AdeinyEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Another Ace on the Market
With Bob Nightengale’s report that the Detroit Tigers are preparing to discuss trading ace left-hander David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

Price hitting the market could have an impact on the prices for other starters, especially Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels and Jeff Samardzija. I’m not sure if Price’s availability would increase or decrease the value of the others expected to be on the market, or perhaps do nothing. The first one to be moved could kinda-sorta set the market. Price could, however, take a team out of the market for one of the others, particularly the other rentals — Scott Kazmir, Cueto, Samardzija — and reduce the return their clubs ultimately receive.

For example, maybe the best chance for Chicago White Sox to max out on Samardzija’s value is to pit, say, the Dodgers, Cubs and Rangers against one another — just for example, not assuming interest or fit here. If the Cubs land price, not only does it remove a club from the bidding, it removes specific talents from the equation. It becomes a two-team bidding war, not three, and the potential asking price from the Cubs is deleted.

As for which clubs appears as fits for Price? Any contender this side of Washington could work. The Dodgers may prefer Hamels since he’s under club control beyond 2015 and Zack Greinke may opt out at season’s end. Clubs such as Tampa Bay may not have the inclination to add a little salary on top of the trade cost to reacquire their former ace and No. 1 pick. The Twins may be in the same boat. Some clubs may not be likely matches in terms of talent inventory, possibly including Baltimore and the Angels.

As for Cespedes, he could fit what the Angels would like to do offensively, though a left-handed stick makes more sense. They have been linked to Jay Bruce. Gerardo Parra is a better fit — less trade cost, no future commitment. The Halos reportedly prefer a hitter they can use beyond 2015, however.

If the Tigers are sellers, though, Price and Cespedes aren’t the lone potential pieces GM Dave Dombrowski could deal. Outfielder Rajai Davis, right-hander Joakim Soria and catcher Alex Avila could make sense to move, too. If they aren’t contending, there’s no point in holding tight to pending free agents. Avila’s father is one of Dombrowski’s assistants, so that situation may be handled differently than some others, but Avila could bring back a useful piece or two, especially considering the high cost of catching.

Shortstop Thoughts
Several clubs have been after help at shortstop since long before the season started. San Diego and the Mets are two examples. The Pirates, with the injuries to Jordy Mercer, Pedro Alvarez and Josh Harrison, now could use a third baseman or a shortstop.

It’s a difficult position to fill in Major league Baseball, and always has been. The Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals, Rays, Cubs and Orioles have received very little offense from the position.

The Dodgers could call on Corey Seager to help at the position and the Rays, Cubs and Orioles don’t appear to be in any hurry to go outside the organization. Baltimore just signed Everth Cabrera for some depth.

The Padres are not currently being thought of as buyers so any acquisition at shortstop has to be about 2016 and beyond. The Rangers would love to get rid of Elvis Andrus‘ contract, but it’s difficult to imagine that occurs. Perhaps a club is willing to take a piece of it, however.

Outside of Troy Tulowitzki, Jean Segura may be the best player on the shortstop market, all apologies to Alexei Ramirez, and tertiary names such as Jose Ramirez, Chris Taylor and Cliff Pennington have limited value, although Ramirez and Taylor bring club control and low salaries with them.

The shortstop situation — many clubs with a need, pretty much no club with a surplus of a shortstop capable of providing everyday value — begs the question: Would it behoove a club with a solid, under-club-control option at shortstop be wise to take advantage and make theirs available, even without another answer of their own? For teams not close to contention, this is absolutely a good idea — at least see what clubs might pay. For others, those contending now and those with even a chance to contend in 2016, not having a viable option after the current starter.makes it difficult, but still worth casting a net.

That includes clubs such as Miami with Adeiny Hechavarria, Seattle with Brad Miller and certainly the Cubs with Starlin Castro. You simply never know what a club may be willing to part with when a starting-quality shortstop with years of club control are on the hook.…

PuigEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Chances Yasiel Puig is Traded
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, who is well-connected around baseball, writes there is growing belief in Los Angeles that Yasiel Puig is “losing popularity” with his teammates, per a league source. Cafardo suggests one possibility if the Dodgers look to move their right fielder may be Philadelphia and their ace, Cole Hamels. A trade centered on Puig-for-Hamels makes a lot of sense on the surface, since the Dodgers may be planning for life without Zack Greinke who may opt out after this season and the Phillies clearly want to get younger, more athletic and to perhaps reel in their payroll a bit.

But even though Puig isn’t having a great season — .274/.358/.435 in 45 games — the Dodgers don’t have a surplus in outfielders … at least not productive outfielders, anyway. Andre Ethier has rebounded and Joc Pederson has been very good but Carl Crawford has again struggled when he’s been available and neither Scott Van Slyke nor Alex Guerrero appear to be reliable everyday options; Van Slyke has trouble producing versus right-handed pitchers and Guerrero, also right-handed, is new to the outfield and has problems hitting right-handed pitching, too.

If Puig were to be traded, the Dodgers would have a bit of a hole to fill, albeit one that could be closed by adding a left-handed hitting platoon bat. Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Gerardo Parra may fit, as might Cleveland’s David Murphy, among others.

If I were the Phillies, however, I’m not sure I’d want Puig if he’s some kind of a clubhouse problem, and I’d focus on adding young arms before big-league players that may not be around when my club is again ready to compete.

Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman may prefer to avoid selling low on Puig and making a drastic alteration to his regular lineup, one that has, at times, struggled to produce runs consistently. The rotation may need a boost after this season, if Greinke leaves, but the Dodgers have been one of the better run-prevention clubs in the National League this season with one of the more effective starting staffs.

I’d bet Puig stays where he is this summer with the hopes from the Dodgers’ perspective that he has a big second half, helps the club win and improves his trade value for further consideration this coming offseason.

Angels, Bruce; Orioles, Upton
Jay Bruce is on the Angels’ radar, tweets Jon Morosi, and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The Reds, according to John Fay, are expected to discuss any player this side of Todd Frazier, including Bruce and the Halos have a need in the outfield.

Deadline deals are strange — sometimes a good trade doesn’t work out because all that has to occur to ruin it is the acquired player struggles for better part of two months. That also makes such trades risky. The question here, however, is more about what the Reds will require for Bruce, whether or not the Angels have it and whether or not they’re willing to part with it.

Same goes for Baltimore’s interest in Justin Upton, per Morosi. Upton, a two-month rental, isn’t as valuable so presumably he will cost a lot less in trade. The Orioles’ system is thin and has some injuries balking up their depth, but there’s a few players in that organization I’d trade Upton to take a chance on if I were Padres GM A.J. Preller. Baltimore may not be the best offer Preller gets, however, but the O’s can certainly compete in the Upton sweepstakes — if they want to.

For both Baltimore and Anaheim, there may be better options when cost is brought into the equation. Parra could be a fit for both, as might Ben Zobrist and Josh Reddick. Reddick likely will be more costly than any rental — since he’s not one — and may rival Bruce’s price tag, despite the differential in team control.

Mariners Idea
With each loss the Mariners get closer and closer to having no legitimate choice other to sell off their pending free agents, perhaps including Hisashi Iwakuma, who has had one bad start, one very good one and one OK outing since returning from the disabled list.

Lefty J.A. Happ, centerfielder Austin Jackson, relievers Fernando Rodney, Mark Lowe and Joe Beimel also will be free agents after the season. Neither Rodney nor Beimel are going to net much in return, of course — Rodney because he’s had an awful season and Beimel simply because he’s not a high-leverage arm — but Lowe may be worth something useful in the future, as might Happ, Jackson and Iwakuma.

I’m not suggesting any of the above are worth a return of a starting outfielder, top prospect at any position or anything like that, but there’s no reason one or more of them cannot help the Mariners rebuild their bullpen for 2016 and/or fill a bench hole or two.

The Mariners can be buyers in one sense, however: Focusing on acquiring players that fit 2016 and perhaps beyond. This season may not matter much, but getting a jump start on fixing some issues is not a bad thing.

The Mariners, in my opinion, should listen on Nelson Cruz (don’t believe for one second they will), Seth Smith, Mark Trumbo and Charlie Furbush, too. If not now, then over the winter. Exhausting all options is important when building an effective roster, even when it means discussing productive players to which you’d prefer to add. The Mariners need more team athleticism, and more specifically better outfield performance both offensively and defensively. Until that’s addressed successfully, they’ll be a team trying to win with one frontline starting pitcher in Felix Hernandez and the three-run homer. …

StarlinEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels?
In his latest video post at FOXSports.com, Ken Rosenthal notes that the market for Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels includes the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also adds that the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox have interest, too.

My first reaction was to think about a series in October that started with Kershaw, Greinke and Hamels on the mound for the Dodgers. Hamels hasn’t been terrific this season but he has been good. I’d put money on him having a stronger final two months than the 3.40 FIP he’s posted thus far.

But how do the Dodgers, or Cubs, Rangers and Red Sox get Hamels in their uniform for the next three-plus seasons? The Phillies feel no pressure to move their ace right now, so they will hold out for the right deal. Here’s what each club has to offer that Philadelphia may have request during negotiations. In no manner is the following a suggestion of a deal that either side would accept, nor does it imply Philly has interest in the specific player or the other club’s willingness to deal said player or players.

Dodgers
Corey Seager, SS/3B
Julio Urias, LHP
Hector Olivera, 2B
Jose De Leon, RHP
Grant Holmes, RHP
Alex Verdugo, CF
Zach Lee, RHP

Seager and Urias may be as close to untouchable as it gets for the Dodgers, probably in that order. De Leon, Olivera, Holems, et al, may not be enough to land Hamels, especially considering there are other clubs with young talent to offer the Phillies.

Mike Bolsinger, 27, may carry some value as a tertiary piece in a package for Hamels, but doing so would require the club to fill another spot in the rotation.

Cubs
Kyle Schwarber, C
Carl Edwards, Jr., RHP
Albert Almora, CF
Billy McKInney, LF
Gleyber Torres, SS
Dylan Cease, RHP
Duane Underwood, RHP
Carson Sands, RHP
Justin Steele, RHP
Jorge Soler, OF
Starlin Castro, SS
Jorge Baez, RHP

The Cubs appear to have so much depth that adding an arm like Hamels may never come back to hurt them even a little bit. The Phillies need everything, probably starting with pitching depth, suggesting at least one of Edwards, Jr., Cease, Underwood, and the like, may be necessary. I did not list Kris Bryant or Addison Russell because common sense says if the Cubs deal an infielder it will be Castro or perhaps Baez.

If Castro were to be traded, the general idea is that Bryant would play everyday at third, Baez would move to second and Russell would slide over to shortstop, his natural position, full time.

