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Lookout Landing’s 2018 Mariners Offseason Plan, Part III: Filling in the Edges

Little things mean a lot

Minnesota Twins v San Francisco Giants
sliding into the hearts of Seattle fans like
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In keeping with a semi-grand tradition here at LL, we are pleased to present you with our 2018 Mariners Off-Season Plan, a series of steps we think the team needs to take forward in order to contend in 2018 and beyond. In case you missed the first installments, start off by reading Part One of this series, which focuses on Step One: Upgrade Starting Pitching, and then move on to Part Two, which contends with the holes in the starting lineup at first base and in the outfield (Steps Two and Three). We also lay the groundwork for the series there by establishing the assumptions we’re working under regarding how many wins the Mariners need to add to contend for the playoffs, payroll, how the Mariners will treat their top-level prospect capital, and this front office’s general approach towards contending rather than rebuilding. After making some bold suggestions earlier, we now turn our attention toward roster optimization, refining certain aspects of the team, and building depth. These aren’t necessarily the exciting moves that garner front-page headlines, but they’re the little things clubs do to eke out close wins and weather the storm of a 162-game season and beyond.

Step Four: Upgrade the utility position

Seattle Mariners v Washington Nationals
how’s this for a meet-cute
Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

A budget option, a splurge, and a trade possibility

2018 UTIL Options

Player PAs wRC+ fWAR
Player PAs wRC+ fWAR
2017 Taylor Motter 280 57 -0.6
2018 Taylor Motter (proj) 266 84 0.2
2018 Andrew Romine (proj) 274 71 -0.1
2018 Eduardo Nunez (proj) 488 100 1.7
2018 Wilmer Difo (Proj) 450 74 0.5
2018 Brock Holt (Proj) 133 81 0.2
2018 Zach Vincej (Proj) 39 65 0

The two least-valuable Mariners last year by fWAR were Tuffy Gosewisch and Taylor Motter, each of whom were good for -0.6 fWAR. Whereas Tuffy only recorded 31 PAs, however (was it really so few? It felt like more.), Motter, thanks to a spate of injuries elsewhere, wound up with 280. Hopefully with Dr. Martin overseeing player health and some better injury luck, the Mariners won’t need to lean on the utility spot as much, but that’s far from a given considering the age of several of the roster pieces, and also the enforced rest Dr. Martin champions. The Mariners have already made a move to address this in the off-season by signing Zach Vincej and, more notably, Andrew Romine, but Vincej has only played middle infield and the 31-year-old Romine represents only the slightest upgrade from Motter—a 65 wRC+ vs. a 57 for Motter—and doesn’t have anywhere near Motter’s power (back when Motter used to make it pop). The upcoming Rule 5 Draft might unearth a player who could challenge Motter or Romine (or Vincej) for the utility role, or the Mariners could take a chance on a minor league free agent who’s been blocked in his prior organization. The best of these is probably Ronny Rodriguez, a true defensive shortstop who went from being a top prospect to continually leapfrogged in Cleveland’s system. He experienced a power spike in 2015 that seems to have stuck around, knocking 17 homers last year, and if he could learn to walk even a little bit at all (<5% BB), would probably add to the 114 wRC+ he put up at Triple-A Columbus. He’s only 25, two and a half years younger than Motter, and hasn’t seen any big-league time, so he has all his options.

As dismal as Motter’s numbers look, he’s demolished the minors, had limited MLB success, and can play multiple positions. He was also one of the lone competent Mariners on the basepaths last year, stealing 12 bags and only getting caught once. In order to truly upgrade this spot, it probably can’t be done on the cheap. Signing Eduardo Nuñez will give the Mariners a legitimate hitter to replace whoever is being subbed out for rest, and his poor defense should be able to be absorbed by a defensively strong lineup. Dave Cameron has Nuñez going at 2/$20MM, and his name has come up several times already in the young hot stove season as teams search for their Marwin Gonzalez/Ben Zobrist. If the Mariners could get him closer to 2/$16MM and Nuñez winds up getting something akin to Motter’s playing time, that’s almost a two-win swing from what Steamer projects, and almost three wins if he can repeat his production from the last two years. For what it’s worth, he has rapport with Robinson Canó.

