Perfecting An Imperfect Roster

As of yet, the Mariners have done very well for themselves. They’ve added a legitimate threat in the lineup with Nelson Cruz, and they have added some depth at starting pitching (which they neglected to do last season). But as always, there’s a caveat.

Michael Saunders for J.A. Happ isn’t the worst trade that’s ever happened. But the bigger issue is how it went down. Seemingly without provocation, Jack Zduriencik threw Michael Saunders under the bus. He indirectly labeled him as injury-prone, and critiqued his offseason conditioning and maintenance. While Zduriencik may have something of a point, going public with his gripes was puzzling to say the least. Not to mention that in 2012 and 2013 Saunders played in 130+ games. In effect, he diminished Saunders’ value and ended up with J.A. Happ.

J.A. Happ isn’t a bad player, and currently projects as our third or fourth starter, but Saunders warranted a bigger haul than merely Happ. The Mariners got depth, and the Blue Jays’ scary offense got even scarier. What it did for the Mariners is take away their third best hitter last year, added marginal depth in the rotation, and left a gaping hole in right field. Paired with a trade for a right fielder or free agent signing (which will almost certainly happen), it could be a lot worse, but it was unwarranted.

From a financial standpoint, the Jays are said to be kicking in cash to offset the difference in their salaries, so it’s exactly straight across. However, if we sign Melky Cabrera, we’ll be giving up $13M-$14M over four or five years. The signing of Cruz and/or Cabrera will almost certainly blow up in their faces at least a little, but Alex Jackson and DJ Peterson should help to offset those damages. This is exactly why having a crop of young talent and drafting efficiently annually is awfully important.

To sum, Saunders is younger than Happ (Michael turned 28 twenty days ago), better, and cheaper (although we received cash, nullifying this aspect). Cabrera doesn’t come without his own issues. He had a subpar 2013 (possibly due to a tumor, since removed from his back), is an average fielder at best, he’s been suspended for PEDs, and will be 34 or 35 by the end of his contract.

The Mariners have made a lot of progress in terms of depth in the rotation. After the projected starters of Felix, Kuma, Paxton, Walker, and Happ the Mariners have options. Misael Siverio and Sam Giviglio were added as depth for the rotation. The M’s also have Roenis Elias and Erasmo Ramirez to further protect themselves from injury. If they really get desperate, there has been talk of stretching Tom Wilhelmsen out, and Brandon Maurer is an option. I applaud Z’s efforts in reinforcing the rotation, because it was a problem of ours last season that was blatantly neglected. We can’t afford to bank on a performance like Chris Young’s, as well as Roenis Elias’.

Now, there are a couple moves I suggest that can be done to the roster.

Right Field

Michael Saunders left an astronomical, meteor-sized hole in right field. That absolutely needs to be addressed before the season starts. Avoiding an excess of Stefen Romero or James Jones would be a good thing.

Dexter Fowler

My first preference would be to trade for the switch hitting Dexter Fowler, currently of the Houston Astros. Yes, the Houston Astros that are in our division. That’s the problem. The second issue is giving up a package that does not include the likes of Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, DJ Peterson, or Alex Jackson. At this point, that may be an unattainable task. Fowler is in his third-year of arbitration and is set to become a free agent next year. That could help to neutralize some of his cost, thus making him a little cheaper. Fowler absolutely smashes lefties (career .299/.391/.433, with a .366 wOBA and 118 wRC+), and is basically league average against righties (career .259/.356/.414, with a .341 wOBA and 102 wRC+). What he lacks is power, defense (over his career he’s been pretty bad in center field), but he brings base running skills, on-base skills, and the ability to hit lefties. He’s a well-rounded player.

Melky Cabrera

Over his career, Melky has been about league average against lefties (.277/.335/.407, .326 wOBA, 99 wRC+) and a little better against righties (.290/.340/.419, .331 wOBA, 103 wRC+). The past couple of years, he’s improved. As I’ve stated above, he comes with a solid amount of both risk and reward. This would be probably the laziest move we could make, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad one.

Brandon Moss

Dammit.

(He was traded to the Indians.)

