With the DBacks landing the shortstop they so coveted (Didi Gregorius) without having to deal off Justin Upton, the likelihood now appears to be that Upton will remain with Arizona to start the 2013 season. That not only means that the Mariners aren't acquiring him, it means that the Texas Rangers aren't acquiring him. Which means that the Rangers will likely turn up the intensity of their talks with Josh Hamilton, and given Hamilton's previously communicated stance that he would give Texas the opportunity to match any offer he receives from another team, it now seems like almost a foregone conclusion that he will remain property of the Rangers when all is said and done.
With Upton off the board, Hamilton seemingly a pipe dream, Kansas City no longer looking like they'll be trading big league hitters and Minnesota saying they prefer to hang on to Josh Willingham, the Mariners are looking at their 2013 roster with the only new names at this point being Jason Bay and Robert Andino. Bay and Andino have some abilities that could potentially help the club, but the duo combined to hit just .196/.268/.303 in 646 plate appearances in 2012 for their respective teams. That doesn't bode well for a Mariners team that has ranked last in most offensive categories over the past few seasons, regardless of how much the Safeco Field fences are being moved. So what does Seattle do now?
It is clear that the Mariners want to improve the offense through Free Agency and/or trades this offseason, but as Jack Zduriencik said last night on the first Mariners Hot Stove Show of the season, he isn't going to mortgage the future by trading off top talent to pick up players with just one or two years left on their contract. And he also isn't going to go long-term on any Free Agent deals, which we should already have known as the Zduriencik-led Mariners have not signed anyone to a contract of over five years during his tenure. The cost in terms of both dollars and trade demand seemed to be higher than he had expected, and it didn't sound as though the Mariners' year GM was comfortable with were those talks had led through last night. When asked if that meant that the M's were going to be set with what they had, Zduriencik said that may end up being the case. After acknowledging that such a stance wouldn't be "the popular thing to say," he added, "I'd love to do something right now. Maybe we will through free agency." The club was said to be seeking to add one or two outfield bats when the offseason began. With Bay in tow already, you can surmise that the club still wants one more. Despite the doom and gloom on the top layer here, there are still options out there.
There are of course still some top outfield names out there, with Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn being the most prominent. Both of those guys would cost the Mariners first pick (12th overall) in the 2013 draft, but Seattle could deem that -- on top of the salaries each would demand -- as a worthwhile cost if they think that either will help the club take that next step offensively. Swisher's market has kind of been slow to develop as the Hamilton saga plays itself out and Bourn's market has shriveled up a bit due to some of the trades that have been made by teams that were pursuing center field and leadoff help. Swisher is the more logical fit of the two, not only because he offers some power that could help the middle of the Mariners' order, but also because he has the ability to play both right field and first base, not only easing any concerns of how he might age in a four- to five-year deal, but also serving as Justin Smoak insurance should the now 26-year-old Smoak struggle with his bat once again in 2013. Bourn isn't a bopper and the M's have capable center fielders in Michael Saunders and the fragile Franklin Gutierrez, but they would like to add some speed and Bourn has that to spare. But with the taste of the Chone Figgins era still fresh, I'm not sure that Zduriencik wants to go after a 30-year-old player that relies so much on his legs for his offensive impact.
There are still names like Cody Ross, Delmon Young and Scott Hairston available in free agency, but the Mariners may be able to find some better options from a willing trade partner that could upgrade their big league team without spending too much of their valued minor league prospect currency. Guys like Upton, Willingham, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andre Ethier and Allen Craig are either not available or likely too costly, but Zduriencik could pursue seemingly expendable parts like Brennan Boesch, Garrett Jones, Lucas Duda, Michael Morse, Michael Cuddyer or even Justin Morneau if the demands aren't too high. The club has already been linked to a few of those names in earlier offseason rumors. But judging from the tone of his comments lately, I get the feeling that Zduriencik may prefer to explore the possibility of doing an exchange of young major leaguers, not unlike last off-season's Michael Pineda – Jesus Montero trade with the Yankees.
As we heard ad nauseum when that deal went down, prospect-for-prospect (or, technically, young MLBer-for-young MLBer) trades are rare, but it could happen again for Seattle if they find a willing partner. Looking around the league there are a few players that could fit the Mariners' needs and possibly catch their eye from teams with whom they could match up with in trades.
The Washington Nationals have an intriguing young slugger in Tyler Moore. Moore, who hit 10 MLB home runs last season in 156 at bats, is a 26-year-old first baseman by trade who played in 41 games in the outfield for the Nats last season. In addition to the power, he hit .263/.327/.513 as a big leaguer in 2012 and the 2008 16th round draft pick owns a career .268/.321/.491 line in 477 minor league games. Moore Had back-to-back 31 homer seasons in 2010 and 2011 while ascending through Washington's system, but he doesn't seem to have a spot long-term on their big league roster. He won't even be arbitration eligible until 2015 and could be the type of player the M's are looking to add. Washington was said to be looking for relief help earlier in the offseason, and the Mariners suddenly have a plethora of both right-handed and left-handed young arms for the pen, but what the cost to acquire Moore would be now with the moves the Nationals have already made is unclear.
Another possible match for Seattle could be the St. Louis Cardinals. They seem to have no spot for either Matt Adams or Matt Carpenter to play every day on their roster and are said to be seeking infield depth and, like Washington, bullpen help. Adams is a converted catcher who has slugged 72 home runs over his last three minor league seasons and got into 27 games for the Cards in 2012. Clearly built like a slugger, he showed a more controlled swing than you'd think just looking at the numbers and his size well enough that he kept his K% under 20% (19.1%) at the minors two highest levels the last two seasons. He struggled in the big leagues with strikeouts (24 in 91 PA), but he has huge raw power and could at just 24-years-old and not arbitration eligible until after 2015. Adams, who hits left-handed, was pegged as the Cardinals' No. 9 prospect prior to 2012 season by Baseball America.
Carpenter -- who was said to be working out at second base this offseason in order to have more versatility -- is a bit more experienced than Adams, with 359 MLB plate appearances under his belt. He has played all four corner positions and 18 innings at second base as a big leaguer after coming up through the Cards' system as strictly a third baseman. Carpenter, who recently turned 27, doesn't offer nearly the same pop as Adams, but his versatility and better strike zone discipline could make him an attractive target.
The San Francisco Giants have a player that could be of interest who is similarly "blocked" in Brett Pill. Pill -- who is a first baseman by trade -- has seen MLB action each of the last two years for the defending World Champs and owns a .239/.283/.419 slash over 167 big league PAs. He's been with Fresno in the PCL for most of the past three seasons and has hit .292/.331/.485 there. Pill is now 28 and is right-handed, but he's also already been removed from the Giants' 40-man roster once. If the M's can match up with San Francisco, Pill could be of use to Seattle.
These of course aren't the only names out there in the category of young, major league-experienced guys, but they are some ideas of the type of acquisitions that the Mariners and General Manager Jack Zduriencik sound like they have in mind for the rest of this offseason. Getting creative with moves like these could certainly improve the offensive profile for the club, even though they don't come with the "wow factor" that signing one of the top Free Agents would. Regardless of which path the Mariners choose, the key is that they do need to improve the offense.
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