ADDITIONAL NOTE 8:30 p.m. PT: The Mariners have just informed us Felix Hernandez will not be available to the media tomorrow. My guess is, his deal won’t be done until later in the day at the earliest, after his physical is taken.
Scratch Michael Bourn off the list of potential long-term pieces for the Mariners. Bourn has agreed to a four-year, $48-million deal with the Cleveland Indians and becomes their center fielder. There is also a $12 million option for a fifth year if Bourn reaches 550 plate appearances in Year No. 4 of the deal.
That means the Mariners are likely done with big-ticket additions for now on the eve of camp opening tomorrow.
As of right now, they’ve got a payroll of right around $85 million. With incentive bonuses factored in, that could climb as high as $91 million or so, assuming no one gets traded at mid-season.
Chris Capuano of the Dodgers is one of a handful of pitchers out there capable of delivering the quality innings totals the Mariners desperately need. Photo Credit: AP
We’ve spoken about the offensive upgrades made by the Mariners and how the “wild card” to it all is how much of an impact moving the Safeco Field fences in will have on the team.
But all of that could be offset by a decline in the pitching staff if the Mariners don’t do something significant to upgrade their starting rotation. Moving in the fences will help the offense, in theory, yes. But using the same logic, it could also hurt the pitching staff even if you put the same five-man rotation out there as we saw for most of last year.
Now, of course, the Mariners won’t have the same starting five as last year. In order to acquire Kendrys Morales, the Mariners had to trade away Jason Vargas. And they also saw free agent Kevin Millwood leave.
You didn’t have to be a huge fan of either Vargas or Millwood. But between the two of them, they threw 378 1/3 innings last season and kept their teams in the game for the most part. Both pitchers relied heavily on their defense and — especially with Vargas — a pitcher-friendly home park , but they still were able to keep the score close after six or seven innings.
And you can’t just let that walk out the door without replacing it.
Raul Ibanez put up an OPS of .812 against right-handed pitching in 2012, a split the Mariners hope to benefit from in 2013. Photo Credit: AP
Figured it wouldn’t take long for the Raul Ibanez signing to generate some angst in the local fanbase. Yes, I know, he’s 40 years old and he plays positions that the Mariners have some much younger guys slotted for. He’s not Josh Hamilton and he’s not Nick Swisher.
Here’s the thing, though. Ibanez is a part-time player now and a pretty good one at that. He is envisioned for part-time roles at multiple positions where the Mariners, quite frankly, need upgrades.
And we’re still only in December. The season begins in April.
Part of the challenge of doing proper baseball analysis is to view each move as a piece to a whole puzzle. And when you take a few deep breaths, consider where the pieces fit, then look at the Ibanez move for what it is, it is pretty easy to envision where it could all head as long as the Mariners hold up their end of the bargain. By that, I mean, as long as the Mariners don’t try to hold Ibanez up alongside Kendrys Morales as the showpiece of their winter moves. If that’s what they try to do come April 1, then by all means, throw an angst party.
Believe me, we’ve been on to that part of the team’s m.o. for some time now. Those of you just figuring that part out, welcome to the party. Yes, the Mariners have money to spend this winter — or so they keep saying — and it’s been difficult watching free agent after free agent sign with other teams when you know they have the OBP, the slugging, whatever, to help a Mariners team in big need of both. No more “Who? Who? Who?” this season, please. Put the owls to sleep. There have been a plethora of guys who could have helped the Mariners via free agency or trade.
And there still are.
I’ve mentioned Michael Bourn before and did it again in today’s paper. I listed his age last night at 29, but he actually turns 30 today, so he’s no spring chicken. Thing is, he still runs like one. He’s an answer to what will soon be a long-term need for the team in center field and he’s a solution for a present need at leadoff.
No, he doesn’t hit a lot of home runs. But we’ve said all winter long that there are various different ways the Mariners can go about bettering their team and this is one of them. Not every guy who looks and plays like Bourn has to turn into Chone Figgins. There are plenty of guys who have looked and played like Bourn who did very well at his age. One of them, Ichiro, even put up great numbers at that age playing home games at Safeco Field.
If not Bourn, the Mariners can try to swing a trade for somebody else. But I mention Bourn simply because the field of competition for him has narrowed, the Mariners will need a center fielder after Franklin Gutierrez’s contract runs out (unless they feel like paying a $7.5 million option in 2014 to a guy who hasn’t had a healthy season since 2008 — remember he had the knee tendinitis in 2009) and they need a real leadoff guy right now. The Mariners also have a glut of potential platoon type guys for the outfield corners and I spelled out for you all at the winter meetings how that could actually work with a guy like Bourn anchoring center field.