Ichiro

This would be a good move, supplemented with another lefty who can hit righties. Over his career, Ichiro actually has run reverse splits. It’s not often you see this, but Ichiro actually hits pitchers of the same handedness as him better than the opposite. The thing about this is it’s unlikely that both sides are willing to come together again. Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune has repeatedly said that. We haven’t shown any interest. Also, I’m not sure Lloyd McClendon or Jack Zduriencik understand how splits work. To Lloyd (at least it seems), he’s worried more about creating righty-lefty matchups on offense than analyzing numbers and seeing who’s better. That’s why we saw a ton of Stefen Romero and Cole Gillespie last year. Ichiro can still be a valuable player in a platoon. He’s 41, but his baserunning skills are still intact and he’s still solid in right. I’d welcome him back, and it’d make a nice feel-good story.

Franklin Gutierrez

Jack Z has had some dialogue with Guti, and it seems like somewhat of a longshot, but he could be a nice piece in right — and cheap! At his peak, Guti was a 6.0 WAR player with decent power and on-base skills and premier fielding in center field. Many years later, he’s 31 with a list of injuries with things such as gastrointestinal issues and IBS plaguing him. When he left in 2013, he already had 10 dingers in 41 games. His peripherals weren’t great, but he was also fighting off injuries. After a year away from baseball, Guti could be a nice low risk, high reward signing that you so often hear about.

The worst thing that could happen is probably trading for Kemp. He’s really really bad defensively, he’s expensive, and he’s a player that could command a lot because of his name and his bat.

UPDATE: Kemp is (thankfully) on the Padres. He’s no longer an option. 

First Base

It wouldn’t hurt to platoon someone with Logan Morrison at first base, but I don’t think it’s necessarily needed. Over his career, Logan has rather even splits, but last year he hit a monstrous .333/.368/.478 (.393 wOBA, 145 wRC+) against lefties and .236/.296/.398 (.307 wOBA, 98 wRC+) against righties. It wouldn’t be the greatest thing for his development, but it’s something to think about. I only have one option to recommend, and he’s an old friend.

Michael Morse

From 2005-2009 we had Morse. Then in 2013, we had Morse again. The second time around, he was a completely different player. Morse started out hot and bothered, wait, no, hotter than two rats in a fucking wool sock, as Ichiro put it. For the first month he was great, then he got hit with injuries. Even if he kept up his rampant pace, his poor fielding would have mitigated some of his value. Now two years later, the M’s are in a much better position, allowing Morse to not only play first base, but play less. Last year for the Giants, Morse piggybacked the offense at times and put up very, very good numbers against lefties and righties. Seeing that greaseball back, and not in the outfield, would be a great look for the M’s.

Catcher

Mike Zunino isn’t going anywhere. As a move purely for depth, signing free agent Jose Molina to replace Sucre on the roster would be the move I would make at catcher as the fictional GM of the Mariners. Jose Molina is a framing aficionado, as August Fagerstrom put it, and catcher depth is pretty valuable. Especially when you have a younger player like Zunino. With John Hicks waiting in AAA, this might not be ideal for them.

Bullpen

The bullpen is going to regress. Depending on how you play things, their regression can be slight, or even non-existent. Joe Beimel is now a free agent and 37 years old. It would be wise to not bank on him (or Chris Young) again. Instead, the M’s should look elsewhere for lefties specialists.

Dana Eveland

Now 31 years old, Eveland dominated lefties last year while also faring well against righties. He’s coming off of a good year in which he looks revitalized and could be a nice buy-low candidate for the M’s in the bullpen.

The bullpen projects to be:

Rodney
Wilhelmsen
Farquhar
Furbush
Medina
Leone
Smith
(Lefty specialist)

UPDATE: The Mariners selected LHP David Rollins in the Rule 5 Draft. He’ll compete for a spot in the bullpen.

I’m not the hugest Medina fan, but we could do much worse. Farquhar is a stud and likely our closer after Rodney departs after the last year of his deal.

Ultimately, the Mariners are projected to be one of the best teams in the league. In fact, they were projected to be the best in the AL last time I checked. They’re set to be a very complete and balanced team once Z puts on the finishing touches.

(Also, holy shit we signed Kyle Seager to a multi-year extension! One of our own became a really fuckin’ good player! Rejoice!)

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