(Yes, I’m going there.)
Jeffrey Loria. The man meddles and is full of idiosyncrasies. Add Scott Boras and cocky young ballplayers and you’ve got a trainwreck.
Then, when Jose Fernandez rejects a long-term contract extension with Miami, it becomes clear that he’ll never be a franchise player. (Leave it to Giancarlo Stanton to be your sole “face of the Marlins”.)
Those are two reasons the Marlins could be open to trading Fernandez. However, the sheer upside of Fernandez’ talent still makes a move unlikely. Players of that caliber don’t come around often.
But, a dimension to Jose Fernandez not getting much talk: His injury risk.
Very interesting article: Jose Fernandez Pitching Mechanics (link)
As it turns out, Fernandez has mechanical issues that could continue to be problematic. If the author of that article is to be believed, Henderson Alvarez and Jarred Cosart also have bad mechanics, which makes you wonder if Miami has had issues with their pitching operations.
The quick answer to that question is “Perhaps”, because the Marlins recently went out and poached the Pirates pitching “guru” Jim Benedict. Benedict has a glowing reputation in the industry for his “reclamation projects” and his development of pitching prospects. If you’re the Marlins, and your 3 best pitchers all have mechanical issues, you do whatever it takes to import a guy like Benedict.
Now, I’m gonna start theorizing.
If a pitcher—however talented—is coming off Tommy John surgery, followed by a biceps injury, with legitimately-concerning mechanical issues, plus he’s gonna leave your team in 3 years, and he’s getting expensive, while you have limited payroll, oh and he’s a nuisance to the owner (apparently), and his agent is even more of an antagonist— now you’ve got a compelling list of reasons to think “this guy could definitely get traded”.
What if when Jim Benedict joined the Marlins, he really didn’t get a good feeling about Fernandez? Maybe he concludes that “fixing” the ace would take too much time. Or that Fernandez will be too resistant to major mechanical changes. What if Benedict looks at this situation and prefers a young high-upside arm, instead of a high-profile risk?
Now let’s take it one step further.
Say the Marlins do decide to trade Fernandez. Would they target a huge prospect package from the Red Sox? I say no. The Marlins want to win now. Trading Fernandez would leave a sinkhole in their rotation. I believe they’d demand to fill that void with a top young MLB-ready arm. Waiting 2-3 years to bring up prospects just won’t do.
Which presents an interesting problem. Because pitchers who fit that mold—Chris Archer, Dallas Keuchel, Sonny Gray—aren’t getting traded. (Well, maybe Gray, because hello Billy Beane). But realistically, you’re not gonna trade an ace for another ace, especially one with injury concerns. So you’ll need to take a step down the ladder and target high-upside arms ready to breakout.
As we know, the baseball industry thinks very highly of Taijuan Walker. It’s not hard to imagine someone like Jim Benedict coveting Walker, and begging the Marlins to get him.
As for Seattle, even with red flags surrounding Jose Fernandez, it’d be hard to not pull that trigger. The idea of Felix Hernandez and Jose Fernandez as a duo through 2018—regardless of injury concerns—could be too intoxicating to resist.
Of course, a one-for-one deal wouldn’t be enough. And as the “blockbuster” rumor swirls around, I think Ozuna would still be involved…. So here’s my hypothetical deal:
Marlins send: Jose Fernandez, Marcell Ozuna
With that, you could envision the Marlins flipping Alex Jackson to the Braves for Julio Teheran. That’d give the Marlins 3 MLB pitchers for one ace, assuming Benedict likes Elias and wants a crack at improving him as well. And with 2 team-controlled arms—plus a cheap Teheran—the Marlins payroll remains flexible to address other needs.
If I’m Miami, I take that deal… Probably… Maybe.
The most revealing question for me is: Who’s the best pitcher the Marlins could get back for Fernandez? It’s fun to think about. If you forget about prospects, because Miami wants to win, and you forget about aces, because none are available, then Taijuan Walker starts to make sense. With 5 years left of control, plus all the physical components, and flashes of pure dominance in the big leagues, Walker is a far better bet than most top prospects.
But again, this all hangs on two premises: First, that there’s serious concern about Jose Fernandez’s mechanics and injury risk. And second, that the Marlins/Benedict are overly confident they can turn Taijuan Walker into an elite pitcher.
