The Seattle Mariners completed a sweep of the Los Angeles Angels for the first time since 2006 on Wednesday night, and they did so in convincing fashion by outscoring their opponents 26-8 over the three games. Everything appears to be clicking for the club thus far as they start a year with three wins for the first time in 18 years. Is it time to get excited about the Mariners again? They just may be up to something here. Rookie James Paxton made his first start of the 2014 season and looked excellent pitching seven innings of shutout ball and allowing just two hits. He also walked a pair of batters, but struck out nine including a run of six straight outs recorded via the punch out. His velocity was touching 98 miles per hour at times and his curveball was making hitters look foolish. Paxton only needed 99 pitches to get through his night and recording 64 of them for strikes. The 25-year old did find himself in a couple trouble spots, but managed to settle himself enough to escape unharmed. The offence continued to run on all cylinders with six players collecting two hits a piece. Mike Zunino and Corey Hart hit their first home runs of the season while Justin Smoak hit his second long ball and collected his seventh run batted in. Stefen Romero got the start in right field and pick up the first hit and run batted in of his major league career after going 0-4 in Tuesday night’s contest. If there’s a negative point anywhere in the box score, it’d be Dustin Ackley failing to reach base for the first time this season, but that was about it; his batting average fell to a measly .364 from the .571 he entered the game with. We all knew what to expect from Felix Hernandez on Opening Day, but the fact Erasmo Ramirez and Paxton were able to follow him up with solid performances of their own is huge as the rotation is still a work in progress. The trio has allowed just four earned runs in 20 innings pitched and has struck out 26 batters while walking just three. This is great news for the club as their rotation depth appeared paper thin at the beginning of the season and will likely stay that way for another month. At the top of the lineup Abraham Almonte has managed to get on base five times and Brad Miller picked up his fourth run batted in of the year. Robinson Cano has quietly gone 5-11 with three walks so far and collected his first RBI as a Mariner on Wednesday night. As it stands, Michael Saunders and Logan Morrison are the only Mariners who have yet to collect their first base hits of the season, although LoMo hasn’t seen any action since Opening Day. Obviously there’s still 159 games separating the team from the finish line, but hey, let’s enjoy this streak as long as it lasts. Things actually look good in Mariner land at the moment, don’t be the guy who spoils the mood for everyone. The starters are pitching effectively, the entire lineup is contributing, the outfield defence hasn’t looked awful, and the bullpen has been solid too, Hector Noesi aside. There actually appears to be some room for optimism beyond the first couple games. Next up for Seattle is a four-game set with the Oakland Athletics that will feature the major league debut of Roenis Elias on Thursday evening and the first start for Chris Young since September 29, 2012 on Friday.
The American League Most Valuable Player has been the subject of debate the past two years. Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout clearly has been the game’s best player each season, but Miguel Cabrera‘s triple crown and terrific follow-up performance on a playoff team won over the voters — twice. In assessing the top candidates for the award this season, I will ignore the voter aspect, since I cannot read the minds of the BBWAA, nor do I recognize them, as a group, as any kind of authority on who the most valuable players truly are in Major League Baseball, despite many of the members clearly being more than competent and qualified to do so. I will not include pitchers here. They have their own award, which Adam H. Wong covered here. 1. Mike Trout, CF — Los Angeles Angels Trout could actually be better for the third year in a row — which, after one glance at his performance and value over his first two campaigns in the big leagues, sounds preposterous and impossible — and he’ll now be stepping back into center field after GM Jerry DiPoto dealt Peter Bourjos to St. Louis. The Angels, however, still appear to be the third-best team in the American League West, which could again hurt Trout’s chances to win over the voters. Regardless of the way the award is interpreted by the Baseball Writers Association of America, Trout is the favorite heading into 2014. A .330/.430/.550 triple-slash is more than plausible, and his defensive value will again be sky high, suggesting a 10-plus fWAR is within reach for a third time. Trout is the best all-around player I have seen in my lifetime, including Ken Griffey, Jr., Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, and at just 22 years of age is likely to continue to get better, which almost seems silly to consider. 2. Miguel Cabrera, 1B — Detroit Tigers Cabrera will be just 31 in April and isn’t likely to slow down, either. Cabrera will now move across the diamond to first base, which reduces his value some, and the Detroit Tigers traded away his lineup protection in Prince Fielder, who is now in Texas. Since I don’t believe in lineup protection the way some traditional analysts do, I don’t believe Cabrera’s numbers take much of a hit, if at all. There’s a chance the athleticism and production of an Ian Kinsler batting in front of Cabrera is even better for Cabrera than Fielder had been, and Victor Martinez figures to start the season healthy and capable of hitting cleanup. Expect another huge year from Cabrera and don’t be surprised if his fWAR isn’t better in 2014 than the 7.7 he posted in 2013, even with a move to first base. 3. Robinson Cano, 2B — Seattle Mariners Yes, Cano is moving from a decent lineup to a mediocre one at best, plus the change in ballparks that overall suggest Safeco is more difficult in which to hit. Cano, however, should be able to take advantage of the right-center field and right field gaps that have played neutrally since Safeco’s inception and aren’t as susceptible to the marine air turning into biting wind. Power, however, isn’t going to be the reason Cano finishes fairly high in the MVP voting. The Mariners will have to be respectable In terms of value — over impressing voters — Cano’s plus defense and ability to carry the Mariners out of the doldrums and into respectability could go a long way. His line drive swing should lead to 40-plus doubles and there is no reason why his long balls totals should suffer much. Teammate Kyle Seager, also a left-handed hitter, has tallied 20 and 22 home runs the past two seasons respectively. Cano’s swing is picture perfect for Safeco and while I expect more intentional walks and more unintentional-intentional walks, I still see a .320/.380/.500 triple-slash and at least a repeat of his 6.0 fWAR of 2013. 4. Evan Longoria, 3B — Tampa Bay Rays I’m not a huge a fan of Longoria as many, but he’s entering his prime, is a premium glove at third base and could easily hit .280/.360/500 this season, perhaps leading the Rays to a divisional title. 5. Dustin Pedroia, 2B — Boston Red Sox Pedroia’s MVP candidacy, in terms of the voting, may depend on how much more power he shows in 2014 than he has the past two years. When he won the MVP in 2008, which ironically is his second-best season (2011 is No. 1), Pedroia slugged .493 and his career mark sits at .454. He plays above-average-to-plus defense at second base and is a leader for a legitimate World Series contender. Pedroia’s ability to get one base and sprinkle in power consistently is remarkable and the right circumstances, some luck and a little more Laser Show could mean a second MVP for The Muddy Chicken. 6. Jason Kipnis, 2B — Cleveland Indians Kipnis, a converted outfielder, had a terrific 2013 at .284/.366/.452 and one more step of progress at the plate and in the field puts him in near-Pedroia territory. He’ll have a shot to win some games with a much-improved Indians club and is developing into one Terry Francona‘s leaders, too. Sound familiar? 7. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF — New York Yankees Ellsbury, if healthy — always the caveat — is one of the 10 best players in the junior circuit and will garner all the necessary attention to catch the eye on the voter if he has another strong year and especially if the Yankees win the American League East. Ellsbury nearly won the award in 2011 and appears to in near-MVP form entering 2014. 8. Adrian Beltre, 3B — Texas Rangers Beltre continues to produce huge numbers, both at the plate and in the field, and with Fielder in the lineup will have plenty of support. It doesn’t hurt that the Rangers could win the division, but Beltre will again it for average, get on base and hit for power, while offering elite defense and average or better value on the bases. 9. Manny Machado, 3B — Baltimore Orioles Machado’s return to the field after a knee injury obviously is key to his candidacy, but otherwise he’s ripe for a big breakout year in the power department, and he showed signs in 2013 of marked progress at the plate in terms of consistent contact and driving the ball. It would not surprise me if Machado batted .290 with 30-40 more points on his OBP, which was .314 a year ago, and a doubles-to-homer exchange that resulted in another 65-70 extra-base hit season, but with 20-25 home runs. That, plus elite defense at third base suggests top-tier value. 10. Chris Davis, 1B — Baltimore Orioles Davis is coming off a 53-homer season in 2013, and a top-5 finish in the MVP voting. The most impressive numbers for Davis, however, weren’t the long ball totals or the gaudy slugging percentage, it was the .286 batting average and resulting .421 wOBA. I don’t see Davis repeating any of that, but he’s hit .266 or better three seasons in a row, has always been able to work a count and take a walk and now he’s doing more damage when he does make contact. The 30 percent strikeout rate suggests 2013 was a slight fluke, but .270/.350/.550 with 40 home runs is within reach, placing him in the top 10. OthersCarlos Santana, 1B/3B/C — Cleveland IndiansAlex Gordon, LF — Kansas City RoyalsJose Bautista, RF — Toronto Blue JaysBen Zobrist, 2B/RF — Tampa Bay RaysJosh Donaldson, 3B — Oakland Athletics
