Note- I started writing this over a week ago, but I don’t think anything has happened since then to change anything. Consider it an indirect response to Joe’s earlier payroll post, although I didn’t originally intend it that way.
Coming into the offseason, everyone agreed that improving the Mariners to the point of playoff contention was a long shot. Crazy things happen, and Jack Zduriencik has done crazy things before, but to improve the team that much with a very limited budget didn’t look like it would be in the cards.
What was apparent was moves that could be made. Coming into the offseason, here’s what I would have laid out as the obvious moves I would look at if I were in Jack’s spot:
- Find a DH with some power
- Look hard for an upgrade at catcher
- Find a middle infielder who could start at second and then shift to short when Dustin Ackley is ready or Jack Wilson gets injured
- Find a right-handed bat who could platoon with Michael Saunders and ideally play some first base if needed
- Find a starting pitcher who could be counted on to throw a lot of decent innings
- Upgrade the bullpen
That’s six moves where it seemed pretty obvious something needed to be done. The surprise so far is that those moves are exactly what the team has done. I always expect the Mariners to do a bunch of things that come out of nowhere, partly because that’s how they usually do things, and partly because they’re smarter and have a lot more information than I do. So here’s what they’ve done so far in relation to those moves:
- DH: Jack Cust isn’t my favorite player, but he fits the bill and would have been the Mariners top hitter last year, or close to it.
- Catcher: Say what you want about Miguel Olivo. He might struggle pretty badly, but I have a hard time seeing how he’s not a huge improvement over what the Mariners ran out last year at the position.
- Middle Infield: Brendan Ryan fits the bill perfectly. He’s an elite defender with enough experience at second to start the year there, and when Ackley comes up and Jack Wilson gets hurt, he becomes the gold glove shortstop we thought we were getting with Wilson. He won’t hit much, if at all, but he shouldn’t be any worse than the Wilsons last year. With incredibly few alternatives on the market, I like this move a lot. The Mariners also signed Luis Rodriguez to a minor league deal, and some argue he has potential to break out this year, so keep an eye on him as well. He potentially has the best bat of the group.
- Outfield: No moves here yet. I still wouldn’t be surprised to see someone added, but money is running low and there are some guys on the team who might be okay.
- Starting Pitcher: Nothing here yet either, but it sounds like they’re trying. Chris Capuano is the latest name, and he seems like a good fit. USS Mariner and Prospect Insider have good quick write-ups on him, and Seattle Sports Insider has a series of posts up about Capuano. Jeff Francis and Kevin Millwood have been rumored as well, but there may not be room in the budget. A trade wouldn’t be at all surprising, either. I feel safe saying the Mariners will add a starter before the season, but it’s tough to say who it will be or how much impact they’ll have.
- Bullpen: No major moves yet, and Aardsma’s surgery takes away the main opportunity for movement and salary relief. This is one spot where the team might just go with what they have and add in some talented kids, and that might be a huge step up in itself. Bullpens are always unpredictable, and the prices on free agent relievers have been ridiculous this offseason.
As I see it, those are the moves that are obvious and wouldn’t require any major restructuring of the team. The Mariners have taken care of most of them and seem to be working on the others. What they’ve essentially done is shore up some holes that should make them competitive this year, while still positioning themselves to see what they’re young guys can do. They should hopefully have a few more answers by the end of the year, and at that point they’ll have more money to work with, as well as the #2 pick in the draft, likely to be a college starting pitcher or slugging third baseman Anthony Rendon. Both would fill a huge hole within a year or two.
It’s never fun to watch the team sit out the competition for the top free agents. They haven’t sat out the whole offseason though. The moves they’ve made might be low cost, but they’ve also been exactly what the team needs, given what they have to spend.