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.
The starting pitching market moved at a snail’s pace in anticipation of a decision on whether or not Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka would become available this winter. Christmas Day provided an answer to that question as Tanaka was posted by his Japanese club, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, alongside a $20 million (maximum) release fee, essentially making him a free agent able to negotiate with all thirty teams. Seattle has been seen as a logical fit given the city’s proximity to Japan as well as the previous success of other Japanese imports such as Ichiro Suzuki, Kenji Johjima, and current Mariner and former teammate of Tanaka’s, Hisashi Iwakuma. Factor in the team’s need for another starter and surplus cash still lingering, and the match is almost too obvious. Ben Badler of Baseball America suggests that the Seattle Mariners are the favorites to land the 25-year old in a preview of Tanaka’s potential market. Badler opens the Mariners’ case by mentioning the lack of financial commitments Seattle has moving forward. Aside from Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, the M’s have minimal salary commitments outside of arbitration-eligible players. Once the new Regional Sports Network money the M’s are due over the next several seasons comes in, there’s reason to think that an annual payroll in the $100-120 million range would be a definite possibility. Earlier reports indicated that Seattle was close to their payroll limits for 2014 after signing Cano but could make an exception for the right player; Tanaka may just be that player. Not only would slotting the right-hander between King Felix and Iwakuma give Seattle an elite rotation on paper, it would also ease some of the pressure that’ll fall on top prospect Taijuan Walker should he make the rotation out of Spring Training. It’s likely that Tanaka would instead be the center of attention, at least at the beginning of 2014, as the baseball world will be watching him closely. Another positive for acquiring the Japanese ace is that he’ll only cost money. The M’s have been reluctant to meet the Tampa Bay Rays’ demands of Walker and more in a trade for their ace David Price, and free agents Ubaldo Jiminez and Ervin Santana will cost the team another draft pick if they were to sign. Badler also notes that should the M’s sign Tanaka, or any of the top available starters for that matter, they could use their prospect resources to acquire a quality outfielder since Nelson Cruz is what remains of the free agent outfield market. If that’s not enough reason to make a push for Tanaka, then I don’t know what is. With another potential ace in the fold, perhaps Seattle would be less reluctant to include James Paxton in a potential deal, especially since the righty is just 25 years old. Badler mentions Colby Rasmus of the Toronto Blue Jays as a potential trade target, but he’s a free agent after this season and may be more inclined to test the market instead of signing an extension at this time. The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs are also listed as favorites in Badler’s article. The Yankees have long been connected with Tanaka given their need for starting pitching and luxury tax concerns that would’ve been eased under the old posting system. Although the new system will make things a little tougher for the Yanks, they’re still expected to be highly involved. LA on the other hand, doesn’t really have an outright need for another starter, but they seem to have more money than they know what to do with so why not? The Dodgers’ interest in Tanaka could heat up if they feel they’ll be unable to sign reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw to an extension since he’ll be a free agent after this season and has a case for a record contract. While the Dodger and Yankee connections seem relatively palatable, the Cubs aren’t quite as logical a fit since they’re still knee deep in a complete rebuild. But, considering the right-hander is still only 25 and yet to hit his hypothetical prime years, he could be a perfect fit for the Cubs’ plan. Chicago isn’t likely to be a serious contender until 2015 at the earliest, and the addition of a top rotation arm would go a long ways to making that a possibility. Ken Rosenthal doesn’t quite share the same views as Badler however, as he reports the Arizona Diamondbacks are serious suitors for the righty’s services. Arizona was eighth on Badler’s list of potential suitors with budget limitations as their biggest hinderance in luring Tanaka. Rosenthal reports that the D-Backs were prepared to get in the bidding for Shin-Soo Choo earlier this winter, so they appear to have the resources required to spend more than $100 million on acquiring the Japanese star. Free agent Matt Garza has also been connected to the desert throughout the offseason. Since Tanaka’s preference are relatively unknown at this point, we can only speculate about what he’s looking for in a potential contract and team. Perhaps he wants to join an immediate World Series contender, or join a high profile market such as New York or Los Angeles. Maybe he’s strictly looking for the most cash. We’ve seen speculative numbers in the $100-140 million range on top of the $20 million release fee over a contract that could be between six and eight years in length. Many didn’t consider Seattle to be a serious landing spot for Cano earlier this winter, so there’s a realistic hope that Tanaka views the perks offered by playing in the Emerald City in the same light as the former Yankee did. It’s early on Tanaka watch. But constant theme from interested teams is: Watch out for #Mariners. Execs think they have one big move left — Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) January 2, 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.
