Here's the scoop, gang. It's late May and the Seattle Mariners are not messing around in regard to playoff baseball. Coming off a sweep in Ohio, the M's find themselves solidly in first place in the AL West. They have the second-best winning percentage in the entire AL behind a team they just took two of three against in Camden Yards. What's more, the preseason darling Houston Astros are currently ten games behind the M's in the standings. The field has narrowed considerably heading towards June.
Taking into account that the M's will be, in all likelihood, very much in the thick of things come July, they'll probably be looking to bolster the roster in some fashion. Now, we all have a very short history with being "buyers" come July. The last time this all went down, I was on a farm and got a text that we grabbed Austin Jackson. That was pretty cool. Kendrys Morales was stuffed into a carry-on Michael Kors bag in Minnesota and flown on Alaska 39 to Seattle. That was good, too. OR SO I THOUGHT.
Buying at the deadline is a tricky science. You don't want to mortgage your future, but you also have gaps to fill. Two wins can make all the difference down the stretch, and a clutch double or stolen base can win a playoff series. The margins are thin. Just like when I go looking for a new pair of shoes, a nice white wine for a light pasta dinner, or my next catamaran, I'm looking for value. Let's get some bangs out of those bucks.
First and foremost, we must address the Mariners as an organization. This is a bit difficult to forecast, and all of this should be taken with several grains of salt, because we can't be sure what the next two months of baseball will truly yield. But we can still use our imaginations. Let's assume the roster holds basically true to current form, forego any major injuries (please), and presume the rest of the league essentially follows suit. In my mind's eye, the roster currently has three "holes", all to different degrees. Let's assume Jerry decides to go about filling them with current MLB talent, foregoing the Farm.
First Ba(s)e - Adam Lind is a proven bat against right handed pitching. There is no doubt his track record is an astounding one and that he should eventually start mashing. However, what if he just...you know...doesn't? There will be a lot of crying for Dae-Ho Lee as a full-time player at first, but how comfortable can this team be with that being the solution at the major league level for a division-title chasing team? I think, if Lind continues under-performing, the organization will feel just as I do with Lee in regard to a full-time job: maybe...not. At least some insurance not named Stefen Romero should be considered.
Left Field, Or Nori Aoki's Spot - Aoki was a great buy-low job by Dipoto in the offseason. It brought in an OBP machine who played, and this feels a little disrespectful to the trade of fielding, a tolerable corner outfield. However, we've yet to see the true table-setting side of Aoki. His K% is higher than ever before, and the eye test has showed that he's been a bit of a rally-killer when the lineup turns over. Furthermore, his defense won't keep him on the field if the production at the plate keeps stalling. Whether Guti has run out of that Magic Space Dust(tm) he found last year or not, he can't play every day, and this roster may need an upgrade from Aoki.
Bullpen - This is essentially a need for any team buying at the deadline and one of the more readily purchasable assets for teams willing to pay the price. Sure, there's theoretically help coming in the form of Charlie Furbush, Tony Zych, Evan Scribner, and Ryan Cook. Edwin Diaz is down in Double-A striking out tons of folks and touching 98, but he's an unproven commodity. Hoping for the DL to sort itself out and Edwin Diaz to blossom is, well, hoping. We may need an arm of two for the final stretch, folks.
Now, that we've talked about the spots that Jerry and Co. may choose to address, let's briefly consider what the M's have to offer in a potential package. This is an essentially fruitless exercise to do exhaustively, since organizations contain SO many players, but looking around AAA and below there are certainly some interesting pieces that are movable. To name a few, Boog Powell, Rob Brantly, Mike Zunino, Stefen Romero, and Adrian Sampson all may be pieces worth kicking tires on for another organization. Additionally, James Paxton is down in Tacoma, and he was again sitting in the mid-90s this weekend. Diaz, Drew Jackson, and Alex Jackson (not related) could get a few talks going. I'm not willing, because it's rather pointless to speculate, on the potential package for any of the players I'll get into, but the M's aren't fully void of interesting pieces for teams looking to reset for next year.
Finally, and this is the last thing before we get into some players here, it is important to consider who might be selling come deadline time. I think it's safe to say that the Reds, Padres, Brewers, Angels, and Braves will all be selling come July and the right buyer. Other squads I think who are willing to sell will be the disappointing Yankees, A's, and Twins. I have no clue what is going on with the Phillies, but they're probably sellers too, in the end. Finally, and it's a couple wild cards as well, Colorado might consider a small reload at the right price. So, let's look at those ten squads for potential acquisitions. By no means is the following list exhaustive.
