KendrysMorales

Free Agent Frenzy? How The Seattle Mariners Should Proceed On Offense

After a season in which the Seattle Mariners didn’t take that progressive leap forward as they had hoped, it’s clear they have some work to do in the offseason if they want to make a significant improvement on the 2013 squad, who went just 71-91.  

This upcoming season will be a decisive one for General Manager Jack Zduriencik. Entering his sixth season at the helm in Seattle, his rebuilding plan has been slow to garner a passing grade. Zduriencik knows that a repeat of the 2013 season would likely spell his doom.

It’d be too much of a risk for Zduriencik to stick with the youth-centered rebuilding effort that has defined the first five years of his regime. To this point, it has generated mixed results to say the least, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. It seemed like the Mariners improved last year, but beyond clubbing the second most homers in all of baseball with 188, the numbers don’t look good.

Just compare the 2013 team to the one the Mariners fielded the year prior in 2012. The Mariners improved their team on-base percentage from .296 to .306, and team batting average improved from .234 to .237. They scored 624 runs scored this past season, managing just a meager five-run improvement over the 619 scored in 2012.

Progression? Yes. Significant progression? Absolutely not, and definitely not what Zduriencik and the Mariners hoped for out of their young team.

When you look at the individual offensive numbers post All-Star break there is even more cause for alarm.  Here’s a list of the young players this franchise is supposed to be built around and how they produced after the July 12th Summer Classic:

Player

Avg.

(OBP)

Dustin Ackley

.304

(.374)

Nick Franklin

.194

(.280)

Brad Miller

.269

(.317)

Michael Saunders

.255

(.350)

Kyle Seager

.212

(.309)

Justin Smoak

.203

(.294)

Mike Zunino*

.198

(.303)

*Only played in 28 games during September after returning from the DL.

Jack Zduriencik can’t bet his job on this group and reasonably hope to come up a winner. Dustin Ackley was impressive after a stint in triple-A Tacoma, and rookie shortstop Brad Miller was encouraging as well. Beyond that the numbers are not reassuring for Zduriencik. The question that he can’t answer is: how much (if any) improvement will there be from this group offensively in 2014?

It’s too early to judge Franklin, Miller, and Zunino, who were rushed to the majors last year after the season was essentially lost. But at this point you wonder if players like Smoak, Saunders, and Ackley are ever going to take that next step forward. Seager looks like a solid Major-Leaguer, but can he progress to become a top-ten type third basemen in the league?

The only clear thing about this group’s future is that it is unclear. You just don’t know what you are going to get from them next year. Three-time Mariner Raul Ibanez is likely gone; the ever-injured Franklin Gutierrez is gone; and Kendrys Morales might be on the way out as well. The Mariners have extended a one-year qualifying offer to Morales, but with agent Scott Boras he may very well test free agency. Losing these veteran pieces means that Zduriencik has to do something new with the offense.

Robinson Cano to the Mariners isn’t going to happen. It would be the shocker of all shockers: the Yankees need him too much and even if a team outbids New York for Cano’s services, it won’t be Seattle. Cano is asking for a $300 million deal, and even if he doesn’t get that much, he’ll be in the ballpark. Given the risk involved with giving a thirty-one year old player a deal of that magnitude, it’s debatable if the Mariners would even want to pursue him.

So what are the options?

Perhaps the most intriguing name on the market is outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. The 30 year old Northwest native has won two World Series rings in Boston and it appears his time there may be over. He is a career .297 hitter and one of the premier base-stealers in the league, in addition to being a good defender. If the price is right, the Mariners have a decent chance of luring Ellsbury to Seattle. He’s Zduriencik’s best option, and trying to land him should be a priority for the Mariners.

In the recent past, Zduriencik and the Mariners have shown the willingness to spend money, but it hasn’t been enough. In 2011 they showed interest in Prince Fielder, and in 2012 they offered Josh Hamilton a $100 million, five-year deal. With the Mariners payroll as low as it’s been in years, they are again in a position to spend. The question will be if they are willing to spend enough to acquire an impact bat.

Other thought-provoking free-agent outfielders include former Mariner Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, and Curtis Granderson. Each would bring something different to the Mariners, each for a different price, but you could argue all deserve consideration at some level.

If the Mariners can’t resign Kendrys Morales, they may be in the market for a DH/1B, and could go after Boston’s Mike Napoli, Tampa’s James Loni, or Pittsburgh’s Justin Morneau.

Zduriencik hasn’t been shy to make a trade, and that is an avenue that may better suit the club if the right deal presents itself. Free agency is a risky game to play (see Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton), but Zduriencik has to find a way to improve offensively.

His future in Seattle still relies on the young core of players he’s brought in under his watch. They simply have to get better. Given their collective performance thus far, however, Zduriencik can’t afford to give his plan one more year as-is and expect to call himself General Manager of the Mariners after 2014.  

About Arran Gimba

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