It was an extraordinarily busy winter for the five clubs in the American League West. Each organization made significant moves, with all but the Los Angeles Angels spending big dollars to improve their respective rosters. Two of the biggest free agents — Robinson Cano and Shin-Soo Choo — joined the AL West and even the Houston Astros made noise spending some money and acquiring an impact centerfielder. Let’s take a look at what each club gained and lost over the winter, starting with the defending division champions. Oakland Athletics | 2013: 96-66 It was deja vu for the Athletics who were eliminated in the American League Division Series in five games by the Detroit Tigers for the second straight year. The A’s were lead by a deep pitching staff that combined for a 3.56 ERA, seventh best in baseball, and averaged 4.73 runs per game as one of the league’s top offences. Billy Beane has remained one of the smartest GM’s in the game and only time will tell if his latest efforts will pay off in winning a championship. Who’s In Jim Johnson, RP — 0.9 fWAR | Acquired via trade from Baltimore Orioles in exchange for 2B Jemile Weeks and a player to be named.Luke Gregerson, RP — 1.0 fWAREric O’Flaherty, RP — -0.1 fWAR | Signed two-year, $7 million dealScott Kazmir, SP — 2.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $22 million dealCraig Gentry, OF — 3.4 fWAR | Acquired via trade from Texas Rangers in exchange for OF Michael ChoiceSam Fuld, OF — -0.3 fWAR | Signed minor league contract Who’s Out Seth Smith, OF — 1.1 fWAR | Traded to San Diego Padres in exchange for RHP Luke GregersonGrant Balfour, RP — 0.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Tampa Bay RaysJerry Blevins, RP — 0.3 fWAR | Traded to Washington Nationals in exchanged for OF Billy BurnsPat Neshek, RP — -0.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with St. Louis CardinalsBartolo Colon, SP — 3.9 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with New York MetsBrett Anderson, SP/RP — 0.3 fWAR | Traded to Colorado Rockies in exchange for LHP Drew Pomeranz, RHP Chris Jensen and $2 million cashChris Young, OF — 0.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with New York MetsKurt Suzuki, C — 0.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Minnesota Twins 2014 In one of the offseason’s surprise moves, the Athletics acquired a reliever, Johnson, who will be paid $10 million this year; quite uncharacteristic for any small market team. The additions of Gregerson and O’Flaherty, who will return mid-season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, figure to give Oakland one of the best bullpens in the majors with Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle still aboard. The departure of Colon will hurt the rotation, but if Kazmir can build off his comeback year with the Cleveland Indians in 2013, they’ll have effectively replaced Colon with a pitcher still on the right side of 30. Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, and AJ Griffin return to the rotation while youngster Sonny Gray is expected to spend his first full season in the majors as well. Oakland’s lineup remained intact for the most part over the winter with Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Reddick leading the charge again in 2014. Coco Crisp was re-signed and will also play an important role in the A’s lineup once again. Gentry, who is coming off of two solid seasons with the Rangers, has quickly become one of the better defensive outfielders in the game today and could play an important role this year. After sporting just less than a $62 million dollar payroll in 2013, the Athletics 2014 payroll is expected to land around $76 million or so with Cespedes and Johnson being the only players earning $10 million or more. Oakland projects to be a top team in the American League in 2014 and shouldn’t have a problem finding themselves in either the pennant race or at the very least, the Wild Card race when September roles around. Texas Rangers | 2013: 91-72 After consecutive losses in the World Series, the Rangers failed to reach the playoffs this past year for the first time since 2009. Texas featured a top ten offence again in 2013, averaging 4.48 runs per game and hitting 176 home runs, but you could say that once again, they were done in by their pitching last year; even though the Rangers managed the third lowest bullpen ERA in the bigs. They’ll have their work cut out for them if they plan on going the distance in 2014. Who’s In Prince Fielder, 1B — 2.2 fWARShin-Soo Choo, OF — 5.2 fWAR | Signed seven-year, $130 million dealJP Arencibia, C — -0.6 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1.8 million dealTommy Hanson, SP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2 million deal Who’s Out Ian Kinsler, 2B — 2.5 fWAR | Traded to Detroit Tigers in exchange for 1B Prince Fielder and $30 million cashNelson Cruz, OF — 1.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Baltimore OriolesAJ Pierzynski, C — 1.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Boston Red SoxMatt Garza, SP — 2.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Milwaukee BrewersJoe Nathan, RP — 2.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Detroit TigersLance Berkman, DH — -0.2 fWAR | RetiredCraig Gentry, OF — 3.4 fWAR 2014 It was a busy offseason for the Rangers who shipped their All-Star second baseman to the Detroit Tigers for a much needed power hitting compliment in the lineup aside Adrian Beltre. They also saw 130 million reasons to make Choo their leadoff hitter, another hole that needed filling, for the next several years to come. The veteran Pierzynski will be replaced at catcher with Arencibia and the returning Geovany Soto, who was re-signed back in November. Perhaps one of the biggest determinants in trading Kinsler was the fact it could open up an everyday spot for Jurickson Profar in the lineup, and he will line up at second base with Elvis Andrus. A dash of good health and consistent production should have the Ranger offence near the top of the league again in 2014. Nathan’s departure will hurt the bullpen to some extent, but Neftali Felix and Joakim Soria are still around to anchor the relief corps. The Rangers did almost nothing to add to a rotation that is susceptible behind ace Yu Darvish, and took a major hit now that Derek Holland expected to miss significant time with a knee injury. Both Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando are capable mid-rotation arms, but what can reasonably be expected from their acquisitions of Hanson, who struggled with injuries, and Joe Saunders, who struggled to be not completely awful, in 2013? If the rotation and bullpen are able to hold up and Darvish can put together another Cy Young calibre campaign, the high powered offence could be enough to land the Rangers back into the playoffs this year. Los Angeles Angels | 2-13: 78-84 Times have been tough in Disneyland as it’s now been four years without a playoff appearance for the Angels and believe it or not, Mike Trout isn’t quite good enough to single-handedly guide a team to a Wild Card berth. Despite injuries to key parts of their lineup, LA still managed to put up 4.52 runs per game which was good for seventh in all of baseball. It was the pitching staff that did them in however, as they combined for a 4.24 ERA, placing them near the bottom of the league. With the strength of the Athletics and Rangers, the Halos may have a spend another October watching from the sidelines. Who’s In David Freese, 3B — 0.3 fWARRaul Ibanez, OF/DH — 0.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.75 million dealTyler Skaggs, SP — 0.1 fWARHector Santiago, SP — 1.5 fWARJoe Smith, RP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed three-year, $15.75 million dealFernando Salas, RP — 0.0 fWAR Who’s Out Jason Vargas, SP — 1.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Kansas City RoyalsPeter Bourjos, OF — 1.1 fWAR | Traded to St. Louis Cardinals with OF Randal Grichuk in exchange for 3B David Freese and RHP Fernando SalasJerome Williams, SP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Houston AstrosTommy Hanson, SP — 0.4 fWARMark Trumbo, 1B/OF — 2.5 fWAR | Traded to Arizona Diamondbacks with player to be named later in three-team trade in exchange for LHP Hector Santiago (White Sox) and LHP Tyler Skaggs (Diamondbacks) 2014 It was a different offseason for the Angels than we’ve seen in recent years: they didn’t commit big dollars to a marquee free agent. Instead, they made a couple of trades that could work out nicely for the club. The signing of Smith will help shore up the bullpen alongside Ernesto Frieri and Kevin Jepsen, while Salas figures to contribute to the pen in 2014 as well. Although health is relatively important to any club with playoff aspirations, it wouldn’t be farfetched to say that once again, the Angels’ success this year will depend on whether or not Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton can stay healthy and produce like their former selves. Add Trout to those two, and the Angels have as good a 2-3-4 punch as any team in the league when they’re firing on all cylinders. