It’s the DH stupid

Last year the Mariners added Robinson Cano, a 6.4 WAR player, to their lineup.  They got a very good performance from Kyle Seager.  Dustin Ackley made it seem as though he’d found himself before succumbing to bone spurs. But they only managed to score 10 more runs than they did in 2013.  They improved their pitching and defense, greatly aiding their run prevention and allowing 80 fewer runs than they scored.  But in the end, the team simply lacked offense when they needed it.

One area the Mariners must improve if they expect to make the playoffs is at designated hitter. Mariners at that position were a combined -2.1 WAR.  What does that mean?  It means if we’re playing fantasy baseball, and the M’s have a league average DH, the M’s are in the playoffs.

Bucky Jacobsen was a seen as a replacement for Edgar Martinez until injury derailed his career.
Bucky Jacobsen was a seen as a replacement for Edgar Martinez until injury derailed his career.

Since Edgar Martinez’s retirement in 2004, the Mariners have trotted out a ridiculous number of bad DH’s.  By bad, I mean DH’s who were below league average.

  • In 2004 Martinez combined with Bucky Jacobsen, Dave Hansen, Mickey Lopez, and Quinton McCracken for .5 WAR
  • In 2005  contributions from Raul Ibanez’s 2.0 WAR cancels out -1.3 WAR from Greg Dobbs and Scott Spezio.  But Ibanez got 62 games worth of at bats in the outfield, so call it a wash.
  • In 2006 Joe Borchard, Ben Broussard, Carl Everett, Eduardo Perez and Greg Dobbs combined for a stinky -1.7 WAR
  • In 2007 Jose Vidro led Jeff Clement and Charlton Jimerson to a solid 1.6 WAR
  • But in 2008 Vidro’s -1.4 WAR led, Clement, Tug Hulett, and Greg Norton to -1.9 WAR
  • In 2009 Mike Sweeney, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Chris Shelton were league average.
  • In 2010 productive performances by Russell Branyan, Sweeney and Milton Bradley could not erase Griffey’s meltdown, and poor performance from Matt Mangini and Eric Byrnes. -.8 WAR
  • In 2011 Jack Cust, Willie Mo Pena and a cast of thousands, including Bradley, Greg Halman, and Casper Wells put up an enervating -.3 WAR
  • In 2012 John Jaso, Jesus Montero, and Luis Jimenez posted a very good 1.7 WAR
  • In 2013 Kendrys Morales owned a productive 1.4 WAR
  • In 2014 Morales, Montero and Corey Hart were horrendous at -2.1 WAR
Jose Vidro had a great year for the M's in 2007, but imploded in 2008.
Jose Vidro had a great year for the M’s in 2007, but imploded in 2008.

Six of eleven seasons in which a position created to generate offense could not meet league average.  In some years it was truly terrible.  In order to make the playoffs the Mariners must upgrade their DH.

A slumping, frustrated Ken Griffey, Jr. was done in 2010 after a league average 2009.
A slumping, frustrated Ken Griffey, Jr. was done in 2010 after a league average 2009.

Teams approach the DH a couple of different ways:

  1. They give their at bats to one guy, as the M’s did with Edgar Martinez and Kendrys Morales in 2013
  2. They rotate the at bats to give guys days off from the field.  Most AL teams do this.
Kendrys Morales was one of the few Mariners bright spots in 2013, but failed to deliver in 2014
Kendrys Morales was one of the few Mariners bright spots in 2013, but failed to deliver in 2014

It gets a bit more complicated for the Mariners because they keep an eight man bullpen and 13 man pitching staff. I don’t see that changing much under manager Lloyd McClendon.  He was highly effective in manipulating the bullpen that contributed so significantly to the team’s success.  But, that doesn’t leave much of a bench to work with for rotation, and let’s face it, the M’s bench situation has been thin for years.

In either case, there are guys available who can strengthen the Mariners DH situation:

  • Nelson Cruz hit 40 home runs for Baltimore in 2014. He wants a four year deal that would likely cost $65-70 million.  At age 34 he’s a prime candidate for regression.  Because the Orioles made him a qualifying offer, if the Mariners signed him they’d have to fork over their first round draft choice.  Cruz is a year removed from his PED suspension in the Biogenesis scandal. He strikes out a lot and doesn’t walk much. Cruz is right handed, his power is to all fields, and the ESPN Home Run Tracker shows his bombs had enough muscle to get out of Safeco Field.
  • Torii Hunter is looking for a job.  From ages 23-33 he was one of the most breathtakingly brilliant outfielders in the game.  At age 39 he will be ripe for assignment as a DH.  Though he could probably fill in the outfield for a few games, but he was epically bad for the Tigers last year with a UZR 150 of -20.1.  His bat, however, has remained productive with a .286/.319/.446 slash line in 2014. Hunter is a free agent; his 2014 salary was $14 million.  He probably could be signed to a one year deal.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks just signed Cuban player Yasmany Tomas, making the services of Mark Trumbo questionable if not unnecessary.  Trumbo is right-handed, and at age 28 offers some serious right handed thump. He is an all or nothing guy-30 home runs, but a sub .300 OBP with buckets of strike outs. He has played 1B, 3B and the outfield with the Angels and Diamondbacks, but clearly his best defensive position is DH. Trumbo is arbitration eligible and doesn’t become a free agent until 2017.  The Mariners would have to give something up to get him.

Certainly there are other players out there who could fill the DH role, but likely they would require a trade.  While it is unlikely the Mariners will be able to find a player with the consistent brilliance of Edgar Martinez, surely they can find a guy or guys who can reach the heights of Kendrys Morales in 2013 or Jose Vidro at the end of his career in 2007.  The M’s don’t need a Hall of Famer, but they can’t be horrible either.

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