One of the few names being suggested that the Seattle Mariners have yet to be linked to by any of a variety of sources is Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista. On the surface there’s a match; the Blue Jays are believed to be in the market for young starting pitching, of which the M’s have, perhaps even to spare to some extent, and the Mariners need outfielders with offensive punch. Bautista is signed through the 2015 season with a club option for 2016. Assuming that option is exercised, the 33-year-old would be owed $42 million over three seasons. Bautista was an MVP caliber player in 2010 and 2011 and while he’s dipped a bit in production — and health — the dollars he’s due is well worth it. The Dominican native was given a clean bill of health in November after a hip problem during the season, but even in limited duty over the past two years he’s been worth 3.0 and 4.2 fWAR. He’s a solid-average corner outfield glove when healthy, has a plus throwing arm and it’s far from unreasonable to expect him to remain a 4-5 win player over the next couple of years. Sounds great, right? There is one problem: the young arms the Mariners may have to spare — James Paxton and Brandon Maurer, for example — aren’t surefire 2014 rotation stalwarts, and the Jays have no reason to move Bautista for salary purposes. That may mean the only way the Mariners can acquire Bautista is by parting with top talent Taijuan Walker, whose name has been mentioned in trade talks for Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price. It doesn’t appear the two clubs have had such discussions, either, tweets FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi. And who could blame the Jays for not wanting to deal Bautista? We learned from former NFL head coach Herm Edwards that “you play to win the game” so the Jays, while they have a pitching need, do need to score runs, too, and perhaps GM Alex Anthopoulos isn’t too keen on a lineup highlighted by Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion. Bautista is their anchor. If Anthopoulos was to go out and land another hitter — which would probably have to be an outfielder to replace Bautista — then maybe the situation changes enough for Bautista to be put in play. There is one other obstacle for the Mariners if Bautista becomes available: they certainly would not be the only team interested, and as stated above, they aren’t the perfect fit. Two clubs that might be? The Cleveland Indians, who are said to be open to discussing right-hander Justin Masterson, and their cross-state rival Cincinnati Reds, who may be open to moving Homer Bailey in the right scenario, and may not have much of a shot to retain the services of free agent Shin-Soo Choo. The Texas Rangers may have interest, too, having lost Josh Hamilton a year ago and Nelson Cruz appears to be headed elsewhere this winter. If GM Jack Zduriencik has the chance to move a non-Walker starting pitching prospect to headline a package to acquire Bautista, I imagine he’ll do so. It does seem like a long shot such an opportunity will present itself, however. I will say this, though: I’d rather move Walker in a deal for a healthy Bautista than for Price. In the end, I’d hold off on making the 21-year-old right-hander available in either deal.
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.