Obviously, there’s plenty to critique about my theory. To be honest, I’m not sure Seattle even does the deal I hypothesized. But look, I spent an hour today thinking about this—because in full disclosure, I love Jose Fernandez—so I decided to write this piece.
I mean, a guy can dream of a Hernandez/Fernandez rotation, right?
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While we have a brief lull in trades and acquisitions during Jerry Dipoto’s busy first offseason as the Mariners’ GM, I wanted to look back at 2015 and highlight a few things I’m thankful for during the lost season. The Mariners finished fourth in the American League West after many sports writers and I agreed they would be headed for their first playoff appearance since 2001. Coming into the season, they appeared to be a beefier, deeper team than the squad that finished one game from reaching the Wild Card play-in game in 2014. Instead, they proved to be a team riddled with inconsistency up and down the roster. Former All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano slumped at the plate for half of the season and let far too many ground balls slip through his side of the infield. The bullpen was awful, mostly embodied by the Fernando Rodney Experience, which cost the Mariners seemingly countless wins. Rodney blew seven saves last season, six with the Mariners before he was finally dumped on the Cubs. He also blew several leads as the primary set-up man. I could go on about how awful he and the rest of the bullpen was last year, but it’s Thanksgiving—time to focus on positive forces in our lives and think about what we’re thankful for. Here are three parts of last season that I was glad to witness during last year’s lost season:
- Hisashi Iwakuma’s no-hitter.
It seemed like every week last season Max Scherzer was one out away from a perfect game and it was fun to see Hisashi Iwakuma get in on the fun. Kuma threw the fourth no-hitter of the season on August 12th and gave fans a reason to forget a forgettable season for a game. He reminded us all that the Mariners do have a few good players, even a few beyond the obvious name-brands like Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Felix Hernandez. Kuma gave us the highlight of the year in one game. An interesting fact: the Mariners have thrown three no-hitters since 2012 and have only been no-hit once in that time span: a perfect game by Philip Humber, who is 16-23 with a 5.31 ERA in his career and hasn’t thrown a major league inning since 2013. Baseball is a weird game.
Jerry Dipoto seems committed to bringing Kuma back next year after the Japanese veteran declined the M’s qualifying offer. Iwakuma spent 11 seasons in the Japan Pacific League before moving across the ocean, posting a 3.25 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 6.9 K/9 while going 107-69. Solid stats to say the least; but since he signed with the Mariners in 2012, he’s been even better, going an astonishing 47-25 for a mostly losing club and posting a 3.17/1.08/7.6 pitcher’s slash (I just made that up). I’m not sure he ends up re-signing with the club, however, and if he does, I’m not sure he can stay healthy long enough to be a difference-maker. He has been excellent when he’s been healthy, but he hasn’t recorded over 200 innings in a season since 2013. I’m as sick of hearing about how Japanese pitchers can’t hold up for an entire Major League season as you are, but he’s entering his age-36 season and he’s no longer the 22-year-old kid who threw 11 complete games for the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes in 2003.
- All of Nelson Cruz’s 44 home runs.
I lumped all of Cruz’s 44 home runs into one point to remind you how you hated on Cruz when he signed with the M’s last offseason. To be fair, I thought he would be yet another free agent disappointment just like everyone else. I optimistically pegged Cruz for 25 home runs last year and he quickly shattered that pace in the first week of the season. He led the team in home runs, batting average (a career full-season high of .302), total bases, and on-base percentage. In short, he was a monster from wire to wire. The fact that he remains under contract until 2018 brings hope to the Mariners’ community, or at least it should. Cruz will enter his age-36 season next year, but there’s no reason to expect anything less than 30 homers this year from the slugger. Hopefully Dipoto will find enough outfielders to keep him out of right field.*
While many of McClendon’s in-game tactics were questionable at times last year, like his insistence on bringing Rodney in to blow leads, he handled a flawed roster well and kept the team from completely disintegrating last year. At mid-season, it was clear the Mariners wouldn’t be in contention, yet McClendon always seemed to get effort out of all of his players. Robinson Cano, who most analysts had given up for dead after slashing a miserable .251/.290/.370 in the first half, responded to McClendon and his coaching staff and slashed .331/.387/.540 after the All-Star Break. Maybe it’s all a coincidence (or a spike in BABIP from .290 to .348 in the second half), but if McClendon can coax veterans like Cano and Cruz to produce down the stretch of a lost season, he deserves at least some credit. McClendon’s firing was not surprising, considering his team fell far short of expectations and a new regime took over the front office, but his no-nonsense attitude and his passion for his players will not be forgotten. After two seasons, McClendon leaves with the second-highest winning percentage as a manager in Mariners club history behind Lou Piniella. Good luck with the Mud Hens, Lloyd!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and here’s to next season—may it bring many more reasons to be thankful.
