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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

January 16, 2013 at 10:44 AM

Not many good options evident for Mariners to augment offense — right now, anyway

With the Justin Upton door slammed shut, and apparently double-bolted and locked, the question now is where do the Mariners turn next to bolster their offense?

Not a little of obvious answers to that one.

Here is the list* of remaining free agents. You can parse it until you get blue in the face, and you won’t find much that excites you. A lot of older guys who have reached the end of the line, either formally (Chipper Jones, Omar Vizquel) or informally (Aubrey Huff, Scott Podsednik), or guys coming off major injuries (Grady Sizemore, whose agent says he won’t sign until mid-season, when he sees how his knees are holding up), or guys the Mariners have already tried (Bill Hall, Adam Kennedy, Miguel Olivo, Casey Kotchman) or guys that at best would be bench players (too many to list), or guys you don’t want to touch (ditto).

*Not sure why Matt Diaz is still on the list — he signed with the Yankees. And though Mike Napoli still hasn’t formalized his deal with the Red Sox, the latest indications are they are finally getting closer to doing so.

The Mariners will probably need a third catcher, so there might be a couple of those on the list who attract their interest. And Travis Hafner might have been an intriguing DH option at one point, but not after adding Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez to go with John Jaso and Jesus Montero. I also happen to fall into the “Just say no” to Delmon Young camp, for reasons that are contained within this piece.

So on the free-agent market, you are left with just one intriguing option, Michael Bourn, for whom I have yet to detect much heat from the Mariners. I’ve expressed my support for a pursuit of Bourn, particularly after they lost out on Josh Hamilton. I understand the hesitation on Bourn, and how the failure of Chone Figgins might be making them gun-shy to go for another guy whose game is built around speed. I believe Bourn has a lot to offer, but he certainly isn’t the slugger that the Mariners really covet. And signing him would cost Seattle its No. 12 overall pick in next year’s draft, which is probably the biggest obstacle to making a deal happen.

It occurs to me that the Mariners’ entire winter strategy might have been altered by winning their final two games of the season against the Angels. Had they lost those two games, they would have finished with a 73-89 record, same as the Blue Jays, who have the 10th and final protected draft pick this offseason (in other words, if the Blue Jays sign a free agent to whom a qualifying offer has been made, they would have to give up their second-round draft pick, rather than their first). In the case of a tie, the team with the worst record the previous season “wins” and gets the higher draft pick. That would have been the Mariners, who went 67-95 in 2011, compared to 81-81 for Toronto. Who knows if the Mariners would have made a more serious run for Nick Swisher had they not been concerned with giving up their No. 12 draft pick? Swisher wound up signing with Cleveland, which picks No. 5 overall next year and thus had a protected first-round pick. The Mariners were willing to lose that No. 12 pick for an impact home-run bat like Hamilton’s, but so far that’s not the case for Bourn.

It’s still possible the Mariners could wind up going the trade route. But unless there are players being made available we don’t know about — always a possibility — there aren’t many good options. Mike Morse has long been linked to the Mariners, and probably wouldn’t cost much in terms of prospects, but he would be a rental — he’s a free agent after the season — and would have to play a lot of corner outfield, where he’s not very good defensively. Morse as a first baseman/DH made a lot of sense, but Morse as an outfielder, less so. Jason Kubel, another Arizona outfielder — one without a no-trade clause to Seattle — is a possibility, but the Diamondbacks are in a position where they almost HAVE to trade Upton. I can’t see them dealing both outfielders.

Despite ongoing rumors, there’s no indication the Dodgers are serious about trading Andre Ethier. Does Alfonso Soriano really excited anyone? Curtis Granderson is another name that I’ve heard, but the Yankees are already low on outfielders who can hit the ball out of the park. And he’s a free agent after the season, too.

Yes, all roads lead back to one name (harp music and choral soundtrack, please): Giancarlo “Don’t Call Me Mike” Stanton. I’ve already professed my man-crush on Stanton. I have little doubt that the Marlins will eventually make Stanton available. But the question is when. My hunch is next offseason, when he becomes arbitration eligible. The Marlins march to their own beat, however. You have to think that the leaked Upton offer from the Mariners got their attention, and just reinforced, as if they didn’t already know, what a goldmine they are holding in Stanton. Let’s face it — if Upton is worth Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor, then Stanton is worth much more. Because Stanton is not only a better player than Upton — much better, at this stage — he’s younger, with more years of club control.

And at the point the Marlins make him available, the competition will be fierce. Just about every team will get in the mix, and several would be in a position to put together dynamic offers. But the Mariners, with their prospect-laden farm system, should be as equipped as anyone to make an offer the Marlins can’t refuse. I’d bet the farm they have already made Marlins’ officials very aware of their interest, and would be strongly in the mix when the time comes. Which it hasn’t. My hypothetical proposal in the previous blog post — Walker, another one of the Big Three, Franklin, Kyle Seager, and a top prospect from the lower levels of the farm system — I said Gabriel Guerrero as an example of the type of player — still sounds fairly reasonable. But judging from the Upton offer, it actually might not be enough. On the other hand, the longer the Marlins wait, the fewer years of club control the acquiring team has, and at least theoretically, his value goes down. But even next offseason, it would still be huge, assuming Stanton continues to progress as he has. As I said, and I repeat, if you want to get Giancarlo Stanton, it’s going to be painful. And there are still no guarantees, because this is a guy everyone wants. I repeat: The competition would be fierce. But I’d rate it as more than a mere pipe dream to think that the day will eventually come when the Mariners can join the bidding for Giancarlo Stanton. Just today, ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote, “There is an expectation that sometime in the next 11 months, two of the sport’s great young stars will be available on the trade market.”

One is Tampa Bay’s Cy Young winner David Price. The other is Giancarlo Stanton. So while the Mariners’ options for improving the offense don’t look so hot now, that might well change down the road.

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