The baseball world has been drooling over the bevy of talented young arms the St. Louis Cardinals have boasted throughout their playoff run. Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly were integral pieces to the Cardinals’ October success thus far, and Shelby Miller made an impact during the season to help get them there. The Seattle Mariners have quietly stockpiled their own stash of young arms over the last five years, but the attention has been minimal outside of the Pacific Northwest due to the M’s being out of contention for the umpteenth year in a row. This past season proved to be an interesting year for the Seattle rotation, featuring the debuts of a couple young studs, a couple disaster acquisitions, and a pleasant surprise all surrounding the calm that is staff ace Felix Hernandez. Let’s take a look at everyone who started for the club this year, and how that shapes the future as the organization aims for better things in 2014. Felix Hernandez: 31 GS, 204 1/3 IP, 121 ERA+, 1.131 WHIP, 9.5 SO/9, 5.2 WARHisashi Iwakuma: 33 GS, 219 2/3 IP, 138 ERA+, 1.006 WHIP, 7.6 SO/9, 7.0 WARJoe Saunders: 32 GS, 183 IP, 70 ERA+, 1.601 WHIP, 5.3 SO/9, -0.3 WARAaron Harang: 22 GS, 120 1/3 IP, 64 ERA+, 1.338 WHIP, 6.5 SO/9, 0.2 WAR*Brandon Maurer: 14 GS, 90 IP, 59 ERA+, 1.567 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9, -1.1 WAR*Erasmo Ramirez: 13 GS, 72 1/3 IP, 74 ERA+, 1.452 WHIP, 7.1 SO/9, 0.1 WAR*Blake Beavan: 2 GS, 39 2/3 IP, 61 ERA+, 1.361 WHIP, 6.1 SO/9, -0.5 WARJeremy Bonderman: 7 GS, 38 1/3 IP, 75 ERA+, 1.487 WHIP, 3.8 SO/9, 0.0 WAR*Hector Noesi: 1 GS, 27 1/3 IP, 57 ERA+, 1.976 WHIP, 6.9 SO/9, -0.3 WARJames Paxton: 4 GS, 24 IP, 249 ERA+, 0.917 WHIP, 7.9 SO/9, 1.1 WARTaijuan Walker: 3 GS, 15 IP, 105 ERA+, 1.000 WHIP, 7.2 SO/9, 0.1 WAR (*Indicates stats from relief appearances are also included)Wins Above Replacement totals by Baseball-Reference.com Hernandez had a slightly down year by his standards, but even so he still proved his value at the top of the rotation. Iwakuma proved to be a pleasant surprise while very quietly putting his name in the discussion for the AL Cy Young Award. The 32 year-old had a decent 2012, splitting his appearances between the bullpen and rotation, but managed to put it altogether in 2013. While it’s hard to tell if Iwakuma can keep up this level of performance, he should be standing next to King Felix atop the rotation for at least another year, maybe two. The only good thing I’m going to say about Saunders is that he was healthy the whole year; his line is pretty ugly otherwise, and his $6M salary will be spent elsewhere in 2014. Believe it or not, Harang was slightly better than Saunders, but was still replacement level before being released in September. Bonderman’s sample size is small as he was released after a little more than a month in the majors and provided average value during that time. The contributions from the younger arms make this picture a lot more interesting. Maurer, 23, will likely get another look from the club in Spring Training, but it’s worth noting he’s only thrown 46 2/3 Triple-A innings thus far, so perhaps he starts the year in Tacoma to get some more seasoning, but the club sent him to Arizona this fall to get some more work. Ramirez, also 23, has pitched well in the minors the past two seasons, but has not quite established himself as a big league arm yet. He saw his hit, walk and home run rates increase in his 72 big-league innings this year in comparison to his 59 from 2012. Cause for concern? I wouldn’t read much into it. I’d like to see what he could offer over the course of a full season in the bigs. If I had to choose between the two for a rotation spot today, I’d give Ramirez the edge. Beavan, a former first-round pick, put together a nice 2012 campaign for the M’s, starting 26 games and providing 1.2 WAR, but spent much of 2013 in Tacoma trying to find that success. The 24 year-old still holds some potential, and will likely see future opportunities. Mariners’ brass likely will weigh the benefits of Beavan pitching out of the bullpen for the big club, or starting the season in Tacoma’s rotation. Noesi is in a similar situation as Beavan with respect to his 2013 struggles in the minors. At 26 Noesi may still be worth keeping around, but his high walk rate and low strikeout rate hurt his bullpen value, so it’s difficult to imagine he has any chance to open next season in the starting five. Paxton and Walker will garner most of the attention here, and that is well earned. Paxton, a British Columbia product, exploded onto the scene when he was called up in September. Paxton threw 145 2/3 innings of 4.45 ERA ball in Tacoma before giving up just four runs across 24 innings in his four big-league starts. It’s a small sample size for sure, but there’s no reason to shun excitement when looking toward Paxton’s future. Walker didn’t make as much noise in his first three major league starts, but he definitely gave a glimpse of what he’s capable of at the MLB level after he capped off an impressive minor league campaign split between Double-A and Triple-A. While I find it doubtful that the pair will both start 2014 in the Mariners’ rotation, I would expect both to play a role at some point during the season. It’s worth mentioning that left-hander Danny Hultzen should be mentioned in this post, but shoulder surgery will cause him to miss most or all of the 2014 campaign. Obviously the M’s are going to be in the free agent and trade market this winter looking to add starting pitching. Their internal candidates, however, should provide lots to discuss as the Hot Stove League heats up this month.