*Cruz hits much better when he starts in right field than as the Designated Hitter. He posted a 196 wRC+ (weighted Runs Created plus, for the non-baseball nerds out there. You’re all probably baseball nerds but sometimes my mom reads my posts.) as an outfielder and a 116 wRC+ as the DH. He’s not the only one who hits better after he walks into the dugout after a half-inning in the field, which creates questions about how the M’s should use him going forward. If I were running the team, I would call him at his house in the Dominican Republic right now and have a conversation (through a translator) about him being the full-time DH. Let him prepare mentally for that situation now and let Edgar Martinez, the greatest Designated Hitter of all time, teach him how to fight boredom in the dugout when his team is in the field.
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Mark Trumbo is a hard player to value. He’s neither very good nor very bad. He’s not expensive but he’s not cheap. He’s not ideal, but he’s not your last choice option, either.
You’d hope that Team Zduriencik is the last to attempt to play Trumbo in the outfield. His defensive metrics are decent at first base (according to Fangraphs), and he’s an obvious DH candidate.
For the Mariners, we’ve got a good DH. That leaves first base as Trumbo’s only option. But because Jerry Dipoto is loading up on plus-defenders who have “light” offensive bats, it’s rational that he’d like his first baseman to offer more offense than Trumbo. Particularly with OBP. (Trumbo is a career .300 OBP guy.)
In a Zduriencikian worldview*, Trumbo makes sense in this Mariners lineup. His right-handed power bat seems to fit nicely behind the Robinson Cano / Nelson Cruz / Kyle Seager as the heart of the order. But this is where Zduriencik always went wrong, by viewing offense obnoxiously in terms of home runs.
Is there a better way to determine a player’s offensive value? Of course. Fangraphs has a nifty stat called “wOBA“. It stands for weighted-on-base-average. The objective is to compile all offensive stats—including park factor— and give us one number to compare all players. For a guy like Trumbo, his low OBP bites into his high SLG. This leaves him with a 2015 wOBA of .319, which is almost exactly identified as “average”. (Fangraphs says a .320 wOBA is “average”.)
So, Mark Trumbo will be paid $9 million dollars to play acceptable defense at first base, with a completely “average” bat. While that’s not the worst scenario—we’ve seen some terrible first basemen in Seattle— it’s also nothing to hold onto. Especially at $9 million bucks.
This morning, one completely predictable rumor dropped:
If Dipoto moves Trumbo, it becomes an interesting question as to who will play first base. I’m of the opinion that Cano should be moved there now, but it’s still early in his contract, and while his defense was poor last year, he was playing injured and probably deserves another chance at 2B.
I won’t try to answer the first base question. However, I’m curious as to whom might be interested in Trumbo. I compiled 5 teams, including some ideas for returns.
5) The Pirates
The Pirates have their own Justin Smoak in Pedro Alvarez. While Alvarez actually crushes the ball past the warning track, he strikes out a ton and plays terrible defense. Trumbo would be an addition by subtraction, while also keeping a power threat in the Pirates lineup.
As for trade pieces, the M’s need bullpen help and could use a good closer. Mark Melancon is known to be on the trade block. It wouldn’t be a one-for-one deal, as the M’s would need to give more. But it’s a possibility, especially with a crowded market of closers.
4) The Orioles
Mark Trumbo in the AL East would be interesting. 4 of 5 ballparks are hitter friendly, including Baltimore, which gives you 110 games a year in bandboxes. With the Orioles likely to lose Chris Davis, Trumbo could be a decent supplement for their lineup. I don’t know much about the Orioles roster, however, so I won’t attempt to ponder a trade piece.