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will once again form a very solid but perhaps unspectacular duo at the top of the rotation. Never say never with the Angels, especially since they make an interesting dark horse to win the AL West, but they’re going to have some very stiff competition for a Wild Card spot this year. Seattle Mariners | 2013: 71-91 It’s been a long 13 years since Seattle last saw playoff action and they have managed just one season above .500 since 2008. Despite a Cy Young calibre season from Hisashi Iwakuma in 2013, Mariner pitching produced a combined 4.32 ERA, the fifth-highest in all of baseball, and their bullpen ERA of 4.58 was the second worst. Even with one of the top home run totals in the league, the offence floundered for 3.85 runs per game due to a poor .237 team batting average and a lack of on-base production. The M’s spent big on an All-Star this winter, but it looks like they’re still a couple pieces away from seriously returning to contention. Who’s In Robinson Cano, 2B — 6.0 fWAR | Signed 10-year, $240 million dealJohn Buck, C — 1.6 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1 million dealWillie Bloomquist, IF/OF — 0.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $5.8 million dealFernando Rodney, RP — 1.3 fWAR | Signed two-year, $14 million dealScott Baker, SP — 2.8 fWAR (2011) | Signed minor league dealLogan Morrison, 1B/OF — -0.6 fWARCorey Hart, OF/DH — 2.2 fWAR (2012) | Signed one-year, $5 million deal plus up to $8 million in incentive bonuses Who’s Out Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH — 1.2 fWAR | Remains a free agentRaul Ibanez, OF/DH — 0.0 fWARHenry Blanco, C — -0.5 fWAR | Signed minor league deal with Arizona DiamondbacksOliver Perez, RP — 0.8 fWAR | Signed two-year, $4.25 million deal with Arizona DiamondbacksCarter Capps, RP — -0.3 fWAR | Traded to Miami Marlins in exchange for 1B Logan MorrisonJoe Saunders, SP — 0.6 fWAR | Signed one-year deal with Texas Rangers 2014 The Mariners opened their pocketbooks and landed Cano, the best available free agent, at a cost just shy of a quarter of a billion dollars. It was a peculiar move given the fact Seattle hasn’t been all that good in recent memory, but perhaps the tide could be turning sooner than later. Felix Hernandez will once again lead a rotation riddled with slightly more uncertainty than expected now that Iwakuma and top prospect Taijuan Walker are expected to miss the start of the season with injuries. Baker, who signed an incentive-laden minor league deal this winter, suddenly becomes a very important name in camp with respect to the rotation. The only problem with that is it’s not 2009 anymore when Baker was a 3.9 fWAR pitcher and he’s thrown just 15 major league innings across the past two years. If he’s healthy, and early reports from camp indicate he is, he could end up being a vital part of the pitching staff this year and hopefully can produce like one. It’s also looking like James Paxton has all but locked up a rotation spot as well. Seattle’s bullpen got a much needed boost with Rodney signed on to be the club’s new closer, likely shifting Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen into set-up or seventh and eighth inning roles. After plenty of trade rumors circulating around the likes of David Price and Matt Kemp this winter, the M’s didn’t make the big splash nearly everyone was anticipating after Cano was signed. It was reported that club had reached the top of their budget, but could make an exception for another player if it was the right situation. If Hart is able to recover from the two knee surgeries that kept him out for the entire 2012 season he could end up being the much needed right-handed slugger in the lineup behind the All-Star second baseman. There’s also a possibility that Morales could be re-signed as well, but the M’s may prefer to hope he signs before the draft so they can receive a compensatory draft pick, which would then be the pick sacrificed for signing Cano. All in all, Seattle projects to fall short of the playoffs once again, but if a couple of prospects can breakout this year and another piece is added, they just might be in the hunt. Houston Astros | 2013: 51-111 When the Astros joined the American League West prior to the 2013 season, Mariners fans began to rejoice since they could nearly rest assured that their team was likely only doomed for second last in the division. Houston hasn’t sniffed playoff baseball since losing the World Series in four games back in 2005 and have put together a streak of three straight 100+ loss seasons while they’ve been in a total rebuild. Their pitching staff was the worst in baseball with a 4.79 ERA while their offence managed a meager 3.77 runs per game in 2013. It’ll be another season of development for the Astros in 2014, but the future is starting to get a little brighter for the club. Who’s In Scott Feldman, SP — 2.1 fWAR | Signed three-year, $30 million dealJerome Williams, SP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.1 million dealDexter Fowler, OF — 2.2 fWARJesse Crain, RP — 1.9 fWAR | Signed one-year, $3.25 million dealChad Qualls, RP — 0.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $6 million deal, plus 2016 optionMatt Albers, RP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.45 million deal, plus 2015 optionJesus Guzman, 1B/OF — 0.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1.3 million deal Who’s Out Erik Bedard, SP/RP — 1.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Tampa Bay RaysBrandon Barnes, OF — 1.0 fWAR | Traded to Colorado Rockies with RHP Jordan Lyles in exchange for CF Dexter Fowler and player to be named laterJordan Lyles, SP — 0.4 fWAR 2014 Years of futility in any sport will eventually garner a club enough high draft picks that, if developed effectively, can help make the team relevant again. The Astros have developed Jose Altuve and Jason Castro into a pair of solid lineup cornerstones recently, and there’s much more talent yet to come in the pipeline. Acquiring Fowler for a couple of replaceable players was a great move for the Astros, who also opened the bank account to sign Feldman to a three-year deal and provide a little more certainty to their young rotation. Perhaps the most important moves of this past winter were the additions of Crain, Qualls, and Albers to what was the worst bullpen in the league in 2013. Despite the improvements to the major league roster, Houston still projects as cellar dwellers in the AL West once again. They will have the first overall selection in the upcoming Rule IV Draft in June which should allow them to add another youngster to a top prospect list that includes the likes of Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and George Springer. It’s reasonable to suggest that eventually the Astros will have obtained enough young talent to be competitive at some point in the next several years, but when that happens is anyone’s guess. The upcoming season is likely another write-off and 2015 only looks a little better at this point. Perhaps 2016? Whatever the case, Houston has plenty of exciting young players that should be reason for at least some optimism in 2014, and certainly the years to follow. *All player WAR’s shown are via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.
The Seattle Mariners signed or acquired via trade three new lineup pieces over the offseason and while I think most agree that more is needed — whether that be Kendrys Morales in March or April or a pre-summer trade — the offense is better, on paper at least, than it was a year ago. While there are a lot of scenarios that makes sense, such as Kyle Seager batting anywhere from second to fourth or fifth, to the leadoff spot where Brad Miller and Abraham Almonte could both make some sense, here is one potential lineup versus right-handed starters and one versus left-handed starters. Almonte, who by no means has a roster spot sewn up just yet, could get some starts versus right-handed pitching — he’s a much stronger hitter from the left side — and there will likely be games, mostly versus southpaws where Corey Hart remains in right field, Almonte starts in center and Saunders plays left for Ackley or Saunders sits in favor of Ackley. That could occur just as much as Saunders in center versus lefties, with Almonte sitting and Ackley playing left. It’s truly a mix-and-match four-man rotation where ultimately the top performers earn the most starts. I like Seager in the No. 2 spot, but it could make some sense to use him down a few spots, too, depending on how well Ackley, Almonte and Saunders — the other candidates to bat in the top two spots — are swinging the bat. From the outset, it should be Miller-Seager batting 1-2, but Lloyd McClendon and Trent Jewett may decide otherwise. Projected M’s Lineup vs. RHP No. Player 1 Brad Miller, SS 2 Kyle Seager, 3B 3 Robinson Cano, 2B 4 Corey Hart, RF 5 Justin Smoak, 1B 6 Logan Morrison, DH 7 Michael Saunders, CF 8 Mike Zunino/John Buck C 9 Dustin Ackley, LF Projected M’s Lineup vs. LHP No. Player 1 Brad Miller, SS 2 Abraham Almonte, CF 3 Robinson Cano, 2B 4 Corey Hart, DH 5 Kyle Seager, 3B 6 Justin Smoak/Logan Morrison, 1B 7 Michael Saunders, RF 8 Mike Zunino/John Buck C 9 Dustin Ackley, LF As you can see, I’m by no means ready to anoint Almonte a regular and there’s no chance I pigeonhole Miller as a hitter that needs to be platooned, at least in terms of where he bats in the order, versus left-handed pitching. He was terrific versus southpaws in Tacoma last year and posted a better batting average and on-base percentage against them in the bigs than he did versus right-handers. Prior to 2013, he’s more than held his own versus lefties, and Almonte hasn’t had much success as a right-handed batter, anyway, suggesting that swap is rather insane. As I stated above, there are a lot of ways this can go, especially if Nick Franklin is traded for a piece the big club can use right away, or if Stefen Romero makes the 25-man roster somehow and is used versus left-handed pitching.