As the Seattle Mariners continue their managerial search, I’ve changed up the manner in which I’ll make trade suggestions and cite potential matches as the club turns its attention to the roster soon after the World Series. Rather than one drawn-out piece in October, I’ll discuss multiple possibilities via numerous pieces over the next several weeks. I started that Sunday by suggesting the M’s and Detroit Tigers could hook up again. The Mariners need a lot of help — understatement of the decade, right? What they don’t need are aging players with bloated contracts — does any team need that? But in order to make significant progress, the organization may have to make some concessions in terms of how perfect everything fits together, including taking calculated risks with contracts and trading young players the team has drafted and developed. Jack Zduriencik’s former employer has two players I feel are fits in Seattle to enough degree that a phone call should be made. Carlos Gomez, a terrific centerfielder who has exploded at the plate the past two years, and right-hander Yovani Gallardo. It’s easy to see why Gomez fits; team-friendly contract — three years, $24 million — through 2015. He’s 29 years old in December, a right-handed batter and would be a natural fit at lead-off. He’s not going to be easy to get, assuming Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin is even willing to have the conversation, but if I were Melvin and owner Mark Attanasio, no player on my team is untouchable after the struggles the past two years. The 28-year-old Gallardo, drafted by Zduriencik in the second round of the 2004 Draft, struggled at times in 2013, with his strikeout rate sinking to 7.17 after sitting between 8.99 and 9.89 the previous four seasons, though his FIP basically stayed the same as 2012. The concern is with Gallardo’s health; his velocity was down a full tick for the second straight season, but his other pitches held serve for the most part, and if he’s given a clean bill of health he’s the kind of risk the Mariners should look into taking. Gallardo is due $11.25 million in 2014 and the club holds an option for 2015 at $13 million. The contract is perfect. If the M’s like what Gallardo gives them in 2013, they have the option to bring him back for another year. If he regressed or shows more signs that he’s injured — or actually suffers a significant injury — they can buy him out at $600,000. His performance could bounce back after two non-ace seasons in a row, provided his medicals check out, and he’d fit nicely sliding into the No. 3 spot behind Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. I’m not suggesting the M’s go after Gomez or Gallardo, however. I’m thinking a Gomez-Gallardo package deal. So, how do the Mariners get Gomez and Gallardo from the Brewers, who finished 74-88 this past season? And how do they do that without trading away so much that it’s counterproductive? Offer the Brewers what they don’t have, of course. What the Brewers don’t have, generally speaking, is enough young talent. The M’s have some of that. The only young players I’d mark untouchable are Mike Zunino and Taijuan Walker. I’d be willing to move any other player in a package for Gomez and Gallardo, even if that means middle infielders Nick Franklin or Brad Miller have to be involved. Left-hander James Paxton plus Miller or Franklin is a decent start. Shortstop prospect Chris Taylor, right-handers Tom Wilhelmsen, Carter Capps, Brandon Maurer, Yoervis Medina, Carson Smith, Dom Leone, Danny Farquhar and Erasmo Ramirez, and left-hander Charlie Furbush, as well as outfielder Michael Saunders, first baseman Justin Smoak, and infielder-outfielder Dustin Ackley could also provide value in such a trade. The only other prospect that should be protected is D.J. Peterson, who can’t be traded until February, anyway. Names such as Edwin Diaz, Victor Sanchez, both right-handed starting pitchers, could be included. If certain other clubs wanted to make the same trade, they’d probably be able to outbid the Mariners — since Walker and Zunino aren’t likely to be discussed to any level. [Yes, it’d help if left-hander Danny Hultzen were healthy.] The Brewers’ position as a team with a non-contending roster with significant holes without a strong farm system to supplement it exponentially, could help the M’s. It might be a slight ‘bulk’ style trade, but those have worked out for clubs in the past, including when Zduriencik dealt closer J.J. Putz to the New York Mets for Jason Vargas and Franklin Gutierrez. Trades are difficult to consummate, of course, and the Mariners would have to give up a good chunk of legit talent, so this idea has little chance, at best, of happening, but it’s the kind of idea, with the kind of players, that the Mariners need to consider, and it’s not like the Brewers are contenders that have no business talking trades that include their best players. And no, the Mariners should not try to trade for Ryan Braun.
