Alex Rios: The Mariners 4th Outfielder?

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Jack Zdurenciek wakes up every morning wondering who he can find to hit clean up for the Mariners 2015 roster… Good luck, buddy!

For the sake of fun, let’s assume Victor Martinez comes to Seattle on a bloated contract, and the Mariners also resign Chris Young. This leaves one additional hole on the 25-man roster: a right-handed 4th outfielder.

The pickings are slim. Melky Cabrera is a free agent, but he’s a previous PED user—which ownership will not like—and Melky’s reportedly looking for a 5-year contract, something the Mariners shouldn’t be interested in.

Michael Cuddyer can play some outfield, but he’s mostly a first baseman (at age 36). His bat certainly looks great recently, but those numbers are inflated from Coors Field. Not to mention Cuddyer only played 49 games last year due to injury.

Enter Alex Rios. As MLBTradeRumors suggests, Rios might be obtainable for a 1-year $8 million deal. As Rios has never played post-season baseball, it makes sense that he’d accept a short term deal with a contending team.

Now, Rios comes with concerns. He’s a career “20-homer guy” who only hit 4 homers last year. His defense has declined to the point of slipping just below “average” (albeit not horrible like Matt Kemp). Rios doesn’t walk much either, leaving his OBP lower than you’d hope.

Yet Rios might still fit the Mariners reasonably well. For both 2013 and 2014, his OPS is just shy of .900 against left handed pitching. As a fourth outfielder/platoon, that’s a luxurious option to have. (And if Dustin Ackley struggles, or Michael Saunders gets hurt, Alex Rios is a good guy to have around.) Rios’ speed is still good, and his veteran experience will be welcomed on a young team.

For a one-year commitment, Seattle hasn’t much to lose. Their farm is stocked with talent moving up, so there’s no reason to give out long contracts to anyone but superstars.

Rios is a low-risk, buy-low option. Perhaps he has a rebound season, or perhaps he’s a player of replacement level value. Nobody knows. But for a short contract—at the market price of one win—I say why not?

Hypothetical “Platoon” Lineup vs. Lefty Starters
Austin Jackson, CF
Dustin Ackley, LF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Victor Martinez, DH
Kyle Seager, 3B
Alex Rios, RF
Logan Morrison, 1B
Mike Zunino, C
Chris Taylor/Willie Bloomquist, SS

Now think back to early 2014’s platoon lineups! Any improvement?

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

2015 Budget: Enough Money for Victor Martinez or Matt Kemp?

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The Mariners 2014 opening day payroll was $92 million. Due to mid-season acquisitions—plus incentives paid to Chris Young—the Mariners actually spent $107 million last year.

Now as we look to 2015, let’s pull out the calculator and see what the numbers look like:

Contracts: ~$65 million total
Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Hisashi Iwakuma, Fernando Rodney, and a few smaller pieces.

Arbitration: ~$25 million total
Kyle Seager, Austin Jackson, Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Logan Morrison, and bullpen guys.

League Minimums: ~$5 million total
Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, Chris Taylor, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, and bullpen guys.

That starts us with a $95 million payroll, give or take, for 2015 . Now, if the Mariners allow payroll to again meet last year’s level of $107m, that gives GM Jack Zduriencik  $12 million to work with this winter.

$12 million.

Is Victor Martinez or Matt Kemp available for that kind of money? Not a chance. If the Mariners were to keep within this expenditure limit, they’ll have to look at less glamorous candidates such as Billy Butler, Alex Rios, and Michael Cuddyer.

To compete for Victor Martinez, Seattle will likely bid closer to $20 million for 2015, with multiple years of contract in tow. Kemp’s contract is $21 million per year, and who the heck knows what a deal to land him would look like. As I wrote earlier, with the former Rays GM Andrew Friedman now running the Dodgers, they’d surely love to clean the books of Kemp’s contract. You can envision a salary dump scenario. But do the M’s hold their nose and do it?

To most people’s thinking, the Mariners need two righty impact bats and another starter. It’s well known that the M’s want a cleanup hitter (DH most likely), but having an additional righty corner outfielder would be excellent. Someone like Alex Rios might be a fine compliment to a Martinez signing, assuming he’s cheap enough.