Spring Training 2014 is officially under way in Peoria, Arizona as the Seattle Mariners have begun their first sets of workouts. We’re still about ten days out from official Cactus League games taking place, but the anticipation for the start of the regular season has can officially begin as all thirty clubs start with a clean slate and visions of October baseball filling their heads. The Mariners are no different. Pitchers Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker threw their first bullpens of the spring today; Felix tossed around 30 pitches while Walker threw 25. The Mariners’ top prospect said his shoulder felt fine after the session, alleviating most of the concern over the soreness he felt in the first few days of camp. As it stands, Walker will throw his next session on Thursday and won’t require any more precautionary work as he’s back on schedule. Pitching coach Rick Waits praised the young righty’s composure so far in camp, mentioning that he hasn’t had to ask Walker to slow himself down so far. The Mariners avoided arbitration with Justin Smoak who agreed to terms on a one-year deal on Saturday. The first baseman will earn $2.63 million in the upcoming season and has a vesting option worth $3.65 million for 2015 that becomes guaranteed at 525 plate appearances on the year. If that plateau isn’t reached, Seattle can still exercise it, or buy the option out for $150 thousand. It’s a little unusual for a player to have an option year with a buyout attached while he is still arbitration eligible, so the deal did raise a few eyebrows. Smoak had 521 plate appearances in 2013 and 535 in 2013 so it’s entirely possible that regular play could cause his option to vest. The first baseman considers the starting job, “his to lose” despite the acquisitions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison this offseason. Seattle has now agreed to terms with all of their arbitration eligible players. Former No. 2 overall pick Dustin Ackley is set to become a full-time outfielder this year now that Robinson Cano has second base claimed for the foreseeable future. After starting 54 games in the outfield in 2013, 46 in center field, the soon to be 26-year old has spent much of the offseason preparing to be the team’s everyday leftfielder. Ackley struggled with consistency agian this past year and finished with a .253/.319/.341 line in 427 plate appearances. Since Franklin Gutierrez will be out for the entirety of the season, Ackley and Michael Saunders appear to be locks for starting jobs in the outfield to start the year at least. Hart and Morrison are also likely to see a little bit of time in the outfield if their bodies can handle it; currently Hart is the most likely to spend time in right field. Nick Franklin figures to see significant time at shortstop this spring as manager Lloyd McClendon stated he’ll be competing with the incumbent Brad Miller for the starting job. McClendon says Nick Franklin and Brad Miller will compete at SS. Not looking at moving either elsewhere. “That’s a good problem to have.” — Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) February 17, 2014 Over at LookoutLanding, Scott Weber questioned how legitimate this “battle” at shortstop really is. Weber argues that Miller deserves to be the starting shortstop in 2014, but if the organization emphasizes small sample sizes, Franklin may be a solid spring away from getting serious consideration for the job. Miller could be a fixture at short for the next several years instead of Franklin struggling to be average defensively at the position. Many thought Nick would find himself shipped to another organization in a trade for a starting pitcher or an outfielder, but nothing of the sort has materialized yet. It’s possible McClendon is simply posturing to some extent in order to play up the club’s desire to keep the displaced second baseman who appears more likely to start the year with Tacoma than on Seattle’s bench. Also, it’s not uncommon to see coaches play up position battles in order to push players that extra little bit. There’s very little reason to think Saunders won’t have a starting outfield job, but of course McClendon is going to say there’s plenty of talent that could potentially fill the positions. We know Saunders is the closest thing on the roster to an actual everyday outfielder at the moment, although Abraham Almonte and Ackley could possibly change that, and McClendon knows that too. The remaining big name free agents are slowly starting to find themselves new homes as Ubaldo Jimenez agreed to terms with the Baltimore Orioles today. The deal is still pending a physical, which is far from a sure thing in Baltimore these days, and stands to be worth $50 million over four years with some money deferred. Jimenez was believed to be looking for a deal in the five year, $75 million range at the start of the offseason, but that quickly became unlikely as his market was incredibly slow to materialize and Matt Garza signed a similar contract last month with the Milwaukee Brewers and didn’t require his new club to give up a pick. Jimenez will cost the Orioles their 17th overall pick in this year’s draft, which Prospect Insider will provide plenty of coverage on in the upcoming months. With Jimenez and Garza both off the market now, Ervin Santana finds himself standing alone on the free agent starting pitching market. The Orioles were believed to have some interest in Santana previously, but it’s likely that has evaporated now that they’ve signed Jimenez; provided of course, that his physical is successfully passed… Seattle may still be interested in Santana’s services, although given the contracts given to his two free agent counterparts, it’s likely he’ll also receive a fourth guaranteed year on a deal. The Toronto Blue Jays were allegedly willing to offer three-year contracts worth $27 million to Santana and Jimenez, but those reports haven’t been confirmed. It’s hard to see Santana signing for that little considering the deal Ubaldo received, but anything is truly possibly at this point in time. At four years and $40 million Santana would make an excellent No. 3 in the Mariners’ rotation. Heck, he would still look pretty good at four years and $50 million for what it’s worth. When asked about Taijuan Walker and James Paxton making the rotation, Felix Hernandez replied, “They’re in.” — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) February 17, 2014 #Mariners expect all players in camp when full workouts begin tomorrow except RHP Ramon Ramirez, who is having visa issue in Dom. Republic. — Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) February 17, 2014
The Seattle Mariners held their 16th annual FanFest this past weekend and set a record with an attendance of 21,019 combined for the two days. The event offers a chance for fans to rub elbows with the players, wonder Safeco Field, and take part in various activities (zip line!). In keeping up with the trends, the Mariners had several players hit the social media booth to take questions from fans via Twitter. Newcomer Corey Hart was one of them, and offered an interesting answer to a question sent his way by yours truly. @tylercarmont They remind me a lot of the ’08 Milwaukee team. Young and exciting. #MarinersFF — Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) January 26, 2014 Hart’s comparison has some validity on the surface since the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers were relatively young and an exciting team to watch considering the explosive offence they put together. This year’s incarnation of the Mariners would be similar based solely on the fact there’s plenty of youth ready to break out, and any team that has the potential to lead the league in home runs and will send Felix Hernandez to the mound every fifth day is bound to bear some excitement. While the ’14 Mariners aren’t coming off of an 83-win season and probably need another year to see what some of their young guys can do, perhaps there’s more validity to Hart’s comment than meets the eye. The ’08 Brewers lineup featured two of today’s premier hitters entering their age 24 seasons, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, and the pair would combine for 71 home runs and 208 runs batted in on the year. Joining them in the lineup were Hart, JJ Hardy, and Mike Cameron, who all belted 20 or more dingers as well. Collectively the team finished third in the National League with 198 home runs, but finished twelfth in the NL with a combined .252 batting average. Braun would finish third in NL MVP voting that year and led the Brew Crew with his .285/.335/.553 line, although he has since admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, clouding his stats slightly to say the least. Perhaps Hart just might be on to something as the Mariners finished second in the American League with 188 home runs in 2013 led by Raul Ibanez (29 HR), Kendrys Morales (23), Kyle Seager (22), and Justin Smoak (20). However the team’s .237 batting average was last in the league and Morales’ .277 average led the team. Gone are Ibanez and Morales, but if Hart and fellow newcomer Logan Morrison are both able to stay healthy the entire year, it’s possible they could replace the production lost from the departed sluggers. Robinson Cano brings his career .309/.355/.504 line to the team as well as four consecutive finishes in the top six AL MVP voting. Currently the 2014 M’s are projected to hit 218 home runs according to Steamer, six more than the major league leading Baltimore Orioles hit last year, so the lineup will remain homer-heavy, which always carries some excitement. Cano, Hart, and Smoak are all projected to hit more than 20 long balls this year, and five others are projected to be over the thirteen mark as well. Having a homer-heavy lineup is obviously much more effective when a team can capitalize with runners on base; 19 of Ibanez’s 29 home runs last year were solo shots. The ’08 Brewers drove in 722 batters as a team compared to just 597 driven in by the ’13 Mariners. Steamer projects 683 runs batted in for this year, not only a marked improvement from last year but also a number that would’ve placed Seattle among the top ten teams in baseball last season. While the home run production is comparable between the two clubs, a key difference was that Milwaukee didn’t pay for their long ball with defence. Without dwelling on the misadventures of Ibanez, Mike Morse et all, UZR gave Seattle a defensive rating of -73.0. Ouch. The Brewers on the other hand, received a 15.9 UZR rating in 2008. Cano will help in this department, but the outfield looks almost abysmal defensively; especially if Michael Saunders spends much time in center. For what it’s worth, Seattle only stole 49 bases compared to 108 stolen by Milwaukee and Steamer only projects Saunders and Brad Miller to steal more than ten bases in the upcoming year. How important steals are is debatable, but the point being made is that the ’08 Brewers featured a much more rounded offensive than the ’14 Mariners project to field. The Brew Crew featured a steady yet unspectacular rotation until they acquired CC Sabathia in a July trade with the Indians that year. After the 22-year old Yovani Gallardo went down with injury, the staff anchored by Ben Sheets, Dave Bush, and Jeff Suppan helped combine for the National League’s second lowest ERA at 3.85. This was actually a very productive year for Sheets who had missed parts of 2007 and 2006 with injuries. In 198 1/3 innings pitched he posted a 3.09 ERA with a 3.38 FIP and 3.88 xFIP; good for 4.3 fWAR and bWAR. Sabathia was the real game changer for the rotation however, posting a sparkling 1.65 ERA in 17 starts, seven of which were complete games. His performance with the Brewers even garnered some National League Cy Young and MVP attention despite pitching half his season in the American League. Now, one would like to think that a pitching staff highlighted by King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma wouldn’t have one of the worst earned run averages in the AL, but that was the case in 2013. Only the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros had worse results than Seattle’s 4.32 ERA. Although Felix and Kuma only represented about 30 percent of the innings pitched by the staff, the other 70 percent was pretty ugly. Youngsters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton impressed in their September cameo appearances, and Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush, and Oliver Perez were effective out of the bullpen. As it stands, the Mariners’ rotation features nearly zero certainty after the top two spots. Some incarnation of Walker, Paxton, Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez, and the newly signed Scott Baker figure to fill out the remaining three rotation spots. Much has been made about the height of Walker’s ceiling, and there’s a good chance Paxton becomes a productive starter down the line, but both are almost complete question marks for 2014 and probably best served starting the year at Triple-A. Maurer and Ramirez are still young and could develop into useful pieces, but unless they’ve improved tremendously this winter, there’s no reason to pencil them in for any more than a bullpen gig. A healthy Baker is a legitimate back end rotation guy, but that’s still to be determined as well. The Brewers did get something resembling a breakout year from Manny Parra in his first full big league season. After nine appearances in 2007, the then 25-year old posted a 4.39 ERA, 4.16 FIP, and 3.81 xFIP over 29 starts and 32 appearances. That would turn out to be his the most productive season of his career thus far, but at the cost of a league minimum salary, nobody was complaining about his performance in 2008. For what it’s worth, Paxton is entering his age 25 season and if he can contribute something resembling Parra’s 1.9 fWAR and contribute over the course of the entire season, that’d be huge for the club. Even when Gallardo went down with injury, the Brew Crew were able to get a decent result out of ten Seth McClung starts. If Walker or Paxton are unable to go for whatever reason, the Mariners’ rotation once again hinges on guys like Ramirez. I’d rather have McClung, thanks. Outside of Sabathia, Milwaukee’s rotation was regarded as far from flashy heading into the 2008 season. There was still some notable hype surrounding Gallardo who was the Brewers’ second round choice in the 2004 draft, though it was less than that associated with Walker currently. Sheets had dealt with injuries the previous two campaigns and Suppan and Bush had yet to established much consistency in their respective games. But, Milwaukee did enter the year with a set of fairly dependable arms and got a little bit of luck aside from the Gallardo injury. The Mariners’ projected 2014 rotation isn’t just a little bit of luck and health away from being Wild Card calibre. Obviously Hart comparing the 2014 Seattle Mariners to the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers wasn’t meant to be analyzed this much. His reasoning could be as simple as the fact that the Mariners are going to hit a lot of home runs this year and will feature several young players with the ability to be difference makers; both are attributes of exciting baseball. The Brewers would go on to lose in the National League Division Series in four games to the Philadelphia Phillies in ’08, a result that seems too far out of the Mariners’ reach at this point. Acquiring David Price would certainly help, but maybe the M’s should allocate most of their available resources to help the outfield and attempt to bring in a Bush or Suppan circa 2008 type of starter instead. Felix and Kuma offer enough star power at the top of the rotation to allow for a Bronson Arroyo to fit in the three spot until Walker or Paxton claim it as their own. Unless Ervin Santana falls into their lap, there’s not much left for free agent starters. All in all, the Mariners may just be in a similar position to where the Brewers were six years ago. A lot will have to go right for the club to be a legitimate playoff contender this year, but a strong step towards fielding a contending team in 2015 may be just as good of a result.