The 2013 minor league season is winding down. A handful of playoff series are concluding over the next few days. The regular season ended nearly two weeks ago. That means it’s time to dole out the annual awards. These awards are based on prospect status, progress during the year — including some basis on performance — and overall future outlook as a result of what occurred this season. Pitching Prospect of the Year | Taijuan Walker, RHP This may seem like a no-brainer, but it wasn’t. Walker is the top overall prospect in the Seattle Mariners’ farm system, and he performed well at three stops this season, including three starts in the big leagues. He’s the top pitching prospect in the organization by a landslide, but Walker had competition in the running for the club’s pitching prospect of the year. In the end, Walker’s ascension from Double-A Jackson to the big leagues, which was well-timed and well-earned, is a direct result of the combination of natural physical tools and the hard work the just-turned 21-year-old has put in since being the No. 43 overall pick in the 2010 Draft. In three years, he’s gone from raw, athletic and project to a very promising, high-upside potential No. 1 starting pitcher that may not spend any more time in the minors. In 2013, Walker improved his fastball command, developed a solid cutter that wasn’t introduced to him until last summer, and his curveball is now threatening to become a consistent offering. His changeup is of the hard, splitter-like variety, but it’ also better today than it was a year ago. We mentioned to Tai that he was our choice for the M’s Pitching Prospect of the Year, and asked him if he was going to Disneyland. He replied “thank you very much” and “no, I’m going to St. Louis!” The kid’s all business when it counts. Sounds similar to another right-hander the M’s grew for themselves, doesn’t it? Runner-Up | Edwin Diaz, RHP — Pulaski (R) Diaz dominated the Appalachian League for the Pulaski Mariners, which isn’t saying a whole heckuva lot, but he did so as a 19-year-old in his first full stay in the states after being tabbed in the third round of the 2012 Draft. He’s wiry at 6-foot-2 and under 170 pounds, but his loose, quick arm produces plus velocity into the 93-95 mph range, setting up a promising curveball and a changeup that’s come a long way in just one year. Others: Tyler Pike, LHP — Clinton (A); Victor Sanchez, RHP — Clinton (A); Dominic Leone, RHP — Jackson (AA); James Paxton, LHP — Seattle (MLB). Position Prospect of the Year | Brad Miller, SS He’s graduated out of prospect status after his time in the majors, but Miller may be the only prospect in the system whose ascent to the majors trumps that of Walker’s. Miller, too, started the year in Jackson, and forged his way into the majors by batting .356/.426/.596 in 26 games at Triple-A Tacoma. In his three stops this season, Miller had combined to hit .290/.352/.433 with 22 doubles, eight triples and 18 home runs in 138 games. He’s drawn 57 walks and struck out 92 times. He’s also continued to develop at shortstop. I’m not sure Miller will ever be more than an average glove at shortstop, but he has enough arm and athleticism to be passable there, and he’s a tireless worker with good instincts, both attributes which should help seal up some holes as he gains experience. Perhaps the most impressive statistic for Miller this year is that he hasn’t gone more than three games without a hit in the big leagues, and has just one instance where he went more than two games without reaching base via walk or hit. He hasn’t slumped all year, and as of Friday’s game in St. Louis, he’ll have as many games played — and already has more plate appearances — in the majors as he’s had in the minors in 2013. Runner-Up | Chris Taylor, SS — Jackson (AA) Taylor’s calling card as an amateur was his glove, and he’s still playing that part very well as pro. His bat, however, has developed enough to start wondering whether or not he may be more than organizational depth. He’s a slightly above-average runner with a 55 arm, great hands