Hello, all. As you're no doubt aware, it's become a tradition on pretty much every other Mariners blog out there to post an offseason plan before the offseason begins naming players that the author would like to see added to the team. Dave Cameron's plans are particularly well known around the Seattle Sports Blogosphere, and this year he's got another quite interesting one that you should go check out. Still, I (like many of the rest of you) have some ideas of my own that I'd like to get out there. So I asked Jeff, and he gave the go-ahead for me to post my own offseason plan here in the FanPosts on the grounds that, with little other actual Mariner-specific news coming out, it might be good to consolidate roster speculation into one location.
So here's my 2013 Mariners Offseason Plan, a summary of what I think Jack Z's goals for next season should be. If you have your own critiques, suggestions, or even full-blown plans, please leave them down in the comments below. Off we go!
Extend SP Felix Hernandez to an additional 5 years, $100 million contract.
Re-sign SP Hisashi Iwakuma to a 2-year, $12 million contract. (Done, 11/2/2012)
Re-sign SP Jason Vargas to a 2-year, $12 million contract.
Release IF Chone Figgins. (Done, 11/20/12)
Build The Pile.
Sign OF Melky Cabrera to a 1 year, $7 million contract with incentives for performance up to $12 million. (Signed by Blue Jays, 11/16/12)
Sign SP Edwin Jackson to a 4 year, $40 million contract.
Send cash to Philadelphia for C Erik Kratz.
In the style of Dave, because I'm not very original, behold!
The challenge that Jack Z faces this offseason is getting the Mariners as close to the playoffs as possible without trading off the ability to win in the future. They're not quite a playoff team yet, but the fans aren't terribly thrilled with the on-field product of recent years and pressure to win now is growing. On the other hand, Jack can't afford to blow out the farm for short-term dividends on aging players, and he'll have a hard time attracting free agents without overpaying. It's not an easy problem to solve.
The main difference between my offseason plan and Dave's is that I am more optimistic than him. Whether that's just me being somewhat naive and chipper like my usual self or Dave being somewhat downcast and pessimistic like his usual self, I think the Mariners have a better talent base than Dave thinks they do. I think this in part because post-break (that's not just an arbitrary dividing line, it marks the point at which Hector Noesi stopped starting, Justin Smoak was demoted, and Chone Figgins and Miguel Olivo stopped playing pretty much altogether) the Mariners played above .500 against opponents with a collective record above .500. While run differential and winning percentage say they got lucky, by my estimation just the addition by subtraction from the 2012 roster plus the addition of the Astros to the division should have the Mariners as a roughly .500 team without any changes. This means they're about 10 wins of talent from being a very real playoff threat. I'm also optimistic about the talent base because of Jack Z's unbelievably good drafting record and the promising rise of several mid-level prospects.
As such, I feel that the Mariners should be free to rearrange some talent from their farm to their major league roster, provided that the major league talent sticks around at least for a little while. The moves suggested here aim to improve the team's overall talent level and make the Mariners into a legitimate 2013 contender while retaining much of the talent in the farm system and not destroying the team for 2016-18.
Let's start with the in-house moves, just to get them out of the way.
Extending Felix is an obvious one that most of the baseball world seems to expect this offseason. With Felix's expressed desire to remain in Seattle and contend with the Mariners and the Mariners' desire to keep their fan favorite ace who they have a special promotion designed around and who just threw a perfect game, there's no reason for the Mariners not to extend Felix now. While 5/100 is less than Felix would make on the free agent market, the two-year window between now and his current contract's expiration date makes it a pretty good bet for him to take that deal just in case of injury. It would be among the largest contract extensions ever handed out to a pitcher, but Felix is worth it.
Jason Vargas is in a rather poor negotiating position, seeing as he's only ever really pitched in a park that everyone knows is basically designed to suit his pitching style. He can't get much on the free agent market, and his agent has to know that. However, he's almost certainly not worth what he's going to land in arbitration. As such, the Mariners should offer him an extra year at the cost of less annual value. Still, Vargas might want to keep his bags packed--barring an injury or an implosion by another member of the five-man rotation, he may be trade bait as soon as the Mariners have a prospect ready.
