The season is no longer post, it's hot and there's a stove. Huddled around that stove are the masses, looking forward to next year. The Mariners are there, fueling the fire with their paper-based currency, leaving less to fill a few holes in the lineup. Two of those holes are in the infield, specifically first base and shortstop.
Adam Lind was the club's first baseman, platooning with a teddy bear incarnate, Dae-Ho Lee and the pair -- along with a handful of ABs from one other -- combined to be a below-average hitter as well as a below-average fielder. That, my internet companions, is at least a brown hole, if not a full black one. At shortstop, Ketel Marte was handed the job in spring training, and the hole he created was Archer's slightly darker turtleneck black. He's just 23 years old, but the club can't -- and presumably won't -- plan to go into the season with him in the starting lineup.
The shortstop market is bereft of any real talent, so the good news is that everyone there is in the Mariners' price range. There are a couple first baseman we can presumably cross off the list: Edwin Encarnacion and Brandon Moss. Mike Napoli has also potentially priced himself out of the market, but he's less of a sure thing in that regard. Here's a few guys who could fit the Mariners' mold.
The Switch-Hitting Shortstop: Erick Aybar
With the other options being Alexei Ramirez, Ruben Tejada, and a pile of dog shit, Aybar is going to have a couple suitors despite having the worst season of his career. The former Angel, who Jerry Dipoto will know well, was a well-below replacement level player this past year, hitting just .243 with no real power or advanced plate discipline to speak of. HOWEVER, he was a 4-win player as recently as 2014, so there's a chance of something interesting. His defense has been in decline, so he'd need a bit of a bounce-back there, but he won't turn 33 until the new year, so maybe there's gas in that tank.
The 2017 Mariners Starting Shortstop: Zack Cozart
Okay, this is cheating a bit since Cozart is a trade target and not a free agent, but this is what's going to happen. Last year, it was all too clear that Chris Iannetta would be in Seattle, and this year it seems pretty likely that Cozart will be acquired in the offseason. Cozart will cost a couple mid-tier prospects, but his projected salary of about $5 million is entirely reasonable for a 1-2 WAR player who would be a 2-3 win upgrade and allow Shawn O'Malley to be a utility man off the bench.
The Right-Handed Ray: Steve Pearce
Pearce spent last year with the Rays and the Orioles and was a high-quality hitter in a part-time role. He's never been handed a full-time job before, but the Mariners have a thick safety blanket in Dan Vogelbach should they need to platoon against at first. Pearce is great against lefties and solid against righties, and would help break up the lefty-heavy lineup. Pearce is coming off elbow surgery, so his salary may be a bit lower than it otherwise would be.
The Old Man: Matt Holliday
A first baseman for all of 10 games in his career, Holliday would be a weird fit for this spot, but it'd certainly be a creative option. He's slowing down and has been hurt a bit by injuries, but Holliday was still an above-average hitter last year.
The Platoon Disadvantage: Adam Lind and Wilin Rosario
As frustrating as Lind was, he was also an above-average hitter over the season's final two months and should come at a reasonable cost since his full-year numbers weren't pretty. The left-handed half of this platoon could be a number of men, however, including old friend Logan Morrison and bitter rival Mitch Moreland, or perhaps even Vogelbach, though none are certain upgrade over Lind. While platooning first base is certainly not ideal, the club was able to manage last year, and may look for the same setup in 2017. Wilin Rosario was once an interesting catcher for the Rockies, but they grew tired and he spent the past year overseas. Rosario can nominally play catcher -- more so than say Jesus Montero -- giving the club at least a possibility of extra roster flexibility and depth. Rosario had a .400+ wOBA against lefties in his MLB career and won't turn 28 until the end of February.
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ADDENDUM: There has been the question posed as to why we should assume the Mariners aren't going to spend this offseason and why we can't look towards the top of the market. This is a somewhat fair question, but it's one that could be asked year-after-year and doesn't serve much of a purpose towards 2017 in particular. However, there are a few standard reasons why you shouldn't assume this team is going to break out extra money in the offseason. First, while some teams do indeed ramp up spending when they see an opportunity, this team has already done that for the most part, increasing opening day payroll $20 million or more each of the past two years. To think they're going to be able to do that again is asking a bit much, especially when previous increases were seen across the league due to skyrocketing media deals, and didn't do a whole lot to improve the team's relative payroll position. Second, this is a team very concerned about balancing short-term versus long-term goals. This isn't the Tigers with a dying owner throwing money at a problem hoping to win a title in the next year or two with rampant disregard for the future. Lastly, the team itself has indicated this offseason won't include much in the way of a splash; they have a wishlist, but the core of this team is in place, and they don't feel the need to break the bank.