But of course, addressing these needs gets expensive. Simply adding Martinez or Kemp blows the budget well past 2014 spending levels, putting us into $115 million range. If you added another $10 million for a starter and a decent righty outfield bat, we get to the neighborhood of $125 million dollars.

The Mariners did have a payroll of $117 million in 2008. That was the highest payroll Seattle ever saw. (We lost 101 games that year, fired a GM, fired a manager, and prefaced the season by trading away Adam Jones and Chris Tillman for Erik Bedard…. Ugh.) That following winter, Jack Zduriencik became GM, and payroll began plummeting.

Six years later and the Mariners are now ready to ante up. But the question remains: How far will this ownership go? Will they give the green light to a $125 million dollar team? Or do they allow only a modest increase, with a cap of $110 million? $115?

We learned this year that winning should never be wasted. This is a very good team that’s ready to play baseball in October. Time to spend the money and make it happen.

Do it for Felix.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

New Dodgers GM… What It Means for the Mariners

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The Dodgers hired a new GM today, Andrew Friedman. Friedman was previously the Tampa Bay Rays GM, and had great success in rebuilding their team on a tight budget. Of course, the decade-old Moneyball mentality is nothing new for baseball, but it’s new for the Dodgers.

The Dodgers are a large market team, but they’ve over-leveraged themselves with payroll. Due to a conflict with Time Warner, their TV revenue will be cut next year. Also, due to the payroll luxury tax rules, the Dodgers will be penalized far heavier this year if they exceed the cap again. Thus, the Dodgers have been outspoken about bringing their payroll down— which hit $240 million in 2014— to below $190 million.

There’s perhaps nobody better to do that than Andrew Friedman. (Last year’s Rays payroll was around $75 million.)

So, why is this of interest to Mariners fans?

The Dodgers and the Mariners have many areas of compatibility concerning trades. Where the Mariners need an outfielder, the Dodgers have six of them. Where the Dodgers need bullpen help, the Mariners have plenty of arms to deal. And if the Dodgers need to slim payroll, well the Mariners are now ready to up their payroll.

Now, if you were hoping the Mariners would trade for Scott Van Slyke (I was), this new reality makes that transaction quite unlikely. Van Slyke has 4 years left of team control. However, if you’re scared about Matt Kemp donning a Seattle uniform, get more frightened.

Matt Kemp makes about $20 million dollars a year. So does Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. You can bet that Andrew Friedman would love any of those three dropped from his payroll ASAP. However, Ethier and Crawford will be tough to move. Perhaps the Dodgers eat half of their salaries and move them. Regardless, the Mariners only have interest in Kemp, for his right-handed power bat.

If the Mariners make an offer to take Kemp’s full salary, and send LA a cheap bullpen arm or two, there’s a good possibility Friedman takes the deal. The Mariners have made it clear they want a cleanup hitter to slot between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. There aren’t many options for that criteria, and if Victor Martinez stays in Detroit, you can envision the Mariners paying up for Kemp.

(And, after reading the recent news of Mariners ownership’s disdain for PED users, there’s good reason to believe Nelson Cruz or Melky Cabrera won’t see offers from Seattle.)

Of course, I could be dead wrong about all this.

We’ll know soon enough.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Mariners Potential Bidding War for Victor Martinez

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Seattle’s #1 priority this off-season is a cleanup hitter. Someone who bats from the right side, slotting in between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. With a thin free agent market, and Victor Martinez freshly ending a miraculous season, everybody is discussing the Mariners desire for him.

Hello bidding war.

Consider: The Tigers just extended Miguel Cabrera to $30-million-dollars-a-year for nearly the next decade. Unless they have a master plan to bring Giancarlo Stanton to Detroit, do you really think they’ll let Victor Martinez walk away? That’s a bizarre way to protect your investment.

And Martinez may well find his market price around $20 million a year. As a 36 year old, his offers won’t be for long contracts. But let’s say Detroit offers him a 3+year/$45 million deal (2015: $18m, 2016: $15m, 2017: $12m, with a team option/buyout for 2018). Is this an offer Seattle intends to beat?

