Seattle Mariners: 8 Ways They Can Still Spend Money This Offseason
These two words give chills to Mariners fans, who shudder with the recent memories of Chone Figgins, Richie Sexson, Miguel Batista, and Carlos Silva—memories of Bavasi's unyielding belief that he could field a team of pricy free agents.
However, with spring training just around the corner and viable free agents still looking for work, GM Jack Zduriencik is looking for the last couple of potential players to compete and build a better 2012 Mariners squad.
By no means are we scraping the bottom of the barrel rather, looking for that diamond in the rough. At this point, most free agents are looking to settle for one-year deals with incentive-laden contracts, which represents a prime opportunity for the Mariners to find possible impact players at bargain prices.
With a bit of cash left in their pocket, here are some remaining free agents that the Mariners should be taking a look at as potential contributors in 2012.
Hong-Chih Kuo, LHP
Update: The Mariners have signed Kuo to a one-year deal, who has passed a physical.
Kuo had a miserable year in 2011 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, posting a 9.00 ERA in 27 innings while dealing with elbow injuries.
As far as those elbow injuries—for which he has undergone five surgeries in his career—the Mariners don't need to be extremely concerned. Kuo's will be a small expense to pay in 2012 should they arise again.
Instead, what they should focus on is what he might bring to this bullpen. Kuo has been arguably one of baseball's best lefty relievers over the past few seasons. When healthy from '08 to '10, Kuo posted 170 innings of lights-out domination, striking out 10.6 batters per 9 innings (K/9) with a 1.96 ERA.
The M's have George Sherill as a lefty specialist, but the more options, the merrier. Either Kuo or Sherill could step into the setup role for closer Brandon League, which bolsters the bullpen at minimal cost.
Kuo makes sense for a team that has only been willing to spend small change to upgrade the bullpen.
David Aardsma, RHP
Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Aardsma is actually only a real option for a couple of months into the season, when he will have healed.
However, his name is one that should be thrown out there as one the M's might consider anyway. At 29, Aardsma isn't that old, and he has proven to be exactly what the team would need at closer.
I don't need to list any stats, as M's fans can think back to his dominant performances in '09 and '10 and remember somebody who came cheap and delivered results.
So, what about Brandon League? As much as we love League, he's as good as gone by the trade deadline—a luxury the team can't afford, and probably wouldn't be retained in free agency.
Aardsma could once again be the M's closer if healthy, and he is a prime candidate to replace League with a "prove-it" type of deal.
Rich Harden, RHP
Remember this guy?
However, the Mariners wouldn't be signing Harden to a Carlos Silva-esque contract (four years, $48 million). That would be foolish, like signing Roy Oswalt at this point.
Instead, a one-year deal like Erik Bedard received last year would be the case here, meaning a low-risk signing. Harden represents a nice value as one of the better starters left on the market, and I would advise you not to think the M's are set in the pitching rotation.
Behind the presumably reliable Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas, no one should be counting on much consistency from Hisashi Iwakuma, Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush or Kevin Millwood. No one should be counting on Danny Hultzen to step in and dazzle like Michael Pineda did either.
It's possible that Harden just keeps the seat warm for Hultzen, but that's all he really needs to be. Although Harden's 5.12 ERA in 15 starts last year is a bit high, he is an excellent strikeout pitcher and might rejuvenate his career at the age of 30.
Johnny Damon, DH
At the age of 38, Johnny Damon doesn't have a whole lot left in the tank. For a guy who has hit consistently well into his 30s, though, Damon might be this year's Adam Kennedy (well, the first half). In 2011, he hit for a .261 average with 16 home runs and 73 RBI playing in Tampa Bay, playing most of the season.
Damon brings experience and veteran leadership to the table, and he gives the Mariners the ability to play Carp in left field more often, where I believe he belongs. Then again, with Casper Wells the odd man out, the team might be better served giving its younger players more playing time.
The team should always be looking to improve itself, and Damon offers little risk as a veteran bat who may put a few people in the stands too.
Vladimir Guerrero, DH
I know I'm not the only Mariners fan who used to fantasize about Vlad the Impaler in a Mariners uniform. For years as an Angel and Ranger, Guerrero terrorized the Mariners with his formidable power.
Now that power has gone away, and so has his on-base percentage as less pitchers are afraid of him.
Vlad's still got it, though. Playing most of the year for Baltimore in 2011, he hit for an impressive .290 average with 13 home runs and 63 RBI.
Following the same lines as Damon, Vlad represents a short-term signing whose playing time might be better allocated to younger players. But the reason why Vlad and Damon haven't been snapped up is because of a depressed market for the DH as a result of a trend in the position.
These professional hitters don't offer much fielding flexibility, and the DH position has become increasingly popular as a spot to give fielders a rest. The M's don't really need that, as Carp should be gaining as much playing time as he can in the outfield.
What this means, however, is that the Mariners can land a hitter for dirt-cheap right now and bolster the offense in the process.
Raul Ibanez, DH
I look back upon fond memories of "Rauuuuuuuuuuuul" Ibanez and his towering drives into the second deck at Safeco field.
Could the Mariners actually bring back Ibanez and his consistent 20+ home run power? Like with Damon and Guerrero, it makes some sense with the cheap, incentive-laden deal he's expecting to receive.
At 39 years old, Ibanez hit for 20 home runs in 2011 with the Phillies—the power hitting we'd like to see more of from the Mariners is there.
Unfortunately, it appears that the Yankees are likely to snag Ibanez at this point, though.
Yoenis Cespedes, CF/RF
Cespedes is an interesting case because so little is really known about him, unlike all the other players on this list. He's not purely a free agent, either—I like to look at him as more of a prospect at age 26 (but who knows how old he really is?).
Yes, Cespedes is going to be the most expensive player on this list, but the Mariners seem to be "monitoring" his situation. Of course, it means little to monitor a player, but I think Cespedes actually might make sense in Seattle.
Ichiro's brilliant career is coming to a close, and soon the Mariners will have a void in right field. Can Casper Wells—who only hit for a .216 average as a Mariner in 2011—fill that role? And for that matter, what if Franklin Gutierrez doesn't return to form and is an offensive liability in center field?
Cespedes has been compared to players like B.J Upton and Adam Jones for his five-tool capability— a true freak of nature with crushing power and amazing speed, and according to Baseball Prospectus, "arguably the best all-around player to come out of Cuba in a generation."
Do the Mariners make a hard play for Cespedes and hope he replicates his performance in the major leagues, at the risk of setting back the rebuild? It's more probable that the price will be driven up out of Jack Z's price range, but Cespedes represents a high-risk, high-reward type of player who could be had for an Aroldis Chapman-like price range (3-4 years, $30 million).
Chone Figgins Salary Dump
Next to the word "futility" in the dictionary, you'll find a picture of Chone Figgins.
With two years left of his painfully undeserved contract, Figgins is not a player the Mariners want around. Creating cancerous disputes with former coach Don Wakamatsu was just part of what Figgins did to destroy the Mariners over the past couple of seasons.
I've always held out a bleak hope for Figgins to regain the ability that made him the most coveted third baseman two years ago, and the Mariners just might give him a chance through some more regular playing time or giving him a utility role. However, it's probably the case that he'll be a Mariner killer no matter what uniform he wears.
The Mariners might spend money this offseason to rid themselves of Figgins if they can find a suitable partner willing to take him on. Otherwise, they might try Figgins one last time as a leadoff hitter, but you can bet they'd rather dump him instead.