The heat has officially been turned up under the Hot Stove League. Detroit re-signed the best hitter on the free market, Victor Martinez, forcing the Mariners to look at other possibilities. The M’s also have to make some decisions about whether to trade some of their major-league-ready starting pitching and how to go about adding some organizational depth to their pitching staff.
We’ve already seen a flurry of activity this week as the M’s made some minor league moves, adding infielder Ketel Marte, catcher John Hicks and right-handed pitcher Mayckol Guaipe to the 40-man roster, largely as protection from the Rule 5 draft. They also traded career minor leaguer Ty Kelly to the Cardinals for right handed starting pitcher Edgar Olmos. Olmos is likely organizational depth as the Mariners sort out their pitching needs for the coming season.
One thing is clear as the good ship Mariner scrapes it’s bottom, paints over the rust, prepares the good ship Mariner for its 2015 cruise-the team is good. It’s close to competing for a playoff spot, if not a division crown. But, the situation will continue to be hopeless if the team cannot score more runs. There are lots of rumors swirling around the team as they continue their annual off-season search for offense, particularly of the right-handed power variety. It seems they are looking for it in any number of ways-at designated hitter, in the outfield and possibly at shortstop. The Mariners are linked to any number of rumors, free agents and trading partners. As yet, nothing has happened.
The first of these rumors is that Michael Saunders would be intensively shopped during the General Managers meetings Nov. 10-13. Saunders is still with the team, and he has changed his representation. Whether this means the foot-in-mouth disease that seemed to afflict Saunders’ agent Michael McCann and Mariners GM Jack Zdurencik is cured, and all is nice once again. I don’t know if this change may smooth some of the disconnection between the two parties, or if Saunders’ standing is irreversibly damaged.
With right-handed DH’s Victor Martinez and Billy Butler signed to the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A’s respectively, the Mariners are linked to Nelson Cruz, he of the Baltimore Orioles and 40 2014 home runs. A free agent, Cruz is looking for a four year deal. With all his power, Cruz is not without question marks. At age 34, a history of PED use, and of limited utility as a defensive player, is Nelson Cruz the right guy for the Mariners DH? It likely depends on the deal, but it’s clear Cruz offers a significant upgrade at DH.
Another right-handed batting free agent linked to the Mariners is shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Over a ten year career, Ramirez has made a career as a very good right handed hitter with a .300/.373/.500 slash line and a 132 OPS+. But, Ramirez also carries some baggage. He struggles with injuries. He has attitude. Most importantly, Ramirez is below average defensively at one of the most important positions in baseball. In 2014 his UZR 150 rating was -15.6 runs saved above average, and continues a career history of ratings at or below average. There is talk that Ramirez might move to a corner outfield spot or slide over to third base. However, it’s not clear how this helps your Seattle Mariners or whether the prickly Mr. Ramirez would even agree to such a deal. There is also the small matter of two young Seattle players, Brad Miller and Chris Taylor. Neither are fully developed and offer cost-controlled, superior defense at shortstop.
The M’s are also linked to important trades. One is with the Atlanta Braves for Justin Upton. The Braves already traded outfield mate Justin Heyward to the Cardinals for pitcher Shelby Miller. The Braves said their star left fielder, with one year left on his contract, is available, but will require more to pry him loose they got for Heyward. Upton hit .270/.342/.491 with 29 home runs for the run-challenged Braves last year. He strikes out a lot, and averages out as a slightly below average defender. Taijuan Walker is mentioned in trade rumors for Upton. Should the Mariners trade a young, highly touted pitching prospect for one year of Upton? David Schoenfeld at ESPN suggested a multi-player deal, Walker and either Taylor or Miller for Upton and catcher Evan Gattis. While the M’s would only get one year of Upton, they would get four years of the oft-injured Gattis. Compared favorably with Red Sox Mike Napoli as potential right-handed DH/1b, such a trade could solve the M’s need for a power-hitting right outfielder and upgrade at DH.
Could some of these things happen? Of course. Could none of these things happen? Hell, yes. It will be interesting to see what, if anything Zdurencik is able to pull out of his hat.