen, but many believe he still has starter stuff. Among the knocks on Matusz is the lack of a weapon versus right-handed batters. His changeup is well below average at present — there was a time it was significantly better — and he has had trouble working effectively inside to righties. Mike Wright, RHP Wright is a big, tall right-hander — 6-foot-6 and about 220 pounds — and uses a sinker in the low-90s and up to 95 mph. He repeats his delivery well and uses a cutter and changeup to create weak contact, but his curveball needs a lot of work and has a result he doesn’t project to miss enough bats to profile as a frontline arm. Wright is most likely a No. 4 starter in the Mike Pelfrey mold, but he could be a horse for years. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP The Orioles are simply not going to trade Dylan Bundy nor Kevin Gausman for Franklin, but perhaps in the right mix of a multi-player deal, Rodriguez could fit. He’s not big-league ready, but might be by season’s end and should at least be a factor in 2015. He’s up to 95 with the fastball and offers an average slider and changeup that each show great momentum heading into 2014, suggesting the left-hander may have three above-average pitches by the time he arrives in the majors. Tim Berry, LHP Berry is an athletic left-hander with projection left, but he’s already sitting 90-93 with an above-average curveball. His changeup is probably at least a year away, and his ETA for the big leagues is probably two full years out, but he’s an interesting secondary piece in a package deal.Go!

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.Go!

It’s been a busy past couple weeks for the Seattle Mariners now that Spring Training is well underway. The best news out of camp today is that Taijuan Walker threw for the first time since being shutdown for seven days due to shoulder inflammation. The 21-year old said he felt really good but admitted that it was a tough week for him to standby and rest. Walker is still expected to be out until mid-April at the earliest, but it’s still a step in the right direction. Tests did not reveal any structural damage and the Mariners believe that he simply overthrew in his preparation for camp. There were two important signings for Seattle in the past month: the first was Fernando Rodney, who agreed to terms on a two-year deal worth $14 million, and the second was Nelson Cruz, who agreed to a one-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles for $8 million. Rodney gives the young bullpen some much needed late inning experience and gives the Mariners a potentially solid one-two-three punch with Danny Furquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen. Many of us, including myself, weren’t too thrilled with the notion that Cruz would inevitably be a Mariner, but it’ll be Baltimore who will attempt to make lemonade out of lemons this year. Instead of Cruz manning right field this year, the Mariners are planning to fill the position with Corey Hart, so long as his health is able to hold up over the course of the season. It’s still too early in camp to get a real feel for what Hart can be expected to produce as a semi-regular outfielder, but it should be considered a success if Seattle can coax 80 or more games out of him. Thankfully Abraham Almonte has put together a great Spring Training thus far and will see plenty of major league outfield time at this rate, making the outfield picture a little less murky. So long as the soon to be 32-year old Hart hits close to what he used to, it probably won’t matter all that much where he plays. The ‘battle’ between Brad Miller and Nick Franklin for the starting shortstop job is ongoing, but we did learn recently that both the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays have expressed interest in acquiring Franklin. In fact, the Rays had a deal in place for the young infielder, but it fell apart after an injury to Jeremy Hellickson. The assumption being made is that the Mariners would’ve acquired a starting pitcher in the deal since Tampa pulled out due to concerns over their depth after the injury. It remains to be seen whether or not Franklin will find a new home before Opening Day, but there’s still plenty of time for a deal to take place. Steve Simas continued with his Fantasy Prospect Rankings series for 2014 and as a gentle reminder, Steve designed his lists based on fantasy value in the upcoming season; it’s not specifically a top prospects list. Click the following links for each positional ranking: second base, center field, first base, pitchers, corner outfield, and a top 25 list. After re-signing for the 2014 season, Franklin Gutierrez told the Mariners in February that he won’t play this year after the stomach issues that kept him shelved for most of 2013 have returned. It’s a rather unfortunate turn of events for the former Gold Glove winner who appeared to have finally taken a positive turn in his health. Hopefully Gutierrez is able to make a full recovery and return to the major leagues in 2015, but it looks like he still has a long and tough road ahead of him. Prospect Insider has you covered with previews and insight for this year’s collage baseball season. Rob Balboni has previews for the Pac-12, the ACC, the Big-12, and the SEC. And if you’re not sure who to pay attention to, Jason Churchill offers a scouting report on several top draft prospects. Eric Longenhagan also has a scouting report on several notable UVA prospects including Derek Fisher. Rob brings us a list of the 2014 All-American teams and top 25 teams while Steve Drumwright offers a piece on the changes to Skyler Ewing’s appraoch. Jeff Hoffman is a name to keep an eye on as one of the top college pitching prospects according to Eric and others. Rob agrees, and has another set of names to keep an eye on. A must read for anyone who follows amateur ball and wants to understand the 20-80 scale is brought to you courtesy of Chris Hervey who gives a quick and to the point explanation.Go!