Castro may be involved if the Cubs and Padres get together on a deal for a quality starting pitcher with some club control left. Castro also could interest the

Red Sox
Mookie Betts, CF
Yoan Moncada, 2B
Javier Guerra, SS
Henry Owens, LHP
Blake Swihart, C
Manuel Margot, CF
Rafael Devers, 3B/OF

The Red Sox aren’t as deep as the Cubs or Dodgers but if they are willing to part with any two of the above, they’ll likely be able to pry Hamels away. Boston does not have depth in the starting pitching department down on the farm, so trading both Owens and fellow lefty Brian Johnson in the same four-player package may be asking a but much.

Betts and Swihart reportedly interest the Phillies greatly but whether or not the Red Sox will reconsider their availability remains doubtful, perhaps at best. Guerra hasn’t been the slick fielder he was expected to be just yet but despite contact issues he’s mashing in Class-A Greenville, showing more power — 31 extra-base hits in 73 games — than most anticipated. The Phillies don’t have a specific need for a shortstop with J.P. Crawford a top prospect and shoving his way toward a big-league debut, potentially next season, but adding high-end talent never is a bad idea.

A package including Guerra, Owens and Devers might be a tough one to turn down in the end.

Rangers
Joey Gallo, 3B/RF
Jorge Alfaro, C
Nomar Mazara, OF
Nick Williams, OF
Jake Thompson, RHP
Lewis Brinson, OF
Josh Morgan,2B
Elvis Andrus, SS

The Rangers have holes beyond their starting rotation, including one of the league’s worst offensive outfield collections and bullpen units. Texas may need three arms — two starters and a releiver — plus an addition to their lineup to project well enough to be in the race beyond mid-August. The Rangers probably shouldn’t have much interest in Hamels right now, particularly considering the likely haul in young talent. If Philly insists on a premium four-player package that includes Mazara or Alfaro plus Thompson, GM Jon Daniels probably, and understandably, backs down quickly.

Gallo and Alfaro should be off limits, in my opinion. Not 100 percent untouchable, but for the right to pay Hamels for three-plus seasons I would not include either player. Andrus is highly unlikely to be involved in a deal for Hamels unless a third club is involved.

In the end, I’m just not sure now is the right time for Daniels and the Rangers to pay big on a big-money pitcher. Sure they get him for three more years, yet stay away from the long-term risks of future free agents, but that kind of talent cost is prohibitive for the return.

Texas can go out and get better this month, but they don’t have to pay the hefty toll to do so. Not for a club 42-47 and fading fast with many more holes to fill for 2016.

If the Rangers wants to add high-level starting pitching, they can do so on the free agent market after the season. Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and company will hit free agency, and the Rangers will get back Yu Darvish at some point in 2016, plus should have a healthy Derek Holland. Martin Perez is back, the Rangers should supplement the rotation on top of that rather than rebuild it with Hamels.

Texas should be in the market for Tyson Ross, as are the Astros, per Dennis Lin. Ross won’t come at the cost — salary or trade talent — as Hamels and his ability to induce ground balls (62.9% in 2015), fits the home park.

James Shields is another alternative and one Padres GM A.J. Preller may prefer to move over Ross.

What About the White Sox and Indians as sellers?
They’re each 42-47, seven games out in the American League Central and 6.5 out of the No. 2 Wild Card spot. The White Sox have won six of 10, the Indians have lost six of 10. There’s a chance one or both could end up benefiting from selling a key piece or two rather than trying to add for a run this season.

The Sox have pending free agent Jeff Samardzija, a high-quality starting pitcher that may net them a nice return. Beyond that, catcher Geovany Soto, shortstop Alexei Ramirez and perhaps first baseman Adam LaRoche could be dangled before July 31.

Soto is on a 1-year deal while Ramirez’s contract carries a club option for next season at $10 million or a $1 million buyout. LaRoche will earn $13 million in 2016.

Most of Chicago’s offense has scuffled this season, including Ramirez who, entering Saturday’s game owed a paltry .237 wOBA and 43 wRC+. LaRoche, too, has struggled, particularly thus far in July — .132/.195/.184 with a nice thin wRC+ of 1. You read that correctly. Soto has been respectable at .318 wOBA and 98 wRC+. Worth noting that wOBA is park adjusted, wRC+ is not.

The Tribe has a lot of interesting pieces that, if GM Chris Antonetti decided to attempt a quick retool, may get the job done all by themselves. Corey Kluber is going nowhere, and it’s difficult to see any of the other young, inexpensive starters — Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar — being sent out in deals this month. Jason Kipnis is a centerpiece, as is rookie shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Outfielder Michael Brantley, however, does not scream ‘building block’ to me. He’s a very nice player without any major weakness in his game. But he’s 28, an average-at-best glove that all comes with a very reasonable price tag if $14 million over the next two seasons plus an option at $11 million or a $1 million buyout, suggesting he could be worth more in trade than if he remains on the roster, considering the lack of quality position players available.

Platoon bat David Murphy could help a contender down the stretch, same for Brandon Moss. Ryan Raburn is a nice bench option with a $3 million club option for 2016. Right-handed reliever Zach McAllister is good, cheap and a late-inning option that could fill a need for clubs such as Texas, Seattle, the Dodgers, Cubs and Twins.…

Gomez15Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Atlanta Braves Sale
The Braves started their rebuild over the offseason when they traded the likes of Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Gattis and Justin Upton, among others. That trend likely will continue this month with names such as Juan Uribe, Cameron Maybin and Jim Johnson on the market. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski is being discussed, too.

Maybin is interesting because he’s having a solid year at the plate and can pass as a centerfielder. He’s due about $2.5 million the rest of 2015 and is set to earn $8 million next season. His 2017 option comes with a $1 million buyout or a $9 million salary.

Due to the lack of options in center these days, at least a dozen clubs should have some level of interest in Maybin, who shouldn’t cost much more than Austin Jackson did a year ago, a middle infielder with a chance to be a big-league regular, albeit with some risk attached (Nick Franklin).

Houston’s Buying
With zero chance they sell pieces, the Houston Astros are as firmly in the buyers line as any club in the American League right now. They need a starting pitcher or two, and if they were to land a Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija or cole Hamels, they may just grab the one and call up Mark Appel to shore things up on the back end. They have been linked to Mike Leake, too, however. Leake can get ground ball outs, which fits the Juice Box well, and he’s used to pitching in a hitter’s environment at the Great American Smallpark but has struggled at home in three of his last four seasons.

It’s difficult to see Jeff Luhnow whiffing at the deadline. The Astros are going to add a starting pitcher, perhaps two, and if a veteran first baseman falls in their lap, they may jump on that, too. The Astros are three games under .500 this season if you remove their 10-game winning streak, to lend an alternate idea how well they have played. But they aren’t going to fade into oblivion, especially if the rotation gets help. I still like the idea of Scott Kazmir for them, if the lefty is healthy, and if they find a way to get more offense from either their catchers or at first, this remains a dangerous team, a year or two before we thought they might be.

They have prospects to move, including Appel (who isn’t likely to be traded, but he certainly wouldn’t be on my untouchables list), outfielders Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips and Danry Vazquez, plus a crop of young arms that may be deep enough from which to trade to get the veteran they need. The Astros even have a couple of young shortstops they may not need to protect aggressively in Nolan Fontana, Joan Mauricio and Miguelangel Sierra.

You Can Go Get Him Now
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote Friday that the Brewers are “now showing a willingness to trade Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Gomez, perhaps the best all-around centerfielder in baseball, is under contract through 2016. Segura, a capable a shortstop in the mold of Erick Aybar at the plate, could interest about 20 teams, with the dearth of shortstops available in baseball. The Mets come to mind, as do the Padres, though Segura’s bat isn’t a significant upgrade for either club. His defense is sound, though, and he’s under club control for three more years. He will be arbitration eligible this coming winter, but his 2016 salary is unlikely to be anything but a bargain, still.

Gomez could be the prize a contending team needs to get over the top. Imagine the right-handed hitting speedster roaming the pastures at Comerica Park or tipping the scales of the lineup for the Angels, who could move Mike Trout to left field, use Gomez at leadoff and keep their best hitter in the two or three spot rather than moving him around to attempt to spark things.

The price for Gomez isn’t going to be easy to reconcile for some clubs, but the chance to add elite speed and defense plus a legitimate option at the top of the batting order that could impact not one but two chances at the postseason probably is worth the risk in most cases.

What clubs like Seattle cannot afford to do is sell five years of Taijuan Walker for a year and two months of Gomez. I’m not convinced the Mariners can get Gomez any other way, however. Maybe over the winter such a deal can make more sense, but the M’s need Walker to be what he was for most of the final two months of the season’s first half if they want any shot to get back into the 2015 chase.

The Mets, Heyman notes, have Gomez on their radar. In a scenario where Gomez and a healthy Juan Lagares are available, I’m not sure who plays center, but again, Gomez’s presence changes the game in three ways for New York. How they acquire Gomez also is beyond me. They aren’t moving Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz is hurt and dealing Noah Syndergaard cancels out a good portion of the “getting better” part of adding a player like Gomez in the first place.

The Brewers have a chance to jump-start their retooling by trading Gomez, Segura and perhaps Jonathan Lucroy, but with so many buyers and so few sellers, I’d wager Gomez gets moved this summer and maybe the other two are dealt over the winter. Milwaukee needs a lot of things, but starting pitcher is atop that list for me. And not just mid-rotation arms. They need upside, near-ready types.…

Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

CarGo’s Trade Value
An interesting nugget by Jeff Todd at MLBTradeRumors.com turned me to consider the same subject matter. Todd, citing Nick Groke’s report that Gonzalez is finding his timing, posed the question of whether or the recent resurgence will ultimately ignite the trade market for Gonzalez.

The outfielder, 30 in October, has been a very good left-handed run producer for the better part of the last six years. I say ‘better part’ because the last couple of seasons have been riddled with injury and struggles. After a .302/.367/.591 campaign in 2013, Gonzalez played just 70 games a year ago, batting .239/.292/.431, and despite his recent hot streak remains well below his career levels at .259/.314/.452 in 82 games this season. The 82 games, however, is a good sign.

He’s at .286/.305/.582 over the last 30 days, 26 games, with a .373 wOBA and 123 wRC+. Of course, beyond the health and overall performance concerns — which are legitimate, despite a strong track record prior to 2014 — some will wonder if Gonzalez can hit outside Coors Field. The trap here is to simply look at his road splits, which in both 2014 and this season take a dive — not to completely useless levels but down to part-time performer status.