Personally, I like the idea of rotating Gutierrez, Michael Saunders and Ibanez around the outfield corners with Jason Bay and/or Casper Wells. Those are much stronger corners than the team had last year, plus, you’d get a huge upgrade in center.
Look for Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders to see more action in right field this year as part of upgrades in a revamped home ballpark. Photo Credit AP
There are only so many more things we can say about the Kendrys Morales deal before we find out who’s still here in spring training and see how they play. Yes, the Mariners could now, in theory, trade either Justin Smoak or Jesus Montero if the right deal comes along. Personally, I’d like to see how they fare in the revamped Safeco Field confines first. Also, until we know for sure that Morales can play first base more than a few times per week, he’ll have to have another guy there to replace him and it won’t be Montero or John Jaso, who the Mariners have already ruled out as realistic first base options.
One guy I still believe this deal dramatically lessens the chances of the Mariners getting is Nick Swisher, primarily because a lot of his value to Seattle lay in his ability to play first base as well as right field. Well, you now have Morales and Smoak as switch-hitting first basemen, so adding Swisher there really crowds the field. Also, I’m not sure the Mariners will be willing to spend the money needed to get Swisher. The money is still there, since the Mariners are actually saving a couple of million by flipping the Jason Vargas arbitration cost for that of Morales.
But having the money there, in theory, is not the same as actually spending it.
So, we’ll see what the Mariners actually do. If I’m wrong and they do indeed make a push for Swisher — and actually land him instead of finishing second — then you’d have a longer-term guy than Morales as a first base option. That part makes sense when it comes to protecting the team, as well as providing some leverage in what to do with Morales as you look towards an extension.
But still, Swisher is looking for impact-performer type money and the Mariners don’t view him as an impact bat in the Hamilton mode. I wrote about this last week when we discussed slugging percentages and the impact a one-swing game-changer can have on a lineup. So, for me, with Swisher, the money will be the big factor. The Mariners just got a guy I’m sure they view as more of an impact bat in Morales and they got him plenty cheaper than the Swish will wind up signing for.
Just my take. Feel free to disagree.
As for what will happen in the outfield this year, the one guy who could play a very prominent role in it is Michael Saunders. And I can see him performing that role more from right field this year than most of the people I read are really envisioning at this point.
Now, that would change if Swisher is signed. But since I really don’t see that happening, I do feel Saunders will be seeing quite a bit of time in the other outfield corner. The fact that Saunders is seen more as a left fielder and center fielder has more to do with Safeco Field than anyplace else. Safeco has always made it tough for left field defenders because of the way it’s configured and so, the Mariners naturally try to get their better outfield defenders at that spot.
But with the fences moving in, that will likely change.
Michael Bourn was an all-star caliber center fielder in Houston for years before moving on to Atlanta last season. Photo Credit: AP
Every year, we get into a “Who? Who? Who?” debate on this blog about whether there were ever really any bats out there that the last-place Mariners could possibly have acquired to help them. Just to run down the list from this winter one more time, in reference to free agents and trade targets already off the board that could have helped make Seattle better: Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan, Kevin Youkilis, Shin-Soo Choo, Torii Hunter, Ryan Ludwick, Shane Victorino, Melky Cabrera.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a bunch, but feel free to default to that list next summer when the “Who? Who? Who?” owls make their annual pilgrimage to the comments section, set up nests and start unleashing their droppings.
In the spirit of keeping the list current and raising the spirits of fans who assume all hope was lost today when Hamilton signed with the Los Angeles Angels, there still exist some offensive avenues for the team to explore that do not include Hamilton.
For me, the most intriguing one doesn’t even involve Nick Swisher. Most people and their laptop technicians now expect Swisher to jump to the Texas Rangers to fill the outfield void left by Hamilton’s big bat. Thing is, Swisher is not Hamilton and probably never will be. Sure, you can make a case that some of their statistics are similar, including their on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) and their WAR (wins above replacement level). But the similarities end there when it comes to the type of presence and impact each can have on a lineup.
With Hamilton, you know the game can change with one swing of his bat — no matter what ballpark he is playing in — because his raw power places him amongst the elite of the game. With Swisher, the high OPS is attributable more to his walk rate and on-base ability, where Hamilton tends to be a free swinger and send the ball a long, long way when he does connect.
And when it comes to the impact on any given lineup, the thought of Hamilton sitting smack dab in the middle of it has the ability to terrify opposing pitchers, even when they are several batters away from facing him. You’re going to think twice and then three times before putting anybody on base ahead of Hamilton — even if “ahead” means three or four spots up in the batting order. With Swisher, not as much. That’s a major difference between the two and why Hamilton is considered more of an “impact” bat and will get the bigger money from teams willing to spend on such intangibles.