Typically Spring Training rekindles some of the hot stove talk that cools off during January and February as teams are now attempting to make sense of the pieces currently on their rosters and how they’re going to fill their remaining holes. It’s been widely known that the Seattle Mariners are interested in moving Nick Franklin in a deal to improve their starting pitching or outfield since he was displaced by a certain quarter billion dollar acquisition. Currently Franklin is batting Brad Miller for the Mariners’ starting shortstop job, although many consider that to just be posturing on Seattle’s part. Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reported that the Mariners are likely to deal one of Franklin and Miller by the time Opening Day rolls around, most likely Franklin, and that the New York Mets could be a potential fit for the young infielder. He would confirm the Mets’ interest in Franklin yesterday and that dialogue between the two clubs has been ongoing since the Winter Meetings according to his source. While the Mets seem content with Daniel Murphy remaining their everyday second baseman again this year, Franklin represents an upgrade over Ruben Tejada who currently projects to be the club’s starting shortstop at the moment. After having decent 2011 and 2012 campaigns with the Mets, Tejada saw his stock fall considerably and played more games at the Triple-A level in 2012 than at the MLB level. It’s also worth noting that he arrived to camp overweight for the second year in a row. New York has been connected with free agent shortstop Stephen Drew throughout the offseason and remain interested despite not being too keen on his price tag according to reports. Although Drew’s asking price has likely fallen from where it was back in November, he’ll likely still require a multi-year deal with an average annual salary in the $10 million range though, so it’s possible the Mets prefer Franklin who won’t even be arbitration eligible until after the 2016 season considering Drew will also cost a compensatory draft pick if he were to sign. Even though New York doesn’t have an outfield surplus or a lot of certainty in their rotation, they do have plenty of young pitching that the Mariners would reportedly be interested in. Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard would be a great return for Franklin, but the Mets would probably need to receive a little more value in a deal if they’re even receptive to moving either pitcher at all. Rubin, among other, consider Rafael Montero as a possible bounty for the Mariners’ shortstop and far more likely to be dealt than the other two pitchers mentioned. Montero, 23, has steadily improved in the three years he’s spent within the Mets’ organization and could be ready to start the year in an MLB rotation. He’d also make an excellent mid-season call up if his club prefers to give him some more seasoning at Triple-A to start the year. Lookout Landing suggests  Juan Lagares, an outfielder they describe as the center field equivalent of Brendan Ryan, as another option for the Mariners to consider. Lagares would fill Seattle’s dire need for a true centerfielder and was worth 2.9 fWAR in 2013 despite a rather pedestrian .242/.281/.352 line with four home runs and six stolen bases; he really is that good defensively. A glove first outfielder may seem like a light return, but Lagares is just 24-years old and likely has some more room for his offensive game to grow. Perhaps it’d be best to expand the deal beyond a simple one-for-one swap if Seattle wants to maximize the return on a potential Franklin trade to the Mets, and vice versa. Earlier today, Rubin tweeted that a potential deal sending Franklin to the Tampa Bay Rays was an injury away from occurring. Heard while ago that #Rays and #Mariners were ready to pull trigger on Nick Franklin trade and Jeremy Hellickson’s injury scuttled it. #mets — Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinMedia) February 25, 2014 People misunderstanding: Never said Jeremy Hellickson was going to the Mariners before becoming injured. — Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinMedia) February 25, 2014 The Rays are a curious fit for Franklin on paper considering they have Yunel Escober and Ben Zobrist slotted in at shortstop and second base respectively, although they’ve constructed their roster with plenty of versatile players and could easily accommodate him. Rubin points out that Hellickson wasn’t necessary involved in the deal per say, it sounds like another starting pitcher might’ve been and at the time. But with the right-hander expected to miss the first six to eight weeks of the regular season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow earlier this month, perhaps the Rays felt they wouldn’t have enough depth at the beginning of the season to deal a starter as well. Since Hellickson went down the Rays have picked up Nate Karns in a deal with the Washington Nationals to shore up some of their pitching depth, which could make trading a starter a possibility once again. Karns does only have 12 major league innings to his name at this point, but Tampa Bay has made a habit of churning out quality young arms with little to no big league experience. It’s possible that Matt Moore or Chris Archer could’ve been headed Seattle’s way, but that’s complete speculation on my part. Hellickson’s surgery was announced at the beginning of February, to offer something of a timeline for the reported trade talks. While there’s still a chance Franklin could be Seattle’s starting shortstop come Opening Day, it appears increasingly likely he’ll find himself opening the year on a different club and the Mariners acquiring a much needed starting pitcher or outfielder.Go!