We’ve avoided doing many trade scenarios in these because the Mariners are so limited with what they have to trade from, but one area they could deal from is the bullpen. The Nationals, Red Sox, and Cubs all could use bullpen help, and all boast three strong utility players in Wilmer Difo, Brock Holt, and Zobrist/Baez/whoever their ridiculous farm system spits out next. Motter plus Vincent should be able to net Holt (with some change back), who’s coming off a down year but is only two years removed from a 2.5 fWAR season. The Nationals seem inclined to hang on to their beloved young utility player after a strong campaign replacing the injured Trea Turner, but if they’re feeling squirrelly about leaning heavily on Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle to completely solve their bullpen woes, maybe they can be coaxed into a similar trade. For all his delights, Difo doesn’t offer any power, so maybe if the Mariners just show the Nationals footage of Motter’s April, they could trick them into it.

LL’s preferred option:

The Nationals need relievers badly. While they are a mostly unsatisfactory trade partner, as Kate detailed recently, Difo is a movable piece that wouldn’t require them to subtract one of the players from their starting lineup. Difo turns 26 this April, is out of minor league options, and the prospect sheen has come off for the most part. Every professional evaluation we could find pegs him as a career utility man at most. Nick Vincent would provide the Nats an immediate upgrade in late-inning relief, and could be packaged with Taylor Motter and his remaining option year as a higher-power/lower on-base-skills replacement. It’s certainly possibly the ever-tinkering Motter thrives in the NL, but Difo’s more established production would also fit Dipoto’s trend towards targeting older “prospects.” With our proposed plan calling for at least $30-35 million to be allocated to the rotation, 1B, and the OF, acquiring a pre-arb guy like Difo who is under contract through 2022 helps mitigate costs as well.

Alternately: If the Mariners don’t land Ohtani, don’t spend big on starting pitching, miss out on Santana as everyone flees Hosmer and his jewel-encrusted binder, and don’t spend a ton in the outfield, why not spend the money here? Canó is 35, Segura had bum legs last year, Seager had a case of swamp flu he couldn’t shake, Haniger was cursed by a cranky Torngarsuk, and that mean old Dr. Martin is going to insist on “resting” players during the very “long” and “punishing” season. Throw money at Nuñez, upgrade the utility role meaningfully and be done with it.

Step Five: Bullpenning (Or: Make the whole plane out of Emilios)

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The bullpen in 2017 was mercurial, but showcased the talent of a strong unit. It will need to be a reliable source of strength in 2018, but just as importantly, it will need to boast flexibility. Edwin Diaz, Tony Zych, Nick Vincent, David Phelps, James Pazos and Emilio Pagan all have shown good-to-great peripherals and results in the last year or two. In fact, last year, those six combined for what would’ve been the fifth-best FIP and ERA for a bullpen in all of baseball.

Mariners Bullpen 2017

Cleveland 489.1 2.89 3.20 8.6
Top Six M's RPs 284.0 3.26 3.58 4.5
League Average Bullpen 549.0 4.15 4.16 3.7
Rest of M's RPs 285.2 4.88 4.97 -0.8

All six of those top options return next year, and while bullpens are always a bit of a crapshoot, all six seem poised to combine for relatively comparable overall production. We think, with the limitations of their starting rotation, Seattle is best served with an eight-man bullpen, or perhaps more accurately, carrying 13 pitchers. With Dipoto explicitly stating he’s planning for starters getting just 15-to-18 outs, the bullpen will have to be staffed with arms capable of working more than one inning, much less one batter. Filling the M’s other holes will demand most of their budget, however, no matter which scenarios you prefer. As such, most of the bullpen’s improvement will have to be internal. Thankfully, that seems eminently achievable. With little more than improved health and continued progression from the mid-to-high minors, the Mariners pen may have a great shot at exceeding their projections.