3) The Padres
It’s impossible to say what AJ Preller is doing down in San Diego. Is he rebuilding? Is he going for it? We saw him load up on right-handed power bats last year, which seemed like an odd ploy to have an arsenal of trade chips, of whom he could then swap for prospects he wanted. (I.e. the Kimbrel trade.) Maybe Preller takes Trumbo with the hope to flip him in July to a contender? Or just, ya know, home runs for the ticket sales?
2) The Astros
The ‘Stros love them high-strikeout/high-home-run hitters. They have a hole at first base and are rumored to like Chris Davis. But if that doesn’t happen, maybe they like Trumbo, who’d be a defensive upgrade over Chris Carter (although not much of an offensive upgrade). Houston has plenty of tradeable young talents in their farm, and the M’s might target a starting pitching depth piece who has an option or two left.
1) The Rockies
I won’t claim to know what the Rockies roster plans are. But if there’s a candidate to go to Coors Field and put on a show, Mark Trumbo is the guy. In a small sample size, he’s hit 8 homers in 52 plate appearances in Denver. That equals a fat .911 SLG percentage.
Indeed, when Trumbo hits free agency in 2017, I’d assume he lands in either Colorado or the AL East. Just as otherwise average pitchers like Chris Young excel in big ballparks, Mark Trumbo is an average hitter with power upside who will benefit from small ballparks (or high altitude). Imagine Mark Trumbo blasting 50 bombs into the Rocky Mountain skyline. That’s worth $9 million.
And sorry, I don’t have any trade targets for the Rockies. But if they have some starting pitchers with flyball tendencies, sounds like a no-brainer trade.
Now let’s all chant together: “Dingers! Dingers!”
(* I hereby claim credit to the term “Zduriencikian worldview”. Use it at will. You’re welcome.)
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The first free agent signing of Jerry Dipoto‘s new regime in Seattle seemed to be the most obvious one:
The details of the contract have yet to be released, but we do know (again via Dutton) that catcher John Hicks has been designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
Chris Iannetta is coming off a rough year with the Angels where he hit just .188 in 317 plate appearances. He’s obviously not a sexy option, but he does provide a veteran presence and a 5.4 defensive WAR behind the plate.
There’s even reason to believe his bat may bounce back. 2015 was the first season Iannetta produced a wRC+ below the league average of 100. This can largely be attributed to his .225 BABIP, third worst in the league among players with at least 300 plate appearances. His walk rate still sat at an impressive 12.9%, and his ISO remained solid at .147, so it seems like luck was not on his side. Over his career, he has a .351 on-base percentage and a 104 wRC+
One theory is that Dipoto acquired Iannetta as the right handed member of a platoon behind the plate. The obvious match would be current free agent backstop Alex Avila. Iannetta has a career wRC+ of 116 against lefties. Avila posts a career wRC+ against righties of, wait for it, 116. Avila also brings with him leadership and a solid glove, so it seems to be a perfect match. However, injury concerns make the pairing unlikely, and Dipoto also said in his press conference that Iannetta would be the primary catcher.
Regardless of future intentions, this move fills the biggest hole left on the 2016 Seattle Mariners. Last year, Mariner catchers hit .160/.208/.259 with a 28 wRC+ with a strikeout rate close to 30%. This move also basically ensures that Mike Zunino will begin the year in Tacoma, giving him a chance to prove he belongs on the Major League roster.
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We live in an era of “click-bait”, where websites generate ad revenue by how much traffic they get. Hence, many lousy outfits publish bogus stories to get clicks.
The NYDN sucks. Their newspapers have always sought attention and cared little for dignity. The writing is bad. The stories are tabloid. The covers are designed to shock.
And then there’s that general disdain for Robinson Cano (in New York). Because Yankees fans just don’t know how to act when a player chooses to leave their team.
I won’t link to the article that’s making the rounds, because I don’t want to give them any extra clicks. But the thread of controversy is that Cano *reportedly* told a friend he wasn’t happy in Seattle, or with the new front office, and wanted to come back to the Yankees.
I won’t accuse the author of this story for outright lying. But here’s the thing— what is written is actually a clever use of semantics. The author very slyly suggests that Cano said certain things. But what the actual statement says is merely the opinion of someone who talked to Cano.