Attempting to determine a Rockies hitter’s ability to hit away from Coors has to go much deeper than simply checking the road statistics. Why? Because, wisely, Rockies batters do what they can to take advantage of their home park. Those are things that do not necessarily work away from Denver, and expecting hitters to make perfect adjustments every road series, several times a month, is ridiculous.

Having said that, Gonzalez’s good years are accompanied by good years away from Coors Field. In 2013, his last strong, healthy season — just two years ago, by the way — produced a .332/.381/.606 triple-slash on the road. He was better away from Coors that season. He did struggle on the road in 2012, but was useful on the road in 2011 and solid in 2010.

How does a club evaluate, then, what Gonzalez is? The analytical department will delve into how often Gonzalez hits line drives, how hard he hits them, how many of his long balls may not be homers, or even hits, in their home ballpark, or even most road parks.

His line drive rates are just under 20 percent, per FanGraphs, much closer to his 20 percent career mark than 2014. He is hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls, which could be a good sign. One front office executive suggested perhaps Gonzalez, the healthy version, can “trust his hands,” more now that he’s healthy. No, he did not have a significant hand or wrist injury — he had knee surgery — but hitting starts with the legs. If you don’t have full strength, agility and flexibility with your legs, you can put more pressure on everything above your hips in attempt to get to good velocity and hit with authority.

But he’s hit 85 balls at 90 mph or more and 70 at 95 mph or more, and his BABIP is more than 50 points lower than his career mark, suggesting perhaps he’s been unlucky, too. It’s worth noting that sometimes when a hitter loses bat speed or some other ability for whatever reason, or is hurt in a manner that impacts those abilities, BABIP often sinks then, too. Batting average on balls in play is a very inexact measure in terms of using it as analysis to explain away struggles. A 50-plus point differential is quite large, however.

Gonzalez is due about $5.5 million the rest of 2015 and $37 million guaranteed through 2017. If he’s still a .350 wOBA bat, his value is quite high. Clubs that believe that may be willing to give the Rockies exactly what they want, whatever that is. There are reasons for concern, however, and Gonzalez’s average defense (some metrics suggest below average, though the knee problems he’s apparently getting away from now could explain some of that) may or may not help his market grow.

My instincts tell me Colorado will not get the offer they want for Gonzalez and are better off holding onto him to see if he hits the rest of 2015 and shows clubs that he still can hit enough to warrant regular time in the middle of a lineup. He’s started hitting, if it continues, his value goes up, both to the Rockies and to clubs that need outfield help. One thing is pretty clear: Rockies GM Jeff Bridlich made it known that he has doesn’t value Gonzalez based on the statistics, “so if a team is just doing that, I don’t know.” The price for Gonzalez will be higher than his present numbers suggest.

Market for Justin Upton
Justin Upton, who has played for three teams in four years, could be on the move again if GM A.J. Preller doesn’t see a reason to buy versus selling his pending free agents on the trade market.

Upton, reports Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com, says he wants to stay with the Padres and see this through, adding that he hopes he and his teammates can turn things around quickly. “In a perfect world, we play well over the next two or three weeks and A.J. pumps the brakes on dismantling the team,” Upton said.

If that doesn’t happen, Upton is among the most likely players to be traded before the July 31 deadline. He’s a right-handed power-hitting outfielder without long-term salaries attached. He’ll earn around $5 million for the rest of this season before testing free agency for the first time in his career.

Upton is having merely an OK season, batting .253/.331/.422 with a .328 wOBA and 114 wRC+. He’s a fringy defender in either corner outfield spot. He strikes out a lot, always has, but he’s still drawing walks at a 10.2 percent rate and in a better hitting environment his raw power may play better.

Several contending clubs could use Upton, including the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros and with Alex Gordon’s injury and Alex Rios’ struggles, the Kansas City Royals. All of the above, however, have greater needs, such as starting pitching and bullpen help, but Upton is likely to land somewhere.

Other possibilities include Seattle, Minnesota and San Francisco. If the Cleveland Indians find themselves buyers, they, too, could be a fit with the struggles of Nick Swisher and Brandon Moss (.220/.296/.427).…

AJPEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

M’s Seek Catching
The club already traded for and traded away Welington Castillo this season, but properly have identified catcher as a need spot and FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi tweeted early Wednesday that Seattle was nearing a deal to acquire a catcher. Since that tweet, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweeted that no deal is “close.” The quotations around the word ‘close’ suggests the club may indeed be attempting to land a catcher but that nothing is imminent.

The Mariners have two glove-first catcher in Tacoma in John Hicks and Steve Baron. Neither are full-scale upgrades over Jesus Sucre, however, although offensively either probably has a better chance.

Shi David of Sportsnet.ca tweets that Dioner Navarro does not appear to be on Seattle’s radar. Morosi reports via Twitter that Braves backstop A.J. Pierzynski is not close to being acquired by Seattle. Keep your eye on Pierzynski, though. Until the M’s acquire another catcher or Pierzynski is dealt elsewhere, he’s as strong a candidate to end up in Seattle.

The M’s are highly unlikely to option Mike Zunino to the minors, but clearly recognize the need for more production from the position and the value a 3-day per week option brings versus Sucre, who plays only when it’s time to give Zunino a breather. The extra time keeps Zunino fresh and could allot more legitimate development as he works with the staff, including Edgar Martinez.

Other potential names the M’s may have shown interest in include Colorado’s Nick Hundley and Michael McKenry, Cincinnati’s Brayan Pena, Oakland’s Josh Phegley, Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies, Cleveland’s Robert Perez and the White Sox’s Geovany Soto. Alex Avila may be another possibility if the Tigers believe in Bryan Holiday enough to form an acceptable defensive tandem with James McCann. Avila has not been healthy this year, but he’s active now. He’s also the club’s best game caller and the Tigers certainly fancy themselves contenders this year.

John Jaso, Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt are three more names to think about, though the former is a well below-average defender and has caught just one game in 2015 and the latter pair are undoubtedly going to be extremely pricey to acquire.

If I had to wager I’d put money on Pierzynski, Ruiz or Soto.

Signs The Astros Will Trade
The simple fact they’re legit contenders is enough but in case you need more evidence to suggest Jeff Luhnow is likely to make a deal or two, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes, with starting pitching a priority.

Drellich notes that there isn’t much to suggest Houston has their eyes on Cole Hamels, but rentals such as Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija “remain names of interest” to the second-place Astros. Drellich also mentions Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner as a reasonable target.

Interestingly, Drellich also adds that Luhnow may be more willing to move right-hander and 2013 No. 1 pick Mark Appel than other prospects such as outfielder Brett Phillips. From what I have heard on Appel, capitalizing on his recent surge would be wise.

Even though it’s within the division, I wonder if Scott Kazmir, provided he’s healthy, might be a better fit for Houston among the rental starters. He shouldn’t come at the cost of Cueto or Samardzija and it adds another lefty to an otherwise four-righty rotation. Handedness simply is a bonus to break ties.

Luhnow choose to strike a bit early to beat others to the punch to ensure he doesn’t get cornered later this month and either end up overpaying or being left in the cold. Paying too much now, however — because not many clubs are willing to call it a season and sell — is the challenge.

As pointed out by Steve Adams here, first base may be another spot Luhnow looks to upgrade. Chris Carter has struggled, Jonathan Singleton has yet to gain any traction at the plate and the most likely in-house answer beyond those two appears to be Luis Valbuena once Jed Lowrie returns from the disabled list. Perhaps Adam Lind is an option for Houston, and if the Astros add one of the above three starters plus address first base to the level of an Adam Lind, on paper that’s the best team in the division, and probably the second-best in the American League.

The Twins, too
Terry Ryan is unlikely to do nothing between now and July 31 and while nobody believes they’ll make the big-money splash, they could get a lot better by making a few improvements to the late-inning bullpen options and perhaps shortstop or catcher, as Mike Berardino of the St, Paul Pioneer-Press reports.

Shortstop and catcher will be difficult to address, of course, but Eduardo Nunez may get more time if he keeps hitting. The market isn’t dry, but the top names, such as Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, are more of the impact variety that the Twins may steer clear of to avoid the heavy cost and salary. Ben Zobrist can still hang at shortstop and might be an ideal fit. Not sure the two match up, especially if the Mariners, too, see themselves as buyers, but Chris Taylor may be a nice solidifying piece for the Twins.

I don’t expect the cannonball, but I do expect Ryan to make waves this month. …

Vogt15Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

July 13, 2015: Papelbon, Shields, Bruce

Should the Mariners be sellers?
Whether or not the Seattle Mariners should be buyers or sellers this month is as hot a topic as there is regarding baseball in the city. Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins covered the subject last week. Tuesday, MLBTradeRumors posted a poll asking which teams should be sellers. There were 11 teams on the list to vote for. The Mariners received fewer votes than eight other clubs at 5.79 percent, more than only the Indians and Rangers.

In my opinion, one big reason for the low “Sell” count is the Mariners don’t have a big name to sell. They don’t have a pending free agent with a flashy name like Justin Upton or Johnny Cueto. They aren’t presently in a position where it’s clear the club is seriously considering tearing down their current roster and starting over, like what could occur in Colorado if they were to move Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Once again, the M’s are stuck in the middle, the worst place to be.

The first week out of the break is enormous for Seattle, Texas, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland in the American League, and if the Diamondbacks want to hang around they’ll need to make a move in the win-loss column, too. A lot can change between now and the deadline. If any of the clubs above lose six of their first eight post break, they could go from buyers to sellers or from somewhere in between to aggressive sellers. Winning six of eight puts any of them firmly in line to purchase help and probably steps up the aggressiveness on that side.

Johnny Cueto
Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports tweets that Cueto is drawing the most interest from Kansas City, Toronto and Houston. All three need the right-hander, but Cueto isn’t the only option.

Cueto is due about $3.5 million the rest of the season and will hit the open market over the winter. He could put the Royals over the top in the American League, though now without Alex Gordon they may need a little outfield help, too.

I continue to be disappointed that Baltimore isn’t being linked here or anywhere near a legitimate frontline starting pitcher. Why? Because they have none and their division rivals do. They haven’t a soul that can match up with Chris Archer, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, or even Clay Buchholz when he’s on his game. Chris Tillman is not and never has been a No. 1, and Ubaldo Jimenez‘s days as such are gone. If the Jays end up with Cueto or another one of the top arms available, the Orioles will have a significant disadvantage versus every club in their division. If the O’s were to add one, they might end up the second-best team in the circuit.

Interestingly, the Red Sox also are looking to acquire more pitching, per the Boston Herald. Cueto and Cole Hamels could be joined by White Sox righty Jeff Samardzija on the trade market. All three are difference-making talents and Hamels is under contract for three more years after 2015.

