I wrote last month that the Seattle Mariners should not go all kamikaze in the free agent market this winter, despite their sore need for improvement pretty much everywhere on the roster. The reason for that is because the club is not ready to take that plunge. Spending money won’t turn the club into contenders in 2014.
It’s unreasonable, to put it gently, to expect any team in baseball to ink the majority of the top free agents in any one offseason, which is what GM Jack Zduriencik would have to do to create an instant contender, is absurd. To expect the M’s to do it is beyond laughable. Not because I don’t believe they are willing to spend money, but because it’s about as realistic as the Texas Rangers winning this year’s World Series. [See what I did there?]
There are, however, players I see that the club should have some level of interest in this winter. Many whom fit the mold of the creative and “matchup” types Zduriencik spoke of Tuesday. Today we’ll discuss those that are free agents.
Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH
Zduriencik has already said the club will tender Morales the qualifying offer, which is going to be worth about $13.8 million. Doing so increases the chances the switch hitter remains in Seattle, as draft-pick compensation will scare away some clubs.
Morales isn’t likely to be worth nearly $14 million, but the residual impact of retaining Morales, particularly if they get something done early in the offseason, could change that.
I can’t imagine any of the clubs that might otherwise have multi-year interest in Morales making such an offer when they’d also have to give up a first-round pick. A two-year deal with Seattle is certainly possible, too, but not at $13 million per season.
Kevin Youkilis, 1B/DH
Youkilis has had significant injury issues the past few seasons, missing most of 2013. When relatively healthy, Youkilis can man first base, hit left-handed pitching — and if kept fresh can still hit right-handers some, too — and be a solid value on a one-year contract with a low base and aggressive incentives based on plate appearances.
It’s difficult to imagine Seattle being anywhere near the top of Youkilis’ wish list, but that’s another story, and something of which the Mariners don’t have any direct control.
Mark Reynolds, 1B/DH
Reynolds is another platoon possibility at first base, and like Youkilis can play third in a pinch. Reynolds may not be worth any guaranteed money or a 25-man roster spot, however, but there’s at least a decent chance he bounces back from a very poor 2013.
Mike Napoli, 1B/DH
Napoli isn’t much of an option behind the plate anymore, but could be a third catcher and a right-handed option at first base and/or designated hitter. He had a solid year with the bat and was very good versus left-handed pitching.
Napoli, too, is unlikely to seriously consider Seattle, and he’s not the kind of free agent worth overpaying.
Nelson Cruz, OF/DH
Cruz’s days as a first-division outfielder are probably over — his defense is only going to get worse as he ages and slows down — and his suspension this summer doesn’t help his market, but he has power and could be part of a useful OF-DH time share.
In no way, in my opinion, is Cruz suited for everyday corner-outfield use. If Morales is retained as the regular DH and occasional first baseman, Cruz doesn’t make any sense for Seattle.
Yoshio Itoi, CF
Itoi, 31, is considered to have an edge over Norichika Aoki of the Milwaukee Brewers, which is saying something. Aoki has posted two solid seasons offensively, batting .287 with a .355 on-base percentage and 50 stolen bases. Itoi is a better glove in center than Aoki, but throws well and can play left or right, too. He’s led Japan’s Pacific League in OBP in two of the last three years and batted .303/.382/.477 with 26 stolen bases this season.
He’s not a free agent, which means he’ll be posted. If the current rules for posting stand, it’s a blind, sealed bid, which means he’s going to cost some coin just to win the rights to negotiate with him, plus a contract. He’s a player I am told is worth being aggressive on to some extent, and the Mariners could use some speed, fundamentals and versatility.
One potential road block is Itoi possibly preferring to avoid kinda-sorta replacing Ichiro.
Jose Dariel Abreu, the 27-year-old (who is probably 30+) Cuban defector isn’t a fit, either. He’s not Yasiel Puig and the asking price for a risky play like that is asinine. He’s not athletic and by most accounts he’s likely to hit .250 with 20-25 homer power but may have problems getting on base enough to warrant a middle-of-the-order tag. The Mariners have no business bidding for such a player.
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
I like Ellsbury as a player. I’d like to see him manning center field for the Mariners. I do not believe he’s worthy of $65 million or more over five years, and that’s likely where he’s headed after Michael Bourn, an inferior player, received 5/$55m a year ago.