How to get there:

Trade Zep for whatever you can get for him

If the Mariners don’t land a frontline starter (read: Darvish) and have to fully commit to the wolfpack, they need arms who can go multiple innings. Zep came up short in that regard in 2017 and isn’t a great fit for the team as it’s looking likely to be constructed. James Pazos is excellent against lefties and can go two innings when needed; if Ariel Miranda is shifted to the bullpen, he can perform a similar role, less effectively but longer. Getting salary back on Zep’s remaining $5.5 MM would be ideal, but the roster spot he occupies is more precious. Ship him off to Boston, where they need a lefty, in exchange for a nice A-level utility prospect or relief arm.

Bolster the ‘pen with one key acquisition

If the Mariners’ bullpen can be 6/8ths good, that’s 75% good, which is a solid C. Bumping Zep and inserting an upgrade over his 0 fWAR lifts the entire group into the B-average range, while allowing a stream of Altavilla/Simmons/whoever has a working arm at the moment to filter through the eighth spot. If the Mariners stay out of the high-priced starting pitching market, having another reliable relief arm that can go multiple innings to replace the specialist Scrabble is a place they can splash a little cash.

With little room for error in the starting rotation, the Mariners could bolster their bullpen by adding another reliever who can go multiple innings and who has experience in high leverage situations. Juan Nicasio would be ideal in this role, but after a strong 2017 campaign, he’ll probably be priced out of the Mariners’ budget (Cameron has him at 3/$18MM). Luckily, there’s another reliever on the market who could fill this role more than capably: Yusmeiro Petit. He posted an excellent 5.61 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season and averaged 1.5 innings per appearance. He was so good down the stretch, he even accumulated a few saves for the Angels. His flexibility would give the Mariners another option to bridge the gap between 4 or 5 inning starts and the back of the bullpen, and he should come relatively cheap (although not as bargain-bin priced as he was for the Angels, grumble grumble). If Petit’s strong 2017 drives his market past 2/$12MM or so, though, well, just like there’s always money in the banana stand, there are always relievers on the pile.

The Mariners bullpen could also get a late-season lift from converted starter Art Warren, who’s currently dominating in the Arizona Fall League after turning in a strong season as Modesto’s closer. Unlike other conversion projects who scrap their secondary pitches, Warren prides himself on his, and continues to boast a starter’s arsenal of FB, SL, CH, CB. Earning the job as Peoria’s closer, he’s recorded two saves but three wins in the AFL thanks to his ability to pitch two innings, and has an incredible baseball IQ to complement his mid-to-upper-90s fastball. He’s yet to pitch above High-A, however, so much like Edwin Díaz and Dan Altavilla in 2016, he’ll need some time in AA at least before making the leap.

Stay healthy, jerks

Forgive us for this slight cop-out, but it’s an inescapable fact. A healthier Mariners pitching staff has ramifications that are far reaching, and with an explicit plan to limit usage for more injury-prone starters and relievers, it seems at least a step better than wishful thinking and regression to envision better health for Seattle’s arms. A healthier rotation and/or one expecting to do less will be easier to plan for if the bullpen is designed to go four innings a night. Shae Simmons and Tony Zych are both bad bets to pitch a full season without injury, of course, but Jean Machi taking a ball off his finger and Evan Marshall having his hamstring explode on consecutive pitches seems like an outlier scenario. Improved health leads to improved performance and improved consistency, in the rotation and the bullpen. Come on, Dr. Martin, no pressure.

LL’s preferred plan: If the Mariners follow our plan up to this point, of course, there may be limited funds for a pitcher like Petit. On the other hand, they’ll have acquired another competent starting pitcher, which should allow either Erasmo Ramirez or Marco Gonzales to shift to a long relief role. Both have had success in shorter outings, as is the case with much of the AAA stable (*cranes neck up to wink knowingly at Max Povse*). If Vincent or Zych are moved to fill other holes, such as in the Difo-related acquisition suggested above, that will require more from the long-relief options, as well as guys like Shae Simmons and Ryan Garton. It is for that reason that building pitching depth in the high minors is also a major priority.