Ideas
I haven’t seen a lot of chatter about this, but the Yankees need a second baseman in the worst way, Rob Refsnyder, a rookie, was called up and if he gets hot the Yankees may focus on other needs, but acquiring Ben Zobrist instantly makes the Yankees, already enjoying a 3.5 game lead, the heavy favorites for me in the American League East (acquisitions by other clubs in the division notwithstanding)…

The Twins at 49-40 may not be all that aggressive on the trade market beyond a reliever and a part-time player, but with so many rentals available, including Upton, Cueto, Samardzija and Zobrist, Terry Ryan could pull the trigger and surprise some people. How about re-acquiring Carlos Gomez?

The chicago Cubs are fascinating, not just because the best front office in baseball is running them but because they are full of young talent that is performing and at 47-40 and a Wild Card leader at the break are in a position to add significant pieces that help them now and beyond. Hamels shouldn’t be out of the question, nor should Gomez or a rental such as Samardzija or Scott Kazmir. I’d bet on at least two moves for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, and a summer on the north side to remember…

If I am the Angels I acknowledge that despite the presence of the game’s best player Mike Trout, who is all of 24 years old, that my window of opportunity with the current group is very short. The Halos need a starting pitcher and an outfielder. Their farm system isn’t very good, but if they’re willing to take on some salary there are fits that can help them stay out front in the American League West and perhaps be in a better position than they were a year ago when they won 98 games but were without Garrett Richards in October.

While Hamels, Cueto and Samardzija would be terrific additions, the Angels may not need to go that far. Kazmir is an upgrade, too, and if they have a young player or two that the Padres really like, perhaps they can pry Tyson Ross from A.J. Preller and the Padres. Jay Bruce is a fit in the Angels outfield, but a less expensive option may work better, such as Milwaukee’s Gerardo Parra, Cleveland’s Ryan Raburn or Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies.

Stephen Vogt
Vogt is the most interesting player this summer for me. He’s a viable catcher, under club control pre-arbitration through next season and can really hit. The A’s could use him to make a run next season and still be in position to trade him if they again falter, but his value is at an all-time high and the return may be too good to pass up.

So many clubs need catchers and Vogt is such a strong bat that on days he doesn’t catch he can play first base or serve as the DH. He changes the lineup dramatically in Texas, Seattle and Boston, It’s difficult to find a team that wouldn’t benefit greatly from acquiring him. If Billy Beane makes Vogt available, he may garner the biggest return this side of Hamels, and he may surpass what Ruben Amaro gets for his lefty ace.

The question is whether or not many clubs have the inventory of young talent to send out in such a deal. Beane is as creative as it comes, though. Stay tuned.…

jay-bruceEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Papelbon, Other Closers
ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark tweeted last week that closer Jonathan Papelbon was close to being dealt but the Phillies “pulled back.” Stark mentioned Toronto, Texas, Chicago Cubs among those in said discussions.

Papelbon’s vesting option and no-trade clause certainly play a large role here. He’s due a around $4.5 million the rest of 2015 and his $13 million club option automatically vests with 55 games finished this season or a combined 100 games finished the past two. He tallied 52 a year ago and has 29 before the All-Star break.

Papelbon can block trades to 17 teams, but appears more than willing to sign off on a trade, Jake Kaplan of the Philly Inquirer reports.

At 34, Papelbon has yet to show significant signs of decline. He enters the break with a 2.75 FIP and 9.36 K/9 rate, though his velocity has dipped a full tick since 2013 and nearly three since 2012.

The closer market rarely is flooded, but there could be some other big-name stoppers available, potentially including Craig Kimbrel and Francisco Rodriguez. Several setup types likely will be available, too, but if you’re the Rangers and want a proven ninth-inning option, the aforementioned trio likely will be their best bet.

Rodriguez, 33, may be especially attractive thanks to his contract, which calls for him to earn just over $1 million the rest of 2015, $7.5 million next year with a $6 million club option for 2017.

Jay Bruce, Anyone?
Four years ago Bruce looked like a star, but 4 1/2 years into a six-year contract with a club option, he’s being dangled on the trade market, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. He’s just 28 but his production fell to .217/.281/.373 in 2014 after knee surgery. He’s rebounded some in 2015, getting back to .251/.341/.465 in a healthy first half.

Bruce is due about $5 million the rest of this season, plus $12.5 million in 2016. His $13 million club option comes with a $1 million buyout. When healthy, Bruce is an average defender with a plus arm and he may be a legitimate 3.0 fWAR player. While his home-road splits aren’t pretty this season he’s had numerous season where he hit better away from the Great American Smallpark, as some pitchers like to call it.

Bruce’s contract allows for him to block trades to eight clubs — A’s Jays, Yankees, Twins, Marlins, Red Sox and Diamondbacks — but none appear to be fits for the right fielder, anyway. Who does? How about the Royals, who lost Alex Gordon to injury? The Angels
also could be a fit if they have enough trade inventory to interest Reds GM Walt Jocketty. Seattle, Texas, the Dodgers and perhaps even the Giants also could have some level of interest.

Bruce isn’t pricey, there’s no long-term commitment and it appears he’s put his struggles behind him after a terrible April.

Other outfield bats that may hit the market include Justin Upton, Carlos Gomez, Ben Zobrist and Josh Reddick, all of which will draw heavy interest. Every team anywhere near contention outside Pittsburgh, Yankees, Kansas City, Baltimore, Angels and Dodgers could use Gomez. Who needs him the most? Probably Seattle, San Diego and St. Louis. Gomez puts the Cards’ offense over the top and offers the M’s and Padres an answer in center and leadoff through next season.

As for Bruce, I’m curious if the Angels or Giants like Bruce enough to make a run at him.

Shields
When the recent report that the Padres were testing the waters for James Shields hit the Web, I wasn’t surprised, only reminded that it took a long time for a team to give Shields a deal he liked over the offseason. Shields signed for $75 million over four years, but not until days before pitcher and catchers reported for spring training. Now that he’s halfway through year one and due about $3.5 million the rest of 2015 plus $65 million more guaranteed through 2018. Shields can opt out after next season and in lieu of a $2 million buyout on his 2019 option, is due $16 million that season when he will be 38.

He’s pitched OK this season for the Padres, posting a 4.16 FIP and 10.11 K/9 over 19 starts. But OK isn’t worth $21 million per season — unless you’re the Red Sox, who gave Rick Porcello nearly $100 million guaranteed for the same kind of performance. Perhaps that deal is why A.J. Preller wants to see what’s out there for Shields.

Clubs that may have interest include Texas, Toronto, Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals. All of those clubs had a shot at Shields six months ago, but a few things have changed due to injury. It’s too bad the Royals don’t have the available payroll for a reunion, but I’d love to see the Tigers grab Shields and make the American League Central that much more intriguing.…

Walker
A few days ago, I had to calm down a frustrated life-long Seattle Mariners fan who was frustrated by the team’s slow start. I felt like the Kevin Bacon character from the movie “Animal House” when he’s performing crowd control at a parade and tells the masses to “remain calm, all is well.” Yes, it’s certainly possible that the Mariners could underachieve and be a disappointment. But, after just 15 games of a 162-game baseball season, it’s way too early to panic about the Mariners or any other team in the majors.

Nonetheless, a groundswell of social-media angst has developed after the Mariners registered only six wins during their first 15 games. A slow start during the first half-month of a season that’s nearly six-months long has created a furor among some fans who are wondering if the team will be “the same old Mariners” that hasn’t appeared in the postseason for over a decade.

Considering the high expectations being placed on this team, it’s understandable if new fans are a bit anxious about Seattle’s slow start. After all, the Mariners came excruciatingly close to making the postseason in 2014 and they’ve aggressively upgraded their offense in order to overcome their most glaring weakness of the 2014 season – inadequate run production. Longtime Mariners fans are all too familiar with the fact that their team – along with Montreal/Washington – are one of only two Major League Baseball franchises to never appear in a World Series. Yet, they’ve faithfully stuck with the team despite no postseason appearances since 2001. The combination of pent-up frustrations, high expectations, and a slow start by the team have led to a somewhat frustrated baseball fan-base in the third week of April.

The standings
With all of that said, take a look at where the Mariners stood after their first 15 games in 2014 and compare it to this year’s start. For me, it’s easy to see that the factors that compelled many to project Seattle as a World Series contender haven’t changed – especially after just two weeks.
Current AL West Standings
The first thing that becomes apparent is that the standings mean nothing after 15 games. Seattle isn’t the only team to have a less-than-ideal start to the 2015 season. They are just two games behind the American League (AL) West division-leading Houston Astros and only two games separate the entire division. Considering how things started last season, no team in the division should be too high or too low about their 2015 start.

At the 15-game point of last season – April 17 – the Oakland Athletics were off to a very hot start and the Texas Rangers also had a winning record. By the end of the season, the Rangers had self-destructed from injuries and were cellar-dwellers, while Oakland experienced an epic second-half collapse and barely reached the postseason with Seattle breathing down their neck. Here’s a reason to remain calm – the 2015 Mariners only have one less win than last year and that team was in the midst of an eight game losing streak.
April 2014 standings
The team finally ended the streak on April 23 when Kyle Seager hit two home runs, including a walk-off three-run shot in the bottom of the ninth against Houston. Afterwards, Seattle started its climb back towards eventual playoff contention. This year’s team has a far superior roster to the 2014 version, although it’s true that some elements of the roster have underachieved. But, there’s been no red-flags that would justify the concerns being expressed by some fans. No team has run away with the division, like the 1984 Detroit Tigers, and only one team even has a winning record. Yes, this fact should give Mariners fans a reason to believe that all is well.

Pitching
For many people, it was a foregone conclusion that the team’s strength in 2014 – pitching – would continue to be the foundation of the team’s success in 2015. After all, the team still has their ace – Felix Hernandez – and Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker are all healthy after having injury issues during 2014. Plus, the team added newcomer J.A. Happ to give the rotation veteran depth to complement the young arms of Paxton and Walker.
Pitching Staff Comparison
When the Mariners traded for Happ, many viewed the veteran southpaw as nothing more than a number-five starter who might not even make the rotation. After a rough Spring Training, that opinion continued to prevail with some pundits and fans who continued to clamor for the team to drop Happ from the rotation in favor of fellow southpaw Roenis Elias. Happ made the rotation and, after three starts, the perception of the lefty has shifted drastically.

