There was a lot of nervous chatter after the Seattle Mariners signed Nelson Cruz that somehow Cruz would make his way into the outfield instead of serving as the team's primary designated hitter. Although Cruz might occasionally spend some time roaming the vast prairies of Safeco Field, if a recent article by Bob Dutton with the News Tribune is any indicator, the Mariners are still searching for outfield help.
According to Dutton, now that the Mariners have their right-handed power bat to supplement Cano and Seager, they would like to go after another solid hitting right fielder.
First off, this is important to note that right fielder is normally where one would see Michael Saunders flying about. Saunders has had some interesting issues this offseason and health is always a concern with the Condor. Whether or not this means that Saunders is done with the Mariners remains to be seen.
The outfield market this season looks a bit nice, but it isn't exactly the deepest water in the ocean, especially with the Diamondbacks signing Yasmani Tomas and the Mariners removing Cruz. After those two, it reads like the following:
- Melky Cabrera
- Colby Rasmus
- Nick Markakis
- Mike Morse (sort of)
- Nori Aoki
- Alex Rios
You might as well scratch Rasmus off that list. Rasmus is by default a center fielder, having logged every game there except for six, and it doesn't make much sense for the Mariners to move him over when other options exist. Also, there has been zero rumblings from the hot stove oven that the Mariners showed any interest in the ex-Blue Jay. Morse can be struck off that list as well because jeepers nobody likes to watch horror movies that last 162 games.
So with that whittled down list in mind, here are the Fangraphs' crowdsourced contract projections, salary amounts in millions.
|player||# of years||annually||total|
The question on how to fill the hole also depends on what the Mariners are looking for. The front office has mentioned something along the lines of maintaining some attention to defense in the outfield. With the addition of Cruz, the focus on bringing in a big right-handed bat loses a bit of luster.
With that in mind, and also as we pointed out earlier, we can probably also take Hunter off this list (nevermind, Hunter returns to the Twins now).
The defensive deficiencies also lend a little bit of worry to both Markakis and Cabrera as options. Both outfielders are hardly renowned for their defensive merits. Cabrera does have history in both left and center field, so that versatility might come in helpful in a pinch. Markakis is 31-years-old, so he could find a suitor that would be willing to offer more than three years. After signing Cruz, the Mariners need not fret about losing another draft pick. Markakis and Cabrera, the lousy defensive guys they are, are the most expensive on the market because they are the best hitters.
Aoki and Rios are the two most interesting players left on the free agency list, and both come cheap enough that the Mariners could try to give one of them a shot and hope for some bounce back (in Rios' case) or a continuation (in Aoki's case). Both players come with a bit of the risk of the unknown, however. Rios' power fell off the planet last season, and his defense has been in a slow and steady decline since the prime of his 20s. If Rios power drop off isn't an anomaly but a sign of things to come, then the Mariners signed another dead bat with slow legs.
Aoki, similarly, is a bit of a wildcard. Steamer projections put him as a 1.5 WAR player next season, but they are also factoring in a big drop in defensive value from 2014. Aoki wasn't stellar in the outfield, but he wasn't a liability either. If he is able to maintain some semblance of his defense from 2014, Aoki would be a fine by low candidate -- assuming the offensive production continues as it has in his brief major league career.
The Mariners are reportedly still hot on Cabrera, so that might be where the piece of the puzzle eventually falls. If they strike out though, either Rios or Aoki are quite interesting targets. The benefit of both being the Mariners continue to build the roster without sacrificing talent, just spending that hard earned cash.