Spring Training 2014 is officially under way in Peoria, Arizona as the Seattle Mariners have begun their first sets of workouts. We’re still about ten days out from official Cactus League games taking place, but the anticipation for the start of the regular season has can officially begin as all thirty clubs start with a clean slate and visions of October baseball filling their heads. The Mariners are no different. Pitchers Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker threw their first bullpens of the spring today; Felix tossed around 30 pitches while Walker threw 25. The Mariners’ top prospect said his shoulder felt fine after the session, alleviating most of the concern over the soreness he felt in the first few days of camp. As it stands, Walker will throw his next session on Thursday and won’t require any more precautionary work as he’s back on schedule. Pitching coach Rick Waits praised the young righty’s composure so far in camp, mentioning that he hasn’t had to ask Walker to slow himself down so far. The Mariners avoided arbitration with Justin Smoak who agreed to terms on a one-year deal on Saturday. The first baseman will earn $2.63 million in the upcoming season and has a vesting option worth $3.65 million for 2015 that becomes guaranteed at 525 plate appearances on the year. If that plateau isn’t reached, Seattle can still exercise it, or buy the option out for $150 thousand. It’s a little unusual for a player to have an option year with a buyout attached while he is still arbitration eligible, so the deal did raise a few eyebrows. Smoak had 521 plate appearances in 2013 and 535 in 2013 so it’s entirely possible that regular play could cause his option to vest. The first baseman considers the starting job, “his to lose” despite the acquisitions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison this offseason. Seattle has now agreed to terms with all of their arbitration eligible players. Former No. 2 overall pick Dustin Ackley is set to become a full-time outfielder this year now that Robinson Cano has second base claimed for the foreseeable future. After starting 54 games in the outfield in 2013, 46 in center field, the soon to be 26-year old has spent much of the offseason preparing to be the team’s everyday leftfielder. Ackley struggled with consistency agian this past year and finished with a .253/.319/.341 line in 427 plate appearances. Since Franklin Gutierrez will be out for the entirety of the season, Ackley and Michael Saunders appear to be locks for starting jobs in the outfield to start the year at least. Hart and Morrison are also likely to see a little bit of time in the outfield if their bodies can handle it; currently Hart is the most likely to spend time in right field. Nick Franklin figures to see significant time at shortstop this spring as manager Lloyd McClendon stated he’ll be competing with the incumbent Brad Miller for the starting job. McClendon says Nick Franklin and Brad Miller will compete at SS. Not looking at moving either elsewhere. “That’s a good problem to have.” — Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) February 17, 2014 Over at LookoutLanding, Scott Weber questioned how legitimate this “battle” at shortstop really is. Weber argues that Miller deserves to be the starting shortstop in 2014, but if the organization emphasizes small sample sizes, Franklin may be a solid spring away from getting serious consideration for the job. Miller could be a fixture at short for the next several years instead of Franklin struggling to be average defensively at the position. Many thought Nick would find himself shipped to another organization in a trade for a starting pitcher or an outfielder, but nothing of the sort has materialized yet. It’s possible McClendon is simply posturing to some extent in order to play up the club’s desire to keep the displaced second baseman who appears more likely to start the year with Tacoma than on Seattle’s bench. Also, it’s not uncommon to see coaches play up position battles in order to push players that extra little bit. There’s very little reason to think Saunders won’t have a starting outfield job, but of course McClendon is going to say there’s plenty of talent that could potentially fill the positions. We know Saunders is the closest thing on the roster to an actual everyday outfielder at the moment, although Abraham Almonte and Ackley could possibly change that, and McClendon knows that too. The remaining big name free agents are slowly starting to find themselves new homes as