Mariners Off-season Update

Everything football and basketball related is too depressing to write about at the moment, so let’s talk Mariners.  It’s been a long time since the Mariners were the least depressing of the Seattle sports teams.  Helps that they haven’t played a game in two months.

So far, the off-season has been pretty uneventful.  There have been few actual moves, and most of those have been to address roster issues and limits.  That doesn’t mean they lack excitement, however, because Chone Figgins is gone!  The team waived him, meaning they’ll eat the remaining $8 million or so on his contract and he’ll be free to play with anyone who will take him.  They’ve tried to trade him literally for years and no one would bite, so this is the next best thing.  They were going to have to pay him either way, but at least now they have the roster spot to (hopefully) bring in a better player.  No offense to Figgins personally, but I’m so glad he’s gone, and he probably is too.  He had no role on the team and was sucking the air out of the fanbase to some extent.  Here’s to moving forward.

The only other move of note was a trade that sent OF Trayvon Robinson to Baltimore for infielder Robert Andino.  Andino plays a solid shortstop along with pretty much every other position and will likely be the primary back-up infielder for Seattle next year.  He doesn’t hit much, but that’s pretty standard for utility infielders.  Some people are upset to see Trayvon go, but it’s one of those unavoidable moves I wrote about here.  The Mariners were going to lose him if he didn’t make the team this spring, and that wasn’t likely to happen.  It wouldn’t shock me if Robinson turns into a solid player three or four years down the road, but the Mariners can’t keep a below-average player on the roster that long, waiting for him to blossom.  That’s just the way it goes. When there’s no guarantee he ever gets better, sometimes you have to move on.

The Mariners also announced that they are installing a new scoreboard that is a whole city block long and one of the largest in professional sports in the world.  Pretty cool, right?  Surprisingly, a lot of the initial reaction was negative, with people asking why they can’t spend the $10 million it will cost on payroll instead.  I kind of get that sentiment, but it doesn’t work that way.  The two are completely separate budgets.  Imagine if your employer is upgrading your office furniture.  You can’t say, “Actually, I’d rather you buy me a new couch for my home instead.”  The Mariners set aside money for upgrades to Safeco that is separate of payroll.  Just be glad that they went for the best they could get and then sit back and enjoy some monster-sized replays.

Speaking of that payroll, it appears that it will get a sizable bump if the available players warrant it.  They haven’t said for sure, and won’t, but it sounds like payroll could go above last season’s projected budget, which was something like $91 million.  The problem might be finding players worthy of the money.  The free agent market is weak, and any trades are likely to be for young players with low salaries.  The winter meetings are coming soon, and that’s where things happen or are discussed more deeply.  Up to now, three rumors have been the main focus in regards to the Mariners:

Josh Hamilton is easily the most talented free agent available, and he also has the most question marks.  The outfielder plays about 120 games a year on average and has other issues, including his past drug issues and some attitude questions.  He’s asking for 7 years at $25 million per.  After expressing some initial interest, the Mariners said that they weren’t likely to be in on Hamilton at the price he’s likely to command.  If that price drops, or more accurately if the years drop, they might be interested.  None of these statements and rumors can be taken as 100% truth, because a lot is posturing and negotiation, but I’d be scared of Hamilton at seven years too.  I’d love to have him, and I’d go five years, maybe even six, but I won’t be at all sad if they don’t sign him.  He just comes with too many risks, despite the huge talent and perfect fit for the Mariners.

Mike Napoli is the current name getting the headlines.  The catcher/DH/1B is rumored to be talking to Boston and the Mariners and wants four years, which Boston isn’t offering yet.  Again, rumors, so all of this may or may not be true.  Napoli fell back to earth a bit this past year after an incredible 2011 season.  Assuming no further drop-off, he’s still a big power threat with good on-base skills.  He’s not an ideal fit because of his position, at least from my viewpoint.  He would go into a pool for those three positions that includes John Jaso, Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and maybe Mike Carp, with mega-prospect Mike Zunino potentially ready to take over catching full-time sometime in 2013 or 2014.  It’s not a huge issue, because Smoak, Carp and Zunino are far from certainties, but it probably isn’t optimal.  Some are wondering if Montero is likely to be traded with a Napoli signing or a move for a similar player.  That’s possible.  Anything’s possible.  I’m not really in favor of trading Montero.  He’s still extremely young and has a lot of talent.  His contact skills improved in the second half.  If they continue to rise and he finds a little more strike zone judgement, he could be a monster soon.  That said, I’m not against a Montero trade, if it brings a similar or better talent in the outfield or maybe at short.

The Kansas City Royals are the final rumor, as they have a lot of young and established bats but little pitching.  DH Billy Butler and outfielders Alex Gordon and Wil Myers have all been linked to the Mariners.  Butler’s a great hitter, a little like Mike Sweeney when he was a Royal, or even reminiscent of Edgar Martinez.  He’s only 26 but is almost strictly a DH, so that’s not ideal, nor is the price the Mariners would likely have to pay in trade.  The price for Gordon might be higher.  He’s an elite defensive outfielder and very solid with the bat.  I’d love to have him but I would imagine it would take a huge package and he’s not as cheap contractually as the others either.  Offensively, he’s more of a gap power and on-base threat, which wouldn’t be my first choice of profiles for an outfielder.  Power tends to stabilize production, and his isn’t close to elite.  Still, he’s miles better than anything we have, so if a trade is feasible I’m all for it.  Wil Myers is maybe the best offensive prospect in baseball, a good corner outfielder capable of center on occasion.  He’s not a guy a bad team usually gives up, but the Royals are weird and need pitching.  There are conflicting rumors on whether they want big league starters or prospects.  If they want someone proven, the Mariners really only have Erasmo Ramirez, and that’s not likely to beat other offers.  If they want prospects, the Mariners are in better shape.  Likely, none of these will be Mariners, but all three would be great additions.

Most likely none of this will happen and the Mariners will do something out of the blue.  The Royals rumors make total sense on both sides, but trades are incredibly hard to predict.  Napoli seems like a solid possibility, but again, who knows?  He might only be using the Mariners for leverage, or the M’s interest could be overstated.

The only thing that seems certain is that the Mariners are trying hard to add a couple of bats, and they should have the resources to make that happen.  It takes two to make a deal, though, so keep your fingers crossed.

Before I wrap up this really long post, I want to give a shout-out to my cousin (and faithful reader) Tyler.  Happy Birthday!  I wish we could been there this weekend, but we’ll see you at Christmas.  Have a good week everybody.

-Matthew

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