Hisashi Iwakuma is a guy that it only makes sense to keep. He's expressed interest in returning to the Mariners and he was quite effective as a #3 starter for Seattle in the back half of the season. He's not in for a big payday on the open market considering his struggles in relief in the early part of the season, so he might as well stick with a team that he's familiar with and build up some free agent value on a shorter contract.
Chone Figgins' time has come.
Now, for the out-of-house moves. Remember that these suggestions are only loosely tied to the names of actual players and are more closely related to player archetypes. What trades there are aim to bolster the Mariners' major-league roster without giving away their chances at long-term competition or gutting the farm system.
First off, the big move, and probably the one that I'm going to take the most flak for suggesting: Paxton and Franklin for Gordon. I swear to God I thought of this one before I found out the Royals were scouting Paxton, which is why I got a little bit excited when I found out.
The Mariners are extremely weak in-house at the corner outfield positions: Casper Wells seems like a fourth outfielder, Michael Saunders may not have the bat to play corner outfield rather than center field, and Mike Carp is bad at playing outfield defense without hurting himself. Thames, Robinson, and Peguero are increasingly sketchy as major league players and the rest of the farm system is barren. The Mariners desperately need corner outfield help. Gordon is more or less the best corner outfielder in the American League. Problem solved, then.
Now, Gordon is an incredibly valuable asset--more valuable than Felix is right now, actually. And I know that we hate it when fans of other teams make trade propositions for Felix. But the Royals are in a pretty similar situation to the 2011 Mariners (loaded on one side of the ball, less loaded on the other, ~70 wins), and for all that we hate the idea of trading Felix, the reason it keeps coming up is because it isn't totally irrational. As for the return to KC, Franklin + Paxton + Sanchez is a massive haul. For reference, when Billy Beane traded Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks (Haren produced 6 WAR over the next three years at under $10M/year, pretty much equivalent value to Gordon) he managed to net Brett Anderson, Carlos Gonzales and some fluff. That trade is considered a pretty good one for Beane, and the package I've suggested giving up for Gordon is better. Would I take Paxton + Franklin + Sanchez for Felix? I love Felix, but he's only around for two more years...
The trade suggestion is by no means set in stone. If you like, go bigger and give Hultzen instead of Paxton. Or go smaller, with Miller instead of Franklin. Or mix and match! But the point is: the Mariners have a bevy of starting pitching prospects and a bevy of middle infield prospects. I think they should peel from the piles to net the return they need. The return they need isn't necessarily Alex Gordon; there were actually a whole bunch of other names I considered before settling on him as the top choice. The important thing is that the Mariners need a guy who can play both corner outfield and corner infield to allow themselves a little flexibility with their existing guys, and he needs to be able to hit really well. There are several of these guys around. Allen Craig is a great target, except he has injury problems. Corey Hart would be a nice get, except it's his contract year. Brandon Belt could do pretty well, except for the power concerns. As we go further down this list the return I'd be willing to send back gets smaller and smaller.
If you can't get a guy with positional flexibility... well, that hurts. The idea is that you don't want to have to call your shot on your prospects yet. If you get a dedicated 1B, you'd better hope Wells pans out. If you get a dedicated RF, you'd better hope Smoak or Carp does. But if you get a guy with some flexibility, you have an insurance policy. Still, if none of the flexible guys are available, there's no reason to avoid Justin Upton / Wil Myers type bats.
OK, but why not just sign the new guy in free agency? Why trade for him? Well, because we're spending our money elsewhere. On to the second part of the plan: signing Edwin Jackson.
Again, it doesn't have to be Jackson. But the one hole on the Mariners, the one spot that I don't think the M's have any player that can produce as much as 1 WAR at, is starting pitcher. Blake Beavan is a replacement level player, and while there's some value in that, there's not a lot. Adding a 3.5 WAR pitcher to the team is probably the same upgrade as adding a 5 WAR left fielder or first baseman, and the latter are much more difficult to come by in this market. Edwin Jackson represents a huge rotation upgrade. And while that rotation does seem pretty set in stone, with every member locked up through 2014, Vargas is by no means an asset that can't or shouldn't be traded.