Ubaldo Jimenez  agreed to terms with the Baltimore Orioles today. The deal is still pending a physical, which is far from a sure thing in Baltimore these days, and stands to be worth $50 million over four years with some money deferred. Jimenez was believed to be looking for a deal in the five year, $75 million range at the start of the offseason, but that quickly became unlikely as his market was incredibly slow to materialize and Matt Garza signed a similar contract last month with the Milwaukee Brewers and didn’t require his new club to give up a pick. Jimenez will cost the Orioles their 17th overall pick in this year’s draft, which Prospect Insider will provide plenty of coverage on in the upcoming months. With Jimenez and Garza both off the market now, Ervin Santana finds himself standing alone on the free agent starting pitching market. The Orioles were believed to have some interest in Santana previously, but it’s likely that has evaporated now that they’ve signed Jimenez; provided of course, that his physical is successfully passed… Seattle may still be interested in Santana’s services, although given the contracts given to his two free agent counterparts, it’s likely he’ll also receive a fourth guaranteed year on a deal. The Toronto Blue Jays were allegedly willing to offer three-year contracts worth $27 million to Santana and Jimenez, but those reports haven’t been confirmed. It’s hard to see Santana signing for that little considering the deal Ubaldo received, but anything is truly possibly at this point in time. At four years and $40 million Santana would make an excellent No. 3 in the Mariners’ rotation. Heck, he would still look pretty good at four years and $50 million for what it’s worth. When asked about Taijuan Walker and James Paxton making the rotation, Felix Hernandez replied, “They’re in.” — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) February 17, 2014 #Mariners expect all players in camp when full workouts begin tomorrow except RHP Ramon Ramirez, who is having visa issue in Dom. Republic. — Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) February 17, 2014  Go!

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.Go!

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.Go!

The Seattle Mariners may or may not land right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Whether or not that occurs does not impact the value of the M’s young pitching collection, namely right-hander Taijuan Walker and southpaw James Paxton. It doesn’t make them more expendable and it doesn’t mean it “frees them up” to be traded. I get the sense, based on nothing but the lack of movement on additional position players, that the Mariners may be treating Paxton and Walker equally. I think that’s a mistake. I get Walker. He’s still very young, has good present stuff, is very athletic… you know the drill here. I understand Mike Zunino being kept off the block, too; catchers are very, very difficult to find. So difficult that the value of solid catchers cannot be understated. The rest of the “prospects” and young, unproven talents in the organization? I don’t see any reason to make them truly untouchable in trade talks. There is a chance Paxton turns out to be better than Walker, but it’s clear the 21-year-old has the bigger upside and his timetable isn’t that far behind Paxton’s, if it is at all. Making both untouchable or near-untouchable — AKA, being afraid to trade them — makes little sense to me. The Mariners drafted both pitchers. The principal scouts that did so are still in the organization. The club has drafted pitchers since then — Danny Hultzen and Edwin Diaz, for example — and will continue to make solid choices on amateur talent. In an organization where the cupboard is still barren at the big-league level, particularly in terms of outfielders — true, two-way outfielders who aren’t a liability on defense and don’t come with considerable injury concerns — one would think this offseason is an opportunity to pick an untouchable, Walker, and see if there is a player on the trade market the club could acquire in exchange for a package headlined by Paxton. That isn’t to say trading Paxton and others for just any decent outfielder is a good idea, but protecting Paxton as if he’s a surefire ace (not even Walker is that) and showing a strong reluctance to move him to acquire the right outfielder would be absurd and utterly ignorant. I don’t know the Mariners are employing this stance, I’m just saying they absolutely should not be. Tanaka or not, this club will grow