It’s why you see guys like GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge saying they’d have chosen Miguel Cabrera over Mike Trout for MVP despite Trout having similar numbers and a higher WAR. It’s for the lineup impact. You can’t measure it. But the folks running real baseball teams and throwing pitches in actual MLB games know what it’s all about. And it’s possibily the biggest reason why so many pitchers have taken so many liberties with the Mariners over the last several seasons — the non-existence of anything in the heart of the order that would make pitchers really afraid of putting guys on base.
Swisher isn’t one of those types of bats, even though his better walk rate and defense keeps his WAR up there on a similar level to Hamilton.
Now, that doesn’t mean Swisher would not constitute a major upgrade for Seattle. The Mariners need good bats and Swisher has one. He can also play right field and first base, which are two areas of need for the Mariners.
But the fact remains, he is not Hamilton. His bat will not impact Seattle’s offense the way Hamilton’s would have. It will make the offense better, but not in the game-changing way that Hamilton’s might have. And for me, that factor alone means that the Mariners losing out on Hamilton does not automatically default them towards Swisher as a fallback plan.
It is not “Swisher or Bust” as one commenter suggested to me earlier.
For me, knowing that any chance of a pure power, middle-of-the-order guy has now vanished, I’d be more inclined to take a look at Michael Bourn as the team’s primary option going forward. To be honest, the Bourn option has always intrigued me because of the so very different approach to bettering the team that it provides.
Just got done speaking to agent Scott Boras, who represents some of the game’s biggest players, including center fielder Michael Bourn, who the Mariners have expressed an interest in. Boras gave his annual “state of the union” address to a crowd of reporters in a lobby here at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. When it was done, I walked with him towards one of his meetings and he told me he’d already met with the Mariners and had no more plans to speak with them here in Nashville.
Boras said he plans to continue discussions with the team by phone in the days and weeks ahead.
“I expect that we’ll have the usual follow up,” he said. “We know where they’re at and they know where we stand but I imagine we’ll continue talking.”
The Mariners face an interesting choice in whether to bring in Bourn or go an entirely different route with somebody like corner outfielder Nick Swisher. The pricetag for outfielders keeps on climbing at these meetings, to the point where the Mariners will likely have to hand out more than they’d hoped upon arriving here.
Writers from several countries in the media room at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, site of the baseball winter meetings.
Got it confirmed from a source late this afternoon that the Mariners have indeed contacted the agent for Raul Ibanez about a possible return to Seattle for a third go-around with his initial franchise. Ibanez spent last season with the New York Yankees and hit some pretty big post-season home runs for them.
Earlier today, I confirmed through a different source that the Mariners were “close” to a deal with Jason Bay. Remember, being “close” is not the same as being “done” so let’s not pencil anyone into the lineup just yet.
But what the heck is going on? Ibanez is 40. Bay is 34. Not exactly a youth movement.
And then, there was the report by Jon Heyman of CBS earlier today that the Mariners are going hard after free agent center fielder Michael Bourn. While I have not directly confirmed that via a source, I can tell you that Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik did nothing to dissuade me from thinking he was going after Bourn when I questioned him in front of other Seattle writers about whether upgrading with an established leadoff hitter had entered his thought process. Zduriencik actually smiled and wondered aloud where I could possibly be going with the questioning, which had everyone else in the room laughing as well.
Like I said, he did nothing to throw anyone off the trail.
So, is there a tie-in between Bourn and the Mariners shopping for the likes of Bay and Ibanez?
I think there just may be. In fact, if the Mariners do ink an older, lower-cost bat, it will spell the end of the team seeking two higher-priced additions. Instead, the Mariners might choose to go after one prize on the bigger end of the scale — which would explain all the increased chatter we’re hearing about Bourn, Josh Hamilton and Nick Swisher lately.
All along, it’s been assumed the Mariners might upgrade with one new player for the outfield and a second one who could play first base and DH.
But given the pricetags we’ve seen so far — in both dollars and trade return requests — for that plan to pan out, what would stop the Mariners from bringing in two outfielders, one of them premium and the other at a lesser cost? Nothing, replied Zduriencik, adding that it’s a possibility
Then, he threw this in there:
“Sometimes, you get the multiple-position guy who can play the outfield and first base.”
And for me, that opens up a whole different avenue to explore.
The Mariners won’t sign both Bay and Ibanez. It would have to be one or the other.