There are alternatives, of course, though they may dry up fast. Anibal Sanchez and Zack Greinke are higher-end options than Jackson, if the Mariners feel like spending money. Kyle Lohse and Hiroki Kuroda may be available. Dan Haren and Brandon McCarthy are risks that might pay off very handsomely. But if the Mariners are to make a splash on the free agent market, I'd rather it be for pitching than for hitting, and this dictates both the Jackson signing and the Greinke trade.
The Melky Cabrera signing is just plain a good idea, a flyer worth taking. (Edit 11/16/12: So good, in fact, that the Blue Jays took it.) Dave argued it the same way I would, and rather than retyping his words and claiming it's my idea I'll just paste in a quote:
Even if we throw out his 2012 season as tainted and assume that none of his production this year was legitimate improvement at the age of 27, his career wRC+ before this year was 93, and he flashed the exact same high contact/gap power skillset that made him so productive for the Giants this year and the Royals last year. A guy who can be roughly a league average hitter in his early-20s will usually turn into an above average hitter in his late-20s, and a clean Cabrera can still be a productive offensive player. No, you don’t expect him to do anything like what he did for San Francisco this year, but he hit .305/.339/.470 for Kansas City last year and passed every drug test he took while doing it. Offensively, his skillset is pretty similar to Kyle Seager's, only he’s also a switch-hitter and a pretty decent baserunner who can handle both OF corners.
Now, for the other trade. Here's the problem: even with all the work put in above, trading for Alex Gordon and signing Melky Cabrera, the Mariners still have a corner outfield problem. Melky can't be expected to stick around past 2013, and our corner outfield prospects still blow like a guy trying to play bagpipes made out of fishnets. The Mariners need to acquire another player who still has some prospect-y goodness and the ability to play a corner outfield position.
Logan Morrison is a quite good buy-low candidate. He's left-handed (well suited to Safeco), he's got a history of conflict with the upper management of his current organization, and he's coming off a bad season with a low BABIP and an ISO drop that correlates with a knee injury. He may not be an answer in the corner outfield, but he's a lottery ticket that could turn into the answer, and probably a vast improvement over the rest of the corner outfielders the Mariners have in the system. The only concern is that he might need to change the name of his Twitter account. Again, LoMo is not the only option. There are a plethora of other corner outfield prospects out there.
The trade also fills another hole. The Mariners need a utility infielder in case Dustin Ackley can't cut it with the stick (again) or Brendan Ryan gets hurt. There aren't, to be honest, very many desirable utility infielders out there who aren't overvalued by their franchises. Mike Aviles is a good one, except he just got traded to Toronto and they'd probably like to keep him. (Edit 11/3/12: Evidently not; he just went to Cleveland.) Dave's plan mentioned Sean Rodriguez, which isn't a bad suggestion. Maicer Izturis and Edgar Renteria are decent free agent options. (Edit 11/9/12: Izturis signed by Blue Jays.) I settled on Solano, though, because he was in the same franchise as Morrison and because he's very young and cost-controlled while not really being a prospect.
On the other end of the deal goes a guy that we will be sorry to see go, Death to Flying Things himself. I'm sorry to say it, but I'm not sure there's a place for Guti in Seattle next year. His injury problems, freaky or not, make him too unreliable to be trusted, and Michael Saunders wants his job. I'm not sure his defense will continue at such a high level, either, given that he had plantar fasciitis, which ought to slow him down, and that he's just plain aging. I'll be sorry to see him go, but I'm not sure where he fits on the roster. The Marlins have a center field problem, in that they need their only center fielder who isn't Justin Ruggiano (that is to say, unlikely to continue succeeding) to play the infield (Edit 11/20/12: now they have even more of a CF problem, because they traded Bonifacio), and have a better use for him than the Mariners do. Liddi, too, probably has to wave goodbye as he rows his Venetian boat off into the sunset.