It’s that time of the year again when the Hot Stove cools to barely a broil, despite the fact plenty of top free agents still remain unsigned. That should change soon however, as a Masahiro Tanaka decision is expected by Tuesday or Wednesday. It doesn’t appear that the Seattle Mariners are finalists for the Japanese ace at the moment after being labelled as favourites earlier this month. Of course a lot can change over the next 48 hours, but considering the Mariners didn’t meet up with Tanaka and his representatives when they were in Los Angeles recently, they can be considered a long shot. In front office news, talk has cooled on Tony La Russa possibly taking over for Chuck Armstrong as president of the club. The former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals doesn’t think he’ll even get an interview for the job. It appears that the Mariners prefer utilizing an internal option for the role, and Geoff Baker suggests Bob Aylward and Kevin Mather as the most likely candidates. Michael Saunders avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract worth $2.3 million plus incentives in his first year of eligibility. I recently took a look at the 27-year old’s career to date and how he projects in 2014. While center field has hurt Saunders’ defensive value and his bat cooled after a 20 home run 2012 season, he could still be an above average contributor in a corner outfield spot. As it stands, the Canadian could be in line to start the year in center field, but that will depend on Franklin Gutierrez‘s health, and whether or not Dustin Ackley has improved over the offseason. The Mariners’ other two arbitration-eligible players, Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak, have filed their numbers and could see a hearing sometime in February if they can’t come to terms. Morrison is seeking $2.5 million and the Mariners countered at $1.1 million; Smoak is looking for $3.25 million and Seattle countered at $2.025 million. The Mariners did make a splash in free agency this week when they agreed to terms with veteran catcher John Buck. Not only does he represent an upgrade over the other backup catching options on the roster, he’s been great defensively (pitch framing talk aside) throughout his career, and has shown an ability to hit for power. Should Mike Zunino struggle this year, Buck is a viable option to play more than just once or twice a week. The deal is for one year and a million bucks, no reported incentives or options, so there’s very few scenarios where this deal could backfire on Seattle. Outfielder Carlos Peguero was designated for assignment to make room for Buck on the 40-man roster. Elsewhere in free agency, PI’s Chris Moran took a look at some quality buy-low options for the Mariners. He notes Chris Capuano as an interesting veteran to add to the bottom half of the rotation after the 35-year old spent the past two season with the Los Angeles Dodgers where he started 55 games. With Joe Saunders unlikely to return, it would do the M’s some good to add another innings eater to the rotation given the uncertainty surrounding some of the younger pitchers. Chris also notes Grant Balfour and Chad Gaudin as some potential relief options. I also took a look at several available free agent relief options. Sticking with the bullpen, Jason Churchill recently had a conversation with reliever Danny Farquhar in which the righty revealed he’s been looking to add a change-up and an improved two-seam fastball to his repertoire. As it stands, the 26-year old is the most likely in-house option to start 2014 in the closers role. He saved 16 games after taking over the role from Tom Wilhelmsen, who also remains in the mix moving froward. The addition of a proven closer such as Balfour could change that though. In another piece, Jason argues that only Taijuan Walker and Zunino should be untouchable in trade talks. He gets the feeling that the Mariners might be valuing James Paxton the same way they are Walker given the lack on inactivity on the trade front. Given the Mariners’ team looks fairly similar heading into 2014 aside from swapping Kendrys Morales for Robinson Cano in the batting order, there’s no reason for Seattle to sit on their prospect stash and wait. Especially since the $24 million annual instalments set to enter Cano’s bank account begin in a little over two month’s time. Nick Franklin has been a topic of trade debate ever since Cano’s signature was printed on his massive contract. Considering Franklin plays a premium position and will be very cost effective for the next several seasons, Chris suggests he could be the main piece in a deal for a young starter like Jordan Zimmermann or an affordable outfielder like Jay Bruce. There hasn’t been much reported for trade talks surrounding Franklin, but that’s partially because an obvious match such as the Toronto Blue Jays simply don’t have the right pieces to offer in return. Letting Franklin rake in Triple-A to start the year wouldn’t be the worst possible scenario. Perhaps a contending team’s starting baseman goes down early in the season and would be willing to pay more to acquire a player like Franklin. PI’s Rob Balboni gives us an update on the MLB Rule IV Draft order for the upcoming year. The Mariners will pick sixth in the first round, and should Morales sign with another team before the draft, will sacrifice their Competitive Balance Round A pick for Signing Cano who had decline a qualifying offer from the New York Yankees. If Morales doesn’t sign before the draft, the Mariners will forfeit their second-round draft pick as compensation.
The Seattle Mariners may or may not land right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Whether or not that occurs does not impact the value of the M’s young pitching collection, namely right-hander Taijuan Walker and southpaw James Paxton. It doesn’t make them more expendable and it doesn’t mean it “frees them up” to be traded. I get the sense, based on nothing but the lack of movement on additional position players, that the Mariners may be treating Paxton and Walker equally. I think that’s a mistake. I get Walker. He’s still very young, has good present stuff, is very athletic… you know the drill here. I understand Mike Zunino being kept off the block, too; catchers are very, very difficult to find. So difficult that the value of solid catchers cannot be understated. The rest of the “prospects” and young, unproven talents in the organization? I don’t see any reason to make them truly untouchable in trade talks. There is a chance Paxton turns out to be better than Walker, but it’s clear the 21-year-old has the bigger upside and his timetable isn’t that far behind Paxton’s, if it is at all. Making both untouchable or near-untouchable — AKA, being afraid to trade them — makes little sense to me. The Mariners drafted both pitchers. The principal scouts that did so are still in the organization. The club has drafted pitchers since then — Danny Hultzen and Edwin Diaz, for example — and will continue to make solid choices on amateur talent. In an organization where the cupboard is still barren at the big-league level, particularly in terms of outfielders — true, two-way outfielders who aren’t a liability on defense and don’t come with considerable injury concerns — one would think this offseason is an opportunity to pick an untouchable, Walker, and see if there is a player on the trade market the club could acquire in exchange for a package headlined by Paxton. That isn’t to say trading Paxton and others for just any decent outfielder is a good idea, but protecting Paxton as if he’s a surefire ace (not even Walker is that) and showing a strong reluctance to move him to acquire the right outfielder would be absurd and utterly ignorant. I don’t know the Mariners are employing this stance, I’m just saying they absolutely should not be. Tanaka or not, this club will grow dangerously close to running out of options to make the team watchable on offense, let alone any kind of kinda-sorta first-half contender. Robinson Cano, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison will not fix the lineup. Brad Miller, Mike Zunino, Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley cannot be expected to combine to equal such significant improvements — all of a sudden, on the parts of Saunders and Ackley after two years of struggles — and Kyle Seager absolutely cannot be relied upon to be one of the three best hitters — in my opinion. Right now, he’s the second-best bat, meaning two more hitters are necessary or Cano1 is nothing but a PR move. If I could get Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Paxton, Nick Franklin and, say, John Hicks, I’d pull the trigger so fast that not even William Henry McCarty could react fast enough to hit the kill switch. It’s a risk, but one the Mariners cannot afford to decline. I don’t know if that specific deal, or one like it, would work for the Dodgers, but if that kind of value can net Kemp, it’s a no-brainer. He’s healing up this winter, a bit faster than some expected, too. It doesn’t have to be Kemp, however, and it doesn’t have to be an outfielder, per se, although that is the weakest position on the roster as of today. Seattle is in no position to hoard prospects and sit around and wait for five or six young players to figure it out in 2014. The clock is ticking, both on the offseason and on Cano’s value to the baseball team. Right this second, the club has not improved a whole lot. Kendrys Morales is gone — and it appears there is almost no chance for him to return, considering Hart and Morrison join Justin Smoak as 1B/DH types, at least some of the time — so the improvement is essentially the difference between Cano and Morales. It’s a nice bump player-for-player, especially since Cano is a solid glove at second and Morales was a DH in 2013, but in the grand scheme, the 25-man still is mediocre. I repeat my statement from December: Make Cano count. Label the elite off limits, use a few of the other young talents and prospects to get what the club doesn’t have. That’s one of the two reason they were signed in the first place. Don’t pretend there was just one. Don’t pin the hopes of vast improvement in 2014 on the status quo finding the magic potion. Paxton isn’t going to turn into Sandy Koufax or even Cliff Lee. Kemp might turn into Kemp of 2011, though.