and feet and a great feel at the plate. His swing still needs a lot of work, but he knows who he is at the plate — not a power hitter, but one that needs to hit line drives and ground balls to have success. After batting .335/.426/.524 at Advanced-A High Desert, Taylor moved on to Jackson where he continued to hit, finishing the season at .293/.391/.383. He also stole 38 bases in 43 attempts this season. Taylor isn’t among the top 10 prospects in the system, but on draft day in June of 2012, the thought was that he’d never hit, would dry out in the Southern League and end up Chris Woodward or Brendan Ryan at best. It’s still not likely, per se, and the upside is still limited, but there’s a chance he’s a little bit more than that. Others: D.J. Peterson, 1B/3B — Clinton (A); Tyler Marlette, C — Clinton (A); James Jones, OF — Tacoma (AAA); Abraham Almonte, OF — Seattle. Breakthrough Prospect of the Year | Chris Taylor, SS — Jackson (AA) Taylor, as mentioned above, has made significant strides at the plate and has some scouts believing he’s a future something, rather than a future all-glove, no-hit option to stash in Triple-A in case of injury. One high-ranking scout of an NL East club said this week that Taylor “has a swing I don’t recognize from two years ago,” and that’s a good thing. There’s better plane and a more purposeful load that could create legit gap power as times passes. Runner-Up | Gabriel Guerrero, OF — Clinton (A) Guerrero is a big, strong kid with average athleticism and big bat speed on a swing that generates searing line drives. He’s just scratching the surface in the power department, and he’s still learning to work counts and make more consistent contact — 21 walks, 113 strikeouts in 2013 — but batted .271 despite those deficiencies. He did bat .306/.42/.395 in 74 games to finish the season, including all four of his home runs on the year. There’s above-average corner outfield upside here, and Guerrero is in the mix for a top 10 spot in the Prospect Insider Handbook. Others: Edwin Diaz, RHP — Pulaski (R); Dominic Leone, RHP — Jackson (AA); Stephen Kohlscheen, RHP — Jackson (AA); Tyler Marlette, C — Clinton (A); Jabari Blash, OF — Jackson (AA). — Jason A. Churchill and Michael Schwartze Photo of Taijuan Walker by Jeremy Daniel
To accompany the 2013 M’s Prospects of the Year, we’ve also put together the All-Prospects Team for 2013. Unlike the POY, players that continue to hold onto prospect status qualify, so, for example, Brad Miller is not eligible, despite his being named Prospect Insider’s 2013 Seattle Mariners Prospect of the Year. Nick Franklin also does not qualify. This is not a top prospects list of any nature. It’s also not simply a list of players at each position that improved their status the most. It’s the top talents that performed the best and made the most progress, improving their stock and getting closer to the big leagues in the process. It’s not based on statistics and it’s not based on a player being promoted. Those are each results of what matters most — development — the most significant major factor in choosing the All-Prospects Team. It’s worth noting that a player that conducts such development closer to the majors was given a bit more consideration, but at times the player’s upside and performance — again, not statistics — won out, too. Pos. Player Levels MiLB Stats SP Taijuan Walker AA, AAA, MLB 2.93 ERA, 141.1 IP, 57 BB, 160 SO SP James Paxton AAA, MLB 4.45 ERA, 145.2 IP, 58 BB, 131 SO SP Edwin Diaz R 1.43 ERA, 69 IP, 18 BB, 79 SO RP Dominic Leone A, A+, AAA 2.25 ERA, 64 IP, 18 BB, 64 SO RP Carson Smith AA 1.80 ERA, 50 IP, 17 BB, 71 SO RP Stephen Kohlscheen AA 2.30 ERA, 66.2 IP, 25 BB, 85 SO 1B Ji-Man Choi A+, AA, AAA .295 AVG/.394 OBP/.535 SLG 2B Tim Lopes A .272 AVG/.315 OBP/.344 SLG 3B D.J. Peterson SS-A, A .303 AVG/.365 OBP/.553 SLG SS Chris Taylor A+, AA .314 AVG/.418 OBP/.455 SLG C Tyler Marlette A .304 AVG/.367 OBP/.448 SLG OF Jabari Blash A+, AA .271 AVG/.387 OBP/.534 SLG OF Stefen Romero AAA .277 AVG/.331 OBP/.448 SLG OF Julio Morban AA .295 AVG/.362 OBP/.468 SLG