Dave's plan just forgot about him, but the guy's out of options and we really don't have room for him. (Edit 11/20/12: Lied about the options. No reason Liddi has to be moved, but I still think he's quite expendable and the Marlins need a 3B post-Hanley, so he'd still be included in this trade.) Honestly, it's Carp or Liddi for the role of 2013 bench bat, and Carp's the only one of the two who has ever demonstrated a major league eye. While Liddi's youth and ability to play third base are appealing, it's just not enough in my book. As for Kelley, he's just the odd man out in the ridiculously stuffed bullpen. The revolving door revolves on--Kinney is cheaper, not to mention better at getting strikeouts and especially ground balls. That's not to say Kelley isn't good; he is, just that Kinney is probably a little better. (Edit 11/20/12: In retrospect, Miami would almost certainly not accept this offer. I had no idea the extent to which Miami was in sell mode; they probably don't want Gutierrez as the main piece because it seems like they don't want major league talent right now. Acquiring him might take better prospects than I'd be willing to give up. Rethinking this one.)
Which brings us to the final move. Erik Kratz? Who the hell is Erik Kratz? Well, he's John Jaso's platoon partner, a guy who can bash RHPs and play an excellent defensive backstop who's still not too veteran-y to steal playing time from better players. Kratz used to receive raves from pitchers in the Toronto system for his receiving and game-calling, and is well known for excellent control of the running game. This year he got his first real shot in the big leagues, with the Phillies, at age 32, and hit left handed pitching for a 132 wRC+ while playing good defense. (Edit 11/16/12: Matthew's pitch framing data suggests he's awesome at that, too.) He'd be cheap, since he's a 32-year-old backup catcher. I could be convinced to part with some minor-league filler for the guy. Or for any other good defensive catcher who can hit left-handed pitching, really, I'm not fussy about that.
This plan has quality depth at every position. Wells can fill in for any of the outfielders. If Seager goes down, Gordon can play 3B and Wells gets LF. Ryan can be replaced by Solano, Ackley by Seager with Gordon moving to cover for Seager, Jaso by Montero and Kratz. And there are two insurance plans that aren't even on the roster: Justin Smoak and Eric Thames both start the year in AAA by this model, because Thames needs to work on his contact and I don't trust Smoak's September improvement to continue (though honestly, you could replace the minor LF acquisition with Smoak on the roster if you wanted to and leave LoMo or Belt or Blanks or whoever the heck it is in AAA until his power returns). The farm system is so loaded with bullpen arms it's kind of ridiculous, and of course Jack Z has The Pile to draw from. Even for starting pitching we've got Mitchell and Carraway in line before the Big Three. Depth is everywhere.
Overall, this kind of roster would likely cost $80-90 million, depending on what kind of incentives Melky or other players manage to reach. That's a payroll increase, but it's also a significant talent boost for the team that would lead to higher expectations and higher attendance. It makes the team a sure contender in 2013 (Jackson and Gordon alone are 8 WAR of upgrade), at least for a wild card slot if not for the division title, without butchering the team's chances at future success. Does taking advantage of the farm hurt the team down the road? Well, that depends on whether you think whichever of the Big Three we deal plus Franklin could combine to outproduce Gordon over the next three years, and whether you think that by then end of those three years alternatives like Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, Brandon Maurer, Brad Miller, and Joe DeCarlo will be able to do what the guys we're trading are doing. I trust Jack Z's drafting, on that front.
Is the plan a risk? Of course it's a risk. Crossing the street is a risk! If you think you can live without risk, you should probably go volunteer for a padded cell, because a) you're insane and b) that's like the safest place imaginable. You certainly shouldn't be a GM in professional baseball, because those guys are like god damn armchair BASE jumpers.
So this is my offseason plan. It's kind of audacious, and maybe a little too optimistic, but there you have it. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Leave questions/comments/insults below. Leave your own plans below! I'd love to read them.
A very merry offseason to you all.