As we inch closer and closer to Spring Training 2014, many of us are still anxiously awaiting the Seattle Mariners next big move after they agreed to terms with superstar Robinson Cano. The David Price chatter has quieted for the time being, as have the Matt Kemp rumors. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports reports that the M’s are still weighing both players as options, but need to, as he says, “persuade” ownership to allow another big move. That shouldn’t be a surprise. While there’s undoubtedly an arduous process an organization goes through to make a high profile move, there’s likely a point when all teams require ownership approval to pass a certain salary threshold even if it’s by a small amount. The Mariners are no different from any other club in that regard. We knew that ownership was very much involved in the Cano signing, as they should be considering the quarter billion dollar investment, and it should come as no surprise that the higher ups would once again need to consent any relatively large deal that may occur. So what needs to be made out of Rosenthal’s latest report? Practically nothing. We know that in 2013 the M’s opening payroll was a little over $84 million, and they’ve already committed $67 million for seven players for 2014. Add in three arbitration estimates and pre-arbitration players, and the payroll looks like it’ll fall around $81 million. Since the Mariners are already close to last years’ payroll and it was another down year for attendance and conceivably profit, it’s reasonable to suggest Seattle is in all likelihood, close to the top of their budget for the coming year. Without going into specific revenue details and whatnot, and by factoring something along the lines of an inflation raise, we could take a shot in the dark and say that the Mariners have a budget of about $90 million. This is by no means accurate, but considering the team was willing to spend on Cano and would have to pay several players raises in the upcoming season, it’s within reason to suggest the M’s planned for a slight increase in their payroll compared to last year. The Mariners don’t really have any obvious non-tender candidates, and the $81 million figure includes 15 players making approximately the MLB minimum. While that number of players could be close to the truth considering the youth of the team, it’s likely that a couple youngsters will be displaced by veteran acquisitions that are still yet to come. If $81 million gives the M’s a 25-man roster, that $9 million difference from our estimated budget ($90 million) would essentially be available for a few possible upgrades. As it stands, three of the five rotation spots could be going to players making half a million each in 2014, and some of that surplus would be well spent on adding a veteran starter or two. When we start looking at upgrades who come with significant salaries such as a Price or a Kemp, barring the removal equivalent salary, payroll would be pushed at least to the $90 million mark, so ownership approval would probably be necessary at that point anyways. Rosenthal’s report is simply telling us what we already know; ownership will have to approval a budget increase. Perhaps they aren’t too keen on spending much more than last year’s payroll at the moment and that’s why the process has been so slow. Can you blame them though? If history is as good a teacher as they say it is, there’s a very recent example of how spending big doesn’t always equal results. The Toronto Blue Jays entered 2013 as World Series favourites after acquiring Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buerhle from the Miami Marlins, as well as RA Dickey from the New York Mets. The Jays had a 2012 payroll just under $84 million, and began 2013 with a payroll of nearly $120 million after the acquisitions. That’s a $35 million increase in one offseason. How were the end results for the club? Not very good. Toronto managed to be exactly one win better in 2013 than they were in 2012 and find themselves in a difficult position this offseason as they try to make upgrades. Reports suggested that the Jays pushed their payroll to their absolute limits to get to the $120 million mark, and they wouldn’t have much more available in 2014. Perhaps this example is unfair because the Jays’ suffered a host of injuries to practically all of their key parts, and maybe had too lofty expectations. But it does show how difficult improving an under performing squad can be when payroll is stretched to begin with. If you tried telling that to the 2009 New York Yankees and 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers they’d beg to differ, but they’re cares of huge market teams with plenty of star power on the roster already. The 2014 Mariners aren’t adding CC Sabathia, Mark Teixiera, and AJ Burnett to Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and a team that was coming off of an 89 win season like the Yankees were heading into ’09; they’re adding Cano to Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Kyle Seager, and a team that hasn’t won 89 games since 2003. If the M’s were adding Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Matt Garza to the three, then we’d have a much different story. That’s not intended to be taken in a derogatory context as I’m as optimistic a Mariners fan as any. It’s simply stating adding a superstar to a 70-ish win team doesn’t equal playoffs. Also, the reality is that a team with a better track record pushing a $150 million payroll to $200 million is a lot easier than a struggling team pushing an $80 million payroll to $100 million. There’s a real possibility that the splurge begins and ends with Cano. Hopefully ownership will see the benefits of pushing the payroll closer to $100 million and allow Jack Zduriencik to acquire another talented player to accompany Cano et al, but based on what the reports are indicating currently, they aren’t quite ready to do that. Their hesitancy is valid, and it’s not unfair to want to allow the youngsters another year to develop, but on the surface it looks like ownership jumped into the water, but got cold feet. It’s worth noting that aside from the handful of top rotation arms, there isn’t really much available on the market right now outside of Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales. The trade market hasn’t really developed much at this point, but it’s possible there could be more movement as Spring Training nears. The Mariners do have the resources to overwhelm a team to get what they want, or do what the Jays did and acquire several proven talents. Perhaps it’s not entirely accurate to call Cano the all in move in the first place. Sure there’s an extraordinary financial commitment that could become an albatross down the line, as well as the associated opportunity cost, but in terms of potential talent, the M’s surrendered none.When the Jays made their blockbuster with the Marlins, they still weren’t all in. When they sent top prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard to the Mets for Dickey, that was their all in move. Maybe Seattle wants to play it slow and get a better feel for what younger players like Brad Miller, Taijuan Walker, and Mike Zunino can do in 2014 and aim to make their all in move prior to to 2015. Who knows, if the M’s are reasonably successful this year, it could be a lot easier to get Price to agree to an extension right away. As silly as it is to ‘waste’ a year of Cano’s prime, the M’s simply can’t justify making an all in move like the Jays did at this point. Does acquiring Price for a package that’d likely include Walker and Nick Franklin improve the 2014 club? Yes. Are they now a playoff team? Perhaps. Is this deal going to be worth it two or three years down the road? That’s where all the grey matter exists. The Jays felt they were a playoff team without Dickey, and by adding him they’d become World Series contenders. The intentions of the trades were based on Toronto seeing playoff baseball for the first time in twenty years and possibly more by the time 2015-16 rolled around, and watching the dealt prospects blossom wouldn’t hurt so much. Consider a scenario where Masahiro Tanaka agrees to come to the Emerald City. Would an addition such as that justify a following all in move? Now we got a real debate. First and foremost, getting the approval to sign Tanaka (or an equivalent) may be pushing it as it is. And even if ownership gives the thumbs up and the money is spent, what are the chances the club can further add to what’d likely be a $100 million in 2014? We know the bidding on the Japanese star is going to get crazy, and tacking on an estimated $20 million annually for Tanaka would push that $81 million number into the nine-digit range and past our $90 million estimated budget. Perhaps it’s all Justin Smoak and mirrors and the M’s are simply trying to underplay their hand and make a convincing argument that they are strapped for cash. If that’s the case, they’re doing all the right things at this point. If Cruz is their target, there’s absolutely no reason play their hand and give him any leverage. Same goes for potential trade target XYZ. After Cano was signed, the assumption was that Seattle was going to go out and make more crazy moves, and naturally other teams would want to take advantage of that. Whatever the case may be, we’ll likely begin to see much more clarity as it unfolds over the next six weeks. Once February passes by, the plan may still be unclear, but we’ll probably have our answers for 2014.
