The Jack Z rebuilding plan has reached year six, bearing very little fruit in terms of regular season success. However, the team has built a nice, young infield core, a shaky, but high-upside rotation, and a pen filled with fireballers and some huge K rates. The farm system is largely emptied, but a quick look at Fangraphs Top 10 Mariners Prospects shows the strengths of our system still lie in young pitching (Tyler Pike, Luis Gohara, Edwin Diaz, Danny Hultzen, Victor Sanchez) and infield (DJ Peterson, Chris Taylor), while only one outfielder sneaks onto the list. Both our major league team and farm system are notable for a lack of outfield talent. How did we achieve this abject lack of outfielders despite being well stocked in young talent elsewhere?
Upon taking over, Jack Zduriencik and Tom McNamara focused heavily on the draft, largely moving away from the international market the Mariners leaned on in the mid-2000's under Bob Engel. The drafts have produced a solid infield core (with depth to spare!) and high-upside arms throughout the rotation. Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, Kyle Seager, and Mike Zunino all figure to be key contributors in 2014. The only potential outfielder acquired via draft is Dustin Ackley, a converted infielder. The Mariners drafting strategy the first 4 years under GMZ showed a systematic avoidance of outfielders. The following is a breakdown of the Mariners picks from the first ten rounds, spanning the years 2009-2012:
Three outfielders in four years! Over those four years, roughly 17.6% of picks taken were outfielders. The Mariners used 6.8% of their high round picks on outfielders. About 11% of draftees in Rounds 10-20 even make the majors, and the odds only decline from there, so we can expect the first 10 rounds to roughly approximate the potential major league talent pool from the draft. In four years of drafting, here's what the M's had to show for outfielders:
James Jones (4th round, 2009)
Jabari Blash (8th round, 2010)
James Zamarripa (6th round, 2011)
All three were drafted very raw, and all could still make an impact down the line. It's also worth noting that in 2013, the Mariners took Austin Wilson, Tyler O'Neill, and Corey Simpson in the first ten rounds. Whether this represented a shift in philosophy remains to be seen. Teams generally shouldn't draft for need, but the lack of balance they achieved in 2009-2013 is interesting.
International Free Agency
So, the M's haven't acquired much amateur OF talent via the draft. As stated above, the Jack Z era has become a lot less focused on the IFA market, but many of their notable signings have been outfielders. Gabriel Guerrero, Greifer Andrade, Guillermo Pimentel and Phillips Castillo have all received some of the largest bonuses the Mariners have handed out. Again, as teenagers, all are not expected to contribute for some time. While the front office seems to focus on near-major league ready infielders, they have acquired outfield projects with high ceilings in both the draft and international market. Which is a fine philosophy, but you have to fill out your major league roster somehow. How about...
List of free agents that the Mariners have trotted out into the outfield in 2009-2013:
Ken Griffey Jr (1 year, $2M)
Eric Byrnes (1 year, minimum salary)
Jason Bay (1 year, $1M)
Endy Chavez (Minor league deal)
Raul Ibanez (1 year, $2.75M)
Not included are the death throes of Chone Figgins, since he was signed to be an infielder and was only forced into the outfield later on. The Mariners have invested very little on the outfield free agent market, and received very little production in return.
The Mariners two largest free agency signings have been infielders (Figgins and Robinson Cano).
Here we go. The Mariners have acquired Franklin Gutierrez, Casper Wells, Mike Carp, Ryan Langerhans, Abraham Almonte, and Eric Thames via trade. Those comprise six of the top 10 outfielders by fWAR in the Zduriencik era. Only two of those have even been worth 1 fWAR, unfortunately. Add Milton Bradley, Bill Hall and Trayvon Robinson to the list as well, though none contributed much.
Despite the frequency for trading for outfielders, t's not entirely fair to say that Jack Zduriencik has dedicated a whole lot of resources to these trades. Almonte, Thames, Hall and Langerhans were acquired for spare parts. Bradley was a salary dump. Casper Wells, Mike Carp, and Franklin Gutierrez were all acquired for legitimate pieces, though only Franklin Gutierrez was the centerpiece.
Hastily Shoving Players of Other Positions Into Miscast Roles
It's easy to see why the Mariners focused little on the outfield in the first few years of the new regime. In 2009, the outfield put up 12.0 fWAR, largely on the strength of presumable long-term contributors Guti and Ichiro. There were a few promising holdover prospects from the Bavasi reign in Michael Saunders and Greg Halman. Unfortunately, in the four years since then, the outfield has put up a total of 7.9 fWAR. The Mariners outfield over the last four years has been ~75% of a single Mike Trout season.
If DTFT hadn't been done in by endless injuries, or Ichiro didn't rapidly decline, the outfield situation could look a lot better. However, the front office has done very little in the way of investing in present or future outfield talent, and now we're banking on some combination of raw, far away prospects to rejuvenate our outfield depth. By neglecting to pour resources into the outfield, the Mariners may doom their ultimately promising core.