Thus far, the 32-year-old has pitched the most innings and has been the most consistent starter in the rotation. More than likely, Happ’s numbers will normalize to his career averages as the season progresses. But, the team has been fortunate to have the veteran hurler during the early stages of the season. The troubling aspect for the rotation has been the inconsistent performances of Iwakuma, Paxton, and Walker. Each entered the season with a different set of expectations, while all suffering from a common challenge – struggling with their command.

Iwakuma was viewed as the number-two starter behind King Felix, but he’s struggled in each of his starts. After a solid 2014, Paxton was expected to advance and eventually replace “Kuma” as the number-two starter in the rotation, while Walker earned his spot in the rotation during a superb Spring Training when he beat out Elias for the final spot in the rotation. Certainly, the Mariners will need more from this threesome to be serious contenders. Since all three pitchers appear to be healthy and only need to work out the bugs in their individual deliveries, I don’t see any reason for concern after only three starts. Harken back to the early stages of 2014 when the Mariners had to rely on a group that included Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer, and Blake Beavan – Seattle’s rotation has a far better outlook than they did at this time last year. Relievers

Another factor in the high expectations for Mariners’ staff is the fact that the team had one of the best bullpens in 2014 and had all of their key contributors returning with a few new potent arms added to the mix to help augment the holdovers. According to social media, the bullpen is a weakness, although I believe that it’s quite the opposite – the bullpen has been performing well. Granted, there have been a few lapses and it’s true that closer Fernando Rodney and fellow reliever Danny Farquhar have struggled in a few of their outings. But, the pen has worked nearly 11 extra innings and has virtually the same number of walks and hits-per-innings pitched (WHIP) as in 2014.

The Mariners’ bullpen ended last season with a 1.15 WHIP and there are signs that this year’s squad will see their WHIP to decline significantly as the season progresses and their innings pitched increases. My optimism is based on the superb performances from rookie Carson Smith and sophomore Dominic Leone, plus Rodney seems to have re-discovered his command during his last three outings. Lastly, I expect that Farquhar will get back on track in the near future. He, like every other Mariner pitcher who has struggled, is healthy and only needs to improve his command. The only area of concern for me is the increased workload of the bullpen as the rotation works through their issues.

Offense
Despite the dramatic home runs and offensive performance of Nelson Cruz, this year’s team offense has actually scored three fewer runs than the 2014 version. At this point last year, Corey Hart led the team with four home runs, although it should be noted that he would only two more homers during the remainder of the season.
Offense Comparison

The team’s batting average is up in 2015, but the sample size is so small to that it really has no bearing at this time. But, there are two positive signs that the Mariners could potentially be more productive in 2015– they’re walking more and striking out much less. That’s an encouraging development for a team that’s been offensively challenged during recent seasons. Let’s look at several players who’ve received a great deal of positive and negative attention during the young season.

First, Cruz has quickly demonstrated that is that he’s not just a slugger – he’s a professional right-handed hitter who has demonstrated that he can be productive at Safeco Field. Certainly, he’s not going to continue to hit at the torrid pace that resulted in his selection as AL Player of the Week for last week. But, he’s poised to be a solid cleanup hitter throughout the season and that’s something that the Mariners have sorely missed in recent years. 2015 OffenseCatcher Mike Zunino has struggled at the plate during the first 15 games and has even looked lost at times. But, he’s shown signs of improving during the last few games and could be snapping out of his funk. If he’s still striking out 38-percent of his plate appearances at Memorial Day, there will be reason for concern – not now though.

Another holdover from 2014 – first baseman Logan Morrison – has struggled out of the chute this season. But, he had issues during the start of last season too. At the start of 2014, he was spending time in the outfield, designated hitter, and first base and wasn’t an everyday player like he is in 2015. The 27-year-old has been hitting the ball hard, but directly at fielders who are shifting to defend his tendency to pull the ball. Going forward, he’ll need to prove that he can beat the shift and be a dependable offensive first baseman. Like Zunino, there’s no need to be concerned until June.

Outlook
There’s no disputing that the Mariners and their fans would have preferred that the team avoided a slow start. But, every team goes through a 6-9 stretch at some point during the season. The key for Seattle will be turning around their fortunes in the next six weeks. Last year’s Mariners started slowly and ended up competing until the last day of the season. Considering that the team that eventually led the majors in wins during 2014 – the Los Angeles Angels – had a losing record after 15 games, I’m convinced that – barring injury – the Mariners will be fine in 2015. This year’s roster is far superior and built to win now.

If the team continues to stumble, I suppose that I could end-up suffering the same fate of Bacon’s “Animal House” character – being trampled during the mass hysteria. Nothing that I’ve seen in the last two weeks has me concerned about a possible trampling – the Mariners will be fine.…

Felix Hernandez King's CourtOpening Day is finally upon us. But this isn’t the same Opening Day that has come in previous years. The Seattle Mariners begin the season as a legitimate World Series contender and American League favorite, according to many pundits. The rebuilding and retooling tags have been shed. The ‘bubble team that needs things to break right’ better defined the 2014 season and hasn’t even been mentioned when discussing 2015.

This time last year, Alex Carson posed the question, “is optimism silly?” when discussing the 2014 Mariners. He noted the addition of Robinson Cano and how there was a sense of change from previous seasons under former manager Eric Wedge. There wasn’t any expectations of success, but reasonable ground for being hopeful about the coming season.

This time around though, it’s all different. The Mariners are expected to have success not only in the regular season but the playoffs, also.

Missing the playoffs by a single game will dramatically alter the outlook of any team, particular one that hasn’t played October baseball in more than a decade. Perhaps it was enough to alter the public’s perception of the Seattle franchise who are now picked by many to make a playoff run.

Going from optimism to expectations often starts when the games aren’t being played: the offseason.

To some extent, the winter played out has many expected: Seattle acquired a right-handed power bat, traded a bullpen arm, picked up a veteran starter, traded Michael Saunders, and added reasonable outfield depth. The acquisitions of Nelson Cruz, J.A. Happ, Seth Smith, Justin Ruggiano, and Rickie Weeks all made sense. Sure, the Cruz deal may not look great two years from now nor is Smith the definition of an impact bat, but altogether, we’ve started to see how the pieces appear to fit.

Slotting Cruz between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in the lineup gives Seattle one of the best middle-of-the-orders in baseball. Having Smith and Ruggiano as options in the No. 2 spot allows Dustin Ackley to hit closer to the bottom of the order. Should Austin Jackson struggle with the bat, again, Weeks could be a viable option at the leadoff position.

Happ effectively replaces the departed Chris Young, who signed with the Kansas City Royals, and could be a perfect match for Safeco Field. Dealing Maurer made sense given the number of right-handed relief options at manager Lloyd McLendon’s disposal.

Perhaps the real difference-makers though, will be those already in the organization.

Taijuan Walker has dazzled this spring. And James Paxton is healthy. Between the pair, the Mariners could see No. 2 and No. 3 starter performance — and we’re not talking about their projected ceilings as top prospects. They could be such in 2015. The best part? The two will slot behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma who are still one of the top one-two punches in baseball. This doesn’t even consider that Roenis Elias, who threw over 160 innings last year, begins the season at Triple-A.

Brad Miller starts the year as the everyday shortstop but will have Chris Taylor breathing down his neck in just a few weeks. If he can take the next step with the bat, he could be the top shortstop in the division. Logan Morrison showed some promise with the bat when he was healthy last year and at age-27, he’s entering a make-or-brake season. Dustin Ackley? Basically the same story. Austin Jackson is entering his walk year and will have to prove he’s closer to the player he was in 2012 than 2014, if he wants to get paid.

The best bullpen in the major leagues in 2014, sans Brandon Maurer and Joe Beimel, will be back. Rookies Tyler Olson and Carson Smith will start the season in the pen while Dominic Leone works out some kinks at Triple-A and David Rollins serves an 80-game PED suspension — both offer depth that will be utilized in the coming months.

For all the depth in place, there are a few areas that aren’t without concern.

What happens if Morrison gets hurt again? Jesus Montero is next on the depth chart and despite a much improved physique, he’s a major question mark.

Mike Zunino played 131 games last year and will likely carry a similar workload this year since Jesus Sucre offers next to nothing in the batter’s box. Though the back-up should mark a defensive improvement over what John Buck offered for the first few months of 2014 and conceivably improve offensively.

There’s also the possibility that Jackson under performs once again and Ackley can’t find any consistency with the bat.

But this is where the difference between the 2015 and 2014 Mariners lies: McLendon has options. If Ackley struggles, Weeks can play left field off the bench. Or one of Ruggiano and Smith. If Walker struggles out of the gate or one of the starters hits the disabled list, Elias is waiting in the wings. Leone, who is coming off an excellent campaign, is the first reliever called-up if needed.

We keep talking about the Mariners depth and how if an 87-win team could make just a few marginal upgrades, the result would be a playoff berth. Well, the M’s have made marginal upgrades, and conceivably will see better performance out of a few existing players. Even if the bullpen regresses and Cruz can’t crack 20 home runs, this is still a much-improved club overall. A total of 90 wins or better is completely realistic.

One of the reasons why the M’s have become a popular pick is the lack of clarity in the American League West — not to take away from the quality of the team itself.

The Los Angeles Angels didn’t make any significant upgrades this winter and the loss of Howie Kendrick will certainly be felt. Aside from Mike Trout and Albert Pujols the lineup lacks punch. The bullpen looks stronger with a full season of Huston Street in the closer’s role though the rotation will probably determine how far this club can go. Garrett Richards is on the mend but Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will need rebound seasons.

The Oakland Athletics seemingly turned over the entire roster in an effort to replenish organizational depth and deploy a new strategy of receiving league average or better performance out of each position. The losses of Josh Donaldson and Jeff Samardzija will hurt. Brett Lawrie, if healthy, could finally live up to some of his potential. Ben Zobrist was a nice pick-up, too, and his flexibility is a perfect match for the club’s style. Sonny Gray is a breakout candidate atop the rotation and Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffen are nearing returns.

The Texas Rangers have all but been written off for 2015 after ace Yu Darvish underwent Tommy John surgery. Healthy seasons from Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo will help, as will the presence of the seemingly ageless Adrian Beltre. But Yovani Gallardo and Derek Holland head a weak rotation that probably won’t be supported well from the bullpen. There’s a chance that Texas could be interesting if things work out, but there are definitely the makings of another lost season.

The Houston Astros are on the upswing and should top the 70 wins the club finished 2014 with. Evan Gattis and Jed Lowrie are nice upgrades and Colby Rasmus and Luis Valbuena were under the radar pick-ups. Alongside Jose Altuve and George Springer the lineup could be pretty good, albeit strikeout-heavy. The rotation lacks intrigue behind Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, though. Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshak were surprising bullpen expenditures, but their value will probably be realized once they are traded for other assets.