With 2014 just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at how each team is shaping up at this point in the offseason. With several marquee free agents still available, expect these numbers to fluctuate over the next couple months, making this exercise exactly what it’s meant to be; a rough estimate at this point in time. Firstly, we’re going to look at how American League West teams, including your Seattle Mariners, project in 2014 and compare it to their 2013 seasons. -All numbers are provided by FanGraphs Looking at the Mariners, most of us will be happy to see that the team projects to be 15.5 fWAR better in 2014 than they were in 2013. A lot of that increase comes in the form of Robinson Cano and his 5.1 projected fWAR, but the additions of Logan Morrison and Corey Hart project to add 1.7 fWAR and 1.9 fWAR respectively to the M’s lineup as well. It’s interesting to note that both LoMo and Hart are projected to be almost completely average defenders in left field in 2014. That I’ll believe when i see it. Catcher Mike Zunino is also projected to be worth 1.9 fWAR in what stands to be his first full season in the majors. Shortstop Brad Miller is looking to take another step forward after a strong 2013 campaign, and is projected to be worth 3.3 fWAR in 2014; nearly double his 1.7 fWAR in 2013. The only real subtraction to the M’s lineup from 2013 appears to be Kendrys Morales who provided 1.7 fWAR in 2013 as the primary DH. The M’s pitching staff projects to provide similar value in 2014 despite projected declines in value for both Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Felix will still be Felix, but Iwakuma isn’t projected to repeat his sensational 2013 campaign. Relievers Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush are also projected to regress from their 2013 seasons by nearly 1.0 fWAR each. With the 2014 bullpen situation not entirely clear quite yet, the bullpen projections should be taken with a grain of salt. The real wild cards in the rotation come in the form of prospects Taijaun Walker and James Paxton as it’s unknown what their contributions are expected to be next year. In 140 innings, the pair are projected to be worth 1.5 fWAR and 1.3 fWAR respectively. While most have reserved a rotation spot for one of Walker and Paxton, it would take the acquisition of at least one decent rotation arm for both to not be the best in-house options for the 2014 staff behind Hernandez and Iwakuma. The M’s may prefer to see both spend a little more time at Triple-A, the new plans of contention in 2014 could dramatically alter the timetable for the youngsters; as would a trade of Walker or Paxton for possibly an establish pitcher. Realistically, the M’s are likely to at least pick up some back end of the rotation fliers to compete for jobs in Spring Training. There’s no sense in banking on two pitchers who’ve thrown a combined 39 innings at the MLB level, especially when a pitcher like Matt Garza is available and will only cost money. If Seattle is truly serious about competing in 2014, they’ll need to add at least one more rotation piece, and probably two to provide a safeguard for the rookies. Overall, the Mariners project to be a better team in 2014, but that much appeared to be obvious. The new-look lineup and the continued progress of other youngsters will provide a strong boost to the M’s offence in 2014. Ideally the M’s add another arm to the middle of the rotation and at least one veteran reliever, perhaps an Oliver Perez reunion would make sense, to consider their 2014 staff to be improved. There’s a lot of good pieces in place, but it doesn’t appear to be enough compared to the rest of the division as Seattle projects to be the fourth best team in the AL West. The Texas Rangers project as the top team after opening their pocketbooks this winter to better a championship contender who fell short once again last season. Not only did the team spend big on acquiring Prince Fielder, they also made a splash in the free agent market when the brought Shin-Soo Choo onboard. Despite the additions, the Rangers are only projected to be 0.7 fWAR better in the batting department due to the losses of Ian Kinsler and Craig Gentry who were both dealt. Joe Nathan‘s departure from the bullpen leaves the closer role vacant, but the Rangers have plenty of internal options. The bullpen will remain a strong point in 2014 as Neftali Feliz returns and Joakim Soria is still around. A healthy season from Matt Harrison would help to offset the projected decline of Derek Holland in the rotation that’s still headlined by Yu Darvish. Pitching doesn’t look to be an issue heading forward if Feliz and Harrison are about to contribute full seasons of work. The Rangers are the favourite it win the AL West, but they won’t be without competition. The Oakland Athletics will be looking to defend their division crown after a fury of transactions this offseason, but like the Rangers, they project to be a few fWAR worse in 2014. Free agent acquisition Scott Kazmir and his projected 2.7 fWAR come in to replace the departed Bartolo Colon and the 3.9 fWAR he produced last season. Sonny Gray should stick in the rotation for the entire year after a great performance throughout the stretch drive last season. The A’s made a peculiar decision to acquire a star closer in Jim Johnson since the All-Star is likely due $10 million in ’14. The A’s bullpen is projected to regress despite Johnson’s presence though, but that could change depending on how the rotation ends up looking. Slugger Josh Donaldson is projected to come in shy of his 7.7 fWAR 2013 season, but a 5.0 fWAR year is nothing to make light of. Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie both project to produce approximately 1.0 fWAR less each than they did in 2013, but they still figure to set the table well for Donaldson and the rest of the A’s batting order. Even with a bit of regression from some prominent players, the Athletics should provide plenty of challenge for the Rangers. The Halos rotation has proved to be troublesome beyond Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson the past couple seasons, and with Jason Vargas leaving for greener pastures, the Angels brought in Tyler Skaggs to help shore up the rotation. It’ll probably be a year with some growing pains for Skaggs as he’s just 22, but he’ll have plenty of room for error with the infamous Joe Blanton still in the picture. Times weren’t so good for the Los Angeles Angels last season, both on but off the field. Between injuries to recentfree agents signings Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and turmoil in the front office with management, dysfunction was a term often associated with the Angels. Not to be overshadowed by the mess though, was phenom Mike Trout who posted a tremendous 10.3 fWAR season. Trout projects short of the 10.0 fWAR mark, but the sky appears to truly be the limit for 22-year old. The Angels have avoided the big ticket free agents so far this winter, and instead acquired David Freese to add some pop to the middle of the lineup. Overall, the Angels project to be in the hunt for a playoff spot next summer, although their projected 4.3 fWAR increase hinges on Pujols and Hamilton staying healthy and producing closer to the levels they’re paid to play at. If not, it’s going to be another long year in Disneyland. No it’s not a figment of the imagination; the Houston Astros are projected to be the most improved team in the AL heading into 2014. Coming off a third consecutive season with 100 or more losses, the Astros decided to boost their young nucleus with some veteran talent in the form of Dexter Fowler, Chad Qualls, and Scott Feldman to join budding stars Jason Castro and Jose Altuve. The additions seem slightly surprising as the Astros have worked with an incredibly small payroll the last several seasons, but with new television money coming in, the time may be right to supplant the young core with some more experienced pieces. Houston has stayed the course with their rebuilding plan the last several seasons and have plenty more quality prospects coming up through their system. Even with a projected increase of 24.4 fWAR for the club, next year looks to be just another step in the rebuilding process as the club projects to land near the bottom of the American League once again. Feldman is the top Astros pitcher on paper, but there’ll be plenty of room for their youngsters to make some noise. Houston has all the time in the world for their youngsters to develop and form what’ll likely be a very good team several years from now. Despite what the fWAR projections say, it’s easy to see how every team in the division could be improved in 2014. The feeling among many right now, and projections as well, is that the Rangers have an upper hand on the division, with the A’s a close second behind them. Depending on a number of factors, the Angels and M’s figure to hold the three and four spots in the division, and despite a very good offseason in Houston, they appear headed for cellar dweller status yet again.
With unofficial word coming out Friday that the Seattle Mariners and free agent second baseman Robinson Cano have come to terms at 10 years and $240 million, the M’s have one job: Make it count. Regardless of whether or not $240 million is a good investment in a 31-year-old, the Mariners now must make sure Cano doesn’t stand alone on the club’s acquisition list when spring training starts in nine weeks. Call it a responsibility to themselves, but this team has to keep adding talent this offseason and make sure they are capable and legitimate contenders in 2014. Anything short of that and the Cano signing becomes a mess. Why? Because the latter portion of the contract is bound to be a time when Cano isn’t worth what the team will be paying him. That makes the first five or six years critical, and wasting even one season with Cano greatly reduces its value to the team. General manager Jack Zduriencik and his staff have put their irons in nearly every fire in baseball. Even after the Cano commitment, the Mariners are expected to be major players for free agent outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Rajai Davis, starting pitchers Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, first basemen Corey Hart and Kevin Youkilis, and a number of relievers and part-time players. They also were mentioned as an interested party in the trade availability of left-hander David Price earlier this week. Price is under club control for two more years, but will earn about $30 million over those two years. Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp have also been linked to Seattle. Butler’s availability seems to be tied to the Royals’ acquisition of another hitter. The M’s have just over $33 million committed for 2014 before adding Cano to the ledger, plus whatever numbers arbitration-eligibles Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak settle at — if they aren’t included in trades — and the team-controlled contracts, which go for around $500,000 a pop. We don’t know for sure what the club’s payroll limits will be for next season, but it appears there is still plenty of money remaining. Is Price worth Walker? The cost for Price in terms of trade bait is going to be high. The expectation is that top prospect Taijuan Walker will have to be included. While this remains a possibility, there are indications that Zduriencik much prefers to keep Walker and add a significant No. 3-type starter via the free agent market. There are mixed reviews on Walker’s future, however. There are those believe Walker is more of a No. 3 starter and more than a year from being a real value to a major league rotation. I believe he’s a future No. 2 starter, possibly a No. 1, and that he can help in the big leagues right away, perhaps right out of spring training next spring. Trading six years of club control of a talent of that caliber that is ready to contribute in exchange for two years of almost any player in baseball is not a sound decision, in my opinion. The upgrade of Price over Walker for 2014 and 2015 may not be very large, either. Price’s best season was 2012 when he posted an fWAR of 4.8 and he’s totaled 13.5 fWAR over the past three seasons. Assuming the 28-year-old maintains similar performance, he’ll be worth somewhere between 8.5 and 9.0 wins above replacement during his final two seasons before he hits free agency. Price will do so earning about $13 million in 2014 and probably between $16 million and $18 million for 2015. It would not be out of the realm of expectations for Walker to surpass that production over the next 3-4 seasons, as 1.7-2.2 WAR per season is only slightly above league average for starting pitchers. Walker is too much to sacrifice for Price, and on top of that it could cost more than just the 21-year-old right-hander to pry the former Cy Young winner away from the Rays, who will undoubtedly have other offers for their ace. One possible exception: If the Rays are willing to give up more than just Price in a package deal — perhaps an outfielder such as Desmond Jennings — the equation changes. Until then, the wise decision is to pocket Walker, pass on Price and spend more money on a starting pitcher and perhaps another hitter or two. Trades can still be part of the process, possibly including Kemp. Considering his contract and the risk with which he comes, the trade cost to acquire him must be fairly modest, unless the Dodgers send cash along with the outfielder, who would likely play right field in Seattle. In October, I wrote about Milwaukee centerfielder Carlos Gomez being a potential target, and while the Brewers’ trading of Norichika Aoki to Kansas City may very well nix any chance of Gomez being available — if there was any shot in the first place — but right-hander Yovani Gallardo could be a fairly inexpensive alternative, provided he’s healthy. Absolutely not done The baseball world has every reason to believe the Mariners will do exactly what I’m suggesting and urging here — make the Cano deal count, and right away. The Mariners are not done, by a long shot. The smart bet is that the club adds at least one significant starting pitcher, at least one more significant bat, and 1-2 other upgrades to the lineup — first base, outfield — that aren’t considered big names but are still deemed better than what the club finished with in 2013, and at least one veteran relief pitcher, possibly more. That could mean Garza, Santana or Jimenez, for example, plus Hart, Youkilis, Butler, Nelson Cruz or Kendrys Morales, an outfielder such as Kemp, Gerardo Parra, a catcher such as Michael McKenry, Ramon Hernandez or even Kurt Suzuki, and a bullpen option such as Jose Veras or Joaquin Benoit. Not bad, eh? Adding Cano is a major coup for the Mariners. Their ownership, CEO Howard Lincoln as well as Zduriencik and his staff all deserve a lot of credit. Lincoln and the ownership for being bold and understanding the kind of financial commitment it takes to climb out of the hole they have been in for years, the GM and his group for properly identifying the one player in this year’s market worth overpaying for, and for communicating that properly to Chuck Armstrong and Lincoln. Sure, we can blast them for not taking such necessary risks in the past, and we can sit on our couches and claim the only reason they are making such inroads now is because of the expected influx of revenues from the acquisition of the regional sports network — Root Sports — but it’s still a major financial risk and a potential sacrifice of future profits. Give credit where credit is due, and credit is due here, to everyone involved in these personnel transactions. The above scenario post-Cano is a special offseason. It’s one that completely changes the culture and overall view of the franchise. A week ago, such an offseason was an absolute pipe dream. Today, it’s more than plausible. In fact, it’s closer to probable than it is anything else. Last offseason, I started to write a piece on the M’s needing their ‘Bam Moment’ the way the Seahawks had theirs when they acquired Percy Harvin and a sent a message to the rest of the NFL. Cano is it, M’s fans. Bam.
