We’re halfway through Day 1 of the baseball winter meetings here in Nashville and there are already plenty of things going on, the biggest being the three-year, $39 million deal signed by Mike Napoli with the Red Sox. I understand that some of you were not that thrilled with the prospect of Napoli coming to Seattle and that’s OK, because there are still other bats the Mariners can try to land.
Speaking with Mariners officials here, they are adamant that their financial flexibility is increased over what was available last year at this time and in prior winters. The team continues to be engaged on multiple fronts, which is why you will keep seeing them pop up in rumors on all ends of the spectrum. What the Mariners don’t want to see happen here is for the carousel to stop and for them to be left out in the cold with no real upgrades to their team.
So, they are looking into all available bats, which is why you will see them linked to Washington Nationals free agent Adam LaRoche, even though he is now 33 and reportedly seeking a three-year deal. Personally, I liked the idea of the Mariners bringing in LaRoche in at the winter meetings three years ago before Seattle’s offense went off an historical cliff in 2010. If I remember, we had quite the debates on this blog about the merits of that. Now, I’m not so sure the Mariners really want to go down that route with a player of that age. LaRoche had one decent season in 2010,an injury-plagued disaster of one in 2011, then put it all together last season with 33 homers and an .853 OPS for the Nationals.
He’s an upgrade over what the Mariners have, yes, which is why they are looking at him. They are looking at any bat — accent on the “any” part — that is better than what they have at specific positions.
On the trade front, the Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are still possibilities, not that they ever stopped being that. The Mariners have always been interested in both Butler and Gordon and have the pitching to put a package together for a Royals team in need of it.
Again, though, the Mariners aren’t going to get something for nothing. The likelihood of getting Butler without giving up a top prospect arm and likely a guy already having pitched in the majors is remote. The Mariners understand this concept, which is why GM Jack Zduriencik said earlier today that nobody other than Felix Hernandez is untouchable.
I can tell you that the Mariners internally are quite high on minor league shortstop Brad Miller, which is why you should not be surprised to see Nick Franklin get moved as part of a trade deal.
As for the catching situation, Zduriencik has said for a while now that he’d like to add another guy behind the plate if possible. With Napoli now out of the mix, the Mariners will likely be starting the season with some type of revolving combo like they did last year — at least temporarily until Mike Zunino comes up from the minors. Miguel Olivo was part of that last year, but with him gone, the Mariners will want somebody else because they currently don’t have anyone they feel comfortable giving reps to on too many consecutive days.
John Jaso, in many respects, would be a perfect National League guy because teams could take advantage of his pinch-hitting ability — perhaps the best in the game — on an almost nightly basis. AL teams just don’t pinch-hit as much, so Jaso gets less of an opportunity with those clubs to showcase what might be his greatest asset. That’s one reason his name came up in talks between the Mariners and Pirates.
Unless you are planning to catch Jaso four or five days a week — which the Mariners so far have been unwilling to do — it becomes a challenge to get him into AL games often enough. That could change going forward, but if the Mariners hang on to Jesus Montero, they will want him to be getting DH time against right-handers and learning to hit them.
So, just throwing Jaso in at DH when he isn’t catching likely won’t be as big an option as some people think. For me, I think we saw Jaso at his best last season and his numbers bore that out: a guy who can back up the main catcher a couple of times per week, maybe DH another game, then come off the bench with ice in his veins to pinch-hit in key situations. He is likely not a guy who can post those same numbers if he catches 100 games per season. But hey, I could be wrong. We’ll see how the Mariners use him from here on in and see what they think.
But as bad as some of you felt Miguel Olivo and Montero were at catching last season — and I’ve read plenty about that in your comments — the fact remains that the Mariners still wouldn’t catch Jaso consecutive games unless they absolutely had to. And not just because they were facing left-handed pitching. Those are facts: look it up. As to why the Mariners did that, like I said, we’ll see whether their thinking changes this off-season and when the 2013 campaign begins. Then, we’ll know for sure. Up until then, all we have to go on is how they’ve handled him: like a backup.
Anyhow, there are so many different ways the Mariners can go at this if they want to augment the offense. But as I wrote over the weekend, it’s going to wind up costing them either big dollars or some prospects if they want to land the type of premier guy many on this blog seem to advocate for. There just aren’t a ton of guys floating around out there who are perfect-body types with years of club control left who can be had for a bargain.
So, stay tuned. We’ll be chatting with Zduriencik in about a half hour.