Hardball via Hardcore's 2017 Seattle Mariners Offseason Plan

By Stevil, September 15th, 2016


Safeco Field, 2016. From petfriendlytravelus.com


Part I: Introduction

The 2016 season was about as wild as anyone could have imagined. Transaction after transaction, then injury after injury (leading to more transactions), and all the highs and lows in between—right up until the end. It truly was a roller coaster of a season. But overall, we saw pretty good baseball more nights than not, and took a significant step forward. The organization as a whole took a huge step forward. I don't think anyone would dare dispute that. Though some trades didn't work out, other moves did, and we head into the 2017 offseason in a pretty good position as a result.

This time around I actually know who the General Manager is, which wasn't a luxury I had when I composed the bulk of my plan last season, and it is helpful, because we now have a profile. But last season was still incredibly rewarding for me, as the moves we saw were strikingly similar to my own thoughts and ideas, and never have the moves made more sense over the last 10+ years than they had last season. The blueprint was clear. The blueprint is still clear. Last year I made a valid effort to stamp the importance of depth into everyone's head, and we watched Jerry Dipoto and company take that to a whole new level, beyond what I could have imagined. Good to know he was listening.

But inevitably, there are more moves to be made, as some players no longer fit, others are free agents, better options and opportunities arise, and injuries force alternative plans. Though the needs have changed, the same principles and strategy remain. We know there's more payroll flexibility, a stronger list of minor league depth, and arguably an even stronger desire to strengthen a team that has already grown stronger in a relatively short period of time, but with a smaller window regarding 3/5 of our core. There aren't any clear holes, but the potential benefit from upgrades and thickening up is sizable.

My focus is on the 40 man roster and immediate depth. As always, I express a lot of interest in players with positional flexibility, and especially appreciate defense up the middle and on the left side. Position players with solid plate discipline don't go unnoticed, nor do pitchers with a knack for deception, leading to high ground ball rates and missed bats. Finding these kinds of players available for the taking is easier said than done, though, so a little give-and-take is to be expected.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my blatant disregard for proposing popular moves has ascended to new heights, and while I don't anticipate many of my specific proposals actually happening, the concept should make sense after immense arguing, and I suspect the results in the aftermath will be something at least somewhat in semblance with my plan. With that said, here's my list of needs:


Left Handed Relief Pitcher
Corner Outfielder
Shortstop
First Baseman/Utility Player
Starting Pitching Depth
Catching Depth
40 man space
Extend Leonys Martin

I know what you're all thinking, and every one of you are wrong. This is where the arguing starts. Ready? Go!

Part II: The Moves and Affect

Trades

Zack Cozart (SS) to Seattle; Arquimedes Caminero (RHRP) and Zach Lee (RHP) to Cincinnati.
Christian Vázquez (C) to Seattle; Tyler Marlette (C) and Forrest Snow (RHP) to Boston
Mitch Haniger (OF) to Seattle; Zack Littell (RHSP) and Jonathan Aro (RHRP) to Arizona

Free Agents

C.J. Wilson (LHSP); Minor League deal, 2 million with incentives +option
Steve Pearce (1B/OF); 1 year, 6 million with incentives +option
Brett Cecil (LHRP); 1 year, 3 million with incentives +option
Franklin Gutiérrez (OF); Minor League deal, 1 million with incentives
Drew Storen (RHRP); Minor League deal, 1 million with incentives

Team Options

Decline Norichika Aoki; 6 million
Decline Seth Smith; 7 million
Decline Chris Iannetta; 4.25 million

Other Transactions

Extend Leonys Martín; 5 years, 40 million (4 million in 2017, back-load the remainder)
Non-tender Steve Clevenger
DFA/Trade/Crucify Stefen Romero

The Active Roster

Rotation:

Félix Hernández (RHSP)
Hisashi Iwakuma (RHSP)
James Paxton (LHSP)
Taijuan Walker (RHSP)
Ariel Miranda (LHSP)

Bullpen:

Edwin Díaz (RHRP; CL)
Steve Cishek (RHRP)
Tom Wilhelmsen (RHRP)
Nick Vincent (RHRP)
Evan Scribner (RHRP)
Brett Cecil (LHRP)
Vidal Nuño (LHRP)

Fielders and Catchers:

Guilermo Heredia (RHH), LF
Mitch Haniger (RHH), RF
Robinson Canó (LHH), 2B
Nelson Cruz (RHH), DH
Kyle Seager (LHH), 3B
Steve Pearce (RHH) 1B
Leonys Martín (LHH), CF
Zack Cozart (RHH), SS
Mike Zunino (RHH), C

Bench:

Ben Gamel (LHH), OF
Shawn O'Malley (SH), INF/OF
Mike Freeman (LHH), INF/OF
Jesús Sucre (RHH), C

40 Man Roster and Additional Depth

Nate Karns (RHSP)*
Cody Martin (RHSP)
Adrian Sampson (RHSP)
Pat Venditte (SHRP!)
David Rollins (LHRP)
Tony Zych (RHRP)
Dan Altavilla (RHRP)
Ketel Marté (SS/2B)
Dan Vogelbach (1B)
Boog Powell (OF)
Steve Baron (C)
Christian Vázquez (C)
Ryan Cook (RHRP)*
Charlie Furbush (LHRP)**

Notable Minor League Signings

C.J. Wilson (LHSP)*
Franklin Gutiérrez (OF)
Drew Storen (

  *Currently on 60-day DL
**Out for the 2017 season

Part III: Explaining the Moves

Short version:

The goal is to ship off players without options (or not needed) to address other needs, get younger, add impact-bats to our core, strengthen our depth, and maintain payroll flexibility without sacrificing too many prospects; fill in the gaps with a few free agents.

Long version:

Trades
  • Marté could benefit from more AAA seasoning. Cincinnati's bullpen is terrible and needs help desperately. Cozart is a free agent after the 2017 season, and the Reds have Peraza to keep the seat warm until Rodriguez is ready. So an interesting right-handed power-reliever and a former top-pick starter who is destined to be a reliever, should get the job done. The Mariners need roster room and have too many RHRP's without options. This swap addresses a need from an area of strength, or excess, depending on how you look at it. Getting better and buying time should be the result here.
  • Christian Vázquez is an underrated defensive catcher who has shown a decent bat in the minor leagues. He's been in the Red Sox organization longer than most can remember, yet he's still their fourth option at the position (he probably should be their third, though). With five players on the 60-day DL, they'll need to make room on their roster, and as it's clear they're no longer that interested in Vázquez, moving him for a catcher with just six years of minor league experience makes at least some sense. The Mariners need an immediate fallback option to stash in Tacoma and Vázquez fits the bill perfectly. Snow put up impressive numbers in AA last season, and he's not on the 40, so throwing him in this deal should help make it happen. This doesn't address catching depth beyond 2017, but we'll take this one step at a time.
  • If Arizona were to blow it all up, the Mariners should be making a play for Goldschmidt, and possibly even Pollock. They will likely overhaul their front office, but I'll assume the incoming brass will believe they can contend in 2017, which leaves Mitch Haniger as a trade chip for pitching. Some of you might recall that he was once the top outfield prospect for the Brewers. He took the scenic route in professional baseball, but the knocks against him appear to have been addressed after a full season in AAA. Power? Check. Contact? Check. Discipline? Check. We're talking about a solid outfielder with a strong arm and a brutal bat. He simply needs a place to prove himself, and Arizona doesn't have room for him. So, offering a promising starting pitching prospect, along with a near-ready reliever, should be appealing. Worth noting, this suggestion may be an overpay, but as an Armchair-GM, I don't have to sweat any repercussions.
Free Agent Signings
  • C.J. Wilson's arm has been a mess, to put it politely. He's endured elbow and shoulder issues, and opted for season-ending surgery to repair his labrum. But Dipoto, Servais, and Bogar know his upside, and he could prove to be an excellent rehab project—if not an immediate rotation piece. He's the kind of buy-low candidate we've come to expect from Dipoto and the incentives would make this about as risk-free as is possible. He's one year removed from being a solid, top-end starter.
  • Steve Pearce is an impact-bat that has flown under the radar. He may not offer stellar defense, but he can still cover 3B, 2B, 1B, and the outfield corners decently, and what he does with the bat shouldn't be underestimated. He makes uber-hard contact and puts a real charge into an offense, which he demonstrated while playing regularly for Tampa Bay last season. Like Seth Smith, he's going to give you an excellent PA—if not more—and he doesn't need to be platooned. He starts at 1st base until Vogelbach looks more like a first baseman. If a higher base salary is necessary to acquire him, it would be worth serious consideration.
  • Brett Cecil has enjoyed an excellent career to date with the Blue Jays. He's coming off a rough 2016 that may have soured his status in Toronto, but he was pitching strong down the stretch, and could prove to be an excellent, affordable replacement for Furbush. Why would he choose Seattle you ask? Incentives. But this is another example of how the Cano signing and philosophy of the new regime pays off. Seattle is now a desirable place for a player to be. Why wouldn't Cecil, or a comparable player, want to come here?
  • Signing Franklin Gutiérrez and Drew Storen to minor league deals may not be possible, but nobody should have a problem with either one. They would serve as insurance—experienced insurance—that could prove invaluable at some point over the course of the season. Having someone who can still mash LHP around in reserve wouldn't be a bad thing, and there's always a need for decent relievers beyond the 40.
Team Options
  • Aoki had an odd 2016, though he hit RHP fairly well and eventually got himself together. But with sub-par defense, declining speed, a price tag of 6 million, questions over consistency and his ability to hit LHP, and the fact that we have another LHB in reserve with a better glove, there's simply no need to retain Aoki for 2017, in my opinion. He could be retained and traded, but there wouldn't likely be much of a return.
  • Smith was a key part of the Mariners' offense last season. He's been a lot of fun to watch and is very likable. But at 7 million and after a notable drop in defense, this is probably the right time to move on. Like Aoki, they could consider exercising his option to trade him (or keep him), but the idea here is to move forward; upgrade. This is one of the few moves I feel might regret, if it were actually my call to make. If his option is indeed declined, and time proves it to have been a mistake, make sure to blame Dipoto, not me. For the record, I'll deny having thrown Jerry under the bus.
  • Iannetta helped improve the Mariners catching last season. But Sucre will come at a fraction of his 4.25 million dollar option, and he offers the defense needed from a backup catcher as well as anybody. Two years ago, I would have cringed at the thought of a Zunino/Sucre combo. That feeling has passed, and I'm perfectly comfortable with those two moving forward, though a bottle of Vat 69, or aged Jameson, will assist with the comforting.
Other Transactions
  • Extending Martín would allow the Mariners to secure Center Field beyond the remaining 2 years of team control at a team-friendly value. This move isn't a must, but I believe it would be wise. I would suggest the same be done with Paxton, but it's doubtful Boras would play along fairly, as Paxton's entering his first year of arbitration eligibility and is poised for a breakout 2017.
  • My original plan for Clevenger likely went out the window when he opened his mouth. Dipoto has worked magic multiple times already, but the 32 thousand saved might be the best we get out of him. I'd love to see that 32 thousand donated to charity, regardless.
  • Stefen Romero is out of options and opportunities in Seattle. Barring injury, there really isn't any room, nor need for him. Maybe he sticks around through spring, but the roster spot he currently occupies is too valuable. This should be one of the least surprising moves of the offseason. For the record, offseason is technically two separate words, but they shouldn't be, so I'll continue to defy the status of various dictionaries and English scholars with little or no knowledge of anything baseball-related. 