Step Six: Build pitching depth

Now that we’ve ostensibly set up the 25 man roster, we can focus on filling in the rest of the corners. The Mariners stocked their pitching cabinet over the last off-season but Doomsday came sooner than Jerry had prepped for, as they used a franchise-record 40(000) pitchers while simultaneously pillaging Tacoma’s rotation on a weekly basis. They’ll need to re-load for 2018 as several of last year’s options, like Cody Martin and Christian Bergman, are headed for free agency. Andrews Albers and Moore will most likely be the anchors of Tacoma’s staff and the first call-ups should anyone in the rotation go down, but the Mariners need to prepare ninth, tenth, and seventeenth options. Lindsey Caughel, apple of Ben’s eye, re-signed with the organization this month, so there’s another slot filled, but Tacoma’s entire pitching staff has been decimated between trades and free agency, so there’s a lot of work to do.

For the purposes of this exercise, we are assuming the big-league rotation consists of:

  • Paxton, Felix, Leake, Ramírez, and Gonzales, with a pen of:
  • Zych, Phelps, Díaz, Vincent, Zep, Pazos, Pagán, and Miranda if we’re going for the eight-man pen.
  • If our ideal plan is followed and one of Alex Cobb/Lance Lynn/Tyler Chatwood/Jaime Garcia is acquired, slot them in the rotation. That will bump one of Ramirez or Gonzales from a starting role into long relief, and give Ariel Miranda his first chance to work in AAA in over a year and a half.

Whether a quality starter is acquired or not, leaning into the wolfpack mentality for the back end of the rotation still makes sense. That means shortening starts for most of the Tacoma rotation and preparing them for long relief and tandem starts. That staff will be in flux again this year, but ideally it will be controlled chaos:

  • As long guys - Moore, Albers, Miranda (if applicable), Caughel, Chase De Jong, Max Povse, Rob Whalen (if playing baseball again), and any/several of the depth options listed below.
  • The true relievers we know of: Dan Altavilla, Seth Frankoff, Ryan Garton, Thyago Vieira, and NOT Jonathan Aro.

How to get there:

Keep young, MLB-close power arms like Art Warren and Matthew Festa in Double-A, honing their craft with pitching coach Ethan Katz, and aggressively promote polished college relievers like Wyatt Mills, J.P. Sears, and Seth Elledge to join them around the All-Star Break, creating a Bullpen of Doom. Meanwhile, fill Triple-A out by signing all the starting pitchers possible, as cheaply as possible, and deploy them in the wolfpack formation, splitting them across the rotation and bullpen.

Some names we like:

Jeff Locke (Kate)

The Marlins gave him 3MM last year on a one-year deal as a bounceback candidate, but Locke struggled with injuries and was pretty poor this year, getting DFA’d by the Marlins in July and finishing his season pitching for the Jupiter Hammerheads. His FIP of 4.56 was almost half of his ERA, though, and he’s barely 30, just two years removed from a 1.7 fWAR campaign. Regrow the flow, Jeff, and come rediscover your joy for pitching in the Northwest.

Miles Mikolas (Ben)

Mikolas is coming off of his third season pitching for the Yomiuri Giants of the NPB, where he emerged as one of the league’s top pitchers. The 2009 7th round pick seemed to wind up overseas fairly prematurely after a pretty normal ascent through the minor league ranks, making his big league debut in 2012. It appears he may have simply wanted to reclaim a role as a starting pitcher after being used exclusively as a reliever from 2010- 2013, and he was able to do just that for Yumiuri, starting in all 62 games he appeared in in his NPB career.

Mikolas, 29, would be re-entering the MLB one year younger than did Colby Lewis, who is one of the best recent examples of the same career arc, and while Lewis demonstrated more strikeout ability in his time in the NPB, Mikolas has been the superior run-preventer. When Lewis signed with Texas back in 2010, he was inked to a 2 year/$5 mm deal, which you’d expect Mikolas to best just simply due to inflation if nothing else. 2/$8MM seems fair, with vesting options to sweeten the deal and charm him away from his other suitors.