Here’s the actual quote:
“One long-time friend who spoke to [Cano] recently says the second baseman is not happy in Seattle, especially with a new regime in charge there now, and that he’d love to somehow find his way back to New York.”
Combine two things: 1) Person recently spoke to Cano, and 2) that person’s opinion is that Cano is unhappy… Very quickly that sentence has the appearance of ‘Cano recently says he’s unhappy’.
Also, this “long-time friend” isn’t specified as being Cano’s friend. Very likely, this author is quoting his own friend who simply said “Hi” to Cano at some charity event.
Nice work, you shitty newspaper. You wanted “clicks”, and you got them. The baseball industry has been trolled. Must be a soul-satisfying way to make money.
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Obviously, this is a smaller trade. Neither player is a household name. But what’s interesting is that Ramon Flores profiles as the type of player Jerry Dipoto would target: Flores projects as a fairly good defensive outfielder with decent on-base skills. At 23 years old, Flores is under team control until 2022.
However, there’s a couple problems concerning Flores. First, he broke his leg last August. Second, he’s out of options. That means Flores must make the 25-man roster for Opening Day (or immediately when he’s healthy and rehabbed). Otherwise, if you want him in AAA Tacoma, he’d have to pass through waivers. Unfortunately, for a player with a skillset like Flores, he’d most certainly be claimed by another team.
So, Flores was a choice: Either you commit to him on your 25-man roster, trade him now, or lose him next April to waivers. Dipoto made a safe bet in trading him. Indeed, Ramon Flores might become a decent big leaguer down the road. But for the Mariners, the 2016 season was an obstacle with Flores they chose not to get caught up in.
[With the Brewers—a non-contending/rebuilding team—Flores will get playing time, and if he impresses, he’ll probably get traded again.]
Who Is Luis Sardinas?
Luis Sardinas is an intriguing acquisition. He was drafted by the Rangers in 2009, while Scott Servais was the senior director of player development for Texas. He made a few Top Prospect lists in the following years, thanks to his plus-defense and impressive offense in the lower minor leagues. But by 2014, Sardinas was being shuffled between AA, AAA, and the MLB. His offense slipped while entering the AA level, but that didn’t stop the Rangers and Brewers from playing him at AAA and MLB.
Now, Sardinas will never possess an above-average bat. But with his plus-defense at all infield positions, he needs only to produce a .320-ish OBP to be an asset to any major league club.
By trading for Sardinas, you can assume that Dipoto (and gang) think they can develop this young 22 year old to that level.
The scouting report on Sardinas lists him at 60 Field/60 Speed/60 Throw. All three of those are a notch above the scouting report of Chris Taylor. (Taylor has a better hit tool.) Sardinas is a switch-hitter, which is a bonus in this era of platoon pitching matchups.
If there’s a promising stat line for Sardinas’ offense, it’s his contact rate. In the minors, he’s never gone above a 15% K rate. And in his 225 MLB plate appearances, he showed an 81% contact rate, which is 4 points better than the league average.
(For comparison, Chris Taylor had a 71% contact rate in 250 MLB PA’s, and a ~20% K rate throughout the minors.)
Sardinas has never walked much, but as Alcides Escobar has proven, a low-walk/low-strikeout “light bat” can be effective. Not that Sardinas is projected to be on Escobar’s level, but for a utility guy, there’s plenty to like about Sardinas’ potential.
If this trade was made by Zduriencik, you might be wise to shrug. But with Dipoto’s emphasis on player development, it will be interesting to see if they can develop Sardinas to a league-average bat. At the very least, the idea of bringing in a 22 year old utility player is a stark contrast from, ahem, the 36 year old Willie Bloomquist of the recent past.
Considering Sardinas cost the M’s next to nothing—if you figure Flores was gonna get claimed off waivers—then it’s another appealing acquisition.
