There is a fine line between inference and informed analysis when it comes to baseball, and this is complicated by the simple fact that for the most part, websites such as this are not operating on a need-to-know basis. As a result, and especially when writing about this notoriously tight-lipped front office, we can often be driven to two subcategories of inference: Reasonable Projections, and Making Shit Up. However, I'm going to try for a third today, which can be described simply as Reasonably Making Shit Up.
First, a list of events, sans context:
- The Seattle Mariners drafted not first baseman DJ Peterson with the 12th pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, and immediately started attaching "/1B" to his profile.
- In 2013, the Seattle Mariners traded Carter Capps to the Miami Marlins for first baseman Logan Morrison, and immediately started attaching "/OF/DH" to his profile. Of this trade, GM Jack Zduriencik noted "Justin, right now, is our first baseman. There's no question."
- During the 2014 season, terrible first baseman Justin Smoak was replaced by not-as-terrible first baseman Logan Morrison.
- During the 2014 season, not-as-terrible first baseman Logan Morrison missed ~80 games due to various injuries which have repeatedly kept him from playing a full season in the majors.
- After the 2014 season, the Seattle Mariners let terrible first baseman Justin Smoak walk out the door, board an airplane to Canada, and then watched him fly far, far away.
- A few days later, the Seattle Mariners signed good designated hitter Nelson Cruz, ostensibly closing the door on daily 1B/DH flexibility for the 2015 season.
So there you have it. Now, it's time to Reasonably Make Shit Up:
The Mariners may call up DJ Peterson next season.
I know, woah, slow down, this is absurd, you are an idiot, etc. But as the roster stands today, the M's first base depth is comprised of two players who have never played in a full season due to either injury or age, and while they could very well evenly split the duties just fine next year, imagining injuries to both isn't out of the question. And on top if it all, acquiring extra depth could be a poor utilization of resources, especially with current holes in the outfield. While the offseason is far from over, this isn't a situation straight out of the funny pages, but all things considered, it may not be the worst thing that could happen.
Now, sure. Imagining a 23 year old with an AA slash line of .261/.335/.473 playing first base on a Mariners team that is supposed to be in the playoffs next season may not be the most palatable thing crossing your mind today. To be frank, Peterson hasn't exactly shown the promise he flashed as "the best swing" one scout had seen in twenty five years. Colin even noted that M's athletic super-prospect Patrick Kivlehan has had the 1B tag attached to his name recently, and that Peterson's stock, while still high, has been overshadowed by other candidates. But let's take a little closer look at the roster as it stands today.
Even without added depth at first base, the Mariners still project to be the best team in the AL, as Jeff noted over at Fox Sports last month. But here's the interesting part that got my attention: the Mariners are projected to be above or at average at every position except for first base, centerfield, and (as of November) designated hitter. His optimistic closing paragraph reads:
The Mariners probably aren't going to be a total catastrophe at multiple positions, and eliminating catastrophes is just a different way of getting better. Given a normal Jackson and an actual half-decent DH, the Mariners could be as strong as anyone else.
It's not a stretch of the imagination by any means to say that Austin Jackson is going to have a better 2015 than 2014, and as we all know, the Mariners went out and signed an actually half-decent DH earlier this month. That leaves first base as the only position projected to be below average, and as it stands, that's a below average that includes a player who hasn't appeared in over 100 games since 2011 and a 37 year old who has never been worth a win in his entire career. On the best team in the AL.
If Morrison goes down with a knee injury in June, the M's could try and swing a month-long bandaid like they did with the DH last season. Or, they could cross their fingers and hand the job temporarily to Peterson. Either way, it's still a position of weakness surrounded by strength. It's not that that's a good thing, but it's a thing nonetheless, and a thing that isn't quite as bad as it would have been in previous seasons, especially considering there might not be a safer long-term option to add depth to first base.
Of course, Reasonably Making Shit Up requires a lot of variables. For any of this to make sense, the rest of the Mariners need to live up to their projected ceilings, many of which seem more fantasy than reality. As Logan noted earlier today, Steamer thinks that Mike Zunino, Chris Taylor, Brad Miller, and Stefen Romero are all going to cut their K% by five percent, which, ha. It also projects the Mariners to be above average at shortstop, but that's with two quality prospects that may not be on the roster come May. It also doesn't account for injuries. Or possible freak regression.
And while Peterson has been showing great improvement over his 58-game stint in AA, he began to show signs of struggle making the transition into the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .169/.290/.288. Lack of depth on the parent club shouldn't mean risking the development of a green prospect, especially when he would already be moving positions:
Zduriencik says DJ Peterson will continue to play some 3B because "you never know what could happen." But likely to play more 1B next year.— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) December 10, 2014
Of course, the best thing would be if Logan Morrison really did put together a 2-win season and avoided injury. Or even if Willie could hold the fort down for 25-30 games. Or if they could somehow add a bit of depth without necessitating the need to risk calling up Peterson in the process, but boy, we sure are getting greedy now aren't we?
Ultimately, this could go down a number of ways, and I'm not saying it is going to. But regardless, previous seasons have been designed around the expectation that Justin Smoak would emerge from his shell and start hitting dingers like a videogame, or that he would lead the league in doubles. When he didn't do that, the team started to fill the gaps around him. Now? A month of DJ Peterson could be no worse than a month of Willie Bloomquist, or sliding Stefen Romero over to first, which, save additional roster moves, is probably the plan. The Mariners project to be in pretty good shape all around, and if the worst happened, Peterson may not hamper the team in an unlikely callup.
Either way, this exercise has given us two points to consider. First, the Mariners very well could call up DJ Peterson next year due to lack of depth at a position manned by players with injury problems. Second, while Peterson is far from ready to be an everyday major leaguer, it may not be the worst thing in the world.
This concludes our experiment in Reasonably Making Shit Up. It is now up to you to decide which of those two points is the reasonable one.