So, what's the benefit of all this you ask?

You give yourself an offensive boost at Shortstop and 1st Base. You give yourself a defensive boost at Shortstop, Left Field, and Right Field, and you do so with players that have all the right tools and skills to give similar, or even better, offense in addition to the defense. With no significant financial commitment, you would have the flexibility to buy at the deadline if necessary, and you wouldn't be creating a restrictive logjam, as you would be able to option an outfielder to Tacoma to make room for O'Neill, a rental, or other addition when/if necessary.

Someone will likely suggest that there is no way this team would run with two unproven players at the top of the order. Maybe, maybe not. Heredia and Gamel may lack MLB experience, but Heredia does have professional experience from Cuba and Gamel has two full seasons of AAA seasoning under his belt. Haniger dominated AAA in all the right areas as well. We would need 2 of those 3 to cut it, but again, we would still have the defense and the flexibility to improvise at the deadline should time prove a move is needed.

What might some of the alternatives be you ask?

Free Agency doesn't offer much, and the competition for upgrading will likely be fierce. With that said, Boone Logan (LHRP), Jon Jay (OF), and Jordy Mercer (SS, via trade with Pittsburgh) are appealing. Wil Myers might be an excellent alternative for First Base (I would probably still want Pearce for the bench), and a swap with San Diego in an exchange centered around Taijuan Walker might not be a stretch. The Mariners would have a more experienced slugger at the top of the order in that scenario, and Karns could easily slot in to Walker's spot for Seattle, so it would be something to kick the tires over, if nothing else.