The AL West certainly doesn’t project as a weak division, especially in comparison to the other American League divisions that have their own sets of question marks. In comparison to the other four teams, the Mariners project as the most complete overall.

Even looking at other American League heavyweights, the Detroit Tigers, the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees, and the rising Cleveland Indians, the Mariners still, on paper, have the most complete team.

It’s much easier to sneak under the radar a la the 2014 Kansas City Royals. But there’s something to be said for living up to expectations. This season is ripe with opportunity. How pumped is Felix going to be when he takes the mound for the first time on Monday after narrowly missing the playoffs?

Sure, the Mariners have been pegged as favorites before and the result was a 101-loss season. But that shouldn’t be anywhere near the case this year. The influence of McLendon and the leadership in the clubhouse has conjured up a a club that believes in themselves, and that’s as good a foundation for a team as any.

The roster is set. Spring Training is complete. All that’s left is to play the games.

Go Mariners.…

Mariners Celebrating
The Seattle Mariners are set to open their 2015 season tomorrow and, much to the chagrin of some fans, the team is this year’s “sexy pick” to make a deep postseason run. During the six-years that I’ve lived in the Puget Sound area, I’ve come to realize that being a favorite can create anxiety for some local fans.

That’s understandable considering the fact that Seattle along with Montreal/Washington are the only two Major League Baseball franchises  that have never appeared in a World Series. Yet, there are valid reasons for fans to have optimism entering the 2015 season. Why? The cadre of proven hitters that Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and his staff have assembled will be able to compensate for any regression that the pitching staff could potentially experience.

Run scoring
Anyone familiar with the Mariners is well-aware of the organization’s recent offensive struggles. During the last five years, the team has ranked at-or-near the bottom of the American League (AL) in virtually every offensive category. Ironically, the Mariners have actually slightly improved their average runs-per-game (runs/gm) over the past two seasons. An area that didn’t improve was on-base percentage (OBP), which explains why Zduriencik has been constantly attempting to upgrade the team’s offense since the signing of second baseman Robinson Cano prior to the 2014 season. The roster that he’s constructed is capable of ending the team’s 14-year postseason drought. Mariners Production

While the acquisition of 2014 AL home run leader Nelson Cruz is the most notable addition to the team’s arsenal during this offseason, the acquisitions of veterans Seth Smith, Justin Ruggiano, and Rickie Weeks will further “extend” the team’s lineup. All four of these players exceeded the league-average for OBP (.316) in 2014 and they’ve been above that mark throughout their careers.

Include Austin Jackson, who struggled mightily after being acquired last July, and the team is significantly better than last year’s Opening Day squad. Even if Jackson doesn’t completely return to his career OBP level of .336, the team has added five players who are significantly better than the players they’ve replaced. A side-by-side review of the likely 2015 Opening Day lineup compared to last year’s opener in Anaheim reinforces the fact that the offense will be far better than in 2014.

LineupAs for the holdovers from last season, there’s no reason to expect that Cano or Kyle Seager will experience any appreciable regression in 2015. With that said, the remaining holdovers — Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Mike Zunino – have yet to establish themselves as consistent and reliable contributors to the offense. Thanks to their new teammates, the foursome can positively contribute to run production by merely not regressing from an offensive standpoint.

A second order effect of Zduriencik’s deals is a much stronger bench, particularly in the outfield. McClendon is certain to mix and match Ackley, Ruggiano, Smith, and Weeks in order to optimize their production. Top to bottom, this Mariners team is far better than the one assembled for Opening Day 2014.

Updated Bench 2

Pitching
The 2014 Mariners’ pitching staff compensated for the team’s below-average run production, as evidenced by the team’s positive run differential (runs-scored minus runs-allowed). Manager Lloyd McClendon and pitching coach Rick Waits masterfully guided the crew to an AL leading 3.17 earned run average (ERA). Their superb bullpen helped offset the unplanned losses of Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, and Brandon Maurer to injuries prior to the start of the season and the poor performance of several replacement starters. Despite the setbacks, the starting staff led the AL in the fewest runs-allowed during 952 innings pitched (IP).
AL Pitching Projetions
Let’s take a look at the projected outcome for the 2015 pitching staff; all projections are based on Steamer projections on FanGraphs.com. I decided to use fielding independent pitching (FIP) to illustrate last year’s performances and this year’s projections because FIP is a metric fashioned after ERA that demonstrates the quality of a pitcher’s performance by eliminating plate appearances involving defensive plays. In essence, the pitcher is not penalized or rewarded by the defense behind him. League-average for FIP in 2014 was 3.74. Despite an expectation that the pitching staff should regress from last year’s stellar performance, they are projected to have approximately the same FIP and be at the top of their league in 2015.

If the team can avoid the injury bug this year, the projected rotation should be much better with the addition of J.A. Happ from Toronto and having Iwakuma, James Paxton, and Walker for the entire season. Another encouraging development is the team has the luxury of having Roenis Elias, available at Class-AAA Tacoma. The southpaw was a 10-game winner during his rookie campaign in 2014 and will be primed to fill-in as an injury replacement or as a spot starter whenever needed. Having a quality starter at the ready in Tacoma will be a welcome change from the 2014 season.

RotationThe bullpen, which has many of the same faces returning, stranded 80.7 percent of base runners in 2014; seven-percent better than second-best Kansas City. Although bullpen performances have a tendency to fluctuate from year-to-year, the addition of the two youngsters – Carson Smith and Tyler Olson – should help stave off any letdown from 2014. Smith was impressive during his short debut last September by not allowing an earned run, while striking out 10 batters in 8.1 innings. Olson earned his way onto the Opening Day roster by having a superb Spring Training. The southpaw didn’t allow an earned run, while striking out 15 batters and walking none in 12.1 innings.

New BullpenProjecting 2015
With FanGraphs projections indicating that the offense will be more productive than it’s been in over a half-decade and that the pitching staff will regress slightly and still remain at-or-near the top of the AL, what should be the realistic expectations for Mariners fans? According to the FanGraphs, the team is projected to score 667 runs, surrender 609 runs, and win 88 games. They’re using Bill James’ Pythagorean Expectation formula, which relies on run-differential to project a team’s winning percentage.

Before going any further, it’s important to keep run-differential in proper perspective; it’s possible to have a winning record with a negative run-differential or a losing record with a positive differential. Both the 2009 Mariners and 2014 New York Yankees had winning records while posting a negative run-differential. Conversely, the New York Mets posted a losing record with a positive run-differential in 2014. Nevertheless, James’ Pythagorean Expectation formula has proven to be reasonably accurate in projecting a team’s winning percentage by using run-differential.Pythagorean Outcome 5Take a look at a comparison of the projected wins – based on run differential – and the actual wins that postseason teams and Seattle registered in 2014. The Mariners scored 634 runs and allowed 554, which resulted in a run-differential of 80. Based on the Pythagorean Expectation formula, Seattle should have won 91 games, but actually finished with 88 for a deviation of four wins. Being off by only four wins over the span of 162 games is a relatively close projection, which was the case for most of the teams that made it to the postseason last year. The average deviation for all ten playoff teams and the Mariners was 3.6.  The Oakland Athletics were the only team that was completely; they were projected to win 99 games and ended up winning 88. That large deviation can be attributed to the combination of Oakland’s torrid first-half – when their run-differential had the team on track to win a projected 109 games – and their second-half collapse.

The Pythagorean Expectation formula is not a perfect tool. But, it definitely can give you an decent idea on where a team could finish. With that in mind, take a look at the “Projecting the 2015 Mariners” table to see why Mariners should feel reasonably optimistic about the upcoming season. FanGraphs projects that Seattle will win 88 games and have a run-differential of 58 in in 2015. Assuming that the FanGraphs projection of 609 runs-allowed is the worst-case scenario for Seattle’s run-prevention, how would the team fare if they scored more runs than projected?2015 Projections for Mariners 4If the team were to score the projected league-average of 682 runs, the team projects to win 89 games. Take it a step further and plug in McClendon’s stated belief that his team can score 700 runs in 2015.  Reaching the projected league-average or even McClendon’s goal are realistic expectations considering that reaching those marks would require the team to score only 48-66 more runs than they scored in 2014. For presentation purposes, I added in run scoring marks of 715 and 725, which are far less likely and would require career years from several veterans and breakout seasons from several of players like Ackley, Miller, Morrison, and Zunino.

Reason for optimism
Jack Zduriencik and his staff have primed this team to win now by adding several proven position players, who know how to get on base and score runs, and sustaining a pitching staff that’s good enough to be at-or-near the top of the AL. The Seattle Mariners may never be known as an offensive juggernaut because they play half their games at Safeco Field. But, this team won’t need to be to reach the FanGraphs projection of 667 runs and reaching the 88-win mark.

As far as reaching the 700 run goal set by the Mariners’ skipper, that’s an attainable mark that will hinge on the combined effort of Ackley, Miller, Morrison, Ruggiano, Weeks, and Zunino. With one day to go before the season starts, it’s up to Seattle’s faithful to decide whether to buy-in to upgraded roster now or take a “wait and see” approach with a team that’s been a disappointment for over a decade. I expect that, barring injury or fatigue, this team will reach the postseason for the first time since 2001.…

Kyle Seager, Robinson CanoThe Seattle Mariners went over their payroll budget in 2014 with a final tally of $107 million. At the outset of the offseason, GM Jack Zduriencik made it clear that the club wouldn’t be pulling back from that number. That sentiment was echoed by president Kevin Mather who said that the club would be doing what they could to add five or six wins to an 87-win season.

We don’t know what the M’s total salary expenditure for 2015 will be until season’s end. But, after the signing of Rickie Weeks to a one-year deal, we can estimate that total to be around the $120 million mark — at least a 10 percent increase from 2014’s total. We do know that Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano represented approximately 52 percent of Seattle’s $92 million payroll, according to the Associate Press.

With the increase in payroll for the upcoming season, and additions of several players, Seattle is looking at a much different distribution of payroll. In fact, several positions will see an increase in payroll space.

The chart on the right shows an approximation of how the Mariners will distribute their payroll this year based on a projected Opening Day roster. These are the players that are included at each position:

  • 2015 Mariners Payroll Dist ChartSP: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker/Roenis Elias
  • RP: Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush, Dom Leone, Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar, Carson Smith, Lucas Luetge
  • C: Mike Zunino
  • 1B: Logan Morrison
  • 2B: Robinson Cano
  • 3B: Kyle Seager
  • SS: Brad Miller
  • LF: Dustin Ackley
  • CF: Austin Jackson
  • RF: Seth Smith
  • DH: Nelson Cruz
  • Bench: Rickie Weeks, Jesus Sucre, Willie Bloomquist, Justin Ruggiano, Chris Taylor

The numbers shown are approximations, although now that Tom Wilhelmsen’s arbitration case is settled, we should have a pretty good idea as to what payroll will look like. For pre-arbitration guys I used a simple estimate of $500 thousand for first year, $600 thousand for second year, and $700 thousand for third year. This was done to give some separation between each service year. Typically most of these salaries will fall in the $500-to-600 thousand range depending on the team.

