Looking back on the 2014 Seattle Mariners, it's actually remarkable how many things went wrong, considering the team ended up just one game shy of the playoffs. Production from both center field and shortstop were worse than possibly imaginable for the first month and a half. Hisashi Iwakuma suffered a freak injury, came back a month later, but then collapsed down the stretch. All three midseason trade acquisitions were complete failures, as all might have actually been worse than internal options. James Paxton and Taijuan Walker spent much of the year rehabbing from injuries.
It's not to say nothing went right, because that's clear. Roenis Elias and Chris Young were massive and unexpected contributors, Dustin Ackley righted the ship in the second half, the bullpen was outstanding, and Kyle Seager continued his quest to stardom. But it's safe to say, looking back in hindsight, the season could have been even better than it was.
Now, they sit poised to enter 2015 with a very similar roster to the one they finished 2014 with. With those failures turning into distant memories and upside teasing us in the new year, it's way too easy to forget the bad and expect better. That James Paxton and Taijuan Walker will be healthy all year, that Austin Jackson can't possibly do whatever that was again, or even that smaller contributors like Logan Morrison won't get hurt again. Because on paper, this current team looks like it can nab a wild card spot, or maybe better.
Maybe Jack Zduriencik has learned from not securing enough depth in the past, and that's why he hasn't traded away some of his biggest trade chips for marginal, short-term upgrades. Maybe he's betting on upside and holding onto the club control as a result. Or maybe the right deals just haven't been there. Maybe he's not even close to done, and the new year will bring blockbuster trades and significant roster shuffle.
But outside of a platoon partner for Justin Ruggiano, it does kind of feel like this might be it. Assuming that corresponding move gets done, the M's look like a team loaded with massive upside, but also significant risk. They don't have quality backup plans for a number of positions that could be problems, including first base, left field, center field, and right field. Even shortstop, with two possible candidates, is still a worry.
Trade Target: Ben Zobrist
The Mariners are in hot pursuit of Melky Cabrera, a switch-hitting outfielder with a #2 batter's profile and a history of strong performances in the AL East. If that's really what they want, perhaps they should also be in hot pursuit of Ben Zobrist.
The rotation is loaded with upside and now has some depth, thanks to J.A. Happ, but there's still depth concerns there as well. 10 different pitchers started games for the M's last season, and 11 in 2013. Things go wrong. Outside of Roenis Elias or Taijuan Walker -- whichever one would theoretically start 2014 in AAA, who is going to pick up those starts? Erasmo Ramirez is out of options and may be traded, and Danny Hultzen is currently held together by duct tape and irrational dreams. Even though the rotation is far less of a concern than the offense, it's not hard to envision a scenario in which somebody like Jeremy Bonderman is making a midseason start for the M's.
This is all a roundabout way to implore the Mariners to do more. I'm all for the Mariners rolling the dice on upside and hoarding their club control -- it's an anti-Bavasi method, and I do admire Jack Zduriencik for holding firm if the deals aren't right. But having Logan Morrison and nobody else at first base is a bad idea. Having three outfielders, all who have the capacity to be major liabilities, without other options, is a bad idea. Trading Michael Saunders was a bad move, but even he, in fairness, had huge question marks himself.
That's why we have, and probably will continue to, suggest the M's target players like Colby Rasmus and Ben Zobrist. Specifically, the latter. Logan went over Zobrist in great depth a few weeks ago (see link above), but as you consider all the positions that could fail -- Zobrist can play almost all of them, and do so quite well. The Mariners could get both Rasmus and Zobrist, and still have room to play Zobrist every day, shuffling all over the diamond. Things will go wrong, players will get hurt, players will fail. Let's face it -- one of Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller, Chris Taylor, Austin Jackson, or the RF platoon is going to be terrible in 2015. That's not meant to be pessimism, that's just baseball.
I can't get over the fact that the Mariners got more WAR (3.0) from their shortstops last year than the Rockies did (2.9). After Troy Tulowitski exited the season with a 5.1 WAR, his replacements accumulated a whopping -2.2 WAR. I've mentioned this before, but it's staggering to me -- the Mariners simply having quality depth in Chris Taylor and the luxury to use Brad Miller in more of a platoon role down the stretch resulted in them having a better shortstop situation than the team with the best shortstop in the world. Depth is undeniably a critical, yet overlooked asset.
If the Mariners aren't going to make a huge splash and secure a long-term addition, then getting players who can play all over the diamond to fill in for those injuries and failures will be crucial. Right now, as currently constructed, the M's don't have an answer to far too many things that can go wrong. There's still a lot of time to answer them. I'd hope that begins with repeated calls about Ben Zobrist.