Points worth thinking about…

1) Martinez has never been better than now. His 2014 OPS was a staggering .974, far higher than his 2013 OPS of .785 and career OPS of .847. Which V-Mart would we be buying?

2) Martinez has performed well in Safeco Field during his career. With 8 home runs in 130 plate appearances (.892 OPS) the negative “Safeco effect” argument is voided.

3) 36 is pretty old. Spending big money on old players is not often wise.

4) But who else is there? Martinez is perhaps less than ideal, but what ideal candidate exists?

5) Finally, Victor Martinez is a model “professional hitter”. While McClendon used that term to describe Kendrys Morales in July, the truth is, Martinez is the real deal, not Morales. Martinez has a mind blowing 10.4% career strikeout rate. This year, it’s 6.6%. Wow. I mean, wow. This is a guy who puts the ball in play, something the young Mariners desperately need mentoring in. On top of that, Martinez is a career .306 hitter with a .373 OBP. Numbers you’ll note that are quite similar to Robinson Cano’s.

The Mariners certainly have the desire and resources to make a big acquisition this winter. And they need offense badly. Victor Martinez seems likely the best option in free agency. He’ll cost a fortune and he’s risky due to age, probable regression, and yes, age again. (Did I mention he’s 36 years old?) Still, if I’m Jack Z, I go for it.

Filling the final holes of this Mariners team won’t come cheap, nor without second-guesses. But as we all know, inaction is unacceptable. Moves must be made. Small acquisitions a la Chris Denorfia won’t do the trick. We need to find 5 more wins, with the DH slot being the golden ticket.

Let the bidding war begin.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

It’s Still the Offense, Stupid

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Last night, when Fernando Rodney walked his fourth batter, most Mariners fans thought what my wife said aloud— “I hate him!”. Why did manager Lloyd McClendon leave his closer in, whom was obviously struggling? 32 pitches, 10 strikes. A four-pitch walk to score the winning run.

Good grief.

Yet as much as we want to blame Rodney, or McClendon, the fact remains: Seattle pitching deserves no complaints. After all, this was 3 runs allowed over 10 innings. That’s a 2.70 ERA for the game. There’s an emotional argument to make, but not much of a rational one.

Because as we’ve witnessed all year, the Mariners failed to score enough runs. On a bad night for Fernando Rodney, the Mariners pitching staff still did their job exceptionally well. Yet the offense again disappointed. Out of their 67 losses this year, 47 of them were in games when the Mariners failed to produce more than 2 runs. Combined with the 7 games the Mariners did win with 2 runs or less, that’s a total of 54 low-scoring games.

That’s 37% of all games in which the Mariners gave their pitching little chance to win. This is a topic that’s long been covered, but still continues to haunt. Consider, if the Mariners had won just 5 more of those 47 losing games of 2 runs or less, their record right now would be 85-62, clearing the field for the first wild card spot, and flirting with well north of a 90-win season.

Again, this conversation always ends with the “Jack Z, get some hitters this off-season!”. And then the obligatory optimism that says, this team is very close to being a dominating force. The offensive problem is a fixable, and next year looks to be a very exciting year for Seattle baseball.

Oh and hey, Matt Kemp just hit his 20th home run of the season. Raising his OPS to .839 for the year. And Nelson Cruz has 39 home runs, for an .858 OPS.

Both sound great right about now. No?

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

The Future of Chris Young in Seattle

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Chris Young’s last two starts were brutal. A combined 8 earned runs in 4.1 innings. It remains to be seen if this is just the ebb and flow of baseball, or if Young has exhausted himself for the season.

Fans pointed out that Young’s fastball was topping out around 83-84 mph on Monday. Velocity was never an aspect of Chris Young’s skill set, but it’s still a convincing indicator that he’s tired. And for a 35 year old guy—  who’s only occasionally topped 100 innings per year since 2007— it wouldn’t be surprising if Young is shut down after his excellent 150 inning season of 3.46 ERA baseball this year.