Drew Hutchison (Jake)

Hutchison has run an ERA about .80 higher than his FIP in 417.2 IP in his career, working primarily as a starter. That 4.93 ERA appears to have held him back despite solid AAA production. At 27, Hutchison is far from over-the-hill, yet he failed to receive a MLB appearance in 2017 with the Blue Jays or the Pirates. Few teams are in a better position to give Hutchison playing time than Seattle, whose “wolfpack” plan will rely heavily on starters maximizing their skillset and relievers providing multi-inning appearances. Hutchison can dabble in both at a low cost, and as a bonus, comes with three years of team control.

Hideaki Wakui (John)

Wakui is a 31 year old RHP from Japan who Dipoto watched pitch on his recent visit. Wakui had a long stretch of strong play before scuffling a bit this year, but is eligible for free agency to the U.S. if he chooses. He’s a control pitcher with fastballs in the high-80s and low-90s, but could be useful. Signing a deal equivalent to that which Hisashi Iwakuma signed seems appropriate for a team looking to build SP depth, especially at the bargain price of 1 year/$1.5MM (with an MiLB option).

Tyson Ross (Isabelle)

Isabelle has done a lot of research on Thoracic Outlet Syndrome that she’d like to be able to use at some point, and she hasn’t asked for anything yet, so maybe just give her this one, Jerry. Ross struggled mightily in 2017 after returning from his injury, but with another six months of healing Ross could be a great bounce-back candidate that would come without a hint of risk.

Other things to do:

  • Give Hisashi Iwakuma a spring training invite. As thin as the pitching market is, there probably won’t be a team willing to take a chance on Iwakuma this coming year. Keeping him in the organization is good for both sides: Iwakuma gets to stay with the team that’s employed him for the past six years, with the doctors who have been treating him over his career, and the Mariners get to retain Iwakuma with the hopes he can rebound from the shoulder injuries that sidelined him this past season. If his health has deteriorated beyond the point of no return, as fearfully seems to be the case, there will be no risk and Iwakuma can retire/shift to a front office role.
  • Re-sign Evan Marshall, so we may be delighted more by his dog Butters. Almost equally of consequence, Marshall’s numbers in Tacoma last year (10.8 K/9 and 21.2 IP in 13 appearances) mixed with his mid-90s velocity are enough to merit depth consideration.
  • Sign minor league free agent RHP Enrique Burgos. Our Zach Sanders’ beloved Blake Parker was once naught but a hard-throwing minor leaguer with a great K% and underwhelming other results. Burgos is 26 and has been unable to get his ERA to match his decent FIP thus far in a couple MLB stints in relief. Third time could be the charm for Evan Marshall’s former Reno Aces teammate.
  • Re-sign Cody Martin, the OG Brave Little Toaster. Martin struggled a little last year with health coming back from an elbow injury, but is a reliable innings-eater who knows the system and can work anywhere you put him.
  • DFA Rob Whalen. Whalen had a 2017 to forget, spending time on the DL, an unsuccessful MLB stint, and ending the season on the restricted list for personal issues. He’s only 23 and there’s plenty of time for him, but he and his 5.60 FIP can probably be safely passed through waivers, opening up a 40-man slot.

Step Seven: Fill backup catcher in-house

With the emergence of Mike Zunino, the Mariners can afford not to pour a ton of money into signing a backup catcher. Carlos Ruiz was paid $4.5 million last year, so they can free up a decent amount of payroll elsewhere by relying on internal options. However, because the position is so thin in the organization, they would be remiss not to do their due diligence here, lest we get another four weeks of Tuffy Gosewisch, MLB hitter. Mike Marjama is raw behind the plate and his bat is untested, but has hit at every level in the minors and showed a little pop with a homer and a double in his first nine MLB plate appearances last year. They’ve already brought in David Freitas, who is more seasoned in the upper minors, to compete with him for the job, but look for Marjama to win out in spring training. Steamer has Marjama at .3 fWAR; Ruiz accrued .5 as a Mariner, so as long as Marjama’s defense holds up this is essentially a wash that saves millions that can be allocated elsewhere. Considering the glaring needs at other starting positions, that’s a compromise we’re comfortable with.

