Last year, the Seattle Mariners had one of the worst single-season team DH performances in history. (The 24th worst, to be precise). It'd be lovely to say that this was unanticipated, but the post-Edgar Mariners have been incredibly unsuccessful at DH. In fact, three of the six worst team DH seasons in the last decade have come out of Seattle. This explains, perhaps, why the Mariners were so eager to hang on to Kendrys Morales: he was, quite literally, their first DH since Edgar to put up a Safeco-adjusted wRC+ higher than 120.
This winter's free agent class presented a number of DH options to the Mariners... most of which are now off the table. The team went hard for Victor Martinez, but it seems in retrospect that he was never going to leave Detroit. Billy Butler signed with the A's, shocking everyone. Michael Cuddyer got a qualifying offer, then immediately signed with the Mets, shocking everyone. Adam LaRoche just committed to playing in Chicago next year, shocking everyone who cares about Adam LaRoche. At this point, the market's more than half cleared out, with the only semi-attractive free agent DH candidates left being local fan favorites Nelson Cruz and Michael Morse.
But there is another way. If they so desire, the Mariners can avoid the DH question entirely, using their tenth position to rotate and rest players instead of handing the full-time gig to a single man. In fact, that's the way that many LL staffers think the team should go. I built the Mirror Mariners to have no full-time DH, while one of the few agreed-upon philosophies in the canceled Lookout Landing Offseason Plan was that there'd be four rotating outfielders.
Working within the context of that plan, it's pretty obvious that the Mariners need to make an outfield addition. But whom? None of the free agents available look like good fits for the park and team, and many of the trade candidates look like they'll require massive overpays to acquire. Is there anyone out there who could improve the Mariners significantly at a reasonable cost? No? No one obvious? OK, here, here's how we'll do this, I'll just toss a baseball into a crowd of potential acquisitions, and whoever it hits -
- oh, hey!
Shane Victorino, AKA the Flyin' Hawaiian, is an almost-34-year-old right fielder best known for his time with the Philadelphia Phillies. After they nabbed him in the 2004 Rule 5 Draft, the center fielder managed to provide his new team with roughly 25 WAR in only 7 years of team control, proving an adept contact hitter and reasonable defender. Before the 2013 season, Victorino signed a 3-year, $39 million pact with the Boston Red Sox, which he was more or less entirely worth in year one alone. Victorino used to be a switch hitter, but gave up on batting left-handed partway through his highly successful 2013 season. He missed most of 2014 with injuries to his legs and back and could probably benefit from regular days off next year.
A noted HBP enthusiast and excellent baserunner, Victorino contributes to his teams in a variety of ways. He's not always the smoothest fielder, but he gets the job done in center field and is flat out excellent in right. The signs of decline are clearly visible in his eroding plate skills and decreasing durability, but he looks to have a couple years of productivity left in his bat before he hangs up the cleats for good. What I'm suggesting is that the Mariners exploit those years.
Victorino has one year left on his contract, with a price tag of $13MM. Given his down 2014, increasing age, declining health, and questionable status within the Red Sox's overstuffed outfield, he's almost certainly available for a relatively low cost via trade. The Red Sox are known to be looking to add major league starting pitching, and local writers have hypothesized they'd be in the market for bullpen help too. If Fenway Park weren't such a ridiculous place to play, I'd suggest that the Mariners offer up Roenis Elias for Victorino, cash, and a secondary piece with some team control, but that only works if the Red Sox are convinced their home field wouldn't ruin Elias.
Victorino is certainly not worth any of the Mariners' blue-chip high-minors/MLB prospects, but given the Red Sox's clear intent to win in 2015 it's hard to see them moving an outfielder without getting major league ready talent back. Perhaps just saving $13M in payroll would be motivation enough for Ben Cherington's front office to move Victorino. I could see a deal costing the Mariners as little as a good right-handed reliever and a mid-minors prospect if they were willing to eat the entirety of Victorino's remaining contract.
Victorino is a perfect match for the Mariners in a number of ways. He's right handed, so he could offer some lineup balance, but he's not an all-or-nothing power guy like many of the recent RH imports who've struggled in Safeco. Don't get me wrong: moving from Fenway to Safeco would definitely hurt him, and he is mostly a pull hitter, but I wouldn't expect a total collapse of the Corey Hart kind. Because he (like Michael Saunders) is a little bit fragile, he'd need a couple days off per week... and would thus slot perfectly into a four-man outfield rotation, allowing the Mariners to carry no full-time DH. Victorino is a prototypical top-of-the-order hitter who could compliment Austin Jackson in helping to offset the Mariners' mid-order lefty-heaviness. He's also only under contract for one year, so there's limited downside to his contract (and he'd be off the books in 2015, allowing the team to make a run at Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, or Justin Upton next winter).
The Red Sox have enormous incentive to move Victorino, who doesn't really seem to have a place on their roster. Rumors abound that they're hell-bent on giving a starting outfield job to Mookie Betts. Yoenis Cespedes is said to be on the outs with Boston's coaching staff, but he's also a great fit for their park, and they might choose to hold on to him rather than deal him while the league perceives him as a clubhouse cancer. Rusney Castillo has been compared (amusingly) to a young Shane Victorino, and he's got the kind of contract that doesn't ride the pine. Daniel Nava seems a likely fourth outfielder, and the 1B/DH slots are plugged by David Ortiz and Mike Napoli. It looks like either Cespedes or Victorino is headed out of town, and given the league's tendency to overpay for right-handed power, I think the Mariners should definitely be in on the latter.
If Shane Victorino is the most significant acquisition of the Mariners' offseason, something's probably gone wrong. The team needs to get better desperately enough that they can't keep sitting back on their haunches, adding declining veterans, and hoping for bouncebacks. But as a secondary acquisition, the Flyin' Hawaiian's a really nifty piece who fits the Mariners almost perfectly (or at least as perfectly as a righty can). A likely trade candidate who bats at the top of the order, contributes with his legs and glove, and would fit well in a jobshare, Victorino seems like a wonderful gamble for the Mariners to take this winter.