If so, Young will have contributed 2.6 WARs to the Mariners this season, according to Baseball-Reference. That’s a very respectable achievement for a middle-rotation pitcher. (Interestingly, Fangraphs has given Young only a 0.8 WAR for this season. Quite a contrasting number. I assume anyone who’s watched 2014 Mariners baseball will agree with BR over Fangraphs. Except maybe Jeff Sullivan, who will find any reason to talk negatively about the Mariners.)

Chris Young, of course, is a free agent this winter. He will certainly receive offers from the marketplace, yet I have little doubt he’ll return to Seattle. Why? Here’s why:

Young 2014 ERA at Safeco Field— 2.35
Young 2014 ERA everywhere else— 4.71

As an up-in-the-zone flyball pitcher, the distant meadows of Safeco’s outfield seem custom designed for Young. Surely there are other ballparks— like San Diego— that also appeal to Young. And perhaps he’ll want to return to San Diego. But with Seattle solidly contending these next few years— not to mention their stellar defense, plus Mike Zunino and Jesus Sucre’s excellence— it just makes so much sense for Young to come back.

It also should be noted that Young’s intelligence and creativity in his pitching approach should be of extra value to the Mariners. As a Princeton graduate, it’s no secret that Young is an analytical guy. His game theory and intense preparation have been reported to be perhaps his greatest skill. (I remember watching a game where he so effectively pitched Mike Trout up and away fastballs, that on each of Trout’s three consecutive at-bats, he generated fly balls to the precise spot where the right fielder was standing.) This type of veteran presence should pay dividends on Seattle’s young pitching staff.

So here’s hoping we get more miles out of the big man. But if we don’t, his contribution should be celebrated. Let’s hope his career as a Mariner has only yet begun.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

The September Stretch

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With two outs in the 9th inning, and your team rallying, you quickly understand the importance of each at bat. Whether it’s a walk, a bloop single, or a big RBI double—none of them exist without the previous non-out.

The great Boston comeback rally I’m referencing (from last week) was cause for a celebration. It was fun. Baseball is supposed to be fun! And if we know anything about the Mariners 2014 season, it’s that we’re supposed to be having fun while watching this young team grow. Anxiety can wait for next year, when we’ll contend for the division.

Yet it’s hard to avoid bittersweet feelings when the Mariners excel offensively. Because we know this team cannot put runs on the board the way we wish. But boy, when those bats get hot, you just imagine how good this team could be with solid offense.

To think, the Mariners have a +96 run differential, the 4th best in baseball. That means if run distribution were exactly perfect, Seattle would be the 4th best team in baseball. That’s including their lackluster offense. It’s fascinating, because these guys have the 3rd worst on-base percentage in baseball.

Conclusively, this pitching staff has been world class. And while the front office did make nice mid-season acquisitions to support the pitching, those players haven’t immediately helped the equation. (In a twist of fate, Abraham Almonte is batting .300 in his first 21 games as a Padre.)

That’s just how baseball rolls.

To be fair, it’d be silly to fault the Mariners system for being unable to fully capitalize on such an effective pitching and defensive campaign. Nobody can honestly say they predicted this team to pitch so well in 2014. Consider: The Mariners bullpen gave us a 4.58 ERA in 2013. This year, they have a 2.42 ERA.

Now we enter the final month of 2014 baseball… The Mariners may or may not reach the Wild Card playoff. It’d sure be fun if they did. But the truth is, on September 28th, when the camera pans across the Mariners dugout, you’ll see Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, Chris Young, James Paxton, Roenis Elias and Taijuan Walker. Next to them will stand Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, Austin Jackson, a hopefully-healthy Michael Saunders, Mike Zunino and Chris Taylor.

The camera cuts over to the bullpen. You know the names. You know the beards.

These are the faces of a solidly successful 2014 season. And better yet, they are also the faces of 2015.

(The camera flips back to the dugout. It focuses on Dustin Ackley. The question haunts you: Who is this guy gonna be in 2015?)

Yes, the September Stretch is upon us. It’s the final days of a fun season, yet only the beginning of a new successful era for Seattle baseball.

This is awesome.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

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