The news broke Tuesday with a vengeance. Trades, free agent signings and even a report out of New York that the Seattle Mariners were legitimate, major players for free agent Robinson Cano. Some have been saying it for weeks, simply because it’s well known that each team has an additional $20-25 million coming to them via the league’s new TV deal, and the Mariners, having just two guaranteed contracts on the books to boot, negotiated a majority control of their regional sports network, improving their annual revenues greatly, starting next year. Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com reported Tuesday afternoon that the Mariners had emerged as a prime suitor and cited sources that suggested the M’s might be willing to go where the New York Yankees reportedly say they will not — eight years and $200 million. Let’s break this down, issue by issue. Legitimate or not? I have no doubt that the Mariners have the kind of interest in every significant free agent to pay the market rate. With Cano, that likely means $200 million guaranteed, maybe more. I believe the Mariners are willing to pay that. What I don’t believe is that Cano would take it. Even with the news coming out that Jacoby Ellsbury has agreed to a deal with the Yankees worth $153 million and knowing that Brian McCann is under contract with the Yankees for at least $85 million, it’s difficult to believe that the Yankees would low-ball Cano to the point where Seattle, of all teams and places, is the best fit. Even if the M’s are the best money, it’s difficult to believe they will be the overwhelming high bid; are the Yankees now only willing to offer Cano, say, $165 million? If so, and if the M’s are willing to go $200 million, is the $35 million enough to sway Cano? I don’t think it is. He can make up that difference in endorsements as the Yankees’ lead superstar, playing in the postseason. And if the bidding were to remain around or under $200 million — which is $100 million less than what was originally suggested for Cano — might that entice the interest of the Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers? It would only take one of those to trump the Mariners. The Ellsbury factor I don’t believe the Ellsbury signing is a factor at all. The Yankees, clearly, have given up on the idea of remaining under the luxury tax threshold so they can earn the kickback payment, and it does seem as if they are expecting a ruling in their favor in the Alex Rodriguez case, which would save them $189 million in total. Yes, the Yankees also need starting pitching, too, but again, this is the Yankees we are talking about, and they clearly mean business this offseason. While there appears to be no reason to believe they will cave and give Cano what he really wants, there’s also no reason to think they won’t spend another $40-50 million on Cano than they did to sign Ellsbury, an inferior player. Sensible for Seattle? Then there is the question of whether or not it would even make sense for the Mariners to give Cano eight years and $200 million. The easy answer is yes. Even if you believe such a deal is an overpay, this is the Mariners we are talking about, and Cano is exactly the kind of breakthrough addition the franchise needs. Remember, the money only hurts a club if they let it bog them down in their attempts at continuing to improve their club every single day of the year. It’s a decision organizations make. It’s not about $200 million payrolls, either. It’s about spending on the right players, maximizing the value of those making the big money and continuing to develop your own talent so huge contracts aren’t regularly necessary. Adding a player like Cano would do more than just give the club it’s first true No. 3 hitter since Edgar Martinez 10 years ago, his presence adds instant credibility to the Mariners brand. Getting that next free agent wouldn’t be quite as difficult. “Hey, you, free agent shortstop. Come play with Robby Cano and behind Felix Hernandez.” That’s an easier sales job than currently exists. Forget payrolls and what adding a $25 million per year player would do to a team’s self-imposed salary cap. We have absolutely no idea what the Mariners’ limits are, if there truly are any in such a scenario. As long as their next move is just as aggressive and they keep that ball rolling, the money simply does not matter. It’s not like they have never spent on payroll before — they just didn’t spend wisely. Cano would be a much wiser spend than Prince Fielder two years ago and Josh Hamilton last year. Eight years? So What Cano would be 38 by the end of such a deal, but this is an easy one, people. He’s such a good hitter that once he’s deemed unfit for second base, he can easily move to third, first or designated hitter, and be very valuable. And it’s not like there is any reason to think he’ll have to do so before he’s 36 or 37, anyway. Next. The Matt Kemp factor The Mariners have been linked to Kemp for weeks now and it’d be a huge statement if they spent on Cano and landed Kemp via trade. Jon Morosi’s report Tuesday night suggests it’s one or the other, however. The Mariners can certainly fit both into their plans for 2014, though, and adding Kemp, and perhaps a starting pitcher and a veteran closer, may change Cano’s view of the Mariners enough for him to truly consider them. Kemp is a risk, a discussion for another day, and is earning $21 million per year, through 2019. He’s had one huge year, was solid in 2012 and hurt a lot in 2013. He’s been playing center field, but belongs in right. The keys to such a trade being a success for the Mariners include using Kemp properly on defense, but for me Taijuan Walker is off limits in a deal for Kemp, and the Dodgers must help out a little with the contract burden, especially if they want three or four quality young players in return. I have no idea what the chances of the Mariners landing Kemp are, but if they want a real shot at Cano, pulling the trigger on other significant deals before the Cano decision is made can only help. It’s worth noting that Kemp does not have a no-trade clause and that Kyle Seager isn’t likely to be involved in a trade with the Dodgers, since it appears they plan to use Hanley Ramirez at third base and signed Alex Guerrero to a 4-year, $28 million deal to be their second baseman as early as 2014. Closers I mentioned a veteran closer above, and while the Mariners would love to have Brian Wilson, that doesn’t seem very likely. A cheaper arm such as Joaquin Benoit or Fernando Rodney may be an option. The club does not want to start 2014 without a proven commodity added to their young bullpen, and may be trading Tom Wilhelmsen, anyway. If the season started today, Danny Farquhar would be the closer. It’d be nice if a veteran were added to the mix, and the club clearly agrees. In conclusion No, I do not think Cano ends up signing in Seattle. And chances are, Kemp either stays put or is traded elsewhere, though I do see some matches between the two clubs in terms of talent and dollars. The Dodgers may prefer to get a true, clear-cut shortstop and a young starter, and the M’s don’t have the shortstop to move. I’m not sure any team has both, though, which in my opinion gives the Mariners a real shot, and they certainly appear to be the most intent club on that front. The M’s have been linked to Carlos Beltran, too, who reportedly was offered a 3-year, $48 million deal this week. Many believe that offer to be from the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees or Kansas City Royals. If it’s the Royals, the domino effect may be that Billy Butler could be shopped, so the club can use the DH spot for some of their regulars, including an aging Beltran. The cost on Butler last offseason was ridiculous, but that has to have changed dramatically and Seattle could be a fit. I’d prefer the M’s pass and re-sign Morales or add Nelson Cruz — not for four years and $15-18 million per, of course — to use at DH.