The Mariners have become the center of the baseball news universe. Some of the news is bad (see Andrew’s post below), but most of it is quite good. This is going to be a fairly quick recap of the M’s moves so far, with a look at what else they might have in store. I would expect more moves within the next week, so I’ll have a more comprehensive look at the 2014 Mariners once the dust settles.
As I write this, there are three new Mariners. The big one is 2B Robinson Cano. He reportedly agreed to a 10 year $240 million deal last week, and will likely be announced in Seattle on Friday or so. A week later, I am still in a bit of shock that Cano is a Mariner. He is the best second baseman in baseball, and has been the centerpiece of the Yankees’ offense for the last five years plus. That he will likely play out the remainder of his career in Seattle is a testament to money, both as the deciding factor for most player and the amount of it the Mariners have to spend if they’re so inclined.
Cano supplants Nick Franklin and/or Dustin Ackley (trade chips, but not sure to be moved). As much as one might like those two guys, Cano is a massive, massive upgrade. He’s the first major line-up threat Seattle has had in years. His offensive game is reminiscent of Edgar’s, and he plays Gold Glove caliber defense. It’s likely the last 3-4 years of the contract will be a drawback, but I’m not especially worried. The immediate benefits are huge, and it’s likely baseball’s changing economics will render the dollar amounts less shocking by 2020 or so. This is a stunning addition, unlike anything the Mariners have ever done.
Today, two separate deals brought DH/1B/maybe outfielders. The first was a free agent deal for former Brewer Corey Hart. Hart is a very good right handed bat who is coming off serious knee surgery. Because of that, the M’s got him on a relatively small 1-year deal for $5 mil., with incentives to push it up to $13 mil. I’ve been calling for this move since about June, so I’m excited. The one year could signal that teams are slightly worried about the injury, but more likely Hart is hoping to rebuild his value and sign a big deal next year. If he’s healthy, he’s the righty power bat they’ve been missing and their likely clean-up hitter. This move was obvious and perfect, but not without risk.
The newest Mariner is more of a surprise. Shortly after agreeing with Hart, Zduriencik traded Carter Capps to the Marlins for Logan Morrison. LoMo started as an outfielder, but some knee issues have mostly moved him to first base. He’s a talented lefty who hasn’t quite produced as hoped. He’s also a bit of a headcase who’s worn out his welcome with some comments on Twitter and battling his front office. He’s the prototypical change of scenery guy, one who could really blossom. Or he might not. For what they gave up, he’s a great gamble, and even with just the numbers he’s put up thus far, he’s a decent starter.
The bigger question is where the Mariners plan to play these guys. With Smoak, they now have three players mostly limited to 1B/DH. Hart and Morrison could conceivably play the outfield, but it’s not ideal. Smoak or Morrison are possible (likely?) trade chips, but it’s not crazy to think they could keep all three, especially with the assorted injury issues and the short-term deal for Hart. It’s a good problem to have.
The two big trade names the M’s have been attached to are Matt Kemp and David Price. It seems Kemp will stay with the Dodgers, according to rumors spreading today. That’s probably fine. He would be an all-or-nothing risk, a guy who could be an MVP but is more likely to be hurt most of the time, for a big salary. Price seems unlikely to move since the M’s are saying they don’t want to move Taijuan Walker (great news), but it’s possible the Morrison add was made so the M’s could send a 1B to the Rays, who need one badly. I strongly doubt Price is a Mariner, but it’s not impossible. There are other rumors out there, but nothing worth mentioning yet.
- Outfield: The M’s need at least one outfielder, and two wouldn’t hurt. A true center fielder would be ideal, even if he’s not a great bat. The Mariner defense was horrible in 2013 and a great glove there would be a big addition. More likely, the team will add a solid bat in a corner and use some combination of Ackley, Saunders and Abe Almonte in center. That would be okay, as long as the bat in the corner is good. Shin-Soo Choo is the ideal, but he’s really expensive and rumors are the M’s are no longer in on him. Not sure I believe that, but who knows. Nelson Cruz is a strong, if less appealing, possibility. He’s another guy who’s better at DH though. There are some other guys, mostly through trade. The wild card here is if the Mariners are planning on Hart or Morrison playing the outfield full time. That seems risky to me, but they know more than I do.
- Bullpen: The 2013 Mariner relievers were largely terrible, but it can be a hard place to add definite upgrades. Free agents tend to be overly expensive and production fluctuates greatly year to year. Still, I’d expect the Mariners to add a couple of veteran arms, along with a at least a couple more random guys who might click and make the team. Joaquin Benoit and Fernando Rodney are the main rumors right now.
- Rotation: The Mariners have said they’d like one top-line starter. They’re reportedly in on Bartolo Colon, who could be a good add if he stays off the PEDs. We’ve covered David Price. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are reportedly available at the right price. There are also a handful of very good free agent pitchers (Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana). No one knows the Mariners’ budget, but I’m guessing an addition like that might depend on whether they add another big money bat. They could also go with the young guys they have, or add an average, Joe Saunders-ish guy. Lots of options here, but it seems the team would like a big time guy if they can find him.
I’m going to stop here, so I can get this up before they make another move. I’ll say I’m pretty thrilled with what they’ve done so far. Cano is the only overpay, and he’s a truly elite player. The others have been smart moves with little downside, big upside, and a solid likelihood of production. A few more of these moves, and this team should be dramatically improved. If a couple of young guys blossom, they could contend right away.