We’re now almost a week into the New Year and still have not seen resolution to the Mariners’ ongoing quest to add a bat. It was a week ago today on New Year’s Eve that word first broke the Mariners might be in on a trade for Andre Ethier of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Since then, nary a word. The rumor-du-jour of the past few days is that the Mariners are trying to deal for outfielder Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks. That’s still generating buzz as of today. I can tell you that in conversations with a source last week, I was told that the Mariners continue to shop for a corner outfield/power bat on the trade front and that this is taking priority over any free agent quest for now.
Makes sense. Until the Mariners determine what they can actually get via trade — and whether or not a pitcher will also come with that bat — it’s tough to make a call on who to spend the free agent money on.
The trick here will to not be fooled into waiting too long for the market to play out. We saw a bit of that last year when the Mariners hung in on Prince Fielder — waiting to see whether his market would drop to much lower levels — then ran out of time to sign anybody else.
Anyhow, if the Mariners do make a deal, it could very well involve one of their top prospects. Some of you might know something about those, while others may not. One of the better primers I’ve seen out there on the team’s top-5 prospects was just put out right here by local writer Rick Randall.
His list has:
1. Taijuan Walker
2. Mike Zunino
3. Danny Hultzen
4. Nick Franklin
5. James Paxton
I have no problem with the list. In fact, I get a little bemused when I see lists that have already bumped Big 3 member James Paxton out of the top-5 despite the fact he did little last season to merit such a drop. If we were to go off command issues as a docking point, Danny Hultzen could be ousted as well. Paxton could very well be the most major league ready of any of the Big 3 depending on what he does this spring. Bottom line: a few starts in the Arizona Fall League won’t make or break his career. Nor do they erase what he did in the second half of last season in AA. We’ll learn more this spring, but he’s still in my top-5 list and Randall’s as well.
Now, we can quibble with the order of some of the prospects — I wonder about Taijuan Walker at No. 1 since he’s yet to pitch an inning of Class AAA ball — but most lists have him in the top-2 and he’s definitely being hyped about as high as the hype machine can possiblly go. His youth (age 19 last season) has everything to do with it, since Paxton and others had better AA numbers. The higher the perceived upside, the better the rankings usually go.
And when you’re playing the prospects game, it’s as much about hype and hope as it is about facts.
Some of what I liked about the list is that it’s more up-to-date on recent developments than other top-10 or top-5 compilations involving the Mariners. Many of those were done by national publications that miss a lot of the local intricacies. On Randall’s list, you see mentioned up-top the ongoing debate about whether Nick Franklin really has a future as a major league shortstop. Based on what I’ve heard, I’d be very suprised if he did — especially here in Seattle.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Randall points out. But it limits Franklin’s possibilities with the Mariners and if we’re discussing trade bait, that element certainly must come into play here.
Other discussion items include the number of passed balls allowed by Mike Zunino (No. 2 on the list) in the Arizona Fall League and in AA. We’ve seen a lot of rave reviews about Zunino so far and deservedly so. But one of the reasons he likely won’t break camp with the team is because there are elements to his game that still need polishing and footwork keeps coming up. There’s also the whole Super-2 arbitration thing and extra year before free agency that can be put off by keeping Zunino in the minors until June to consider. But if the Mariners have reservations about the defense of Jesus Montero and John Jaso behind the plate, it makes little sense to rush Zunino up to the bigs if he’s still got defensive issues that require polishing as well.
Anyhow, that’s just my take. By the way, Zunino isn’t getting traded. He can’t be yet anyway since he was drafted less than a year ago and isn’t eligible. But it’s worth getting a read on who some of the top guys are because these are the ones other teams will want if you’re going to bring up guys like Upton, Ethier or Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins in trade asks.