These names would represent the more costly route, and most of them I would actually prefer, but when weighing everything collectively, these are players that I feel would be luxuries, more so than necessities. This is where the arguing should secede a little. If I still haven't sold everyone on my ideas, pour another drink and sleep on them. If they don't make sense when you awake, repeat the process until they do.

Part IV: The Conclusion

We enter the offseason with a team that was pretty well dialed-in by the end of the season, having shown improvement in virtually every area. The last thing I would want to do is try to fix something that isn't broken, but they could stand to tighten up further, and prepare for the future.

These new names should amplify what we already have in place, enhancing our defense, as well as our offense. Extra, lesser known pieces may be needed for some of my ideas to get done, but this plan follows the blueprint and keeps us well-stocked all around at an affordable price. The key difference is that we would instantly have a force to reckon with at the plate and on the field, and without having depleted the farm.

With players such as Moore and Blackburn climbing the ladder rapidly, the possibility of selling high on Walker would be something to keep in mind at the deadline if a move isn't made sooner, as would the possibility of adding salary, and yes, I realize I'm being a little repetitive. The improved defense should help make everyone a little shinier, so there's that as well. Cue the misunderstandings and overreactions.

The one thing I'm not accounting for are the players that will need Rule 5 Draft protection. There's little free space in this plan, though Furbush will likely go to the 60 immediately (if he isn't non-tendered), Cook may be joining him, and we have immediate vacancies from players with declined options and those departing for Free Agency, so the timing of these moves should allow for everything to work out smoothly. We may even see some DFA's and small trades before the offseason even starts. Other players, such as Baron, could be moved or DFA'd if/when necessary.

We should keep in mind that Dipoto has eyes like a hawk and has been quick to snag DFA's by other teams. This has proven fruitful, as players such as Cody Martin and Mike Freeman have been incredibly useful, so having openings could be vital this spring.

Once again, it's the type of players that are more important here than the actual names I've suggested (well, for the most part), so if anyone takes this too seriously, they will be ridiculed relentlessly.
On that note, I'll wrap this up with notes. Feel free to ask any questions, just know that I'm going to have answers that make sense.

Numerical Notes

• Number of seemingly sketchy names on the 40: 0
• Number of impact-bats added: 1, hopefully 2
• Number of legitimate starting pitchers immediately available in AAA (if healthy): 4
• Number of legitimate relief pitchers immediately available in reserve: 5 (plus the starters)
• Number of hours spent sifting through minor league rosters, scouting reports and videos: 100+
• Number of organizational players outbound: 11
• Number of new names on the active roster: 4
• Number of new names on the 40: 1
• Number of holes remaining: 0
• Number of drafts with alternative ideas before settling on this plan: 6
• Number of other players considered: 40+
• Number of doubts or second thoughts: no idea

Additional Notes

• Adding to the core and tightening up without compromising the future in terms of talent, or future payroll commitment, is no walk in the park, and the work that I've done is nothing compared to what the front office has been doing consistently. That doesn't mean I won't accept cash-tips for my efforts, though.
• Other Minor League signings, especially rehab-projects, should be expected. Completely different moves than I suggested should be expected as well.
• Payroll would be around 127 million, depending on the arbitration figures, if I'm not mistaken, so there should be considerable financial flexibility to improvise along the way. I probably didn't need to point that out, since opening day payroll was considerably higher last season, and I hinted at that in the conclusion, but there's always room for a little redundancy.
• It may feel like I'm willing to sacrifice a lot of pitchers, but think of it as pruning and weeding. You want a nice garden, don't you? I want a nice team.
• Every outfielder in this plan can play Center Field, as can O'Malley and Freeman, though they would likely be used more frequently in the infield. Freeman would be the immediate backup First Sacker, which means a little offseason work (he has some experience there), while I would remain the immediate Armchair Advisor.
• Someone is surely going to complain about batting order. There's always a complaint about batting order—especially at the top of the order. The idea here is to run with the guys who can run and work the pitcher. Haniger had a wOBA of .468 in Reno last season and his P/PA was over 4 in both leagues. Yes, I want him batting 2nd if Myers, or an experienced hitter isn't acquired. Hopefully that spearheads the subject.
• Lack of humor in this plan is intentional. It has been reserved for the responses by other commenters and will be promptly served accordingly at their expense.

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