FIRST BASE - Preferably looking for a non-platoon, every day starter.
Joe Mauer - Minnesota Twins
Joe Mauer is thirty-three, signed through 2018, and back in 2009 when his contract was extended, was the Golden Child of a Twins franchise with a brand new stadium. A lot has changed since those times when the Twins looked like a potential dynasty, one of those being Mauer's value. Since he moved from catcher to first, and stopped doing the hair ads, Mauer's game is that of a totally different player. After posting by far the worst season of his career in 2015, he's experienced a bit of a renaissance, walking as much as he's striking out and getting on base a ton. The Twins would probably have to eat some contract to move Mauer, but the appeal of getting out from under his big money with a struggling franchise could be enough to see him go.
Chris Carter - Milwaukee Brewers
The irony here is not lost on me. Back in the Jack-Z days, it always felt like Carter was going to be a Mariner. He struck out a shitload, but the power tool was undeniably massive. He also seemed to exclusively use it against the M's in his time as an Astro. As a member of the Brewers, though, times have changed for Carter. To start, he has thirteen bombs. He's walking less, striking out just as much, but finally might have figured out how to hit for average. He's swinging at fewer pitches, and his selectivity has lead to a wRC+ of 128 through his first 170 PA's. The Brewers are going to be looking to dump current value in July, and Carter may find himself in a different town come the Dog Days. The one year contract means you'll give up less to get a potentially smoking hot bat.
Joey Votto - Cincinnati Reds
This is well-timed since we just saw Joey over the weekend. The Reds are in absolute shambles, toting a pitching staff that couldn't find water in a well. In turn, Votto has been equally disappointing to start the season. He's signed until 2023, his 40-year-old season, plus an option year, and at 22.5M/Year AAV, it's a steep contract to take on. Imagining him moving this deadline, given the large amount of money left, and his hugely disappointing start to 2016, is difficult. Sure, maybe Votto has simply checked out while knowing the Reds were taking a dive from the start, but his value certainly hasn't increased. Maybe a team, with the right package, could convince the Reds to eat a
little lot of money here and sweeten the pot.
LEFT FIELD - Serviceable defense, a playable bat. Maybe someone who slots in behind Ketel Marte, batting second.
Ryan Braun - Milwaukee Brewers
I'm not a giant fan of taking on Braun, who's signed through 2020 plus an option year at ~$20M AAV, but he'll certainly be shopped by the Brewers if they continue to lose. Spoiler alert: they will. He's 32, yet Braun is on pace for his best season since 2012, by a long shot. His K% is the lowest it's been in his career, and while I don't expect the .364 AVG to stick thanks to a BABIP that rounds up to .400, we may finally be seeing the rejuvenated, post-steroid scandal Braun that Milwaukee hoped would take them to the playoffs back when they were, you know, set up for that sort of thing. FeelinG hIs mArket is hard but, if the coNtraCt is deemed movAble, will be a Really interesting Little One.
Jay Bruce - Cincinnati Reds
The last time that Jay Bruce was an interesting acquisition target was 2013 and he certainly isn't turning any heads so far this year. His defense in the outfield is notoriously not great, and Safeco would likely exacerbate those issues. However the bat probably plays. Maybe, like Ryan Braun above, a move to first base is warranted. By wRC+, Bruce is in the middle of his best season at the plate since 2010. It will be interesting to see the market here, as he's only signed through 2016 and has an option in 2017, so the cost shouldn't be crazy to take Jay out of the Cincinnati Death Spiral.
Brett Gardner - New York Yankees
I have trouble seeing the Yankees folding up shop almost ever, but if they were gonna do it, shopping Gardner makes a ton of sense. He's signed through 2018 with an option the year after, and with only $23M remaining on those final two years in his year 33 and 34 seasons, he'd be a slick pick-up for a Dipoto Regime looking to upgrade one of their corners. On track for his best season since 2011, Gardner is the sort of player who could turn the M's roster into an absolute Murderer's Row when he's at his best.
Khris Davis - Oakland Athletics
In Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight, the audience is famously warned by Michael Caine that "Some men just want to watch the world burn." I am that man. Khris has hit twelve bombs so far with Oakland in 2016. He would represent a defensive upgrade over Aoki in left field, and will enter his first year of Arbitration in 2017. He's in his year 28 season, and while he doesn't put up fWAR numbers that jump off the page, his right-handed power bat would help balance out a righty-mashing Seattle lineup. It's hard to imagine the A's and M's trading within the division, but hey, stranger things, etc.
