The bulk of the Mariners' major league roster is occupied by prospects who have come up through the Seattle organization, but there are some holes that still need filling and that will call for attention as the trading season heats up.
There are two evident ways to fill those holes: acquisitions on the market or call-ups from the minors.
General manager Jack Zduriencik has executed a number of useful moves over the past few years—some useful, and some that have yet to pan out—exhibiting the necessity of making trades and proving that he can extract worth from them.
There's also a plethora of talent in Mariners' affiliates Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma.
Combining those two sources, Jack Z ought to be able to fill the remaining holes in the M's lineup as 2012 progresses, so that the team will be in better shape going into 2013.
Here are the four biggest holes on the Mariners roster and potential options to fill them, plus a preview of what the 2013 opening day roster could look like.
The Mariners' outfield is in rough shape this year.
Ichiro is aging, Franklin Gutierrez is injured, Chone Figgins has been unsurprisingly underwhelming and the list goes on.
Ichiro's contract is up at the end of this year, and there hasn't been much noise about resigning with the M's or any other team, so that's still up in the air. Assuming he isn't returning, the Mariners pretty much have an open outfield to fill.
There are solid options on the team already, but I think they'll also tap the trade block in July.
Ideally, Franklin Gutierrez will stay healthy after recovering from his pectoral tear, but he's built up a reputation of injury-proneness during his time in Seattle. The pectoral tear isn't the sort of chronic injury that he was experiencing last year with his stomach virus, so there is definitely hope.
The other outfielder I really like who's already on the roster is Casper Wells. He was recently demoted to Triple-A Tacoma to make space for Miguel Olivo's return, but he's hitting well and improving.
Figgins obviously isn't particularly deserving of a spot, and I don't think Michael Saunders is the answer.
If Gutierrez resumes in center, and Wells fills in right field, left is the only spot left open. Here's my creative idea of the day: trade Brandon League (more on him later) to the Chicago Cubs for OF/1B Bryan LaHair.
LaHair could play left or first if Justin Smoak's hitting woes persist.
For the remainder of this year, however, Ichiro will probably keep his spot, and Saunders, Liddi, Carp, Figgins and Wells will continue to cycle, with the possible addition of LaHair or someone else.
So, Brendan Ryan...
Defensively gifted, offensively challenged. Not the team's future shortstop.
The M's have a number of utility infielders on their active roster, including Munenori Kawasaki and Kyle Seager, who could play at shortstop if/when manager Eric Wedge decides Ryan needs to go.
Seager is one of the hottest hitters on the team right now, and it doesn't look like a fluke, so he should stay in the lineup. Kawasaki has a vibrant personality and respectable defensive skills, but he lacks the offensive tools to do much more than pinch hit and serve as a utility infielder.
Alex Liddi is one of the other top hitters on the team right now, so he should stay in the lineup. He was brought up as a third baseman (he's spending a lot of time in the outfield, but like I said in the previous slide, I don't think he'll end up there), so he could play third with Seager at short and Kawasaki as backup.
Brandon Leauge's recent streak of slip-ups has him out of the closer job for the Mariners.
At the beginning of the year, it seemed like it might be a good idea to trade him away because of the temporal nature and availability of closers, but now it's officially summer, and we still have him in the bullpen.
Up until a week ago, he was pitching consistently and effectively, so he was a benefit to the team, but in light of more recent trends, his trade value (and value to the team) has dropped.
There's a possiblity that he regains the closer role after a few recovery appearances in low-pressure situations, but at this point, I think a trade would be better for both parties. League could pitch for a competitive team this year in need of a closer, and the Mariners could open up a spot in their bullpen for a call-up (Stephen Pryor).
Either way, there isn't a dire need for a top-notch closer on the Mariners right now—it's just a position that needs to be addressed eventually.
The starting rotation was up in the air for much of spring training this year since Doug Fister and Erik Bedard left last July and Michael Pineda in January.
There were a number of candidates for the three starting spots behind Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas, and ultimately, I think the three who got the call were the right choices at the time, but circumstances have changed considerably since then, and certain individual performances have necessitated change.
For example, Kevin Millwood has had ups and downs, but overall, he's surpassed expectations, at least mine. He was a good balance to have at the beginning of the year with the other two spots occupied by younger starters (Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi), but he's 37, and doesn't really fit on the team moving forward.
He could be a valuable trade asset.
Beavan and Noesi could keep their spots, but the impending arrival of pitchers Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker from Double-A and Andrew Carraway from Triple-A, it's obvious that they won't have the jobs long-term.
To fill this spot (or spots), I expect Jack Z to draw from within the organization over the next year or two.
There are some talented starters available on the trade block, but they're all veterans who, like Millwood, wouldn't fit well into the rotation.
SP Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Hector Noesi, Andrew Carraway, Danny Hultzen
C Jesus Montero
1B Justin Smoak (still have faith in this guy)
2B Dustin Ackley
SS Kyle Seager
3B Alex Liddi
LF Bryan LaHair
CF Franklin Gutierrez
RF Casper Wells
DH Mike Carp