The Mariners have 4 games left in one of the most dismal seasons in history, and no one is sad to see it go. I haven’t watched more than an a couple innings of a game in weeks. The outlook for 2011 isn’t much better, to be honest. Barring an unexpected and significant payroll increase, there’s not much room in the budget for big-ticket additions. Even if there were, it’s not a great free agent class.
Still, the Mariners need to, and will, make serious changes to the roster. Some of this will just be with playing their younger players more, but there will certainly be some moves and fresh faces as well. In an effort to get ready for the offseason, I’m going to walk through each position and see what the Mariners have, for both 2011 and the future, and what they’ll be losing. I’m not going to touch on who they might add yet. That will come later in the offseason, if at all. Frankly, there are very few people sufficiently smart and well-connected to project those kind of moves more than a few days out. Consider this series of posts something of a triage: which positions are in the worst shape going into next year, and which might be okay. It’d be too depressing to start with catcher, so we’ll look at the first basemen after the jump!
Justin Smoak- Smoak, acquired from Texas in the Lee deal, has been one of the top hitting prospects in baseball since he was drafted. During his initial Seattle stint after the trade, it was often hard to tell why. During the last few games, however, he’s shown more of the power, patience, and hitting talent that made him so exciting. It’s no lock, of course, that he’ll be everything that’s expected of him, and it might be more realistic to drop his ceiling slightly from the Mark Teixeria comparisons that came with the trade. His defensive reputation, in particular, has taken some hits. Still, Smoak is a legitimate blue chip prospect who was rushed through the minors and has the potential to be a big time middle of the order bat for years to come. Whether he comes close to that in 2011 is doubtful, but it’ll be a shock if it’s not his job until he proves he can’t handle it.
Mike Carp- Do we care? Sorry Mike, but not really. He can fill in if the team gets hit by a lot of injuries, but I don’t want to be counting on him for anything more than that.
*Note: Given the nature of the position, there are a lot of guys who could probably play it given a little bit of practice, such as Matt Mangini or Mike Wilson. For these posts, I’ll address those guys at their current position, or where they’re most likely to play in the majors.
Russell Branyan- $5 Mil. Mutual option ($500,000 buyout) I wouldn’t be surprised to see Big Russ back, but I doubt it’ll be through the option being exercised. I would imagine the team would like to upgrade the roster spot, or failing that, find a guy who gives some outfield flexibility to combine with the primary DH role Branyan would fill. I’m fine having him back though, if no better options arise.
Casey Kotchman- Made about $3.5 mil. in 2010- Technically, Kotchman is eligible for arbitration, but I can’t imagine the Mariners tendering him a contract.
In the Minors
There are hundreds of players in the Mariners system. I’m only going to touch on the ones we could see in the next year or two as a major part of the roster, or those whose potential is so great that it will factor into roster construction for the next few years. In other words, no AAAA guys, no 16-year-old VZL sluggers.
Rich Poythress- A big right-hander considered by many the best power-hitting college bat when he was drafted in the 2009 second round, Poythress put together a monster season at High-A High Desert this year. Those numbers have to be toned down slightly given the environment, as I’ve mentioned before, but he’s still a good prospect. Doesn’t have Smoak’s upside, but I guess you could dream on a Paul Konerko level bat. I don’t think he’ll get there, but something along those lines is possible. Likely wouldn’t be ready before later in 2012 at the earliest.
Dennis Raben- The other half of the High Desert Dynamic Duo, I kind of think of Raben as the mirror image of Poythress. I’m not sure that’s totally accurate, but he’s a lefty who was selected as a top college bat in the second round in 2008. Unfortunately, he lost a good chunk of 2009 to surgery, which likely took away a lot of his chance to play the outfield. I’ll be very interested to see what he does in AA this year. Could be one of the biggest surprises in the system in a year or two, I think.
This position is both one of the easiest to project for who will be playing and hardest to project what kind of production it’ll bring. Barring injury or a colossal Brandon Wood level failure, Smoak should hold this position all season. I could see him hitting anywhere from .225/.325/.425 or so, to breaking out as a near-All Star level bat. How about a Joey Votto timeline? Got his feet wet and struggled in 2007, then jumped to an .874 OPS in 2008, then worked his way to being one of the best hitters in baseball this year. That’s probably a little optimistic, and Votto had significantly more time in the minors, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Poythress and Raben and a few guys at other position provide good depth a few years away, if Smoak hasn’t panned out by then. I don’t think there’s huge need for a veteran here, but if the Mariners can find a big bat for DH who can also play a capable 1B, and ideally some outfield as well, that would be perfect. In short, sit back and hope the Smoak era turns into everything it could be.