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Jerry Dipoto has been busy working the trade wire to solve the Mariners’ many issues so far this young offseason. Dipoto’s deals have brought M’s fans Joaquin Benoit, Nate Karns, Leonys Martin, and Boog Powell, among others. I expect the consistent veteran reliever Benoit to take over as the team’s closer next year. Karns provides quality depth to the back-end of the starting rotation, Martin forgot how to hit last year but provides a quality outfield glove with offensive upside due to his speed, and Powell is a patient minor league hitter with a cool name. There is certainly reason for optimism so far after Dipoto’s trades, which sent fan-favorites Logan Morrison, Brad Miller, and Tom Wilhelmsen packing. However, the team hasn’t been improved enough to expect the M’s to enter the Wild Card lottery next year, let alone contend for a division title. They’re still desperate for anyone who can track fly balls in spacious Safeco Field, draw a few walks, and take the bat away from Mike Zunino. To solve a few of the Mariners’ problems, I looked around the free agent market.
This year’s crop features excellent starting pitcher talent, with David Price, Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke, and Jordan Zimmermann all looking for new contracts. I would of course love to see the Mariners spend to acquire Greinke or Price to pair with Felix Hernandez, but after signing big free agents Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz the previous two offseasons, they’re unlikely to add another mega-contract. Still, I’ve identified ten players I’d love to see in Mariners uniforms this spring and organized them into three groups: Realistic free agents they need to win now, nifty free agents who could make them contenders, and free agents to dream about. Let’s start with some essentials:
Free Agents the Mariners Need
These three players aren’t flashy, but they add depth and skills the Mariners desperately need to climb back into the thick of the AL West race next year. Let’s start with the obvious:
The Mariners have been expected to sign the former Angels catcher for some time now and with good reason. Iannetta had good offensive numbers in 2013 and 2014 before slumping dramatically in 2015, when he slashed .188/.293/.335. That miserable slash line looks like an outlier. His BABIP fell over 100 points between 2014 and 2015, from a fortunate .329 to an unlucky .225. Even if some of the offensive drop-off is due to his age—he turns 33 on April 8th of next year—he has been too effective in recent years to hit below .200 again in 2016. I expect him to hit around .240 in 2016, but with his batting eye and patience at the plate, his OBP should be at least 100 points higher. Combined with excellent pitch-framing skills and an above-average throwing arm, Iannetta should be a useful player for the Mariners. The primary reason the M’s need Iannetta, of course, is to take as many plate appearances away from Mike Zunino as possible. For all the uncharacteristic struggles that Iannetta had at the plate last season, Zunino was worse. I won’t post his putrid slash line from 2015, but trust me; I sat through about two-thirds of Zunino’s 386 plate appearances last year. The less this man hits for the Mariners, the better. Iannetta took almost as many walks last year (41) as Zunino has taken in his entire career (54). With Iannetta and Zunino, the Mariners could platoon the two catchers, maybe help poor Mike find some confidence at the plate, and create the best defensive catcher contingent in the Major Leagues.
The former Rocky, Cub, and Astro played his first full Major League season last year, appearing in 156 games and compiling 690 plate appearances. The main concern with Fowler is his injury history, and entering his age-30 season in 2016, those concerns are not misplaced. However, throughout his career, Fowler has shown excellent patience at the plate and produced decent power/speed numbers. In 2015 he set a career-high for home runs with 17 and stole 20 bases, the most bags he’s swiped since 2009, his rookie year. He has a career .363 OBP and posted a serviceable 107 OPS+ last season. He has played an average center field his entire career, and last year improved his defensive metrics, producing 5 total zone fielding runs above average, according to Baseball Reference. If the M’s staff can convince or bribe him to take left or right field, the Mariners get a decent outfielder with a reasonable approach at the plate—just the kind of player they desperately need. Also, he has an impossibly cute family.
Joyce is another former Angel coming off of a miserable season at the plate. In only 284 plate appearances last season, he hit .174/.272/.291. He’ll turn 31 late in the 2016 season, but he has always possessed a keen eye and is only two years removed from an 18 homer, 7 steal season with the Tampa Bay Rays. His average was terrible last year, but his OBP was 98 points higher—even in his worst season as an MLB player, he was able to lay off pitches in the dirt and over his head more frequently than anyone in the M’s lineup not named Robinson Cano. Because of his down year at the plate, Joyce will likely be available as a low-risk, low-cost outfield option for the Mariners. He’s an average outfielder, spending most of his time in right or center field, but he’s an upgrade over the likes of the recently departed Brad Miller and the lumbering Mark Trumbo.
