Free agency isn't really that close to beginning, but the chatter about how to improve the Mariners, especially the offense, has already begun. Bob Dutton has a nice look at everything today with some comments from Lloyd McClendon, and the key focus is once again on a right-handed bat. There are a bunch of names mentioned, the headliner being Victor Martinez, who Lloyd McClendon used to tutor as Detroit's hitting coach (try to forget that V-Mart blew up the year McClendon stopped being his coach).
Since Victor Martinez is a wonderful target whom everyone would like but whom the Mariners will have a hard time landing, it seems prudent to pick a few free agent names out of the mix for suggestions. While guys like Billy Butler come with their own set of worries, there's still a price where the risk makes sense, and given the limited market for guys of his service, he could find himself in a Kendrys Morales nightmare. If he isn't as stubborn as Morales -- whose career is now legitimately in question -- he could ink an affordable deal.
Butler is another discussion for another day though, as the purpose of today's piece is to help you, Mariner fan, shut down any argument for the Mariners signing Pablo Sandoval.
I get why people want Sandoval, in the way that he's a baseball player who's pretty good and the Mariners should enjoy employing pretty good baseball players. It's also a terrible free agent class, the Mariners need hitters, and Sandoval is a guy who once hit, pretty well. He's been a postseason hero. He's chubby, has a fun nickname, and fulfills the eternal Mariners wish -- a right-handed bat with pop. Yeah, he's a switch-hitter, but the Mariners have also insisted on essentially referring to Kendrys Morales as right-handed for the past two years.
Sandoval has hovered around 2.3 to 3 wins for each of the past three seasons, now far removed from his 5.5 2011. Each of those years has seen Sandoval's power, as well as his overall offensive line, decline. In his contract year, Sandoval managed a 111 wRC+/.739 OPS. He hasn't played a single inning anywhere other than 3rd base since 2012.
All of Sandoval's value is tied up in him being a third baseman, which is what his market will be for. The Mariners happen to currently employ a third baseman far better than Sandoval, and he's making a fraction of the cost of what Sandoval will demand, which is reportedly $100 million. He won't get it, but given his track record and national profile, big market teams will surely be in on him -- Sandoval has a Phillies-esque overpay written all over him.
And that's why the Mariners can't be involved. They can't play him at third base, and Sandoval is not about to take a discount to get paid as a first baseman/DH. Besides, if you removed his name and looked at the offensive numbers only as a first baseman, who would shell out any significant money?
Player A is in the middle of a 2 year, $15 deal signed after his age 28/29 season. Player B is Sandoval, just wrapping up his age 27/28 season. Player A is a first baseman, and always has been one.
It's James Loney. If Sandoval was a first baseman, he might make a little more than Loney because he didn't have the 2012 collapse, and he has an extra year of youth on his side. But it isn't much, and given what's happened to the corner OF/DH/1B market in the past year, Loney was lucky to make as much as he did.
Bottom line: There's a price at which every player makes sense. But there's absolutely zero chance Sandoval falls to that price for the Mariners with so many other suitors involved who will pay him where he has value, at third base. You won't hear him connected to the Mariners by any serious outlet, but you definitely will by a stranger at a sports bar, or by your friends who don't follow the team as closely as you do.
So who should the Mariners target? The offseason plan is only a month away.