Step Eight: Improve (a little) on the bases

Despite naming this as a goal of the 2017 offseason, the Mariners were horrible on the basepaths last year. Their combined BsR score on Fangraphs was -12.3, good for fourth-worst in baseball. There was probably better baserunning at any of the LL softball games this season. Unfortunately, the team can’t improve a ton here, as the combination of Cano, Cruz, Seager, and Zunino will most likely register a mark similar to their combined score of -9.6 BsR from last year. Add to that an inevitably slow-footed first baseman and the Mariners are already significantly in the hole on the bases.

Where can an improved approach on the bases come from? A significant boost can come from better health, specifically from Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura, who combined for -2.6 BsR. Running Guillermo Heredia out less often, or having him be healthy when he is on the bases, could also help ameliorate the -1.3 he contributed. Not having Carlos Ruiz, who accounted for -3.4 BsR last year, chooch-chooching around the bases will be a minor improvement, and if Mike Marjama wins the backup job, he brings at least mostly neutral value on the bases (think a slower Mitch Haniger).

The biggest place the Mariners can add value on the bases is in addressing their outfield need. Jarrod Dyson and Ben Gamel were the only regulars to record positive BsR scores (Gamel 3.5, Dyson 5.6), and Dyson’s production on the bases has to be made up, either by re-signing him or going after an outfield candidate who boasts plus speed.

This isn’t a problem that can simply be solved through a signing, however. It’s a systemic issue that needs to be addressed in the off-season. Forget the hitting summit; give us the baserunning summit. Make them play a game like H-O-R-S-E at spring training called TOOTBLAN. Give Dyson an incentive-laden contract based on how many steals Guillermo Heredia gets next year. Tell Gamel there’s a can of Skoal buried at second base. Bodyswap Nelson Cruz with Ian Miller every time he gets on base. Moving Manny Acta off third base and into the dugout may be a good start, but we will be anxiously monitoring what else the team is doing to make up lost value on the basepaths.

Step Nine: Build Minors Depth

The Mariners lost thirty-six minor league players to free agency this year, which is the most in baseball by a significant amount. That speaks to both the age of the system and its overall quality. While the new regime is focusing attention on the lower levels of the organization with the idea of building from the bottom up, anything that leaves us an injury or two away from Tuffy Gosewisch, Everyday MLB Hitter is a dangerous situation (Tuffy, Tuffster, Sir Tuffington III, we love your name, we love your leadership and defensive abilities, we love you in Tacoma). There are areas where the Mariners could be okay if a rash of injuries hit a particular position, and there are other areas where the minor-league depth is pitifully thin. Having dealt with pitching depth already, the position groups are addressed in an overview below:

Catcher: When we did our minors positional depth overviews this past season, John subtitled his entry on catchers with the caveat: “contains 5% catcher.” That might not be much of an overstatement. This time last year, Tyler Marlette was coming off a dynamic season for Double-A Jackson, and had an opportunity to play in the AFL. Marlette repeated Double-A this year and looks stalled out in the organization, joining Marcus Littlewood and Steven Baron as seeming organizational depth rather than actual prospects. The only potential players on the horizon are recent catching conversion project Joe DeCarlo (A+ Modesto), 2017 draftee David Banuelos, who had a wRC+ of 109 at Everett this year, and possibly A-Clinton’s Yojhan Quevedo, who is currently tearing up the Venezuelan League and doesn’t strike out a lot but needs to continue to improve offensively, and is currently an MiLB free agent. The Mariners should try to add another catcher they can develop in their system, like the A’s 2016 32nd-round pick Collin Theroux. In his first full season this year, Theroux struck out a bunch (46%!) and averaged a miserable .147, but also whacked 13 HRs for an ISO of .183, and he walked 12.2% of the time. There are enough intriguing raw tools here that with proper development the 6’2” Theroux, known for his arm strength and ability to cut runners down on the bases, could really be something, but he’s still a buy-low candidate. Bonus: Theroux shares a hitting philosophy with Mariners prospect Braden Bishop (both are Ryan Parker devotees), whose adjustments at the plate this year have produced impressive results. He’s also overall a pretty rad dude. If the Mariners can’t pry a high-upside player like Theroux away from his organization, they should consider signing an MiLB free agent like Willians Astudillo, a delightfully round-faced 26-year-old whose walk rate and strikeout rate are both in the 3s (!) and has shown an ability to hit for average throughout the minors. He might have some power to unlock in the bat as well, although his .217 ISO is clouded by playing half his games in the extreme hitter’s park in Reno. Astudillo is apparently pretty rough behind the plate, but that’s what you have a Tuffy Gosewisch for.