Nick Markakis - Atlanta Braves
This is a classic "buy-low" scenario. Markakis is 32, signed through 2018 at $11M AAV, hasn't had a remarkable season really since 2008 in Baltimore, but could be had cheaply from a team willing to sell. A move for Markakis would mean that Jerry sees some sort of upside in Nick that, frankly, I don't see. Hey, he's walked in almost 15% of his AB's in 2016. You guys love walks, right?
Kole Calhoun - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
I'll just come right out and say that somehow landing Kole Calhoun is essentially the dream I have on repeat every night. Hell, I day dream about this shit. He'll turn 29 during the M's playoff run this year, runs a salary of $3.4M, and next year hits his first year of arbitration. Once again, Kole is on pace for essentially 4 fWAR in the outfield. He's striking out less and walking more, both at career-bests. His career so far tells you that the defense is above average in a corner, and the bat currently is producing at a 123 wRC+ clip. Once again, same situation with Khris Davis, it may be hard to move a player within the division, but if anyone knows the number for the right person in the Angels FO, it's Jerry. Look, the Angels are bad. They'll be selling come July. Kole Calhoun would be...well, I just shivered.
Melvin Upton Jr. - San Diego Padres
Now this is a fun one. Sure, San Diego may be our hated NL rivals, but they are so bad that they'd likely field a call for Melvin Upton. Currently, at 31, he's on his best fWAR pace since 2008, and is signed through 2017. Sure, he makes $16.5M in 2017, but that's besides the point. If SD has any sense, and I'm not sure they do, a fire sale is called for down in SoCal. Melvin, for his part is playing adequate defense, walking a tick more than his recent history, and hitting for more power than we've seen from him in a long while. It's no secret that this team was destined to eventually have an Upton, it's time we accepted our fate.
Carlos Gonzalez - Colorado Rockies
He's not really hitting in Colorado and maybe sucks now but, hey, maybe he can find a reason to care again when you take him out of an organization who has set phasers to "shitty" for the past...forever.
Jon Jay - San Diego Padres
Jay is 31, has a wRC+ of 99, and doesn't represent the big bat that the other players in this section might over Nori Aoki. However, Jay can be had cheap, as he's only signed through this season, and would provide defensive cover for an off-day for Leonys Martin. I'm not sure the bat plays as an every day corner outfielder, in fact I'm almost sure it doesn't, but there's a cost where a player like him could make sense here.
Charlie Blackmon - Colorado Rockies
Combine the analysis of Jon Jay with the sentiments of Carlos Gonzalez and you have my thoughts on Blackmon. I love the beard, I like his defense, the bat is quiet as a church mouse and that's always terrifying coming from Coors. Last year, I thought that the team could really use a player like Charlie while watching Austin Jackson in center. Now, I don't think we need him with Martin. However, once again, there's a cost where he makes sense.
BULLPEN - GoBiz Founder Sach Zanders found in his offseason drunken ramblings that Dipoto may look at K-BB when assembling his 'Pen. Forgoing occasional home runs for less walks and keeping things cheap. Since you don't go bargain shopping at the deadline, here are some guys with monster fastballs.
Arodys Vizcaino - Atlanta Braves
Hot fastball. Super hot. Want.
J.C. Ramirez - Cincinnati Reds
Kevin Jepsen - Minnesota Twins
An out of form closer with a heater on a team that looks like the Fast and Furious franchise during the Tokyo Drift phase. Buying low on Jepsen might be an easy way to find a second version of Steve Cishek.
Fernando Rodney - San Diego Padres
I mean, look at what he's doing. Enjoy the show, folks.
Ultimately, it's too early to forecast exactly what we'll be shopping for come July, yet I hope this gives a nice overview of potential targets given the current state of the roster and its production. I'm sure some here will think that the M's could do with looking for an arm for the rotation in July, and while I think it's possible, I just don't see it as a top priority. This organization only has so many chips. Do I think that the M's are legitimately in pursuit of any of these targets, especially the big-money splashes? Not necessarily, probably relatively unlikely. It's hard for me to imagine Freddie Freeman's contract coming on top of the current payroll. Yet, there's a window here and it's an undeniable one. A player like Kole Calhoun or Brett Gardner could be available, and really change things for the M's in a big, positive way. Here's to another week of Winning Baseball and as always, dingers.