|Posted on December 1, 2012 at 7:55 PM|
The Seattle Mariners are entering this week's Winter Meetings with everything to gain, and everything to lose. The Mariners 11 years without a playoff appearance has decimated fan attendance at Safeco Field, and it will be up to Jack Zduriencik to energize a fanbase this offseason. Expectations were high last year when there was a quiet promise of hope for players like Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, or even aging veterans like Carlos Beltran signing with the Mariners, but that promise was temporary as the Mariners chose to go into 2012 without any major additions. Midseason struggles found the team in last place for much of 2012, and even Felix Hernandez starts were lucky to reach 50% capacity. Offseason expectations are even higher this year as fan patience is at an all time low while casual fan apathy is at an all-time high.
The Mariners have a solid pitching staff that was bolstered when the team resigned Hisashi Iwakuma in early November, and there are high hopes that the team's young arms are ready to take the next step at Spring Training. The biggest issue for the Mariners has been at the plate -- Kyle Seager led the teams with 20 HR in 2011 and was 4th on the team in Batting Average. But Seager, who was a team leader in batting at the All Star break, saw a production decline in the second half of the season that took his average down to .259. For as down as some fans were on Jesus Montero (I was NOT down on Montero), he still managed to finish 3rd in Mariners average and played 135 games as a rookie. The fact that a rookie Catcher had the 3rd highest Batting Average in 2011 speaks to 1) his potential in the future and 2) the ineptitude of much of the Mariners offense. So where do the Mariners go from here? It's easy to say that Jack Z needs to go out and sign the next free agent he can, but is the team too late?
Are the Mariners too late? I think the short answer is yes. The team's biggest chance to grow at the plate is either in the OF or at DH, and the early offseason signings have verged on ludicrous:
So where do the Mariners go from here? It's certainly not Nick Swisher. When the Braves signed Upton, they closed the books on Swisher to the Mariners. Nick Swisher has a better BA, OBP, HR average and RBI production than BJ Upton. Yes, Upton has speed and is 4 years younger than Swish, but I just don't see a way that Swisher takes less than $12-14 million a year for 3 years. If not Swisher then who? Shane Victorino? Victorino is a gutty player (who I saw hit an inside the park HR playing with the Phillies,) but he's not a power or BA threat. I love Victorino's attitude, but I don't love his BA, his RBI, or his 12-18 average HR a year at best. Quite honestly, we have that already. Victorino is not a heart of the order guy. And what about Josh Hamilton? He brings first half power, but has a history of breaking down and slumping late in the season. I'd also question if he's the clubhouse leader this team needs. Is he worth the price? Do you pay Hamilton $20 million a year over 4-5 years? (Which is less than he wants btw.) At what Hamilton will demand, he seems like a worse risk than if we'd paid Fielder.
So are the Mariners "too late"? If you're talking Free Agents hitters, yes. But I've contended all year that the Mariners best shot at adding power to the team is going to come thru trades. The Mariners best value is going to be in trading prospects for players that are already under (a lower than today's value) contract, and that will produce at or better than the players that were on the market. Zduriencik was clear that he didn't feel there were players worth the investment during last year's offseason. Fielder was an obvious exception, but at what the Tigers paid him, I don't disparage the M's at all for not signing him. I would say the same thing for this year's Free Agent class. There isn't a top-tier guy this offseason outside of Hamilton, so why pay them like it?
The Mariners have a better chance of being successful in 2013 by trading for hitters and signing pitchers. Joe Blanton, Dan Haren, and Zach Grienke are all available. Grienke will be the hottest of the 3, so you take him off the list. Haren has past success in the AL, so you figure he's going to get paid too. That leaves Joe Blanton. While Blanton's ERA has ballooned over 4.50, he pitches close to 200 innings a year and has struck out 160+ 2 of the last 3 years. I think Blanton is a guy you can get at a good price to fill a #4/5 rotation slot.
But what about hitters? I know, I know. That's still the hard part. The Mariners have to do something just to avoid a fan mutiny. The fences coming in are going to impact the hitters -- They don't come in a lot, but just the fact that they're moving in will almost certainly affect player psyche. I'll be honest, I like our team. I think there's some strong upside here, but I also agree they're missing a component for the clubhouse maybe even more-so than a bat. Billy Butler is a strong candidate, but he's a .300 hitter that will average around 20-24 bombs. I'd argue we already have that at 3B with Kyle Seager. The M's need to look at DH and OF. So where should they go?
2013 is a must compete year for the Mariners. Their 51% drop in attendance over the last 10 years is a dangerous trend for a team that used to energize a city. Personally, it's frustrating as a fan to see. Quite honestly, I'm less discouraged with the Mariners record and performance as I am with it's dwindling fanbase. I know that winning cures everything for fans, but to see that there were 8 teams with worse records than the Mariners with better attendance is disappointing. Sure teams like the Cubs and Red Sox will draw regardless, but Colorado? Kansas City? We're better than that, but in some ways I can also understand it. Some food for thought:
The baseball season doesn't end in November, it just gets more interesting. Jack Zduriencik has a chance to go into this week's Winter Meetings and make both Major League Baseball and their fans take notice. What route the Mariners will take is anyone's guess, but one thing is certain, the Mariners have a lot of options in front of them. I just can't wait to see which route they take!
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