Infield: Externally, acquiring Rule-5 eligible 1B Mike Ford from the Yankees for cash or a very minor PTBNL feels like a no-brainer. Ford’s 156 wRC+ in 115 PAs at AAA-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (27 championships, three AAA names for the Bronx Bombers) line up with similarly impressive numbers at every level of the minors. Despite a total lack of prospect hype, Ford is a KATOH darling, and could take DJ Peterson’s place as Daniel Vogelbach’s Tacoma DH/1B swap buddy at the very least, while also providing Seattle another potential bat for the 1B chasm.

In terms of utility depth, Mike Freeman and Tyler Smith were both lost on waivers, and both Shawn O’Malley and Gordon Beckham are free agents. The Mariners have to plug up some holes in Tacoma’s infield, and we’re already starting to see that with the claiming of utility players Andrew Romine and Zach Vincej. Assuming Romine makes it through the offseason (Vincej has already cleared waivers and is off the 40-man, safely in Tacoma), he’ll join light-hitting Zach Shank as a guy with INF/OF capabilities. Chris Mariscal performed well after a promotion to Double-A Arkansas (his overall AA numbers look meh because of 20 poor PAs on either side of his brief stint there, but he tore through August with a .712 OPS), and might be available mid-season to hold down second base in Tacoma. Double-A Arkansas’ roster was similarly denuded, although that team should get an infusion of talent from the Cal League Champion Modesto Nuts. Unfortunately, the breakdown is pretty stark between higher-level utility options and lower-level upside possibilities. Alexander Campos and Chris Torres remain intriguing SS options, and also remain at least a couple years off.

Outfield: While the vaunted outfield depth Jerry Dipoto built up last offseason has been cast to the wind, by comparison this is still the strongest contingent of players liable to influence an MLB roster at some point, not counting relief pitchers. Kyle Lewis remains worrisome until we see him playing baseball without looking like a dad in a softball league when he runs, but his bat looked up to speed in a weird half season that combined High-A Modesto, a torrid playoff run, and a few precious games in the AFL in Arizona before shutting down to ensure maximal rest. More imminently, Andrew Aplin is the first line of defense, despite not possessing a 40-man spot, and he is probably fine. Ian Miller, who needs to be added to the 40-man or risk being thefted in the Rule 5 draft, will begin in AAA and seek to build on the best offensive season of his career to prove himself a Jarrod Dyson replacement. He struggled to regain the power stroke he’d showed off in AA last year after his call-up to AAA, however, and isn’t likely to be rushed. Braden Bishop will begin in Arkansas and seek to do much the same thing that Miller will, a level earlier. Eric Filia will be with him, seeking to prove his bat can impress at ever-higher levels. Outside of Aplin and Miller, and the recently acquired MiLB signee Kirk Nieuwenhuis, there’s not much the Mariners can expect at the MLB-level from this group, however.

This concludes the word-y part of the offseason plan. If concluding on Kirk Nieuwenhuis feels anticlimactic to you, one, that’s rude, two, you’re right, and three, don’t worry, we’re not quite done! Tomorrow we’ll publish a brief summary for all you TL;DR people with lots of pictures and handy charts and the like. That will include our Official™ ideal projected 25-man roster, payroll projections, and brief (we promise) explanations on how we think this is the best pathway for the M’s to compete in 2018, within the guidelines we established. After that, on Friday we’ll drop our Fanpost challenge and see which of you can come up with the roster that most closely resembles what the team goes into the season with. The winner will get A Prize, including but not limited to a special avatar designed by our staff that recognizes them as BOSS COMMENTER.