I also ignored the potential outfield and shortstop platoons as, for these purposes, it’s simpler to have a designated starter for each position. Right now it would make sense for Smith and Ruggiano to platoon in right field. There’s also reason to believe Miller and Taylor will platoon at shortstop though one could seize the everyday job and the other starts at Triple-A. We also don’t know how much Weeks will be able to play in the outfield yet, but it’s conceivable he could end up in a platoon with Dustin Ackley in left field.

One of Walker and Elias will take the No. 5 spot but will earn a very similar salary in 2015. Despite what may or may be going on with Bloomquist and his recovery, the assumption is that he will be on the bench. It is also unlikely the club utilizes an eight-man bullpen to start the year, but as there is an extra player on the bench factored in, I did the same with the bench. Danny Hultzen is owed $1.7 million for 2015, but he will start the year in the minors and go from there, so his salary is not included.

So, without further ado and in pie chart form, the 2015 salary distribution for the Mariners.

2015 SEA Payroll Distribution

As we can see, the bulk of payroll is allotted to the starting rotation and second base which should not be a surprise. Felix and Cano, the team’s highest paid players, are due $24.86 million and $24 million in 2015 respectively. Seager, who signed a $100 million extension this winter, will receive just $4.5 million of it this year.

What is interesting to note though, is that Cano’s contract no longer covers one quarter of the M’s payroll. In fact, after the club’s expenditures this offseason, he represents about 19 percent of total payroll. Approximately the same goes for Felix, meaning just under 40 percent is allotted to this two players — down from about 50 percent on Opening Day 2014.

Without reading to much into this, we have proof that ownership is in fact committed to the club’s payroll. As mentioned off the top: payroll was said to be increasing, and we can clearly see that it has.

Otherwise, the payroll is fairly evenly distributed. The catching and shortstop positions make up the smallest portions of the chart with all three of Zunino, Miller, and Taylor playing as pre-arbitration guys. Again, both shortstops may or may not start the season on the big league roster.

In the following chart, we can see how the Mariners compare to the rest of the American League West in terms of payroll distribution by position.

American League West Salary Distributions Chart

The same caveats used for the Mariners — playing time, pre-arbitration salaries, etc. — apply for the other four teams as well. A few things that I made note of:

  • The division will spend very little on the catcher position. The Los Angeles Angels Chris Iannetta is the highest paid catcher and will earn $5.53 million in 2015.
  • Left field is another position with minimal expenditure across the division except for Josh Hamilton. The slugger is due $25.4 million for the season but is currently rehabbing an injured shoulder and when he will be ready is still up in the air.
  • The Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics project to have the smallest payrolls in the division, but have the highest portion of payroll allotted to the bullpen. The Astros signed Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek to lucrative deals this winter while the A’s acquired Tyler Clippard in a trade with the Washington Nationals.
  • Based on the estimation, less than $1 million more has been spent on the rotation than the bullpen by the Athletics. With the pricey free agent acquisitions, the Astros are projected to spend more on their bullpen than rotation this year.
  • The highest-paid first basemen in the division, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are both near the beginning of monster contracts that already appear to be albatrosses as both have battled significant injuries recently. The pair are expected to be healthy for Opening Day.
  • After the signing of Rickie Weeks, the Mariners have the most payroll allotted to their bench — nearly double what the Astros, with the next highest amount, will spend this year.

With more than one month until Opening Day, there’s still a chance that each of these teams adds to their payroll.

*All salary information, aside from the noted pre-arbitration estimates, is from Baseball-Reference.

Robinson Cano Spring TrainingPitchers and catchers are now just days away from reporting to Spring Training complexes, signalling the nearing of Opening Day. As of Wednesday, the Seattle Mariners are just 55 days away from opening the season against the Los Angeles Angels on April 6 at Safeco Field.

Now that James Shields has signed on with the much-improved San Diego Padres, the Hot Stove season is all but finished. Once we reach the mid-point of March and teams have began to make roster decisions things will heat up slightly with several out-of-options players — see Ramirez, Erasmo — potentially on the move. Expect to see a few more minor league deals handed out or minor trades in the meantime, but for the most part, teams are ready to get to camp and attempt to sort out what all they have.

The notable recent minor league deals handed out by the Mariners for the 2015 season include:

As noted, February is typically a slow month for meaningful transactions. However, last year on February 13, Seattle signed veteran closer Fernando Rodney to a two-year, $14 million contract. The enigmatic right-hander would go on to save a league-leading 48 games in 2014. Although the ‘save’ statistic has proven to be overrated — except by traditionalists — the arrow-slinging Rodney effectively stabilized the best bullpen in baseball. Incumbent closers Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen were pushed to set-up and middle relief roles respectively, improving the pen as a whole.

February transactions certainly aren’t all meaningless.

ESPN’s Dan Szymborski, via FanGraphs, released the ZIPs projection for the Mariners in 2015. Of note, Robinson Cano is projected for a 5.3 zWAR season while newcomer Nelson Cruz received a 2.3 zWAR projection. The recently extended Kyle Seager sits in between the pair with a 4.3 zWAR projection. On the pitching side of things, Felix Hernandez is projected for another excellent season at 5.6 fWAR. Hisashi Iwakuma follows with a 2.8 zWAR projection while Danny Farquhar projects to be the best bullpen arm at 0.8 zWAR.

A pair of Mariners prospects cracked MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects for 2015: 2014 first-rounder Alex Jackson came in at No. 28 while D.J. Peterson took the No. 50 spot. Both hitters also appeared on ESPN’s Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospects list: Jackson at No. 59 and Peterson at No. 61. Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs secured the No. 1 spot on both lists.

Jackson is expected to begin the season in the low minors while Peterson will be at big league camp and could start the season at Triple-A.

Back on the major league side of things, Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins pondered Dustin Ackley’s future in Seattle. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft will turn 27 later this month and is coming off his best season since debuting in 2011. Arkins opines that Ackley could be best served as one half of a left field platoon, with the left-hander primarily starting against right-handed pitching.

The Mariners selected left-handed pitcher David Rollins in this past year’s Rule 5 Draft. I caught up with him back in December and discussed his plans for 2015 and thoughts on being acquired by the organization for a third time.

Back in January I compared the perceived offseason strategy of the Oakland Athletics — filling each position with league average or better players and plenty of depth — to the current state of the Mariners. Arkins offered a different Hot Stove strategy for the M’s with an eye on run prevention vs. run production.

Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times breaks down the Mariners roster by position heading into Spring Training. There is still a noticeable hole at first base behind Logan Morrison but Divish notes that the starting pitching depth is much improved. Sam Gaviglio, Justin Germano, and Mike Kickham have all been added to the mix this winter.

Don’t forget you can catch PI’s Jason A. Churchill and Alex Carson every Saturday night on The Hot Stove Report. In the most recent edition, the guys discussed Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Danny Hultzen in 2015 with all three coming off injuries. Paxton figures to be a near-lock for a rotation spot while Walker and Roenis Elias are likely to compete for the No. 5 spot. Hultzen is healthy and will report with the other pitchers and catchers but starting the season at Triple-A is probable.…

Billy BeaneIt’s a strange thing. Normally the first person that comes to mind when speaking of a professional sports organization is an iconic player or even coach. It rarely is an executive. But I guess that comes with the territory when one is portrayed by Brad Pitt on the big screen.

There has been much talk with respect to what exactly the Oakland Athletics have been doing this offseason. Or more specifically, what is Billy Beane doing. Rebuilding? Retooling? Going for it, again?

Recently at FanGraphs, prior to the Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar trade, Miles Wray offered his thoughts on what exactly the Athletics are trying to do this winter. He theorizes that instead of relying on superstars, the A’s are stocking their roster with as many players who project as league average or better as possible. It’s a play on the idea that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts.

For context, a league average player is worth about 2.0 fWAR. Wray opines that Oakland may be of the mind that a lineup without any noticeable holes can make up for the lack of premier hitters.

In discussing the A’s standing in the American League West after the Zobrist deal, I had a similar sentiment:

The two infielders acquired today alongside [Brett] Lawrie and Ike Davis, who was acquired from the New York Mets, could make for an improved infield overall compared to last year. There is risk associated with all four new players … but it looks as if the departure of Donaldson won’t be felt quite as hard in terms of production.

After seeing increases in payroll over the last several years, it’s possible that the A’s ownership group wanted to see total player salary decrease. That’s bad news for a club that’s already financially restricted due to it’s small market nature.

There’s still plenty of time left in the offseason for Beane to throw another wrench into the mix so it can’t be said that this is his final strategy. Though it does make an awful lot of sense when you think about it.

The Seattle Mariners finished the 2014 season one game behind the Athletics in the AL Wild Card race. This occurring after the A’s spent big on mid-season acquisitions of Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija. Certainly seeing a lack of success with the method of acquiring superstar-level players could inspire a GM to invest resources over multiple assets instead of the big fish.

Last winter the Mariners added their big fish in Robinson Cano. Alongside Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager there’s plenty of star power on the team. With cornerstones to build around, the realistic goal for this winter was to patch holes with good players or find incremental upgrades. After all, Seattle received below average production from six different positions in 2014: catcher, first base, left field, center field, right field, and designated hitter.

Several Mariners under performed last season but there were some obvious holes. So far Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith, and Justin Ruggiano have been brought aboard. It’s still possible that an addition is made to supplement the corner outfield spots as well as first base. Not to mention the fact a backup catcher is still needed.

Alongside the A’s theorized goal of building a balanced roster let’s see how the Mariners roster stacks up in terms of projected production by position players.

Mariners Athletics Chart

At the time of this writing reports indicate that the Athletics have agreed to deal Yunel Escobar to the Washington Nationals. But for the sake of this exercise, we will include him and his projection.

The major disclaimer about these projected lineups is that we don’t know how the playing time is going to shake out yet. Chris Taylor very well could find himself at Triple-A to begin the year. What the job-share in right field between Smith and Ruggiano looks like also remains to be seen. But the specifics aren’t the focal point.