Ellsbury’s talent and performance in 2013 suggests he’s well worth $15 million per year. Sadly, he hasn’t consistently played at such a level and he’s had multiple stints on the disabled list. The M’s cannot afford to spend huge dollars on a player that’s probably going to play 120 games per year on average at best, and could be done as a regular before the end of the deal.
If Ellsbury holds out into late January and the Mariners have retained Morales and added other pieces that suggest they could make a 10-plus game improvement, spending on Ellsbury to add another 3-4 games to that might make some sense. There’s a limit here, however, and Ellsbury isn’t likely to be amenable. He’s a Scott Boras client, and I’d bet he signs with the Dodgers.
Chris Young, CF
Young is going to have his $11 million option declined by the Oakland Athletics and despite a terrible 2013 could have value at the right price. He can play center, runs well and has good raw power. He’s never hit for average and will always strike out, but in the right role — part-time player facing mostly left-handed pitching — Young could rebound and be a bargain.
Rajai Davis, CF
Davis is a solid player and could fit well as a platoon partner for Dustin Ackley or Michael Saunders in center field. He can steal bases, works counts and can get on base some. This may also be what Abraham Almonte turns into, but Davis is proven version.
Hunter Pence is already off the market — before he ever was on it — and Shin-Soo Choo is an absolute no-no for the Mariners, particularly with Pence setting the market for outfield bats at $90 million over five years. Here’s why.
As I mentioned in the above-linked piece from a few weeks back, I would not simply hand Mike Zunino the “everyday” catching job and run him out there for 120 starts.
Navarro is merely adequate defensively, but he has a solid bat for the position and as a switch hitter with something to offer from both sides, the veteran can play more than did Humberto Quintero and Henry Blanco and serve as a legitimate offensive option three days a week.
Pierzynski, like most veterans, isn’t likely to have any interest in Seattle, but he’d fit for me, since I’m not planning on Zunino catching six days a week.
No, Brian McCann is not an option.
Ideally, this is a player that can play shortstop, but if the club retains Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Ackley, they don’t need to spend a roster spot on middle-infield glove. If Miller, the starting shortstop in this scenario, gets hurt or needs a day off, Franklin can slide in at short and Ackley can play second base.
Both Punto and Barmes are examples of solid part-time middle infielders if the club builds the roster differently than the scenario above.
Ervin Santana, RHP
Tim Lincecum, RHP
Hughes could flourish in a better environment for fly ball pitchers and Jorge De La Rosa, if he hits the market, could give the M’s a proven southpaw to balance the rotation some. Santana is likely to be too pricey for what he’ll be worth, but he’s definitely an arm I’d consider.
Lincecum, not unlike Santana, could be tendered, making it more difficult to lure him away from San Francisco. He’s a prime candidate for a one-year deal as it is, giving him a shot to perform better and get a more lucrative multi-year offer. I’d love to grab Lincecum off the market for a year or two and see what happens, but he’s not going to be short on interested teams. Whether or not he’d give the Mariners a small “hometown” discount is unclear.
If Haren’s medicals check out, bringing him in on a low-base, incentive-laced contract could make a lot of sense.
Matt Garza is another starter on the market, but as the biggest “name” I’d bet on him receiving far too much money per year for far too many years, and the Mariners don’t need to spend outrageous dough on the rotation.
Wandy Rodriguez has a $13 million player option that comes with a $2.5 million buyout, but he appears to be wearing down some and for what he’s likely to cost, I don’t see much upside for Seattle.
Ubaldo Jimenez is not a name I’d consider at all, nor is Josh Johnson or Scott Kazmir. Ricky Nolasco is a No. 3 starter who may get No. 2 money this winter. I’ll pass.
Among the closers on the market are Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney, Ryan Madson, Joel Hanrahan and Joaquin Benoit. Joe Nathan can opt out of his deal with the Rangers and try his luck on the market.
Hanrahan and Madson are big injury risks — there’s no telling if either will pitch in 2014 — but an incentive-laden deal or one that comes with zero guaranteed dollars could make a lot of sense, depending on their present medicals.
Brian Wilson, RHP
Wilson has returned from Tommy John surgery and looks fantastic for the Dodgers right now. The M’s could be an ideal landing spot for Wilson if he wants to be guaranteed the closer’s job.
Any of the above four could make sense if they are paid as a setup man. Marmol and Rodriguez have closing experience and showed some mettle in 2013 — Marmol was solid for the Dodgers after the trade — and Guerrier and Frasor have a lot of experience in the seventh and eighth innings.
Next: Possible Trade Targets
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.
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