dangerously close to running out of options to make the team watchable on offense, let alone any kind of kinda-sorta first-half contender. Robinson Cano, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison will not fix the lineup. Brad Miller, Mike Zunino, Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley cannot be expected to combine to equal such significant improvements — all of a sudden, on the parts of Saunders and Ackley after two years of struggles — and Kyle Seager absolutely cannot be relied upon to be one of the three best hitters — in my opinion. Right now, he’s the second-best bat, meaning two more hitters are necessary or Cano1 is nothing but a PR move. If I could get Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Paxton, Nick Franklin and, say, John Hicks, I’d pull the trigger so fast that not even William Henry McCarty could react fast enough to hit the kill switch. It’s a risk, but one the Mariners cannot afford to decline. I don’t know if that specific deal, or one like it, would work for the Dodgers, but if that kind of value can net Kemp, it’s a no-brainer. He’s healing up this winter, a bit faster than some expected, too. It doesn’t have to be Kemp, however, and it doesn’t have to be an outfielder, per se, although that is the weakest position on the roster as of today. Seattle is in no position to hoard prospects and sit around and wait for five or six young players to figure it out in 2014. The clock is ticking, both on the offseason and on Cano’s value to the baseball team. Right this second, the club has not improved a whole lot. Kendrys Morales is gone — and it appears there is almost no chance for him to return, considering Hart and Morrison join Justin Smoak as 1B/DH types, at least some of the time — so the improvement is essentially the difference between Cano and Morales. It’s a nice bump player-for-player, especially since Cano is a solid glove at second and Morales was a DH in 2013, but in the grand scheme, the 25-man still is mediocre. I repeat my statement from December: Make Cano count. Label the elite off limits, use a few of the other young talents and prospects to get what the club doesn’t have. That’s one of the two reason they were signed in the first place. Don’t pretend there was just one. Don’t pin the hopes of vast improvement in 2014 on the status quo finding the magic potion. Paxton isn’t going to turn into Sandy Koufax or even Cliff Lee. Kemp might turn into Kemp of 2011, though.Go!

Saturday, ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney tweeted that the Seattle Mariners are “bound” to end up signing one of three free-agent starting pitchers in Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. This was not a report of anything imminent or even one suggesting a deal is near, but it does make sense. The Mariners need a No. 2 or 3 starter to support the efforts of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. When I see reports of interest or even suggestive tweets such as Olney’s — which is certainly more than just a common-sense statement — I check in with a few of my own sources to see if I can find out anything additional. What I asked was this: “Anything more than speculation to Buster’s tweet about Garza, Santana and Jimenez and the M’s?” The text responses I received: “For sure.” ————- “When we checked on Matt (Garza) we heard Seattle, (Red) Sox, Twins, Yankees. Too rich for our blood.” ————- “We like Garza and Jimenez; Maybe they (Seattle) like them more, because we’re not getting very far.” The dollars and years are likely be upwards of Ricky Nolasco‘s 4-year, $49 million deal, rather than in the neighborhood of Jason Vargas‘ 4-years and $32 million or Phil Hughes‘ 3-year, $24 million contract reported Saturday. Each of the three, I’d guess, will cost $15 million or more for five or more seasons. The Mariners may have to be even more aggressive to convince any of them to agree to come to a club that doesn’t presently appear to be a contender in 2014. To get any of the three, Seattle may have to be willing to go six years and $75-85 million. None of the three, in my opinion, are that valuable, but sometimes it takes what it takes and for the Mariners it might be well worth a gross overpay or two to not only improve the team but show other players that they mean business. Of course, an “overpay,” even if it’s truly market value, will send many of you running and screaming down the halls. Exercise this: If you, as a Mariners fan, went into hibernation for the next six weeks, woke up in