As I noted last week, it’s hard to know what the Mariners are planning this offseason. Payroll is the big question pertaining to the team on the field. According to Cot’s, they currently only have about $40 million on the books for 2013, but that only accounts for four players (one of whom hopefully won’t be on the roster–Chone Figgins), Danny Hultzen’s draft contract and a Miguel Olivo buyout. When arbitration raises and filling out the remaining roster spots are considered, I’ve heard $60 million as a likely number. I can’t imagine they plan to spend just $60 million on payroll next year. If they do, I will not be happy. That would be ridiculous, but unfortunately not impossible or even particularly surprising.
The best bet is for the payroll to rise to the neighborhood of $85 million, where it was to start 2012. That’s no guarantee, but I would expect it in that range. All of this speculation serves no real purpose, except to illustrate that they could potentially have a lot of money to spend, as well as the situation’s uncertainty. How large that amount is will determine the path they take this offseason. 2013 could bring a nearly identical team to 2012, give or take a bargain veteran. It could also bring a couple of major additions through free agency or trade. I don’t expect the Mariners will make any kind of announcement about their 2013 payroll, for negotiating purposes, so fans won’t likely know what they’re going to do until rumors spread or something happens.
All that said, there are moves the Mariners need to make and holes they need to fill. They’ve already made a great first move with the decision to bring in the fences. It’s difficult to ascertain the immediate effect of the change, but count me as one who thinks it could be huge. Even if it just gives the young hitters a little more confidence and leads to more exciting games, that’s enough for me.
Here are a few more moves that I would like to see happen. I’m not one for listing players I want. Too much depends on salary demands, and I think speculating on specific trades that haven’t even been rumored is ridiculous. Most fans and even writers have no clue what is possible or what it would actually take to land a certain player. This is just a list of general moves I think need to be addressed, with a rating for how high of a priority I would make the move (1-5, 5 being an absolute necessity).
Add a Proven Hitter- Priority: 5
Ideally, the Mariners would add two bats that are at least veteran enough where some level of production can be expected. I’d settle for one, but two would be much better. Now, a couple of clarifications. First, veteran doesn’t necessarily mean old. Mike Trout has less than a full season of experience, but he would be one of the surest and biggest impact bats a team could add. Not that there’s any chance of that happening. Second, no player is completely a sure thing, but some are much better bets than others. Third, while I would love for the Mariners to add a true middle of the order superstar, that’s hard to do. Hopefully, they’ll find that guy, but if not, I think they still need to add someone. A Josh Willingham level hitter didn’t seem that exciting last season, but he would have easily been the best hitter on the roster and could have been the difference in a a few more wins. The Mariners can’t afford to go into the season hoping for young players to improve at every position. That’s just too hard to do.
Sign Felix to an Extension- Priority: 3
There have been rumors that this is quite likely, and I’d expect something to happen soon after the World Series. If it doesn’t happen, it’s not a huge deal as he’s under contract for two more years. All signs point to him being interested in an extension. Now seems like the time to do a deal, and doing it now cements a part of the Mariners future. If they can’t sign him and have to consider a trade, that throws the future hugely into flux.
Add a Starter Better than Jason Vargas- Priority: 2
I’d expect the Mariners to add a starter (or possibly just resign Vargas and Hisashi Iwakuma), but it’s more likely to be a back of the rotation guy, similar to Kevin Millwood. That’d be fine too, but adding someone better through free agency does a couple of things. For one, it makes them better, now and in a couple of years. Felix and Zack Greinke is a lot better than Felix and Vargas, or hoping one of the youngsters matures rapidly. Felix and Michael Pineda are the exceptions, because it usually takes a rookie a couple of years to get to that level, if they ever do. Also, adding a rotation anchor allows them to more easily trade one of their pitching prospects, the best trade chips they own. Adding bats through free agency could be tough, so a trade might be the only way to get someone they can both depend on now and for the next five years.
Decide on a Plan at First Base- Priority: 3
Everyone hopes that Justin Smoak’s late season hot streak is a harbinger of actual consistent production, but no one’s planning on it. The Mariners have to decide what they’re going to do if Smoak can’t do it. Do they transition Montero to first base, or give Mike Carp another shot? Is it time to look for a young first baseman in trade, or pick up some insurance in free agency? I don’t know the answer, and hopefully Smoak can continue his rise from the dead to make it a non-issue, but Zduriencik and company need to have a back-up plan. No production at first base is incredibly hard to overcome, especially when there’s not much production anywhere else either.
None of this is particularly brilliant. Just about any fan could come to similar conclusions. The problem is that every team in baseball is looking for similar players. The Mariners have to be better at identifying them. They’ve excelled at that in drafting under this regime, but their major league decisions have been a mixed bag at times. They have to decide which free agents are worth the money it will take to sign them. If that isn’t a possibility, they have to identify worthy trade targets and then decide which of their prospects are worth parting with.
Figuring out the moves to make isn’t hard. Figuring out how to make them is.