Impact Free Agents for a Postseason Run
Coming off winning the World Series with the Royals, Alex Gordon appears to have settled in as a good run producer and top-notch defender in the outfield. The three-time Gold Glove winner was a less effective defender last year in limited action due to injuries, but he’s only one year removed from his 27 total zone fielding runs above average season in left field in 2014. He has consistently delivered around 15 to 20 home runs per season since 2011, and has chipped in double-digit steal totals four of the past five seasons. In 422 plate appearances last year, Gordon posted an OPS+ of 120, the second-highest mark of his career, behind only his 2012 season in which he led the league in doubles with 51. Imagine the gaps his line-drives could find in Safeco Field.
Are you seeing a pattern here? Zobrist has long been celebrated for his patient approach at the plate and his ability to play every position but catcher and pitcher. His versatility makes him an asset for any manager, even entering his age-35 season. What’s especially impressive about Zobrist is his K/BB ratio last season for Oakland and Kansas City: 56/62. He walked more than he struck out. While his speed numbers are diminishing with age, he slugged .450 last year and posted an OPS of .809. Not bad for someone who can competently hold down a corner outfield spot and most infield positions. His ability to make contact and avoid striking out will greatly help a lineup that was fourth in the league in strikeouts and 14th in walks last year.
The Mariners will need to upgrade their bullpen if they want to get to the postseason and last beyond the endlessly frustrating wild card game. Dipoto has already acquired Benoit to bolster a pen that faltered badly last year after an excellent 2014. Madson is a 35-year-old veteran with 43.1 postseason innings under his belt. He doesn’t average a strikeout per inning anymore but he posted the best WHIP (0.96) of his career with the Royals last year (why not just steal the entire Royals roster?). With Carson Smith, Madson, and Benoit at the back end of the bullpen, the Mariners could shut down games in the sixth or seventh inning like the Royals did all of last season and deep into the playoffs.
Kazmir’s 73.1 innings for the Astros last year weren’t much to write home about. Even the Mariners hit him around down the stretch. However, when was making half of his starts in the worst-smelling ballpark in the major leagues, Kazmir posted a 2.38 ERA and almost a strikeout per inning. Even taking away the ridiculous foul territory of the lovely Oakland Coliseum, Kazmir had an FIP of 3.16. He ranked 20th in the league last year in fly ball percentage, and with a collection of ball-hawking outfielders roaming Safeco Field behind him, most of those fly balls won’t fall in.
Pipe-Dream Free Agents
These free agents aren’t likely to end up in Seattle, but a guy can dream, right?
Even casual Cardinals fans know what the J-Hey kid can do in center field with his legs and glove. The guy just catches everything. His zone statistics actually fell a bit last season from 2014, but he still won his third Gold Glove and was worth 24 more runs than the average center fielder in 2015, according to Baseball Reference. He also threw out 10 baserunners from center field. He also quietly had his best offensive season since 2012 last year, knocking a career-high 33 doubles, 13 home runs, and swiping a career-high 23 bases while slashing .293/.359/.439. What makes me drool over Heyward is his potential. He’s only 26 and his peak years may still be ahead of him.
Crush is a free-swinger who would have made Jack Zdurencik’s waddle tickle. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of Davis leading my fantasy baseball team, Buhner Buzz Cut, to a championship in 2013 that makes me yearn to see him reunited with Nelson Cruz to form once again the most fearsome power-hitting duo in the American League. He led the league in strikeouts and home runs last year with 208 and 47. Davis also walked 84 times in 2015 and posted an OPS of .923. His career slugging percentage in eight seasons is .506. Most importantly, Davis has been consistently fun to watch in three of his last four seasons with Baltimore.
Picture this for a moment: Cespedes, coming off a 35-home run season with the Tigers and Mets in which he led New York to a National League pennant, signs with the Mariners. In the wild card play-in game next season, he completely misplays a ball in right field off the bat of the A’s Josh Reddick. Reddick thinks he can race home for the game-tying, inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the ninth. He’s halfway down the third base line when Cespedes fights off Leonys Martin and finds the ball. He fires a throw from the right field wall to NAIL Reddick at the plate. The Mariners win and streak through the playoffs for their first World Series title. That doesn’t convince you Cespedes would be great in Mariner green? How about this?
*Thank you to Nathan Bishop for your excellent article on Iannetta at Lookout Landing and the use of your catching statistics link.
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