mid-January and learned that your team had added Garza, Grant Balfour, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Dioner Navarro, Clint Barmes and Rajai Davis, you’d be at least somewhat excited that the 25-man roster could be competitive, if not a contender in 2014. [In no way am I suggesting the above will happen, or anything like it. Just making a point.] I’d assume the first thing you searched for on the internet after learning about such acquisitions would not be about the players’ salaries. World Series odds? Analysis from the pundits? How to get tickets? Not the player salaries. And once you did finally see them, you wouldn’t flip out and curse the moves. Why? Because the roster was improved greatly. The problems with spending big money on free agents is 100 percent subjective. There is no salary cap and the luxury tax is not something the Mariners are anywhere near. They could give a free agent like Garza $30 million per season and that doesn’t mean they cannot, and won’t, still add other necessary players. Individual player salaries are only damaging when the club decides it will not continue to invest financially because it’s hit its self-imposed limits. At any rate, don’t let the starting pitching interest fool you. The Mariners are hot after offense at several positions. Timing A lot of you have expressed your frustration with the fact that the Seattle Mariners have not signed a free agent or made a trade for a prominent player. I get the urgency, but it’s early. Not having done anything up to now does not suggest they won’t, can’t, or have lost out on players they want, or should want. If Christmas approaches and nothing significant has occurred, it may or may not be time to assume nothing major will. That really depends on what’s left in free agency, and how many trade-available types remain. But yes, in 3-4 weeks, I, too, will want to have seen something big go down. Doesn’t have to be the blockbuster of the offseason, doesn’t have to be the perfect transaction or set of transactions, but something substantial, yes. Until about that time, however, I don’t see any reason to worry, complain, freak out or even be frustrated. This may be a good time to reiterate what I said two months back: I don’t believe it’s possible that the Seattle Mariners go from where they are now — a 70-75 win team — to contender status. In my opinion, it would be asking too much for any general manager to accomplish such a task. That isn’t an excuse for Jack Zduriencik. That’s just the truth, as I see it. A lot of things would need to break the Mariners’ way for 85-plus wins to be possible in 2014, and free agent deals and impact trades are only part of that. They’d also need some of their young players to step up and be very good next season, including a few bullpen arms. The Trade Front I shared all the free-agent names I’d heard linked to the Mariners here, and I even included some trade scenarios that have been bandied about since the end of the World Series. Another name that is out there is Chase Headley — though his potential availability has never gone away since the San Diego Padres have yet to get his name on the dotted line of a contract extension. The Mariners like Headley, and would play him in left field, but it does not appear the Padres’ asking price is even in the neighborhood of what the Mariners may be willing to offer. From what I can gather, the Mariners are trying very hard not to include James Paxton in trade packages, while all but refusing to discuss Taijuan Walker. Zduriencik told me earlier this offseason that Hernandez, Iwakuma and Seager were untouchable, so it appears they are trying to rob someone in a bulk deal. Ultimately, Paxton, Franklin or Miller will have to be involved in a trade, if Walker is truly off limits in almost all instances — perhaps for Giancarlo Stanton he’s available — or the M’s aren’t going to be able to acquire impact talent via trade, in my opinion. Brandon Maurer, Michael Saunders, Erasmo Ramirez and Carter Capps, even all in the same package, isn’t going to net the Mariners Matt Kemp, Stanton or any of the ilk. I imagine their stance — if that truly is a stance and not just a distant appearance — will change, if it hasn’t already. Most likely Mariners (40-man Roster) to be traded 1. Justin Smoak, 1B 2. Michael Saunders, OF 3. Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP 4. Brandon Maurer, RHP 5. Hector Noesi, RHP 6. Nick Franklin, 2B/SS 7. Yoervis Medina, RHP 8. Erasmo Ramirez, RHP 9. James Jones, RF10. Blake Beavan, RHPGo!