The A’s utilize the platoon and player’s multi-position eligibility to their strengths. Craig Gentry is expected to spend some time in both left field and center field while Zobrist is expected to see most of his playing time between second base and shortstop, but is projected to make meaningful contributions in the corner outfield spots, too.

If we make those allocations, we can begin to see that at practically every position, the Athletics project for at least 2.0 fWAR. Or, project as major league average at each of those positions if not well above average. In fact the only position that clearly projects below average, and it’s only by half a win, is at designated hitter. Ironically the A’s agreed to pay Billy Butler $30 million over the next three years to cover that position.

On the Mariners side of things, the projections are similarly favorable. Mike Zunino, Austin Jackson, Cano, Seager, and the shortstop and right field platoons all project for 2.2 or more fWAR. In only three places the M’s project for below average production.

At first base Logan Morrison projects for 1.8 fWAR. The big concern for him in 2015 will be health. When he was able to stay on the field in 2014, particularly in the second half, he was a fairly consistent performer. While nothing spectacular, and you’d certainly want to see better power numbers from your first baseman, a 110 wRC+ is not a bad thing.

In left field Dustin Ackley projects for 1.9 fWAR. This is a position of concern for Seattle as what version of Ackley we will see in 2015 remains to be seen. He was an excellent No. 2 hitter at times last year but was also dormant for stretches. It’s possible that Smith sees some time in left field should Ackley struggle.

As is the case with the Athletics, the Mariners newly-minted DH, Nelson Cruz, projects as below average at 1.5 fWAR. In terms of wins above replacement, designated hitters are penalized slightly not because they aren’t playing the field, but because there is some value in being able to defend at a replacement level. But Cruz was brought onboard to hit, and that’s all Seattle is worried about. If Cruz is indeed able to match his projection, it would still mark a marginal upgrade of 2.0-3.0 fWAR at the position compared to 2014.

The Athletics lineup is projected to be very balanced, as it appears to have been designed to. Zobrist, Brett Lawrie, and Josh Reddick project to be very good players, but not Josh Donaldson-esque. Now, that isn’t to say having superstar players is a bad thing. The Athletics have simply chosen to value them differently than the Mariners have, for example, and that decision is likely resource-based.

Seattle signed Robinson Cano to be a superstar. His paycheck is not just for being a premier player, it’s for being a face of the franchise as well. He’s a talking point and attraction. We could spend much more time discussing the other values that come with a superstar, and their importance to Seattle compared to Oakland, but for now we will not.

Because the Athletics have had such a strange offseason, we’ve attempted to determine their formula or plan. At a closer glance, it does in fact, appear that the club has utilized the strategy that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts.

Because the Mariners have invested in superstars like Cano and Seager, we know that their strategy is different. But upon comparing the two lineups, we do see some similarities.

At the end of this past season we talked a lot about if the M’s could’ve gotten league average production from just one more position they would’ve been a playoff team. There’s significant value in the way the Athletics have constructed their roster. It certainly isn’t foolproof, and everything we’re saying is still hypothetical, but we can start to see how the changes should translate to the win column.

The Mariners made a significant upgrade at DH this winter, filling arguably their biggest hole in 2014. The goal this winter was to add two everyday bats, and with the platoon of Smith and Ruggiano, it appears that goal has been met. Having Jackson man center field for an entire season should also count as an upgrade. Especially if he’s able to rebound.

Seattle has, on paper, a reasonably balanced lineup — not quite as balanced as the Athletics are, but there isn’t an obvious hole. There is considerable risk with players like Ackley and Morrison, but you can only plan for risk. Adding an Allen Craig type of player who can play some first base and corner outfield would be ideal in alleviating some of the risk and improving depth. There’s still time for something like that to happen.

The Mariners are entering 2015 with an improved lineup compared to the one that started Opening Day 2014. Typically that’s one way we determine whether or not an offseason was successful.

There’s still time to go before Spring Training begins, but on paper, the depth of the Mariners lineup appears similar to the Athletics — the team that was one game better and playoff-worthy last year.…

Texas Rangers v Tampa Bay RaysWhat an offseason it has been for the Oakland Athletics. After a disappointing playoff finish it looked like the club was going to break things down and retool. Jon Lester left via free agency while Josh Donaldson and Jeff Samardzija were dealt for depth and prospects — and those were just the major moves. The rest of the roster was flipped upside down, too.

On Saturday the A’s acquired Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for John Jaso, prospects Daniel Robertson and Boog Powell, and cash.

The consensus was that Zobrist, a free agent after 2015, would be dealt some time before the trade deadline. After news broke that the Rays had agreed to sign infielder Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year deal, that trade seemed imminent. Many noted that Cabrera will earn the exact same salary that Zobrist was due for the upcoming year: $7.5 million.

Tampa Bay picks up the No. 1 prospect in Oakland’s system and stocks the cupboard in what is likely a retooling season. The A’s, in one fell swoop, plug their middle infield holes and reassert their position as one of the American League West’s top teams.

Zobrist is coming off a fourth consecutive season of production north of 5.0 fWAR. His 119 wRC+ in 2014 led the Rays. Offense is actually the less noted part of the switch-hitter’s game. Zobrist provides premium defence at five different positions. He saw the bulk of his time last year at second base, but regularly played all three outfield positions and shortstop. The only positions he hasn’t played in his career are catcher and pitcher.

The Seattle Mariners had been connected to Zobrist on-and-off for the past year, particularly in the time leading up to last July’s trade deadline. The 33-year old was a much discussed trade target for many teams, but Tampa Bay elected to hold onto their star utility player. It looks like that decision paid off.

When the Mariners were connected to Zobrist last summer, names like Nick Franklin and Brad Miller appeared frequently as part of a return package that presumably would’ve included multiple players. Of course Franklin would end up with the Rays in the three-team trade that netted Seattle Austin Jackson. Miller stands to be the club’s starting shortstop for the upcoming season.

For Seattle to surrender a prospect of Robertson’s calibre it would probably mean the loss of a James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, or D.J. Peterson from the organization. Paxton is a lock for a rotation spot and Walker figures to break camp as the No. 5 or No. 6 starter on the depth chart. Peterson is likely another year away from the majors but figures to fill the right-handed power void at first base down the road.

The Mariners have shown a hesitancy to part with significant young talent this winter. Brandon Maurer was traded to the San Diego Padres for Seth Smith, but the club was dealing from a position of depth. Rookie right-hander Carson Smith can likely step right into the vacated spot. Beyond Paxton, Walker, and Roenis Elias there is minimal starting pitching depth.

[pullquote]Zobrist brings a career 118 wRC+ to the Athletics. That mark would be higher than the 2014 production Oakland received from second base (69 wRC+ ), shortstop (89), and all three outfield positions (108, 89, and 101 from left to right).[/pullquote]

It’s possible that depth is part of the reasoning for the reluctance to include Walker or Paxton in a trade for Matt Kemp or Justin Upton. Both pitchers have high ceilings and could be key contributors in 2015, but realistically, moving one without first having another quality starter in the picture would have been foolish.

For the Athletics, Zobrist and Escober figure to secure the second base and shortstop positions, but you can be sure the club will look to maximize Zobrist’s flexibility throughout the season. For the time being, both players represent a sizeable upgrade to Oakland’s lineup and infield. Escober is also a plus-defender with some pop in his bat, though he lacks the on base skills that Zobrist possesses.

Eric Sogard struggled in 2014 with a 67 wRC+ while seeing the bulk of the second base innings and will probably assume a back-up infield role. Marcus Semien, acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the Samardzija trade, will shift into a utility-type role instead of having to play everyday at shortstop.

After the trade, Oakland now projects second to the Mariners in the AL West for the upcoming season. ESPN’s Keith Law figures the A’s added between five and six wins worth of value in the trade. By comparison, Donaldson posted a 6.4 fWAR in 2014 and newly acquired third baseman Brett Lawrie projects as a 3.6 fWAR player in 2015.

The two infielders acquired today alongside Lawrie and Ike Davis, who was acquired from the New York Mets, could make for an improved infield overall compared to last year. There is risk associated with all four new players, particularly Lawrie who has had a myriad of health issues in his young career, but it looks as if the departure of Donaldson won’t be felt quite as hard in terms of production.

Back in November I wrote that the A’s were taking a step back in the AL West with the loss of Donaldson. What would be next for the club was unknown, but dealing Samardzija and others seemed likely. But at the same time it was possible Oakland could use some of the acquired players to make other trades to bolster the present roster. Acquiring Upton appeared to be a possibility despite he, like Zobrist, will be a free agent at season’s end.

It was important that the Donaldson trade not be assessed until we saw what was to follow. The shedding of payroll over the course of the previous transactions is what allowed Oakland to take on $12.5 million in 2015 salary between Zobrist and Escobar.

The Mariners were unlikely to acquire Zobrist — or Escobar or Jaso for that matter — so this deal should have minimal effect on their remaining offseason plans. The Athletics now have an improved shot at matching last year’s 88 win total.

On Saturday the AL West became a slightly tougher division. The Mariners still stand as favorites, but the Athletics are very much back in the mix for the divisional crown.…

Gomes 2

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com is reporting that the Seattle Mariners, along with the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers have expressed interest in free agent Jonny Gomes.

The outfielder started 2014 with the Boston Red Sox and was traded to the Oakland Athletics along with pitcher Jon Lester for Yoenis Cespedes at the July 31st trading deadline. Gomes, who broke into the majors with Tampa Bay in 2005, is primarily a leftfielder; playing that position in 84 games with Boston and Oakland and 11 in right field for both teams.

The Mariners, who have been in the market for right-handed hitting to balance their line-up, signed free agent right-handed hitter Nelson Cruz this week and have been linked to a bevy of free agents and potential trade targets including Russell Martin, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Matt Kemp, and Yoenis Cespedes.

If the Mariners were to sign the 34 year-old, he would make a great platoon option vs. left-handed pitching in left field; possibly combining with left-handed hitting Dustin Ackley. Both Ackley and Gomes have their defensive liabilities. However, the combination of Gomes vs. lefties and Ackley vs. righties would provide better offensive output from the left field position than Seattle has seen in recent years.

Potential Gomes/Ackley Platoon
Player AB
HR AVG
OBP
Ackley vs. RHP
351 13 .259 .310
Gomes vs. LHP
170 4 .276 .373
2014 Combined Totals 521 17 .264 .332

Gomes has been a durable performer and has missed few games due to illness/injury during his career. The veteran hasn’t been on the disabled list since missing 36 games in 2006 due to shoulder surgery. It’s probable that Gomes, who is coming off a 2 years/$10 million contract, would want a multi-year deal to sign with Seattle. If used properly as a platoon player, Jonny Gomes would certainly help the Mariners in 2015.…