In an upcoming book detailing the Toronto Blue Jays disastrous 2013 season from sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi and John Lott, an interesting tidbit is dropped regarding summer trade talks between the Jays and Seattle Mariners. Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopolous said that his club was pursuing an acquisition of starter Hisashi Iwakuma and third baseman Kyle Seager. While teams often ask about each other’s top players for no other reason than due diligence, this is a rather interesting rumour to give some second thought. The apparent trade talks occurred during a period in which the Jays were battling injuries throughout their rotation, and holes on the left side of their infield due to injuries to Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie, which means a Seager/Iwakuma acquisition would have made sense. The Jays were building to compete now, and both Seager and Iwakuma would have provided immediate value. Since the talks didn’t register much for headlines in the summer, we can likely deduce that the Mariners placed a huge price tag on both players, or are more interested in using them as building blocks towards a winner. I believe both factors were in play here given the ages and salaries of Iwakuma and Seager. Iwakuma, who turns 33 next April, will earn just $13.5MM for 2014-15 provided his $7 million team option for 2015 is picked up. Seager turned 26 this past week and will be arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2014 season. I would think that the M’s would be willing to explore extensions for both players this winter, but won’t be too worried about leaving talks shelved for an extra year. Iwakuma is coming off of a 7.0 WAR season by Baseball-Reference, and a 4.2 WAR season by FanGraphs, and it may be worth seeing if how much he regresses, if any, before locking him up long-term. He is under team control through 2017 regardless. There’s less discrepancy between Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs when it comes to Seager’s value as both saw him worth about 3.5 WAR in 2012, and worth 4.1 WAR in 2013 (BR 4.9 WAR and FG 3.4 WAR). It’s likely Iwakuma and Seager hold more value to the Mariners when the tall task of replacing their production is considered. Seattle isn’t a free agent’s dream right now, and GM Jack Zduriencik doesn’t have the best history in the trade market, either. The phrase, “it would take an overwhelming offer for the team to trade so-and-so” fits well here because of that. Between the two, I’d think Seager is the more likely to be examined for a long-term deal this winter before he reaches arbitration. While there aren’t a lot of comparable players to Seager, we could point to the extension Pablo Sandoval signed with the Giants prior to the 2012 season, for 3 years and $17.15MM, as a comparable. It’s not an ideal comparison of course, but Kung Fu Panda’s deal worked out to salaries of $3.2MM, $5.7MM, and $8.25MM for his three arbitration years, and I could see a good case being made for Seager to receive a similar deal covering his arbitration years. A lot can change though in one year’s time, so there’s minimal downside for letting him play his last pre-arb season for less than a million bucks and without an extension. It’s also worth noting that it’s more valuable to the team to buy out at least one year of a player’s free agent years, but when doing so it comes at a much higher cost. As the M’s hang on to both players, the Blue Jays will still be in the market searching for similar players. The Jays are expected to be busy this winter after a disappointing 2013 season that came with high expectations after their blockbuster trades with the Miami Marlins and New York Mets last winter. Injuries shattered the playoff dreams for Toronto fans. The Jays will provide some competition for the Mariners in free agency as they also need to shore up their starting rotation. They’re expected to be involved in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, as well as other free agents such as right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza. Second base is another large hole for the Blue Jays after Maicer Izturis, Emilio Bonafacio, and Mark DeRosa failed to generate much production in 2013. The market for free agent infielders is looking pretty barren this winter outside of baseball’s next likely $200 million player, Robinson Cano. Omar Infante, Gordon Beckham and Brandon Phillips are rumored to be available via trade this winter, and the Jays have been connected to Beckham in the past. A very real possibility for the Jays is bringing in a third baseman and shifting Lawrie back to second base, even though that would come with some possible downsides. It seems that the Jays prefer slugger Jose Bautista’s arm in right field, so moving him back to third is unlikely, but could be considered in the right scenario. If the Blue Jays do manage to bring in another third baseman, there’s a possibility Lawrie could be shopped around for some rotation help this winter. The Mariners and Blue Jays could find themselves in a position to deal this offseason, even if Iwakuma and Seager are off the table. Only one of Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley will be the M’s starting second baseman for 2014, and the other would represent a valuable trade asset. The Jays have a similar situation in center field with Colby Rasmus and Anthony Gose vying for the starting job in 2014, although Rasmus has the clear upper hand. Rasmus, 27, has been up and down for most of his five-year career, but the former first-round pick has established himself as a 20-homer threat while playing an above average center field. He’s arbitration eligible for the last time and will hit free agency after next season. Gose, on the other hand, is one of Toronto’s top prospects and has seen big league action in the previous two seasons. The 23-year-old hasn’t quite developed with the bat yet, but is a superb fielder who has above average speed, and still less than one year of accumulated service time. A trade based on Franklin and Gose, for example, could represent an interesting proposition. While Franklin is a bit more established than is Gose, we can see how a deal along these lines would be beneficial for both clubs as each are dealing from a surplus to fill a need. Personally, I think the Mariners should aim for Rasmus instead of Gose for obvious reasons. Seattle could prove to be a great place for Rasmus to establish consistency to his game with less pressure to perform and 2014 being a contract year. It’d probably require more than just Franklin or Ackley to get Rasmus from the Jays, but I think it’s an interesting place to start talks.Go!