With the Mariners still sitting a few games under .500 as we start the September schedule, hope of the team grabbing one of the two AL Wildcard spots is becoming a bit difficult to fathom.
It's not that I'm giving up on the Mariners completely, just thinking it might be worthwhile to take a few minutes to consider some options moving forward for 2013.
Much like Christmas shopping, it's never too early to start looking...
In all honesty though, I don't expect the team to shell out a ton of money on free agents this winter even with Ichiro off the books, but at the same time there is the chance they could kick the tires on a few players.
For today, I'm going to focus on five players the M's could take a long look at this winter that are outside the organization.
So what exactly do the Mariners need?
Pitching? Not really...if they can re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma, their pitching staff should be set given what they have currently available at the major league level and what could be coming up from the minor leagues.
Sure, but for next year I'd imagine the team will give the likes of Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, and Justin Smoak one more year to grow before making any major decisions and the team also has a few decent options to choose from behind the plate. So outside of deciding whether to keep Brendan Ryan in the fold and whether or not either Nick Franklin or Mike Zunino is major league ready, expect the infield to stay relatively similar to what we're seeing now come Opening Day 2013.
With both the pitching and infield covered, that leaves us with the outfield.
Sadly the outfield has left us with more questions than answers and with the possible exception of Michael Saunders, who has left us with any long-lasting positive impression this year?
So who might the M's actually pursue or at least look longingly towards?
Are the M's really going to look at Hamilton?
Sure, what team isn't going to spend at least a few minutes considering the possibility this winter?
He's an MVP-caliber player and arguably the best free agent available this year. Off the top of my head I can't think of too many teams that would have trouble finding a spot for Hamilton in their lineup if he walked into their clubhouse tomorrow morning.
As the Mariners rebuild around the young nucleus of Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Justin Smoak, etc. (yes, for today I'm still including Smoak...) it's become clear that they need a veteran bat to help steady the middle of the order as a means of both producing and protecting everyone around him.
The truth is, hoping the Mariners' management is going to spend in free agency is the equivalent of asking your parents for a raise in your allowance as a kid. Sure there's the chance they might, but odds are you're not going to get your wish granted.
Besides, is Hamilton a reasonable choice?
He's on the wrong side of 30, has had trouble staying healthy, and will probably want way too much money for too many years for the M's to even enter the conversation.
While it's fun to daydream about Hamilton, I'm not quite sure he'd be a solid fit, and he could find the pressure of being the "savior" in Seattle a bit overwhelming.
At the end of the day Hamilton has been to hell and back. As much as I hate to say it, the best possible landing spot for Hamilton requires the least amount of travel...the Rangers. Right now he has a good thing going with the organization and speaking as a fan of the game I'd like to see him stay on the right path and continue to enjoy a successful career in Texas.
Sometimes it's not about the money, but understanding where you've found a home.
Perhaps the Mariners can use a Gold Glove caliber center fielder to help at the top of the order?
With Ichiro out of the picture and Dustin Ackley still working out the kinks as a leadoff hitter, Michael Bourn is somebody worth considering for general manager Jack Zduriencik.
On the bright side, Bourn is just shy of 30, can hit at the top of the order and steal a base as a solid catalyst.
On the not so bright side, Bourn is just shy of turning 30, which for most base stealers is around the time they start to slow down and his plate discipline is questionable given he has averaged nearly one strikeout per game this season.
No big deal though, right?
Bourn is a good option for a team needing one more piece in the puzzle, but not for a club still a year or two away from making a serious push. Besides, even if Bourn can continue to set the table, who exactly is going to drive him in?
For years we watched Ichiro get on base only to be stranded, sadly Bourn would likely be subjected to the same fate.
If Michael Bourn is six of one, isn't BJ Upton the half a dozen of the other?
A center fielder with some impressive tools who can steal a base and has a little bit of pop, but strikes out too much and his batting average often reflects it.
Upton is a riddle waiting to be solved by one team willing to take a chance this winter and at the prime age of 28, he should get paid.
The question is whether Upton will ever consistently earn his paycheck and should the Mariners consider adding him to the mix?
At the end of the day Upton strikes me as the type of player that needs a change of scenery.
After living with the dreaded "Future All-Star" tag that organizations sometimes stick to players that are either highly drafted, quickly make their way through the minors, or in this case...both, he just hasn't been able to live up to the expectations saddled with him from day one.
With a clean slate in the right environment Upton might flourish. Unfortunately Seattle is not an easy place for a right handed hitter and given his lack of plate discipline he could end up being a disaster; still he's an intriguing option that could help in the outfield.
Now at this point you might ask, where are the players not at the top of everyone's list?
Fair question and one that I think the M's are going to find themselves in a tough spot to answer in the coming months.
Delmon Young now with his third organization after being the No. 1 pick in 2003 with Tampa Bay (strange how three of the four players listed have roots with the Rays) has been an enigma through seven years in the big leagues.
He's been everything from a star on the rise to a marginal role player that can never seem to stay in one place for very long.
Young is certainly talented, reasonably young at 27, and could attract attention with a strong finish as the Tigers fight for a playoff spot in the AL Central.
At the end of the day though, Young is the kind of guy you trade for at the July deadline. In the midst of a playoff chase you deal for him with the hopes he can find some of the magic we've seen flashes of, not sign him to a multi-million dollar five year deal that will have people either rolling their eyes or snickering once the terms of the deal are announced.
Unfortunately odds are that players like Hamilton, Bourn, and Upton are going to command a lot of attention which should equate to a lot of money and years devoted to their contracts, which will also make deals for players like Young risky as well.
Whether the Mariners involve themselves in the fray is hard to judge today since no one knows how this team is going to finish the season. If the M's can come close to winning 80 games, there might be the urge to spend. If the M's bottom out in the month of September and barely win 70 games, the front office might be reluctant to open their wallet.
If the Mariners fall somewhere in between my fear is that the team will start to look at the second and third tier of free agents...like Delmon Young. While I hate to single out Young in this situation, the point I'm trying to illustrate is that the M's need someone who can make an impact, not simply serve as a complementary piece of the puzzle.
Some may argue that adding a player like Young, Cody Ross, or Shane Victorino could get the Mariners in the wildcard race next year.
I'm not one of those people and believe that if the M's want to really move the needle they will perhaps need to consider making an even bolder move...
Technically Wright isn't a free agent.
To get Wright in a Mariners uniform would require Jack Z to make a trade with the New York Mets.
What would it take to get Wright who still has one more year on his current contract?
To put it in terms that Mariner fans can appreciate, trading for Wright, especially with Jose Reyes having left for Miami via free agency last winter, is the equivalent of making a deal for Felix Hernandez with Ichiro now gone.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson is not going to accept a package including the likes of Carlos Peguero, Vinnie Catricala, Carter Capps, and Phillips Castro in exchange for the face of the franchise.
No, this would be a deal that would require everyone involved to show some serious intestinal fortitude, which of course means it's never going to happen.
In a way that's a shame because the Mariners could use a player like Wright, a perennial All-Star who could also use a change of scenery after finding himself in a thankless role in New York.
Wright is someone you can build around...a right handed .300 hitter, with decent power while playing in a pitchers park, corner infielder who is a leader both on and off the field who can serve as the face of the franchise.
Would such a move require having to part ways with one of the "Big Three" along with either Dustin Ackley or Kyle Seager, not to mention another prospect or two, maybe even Francisco Martinez?
But which would you prefer?
The Mariners trade off Felix for a handful of prospects.
Sign Delmon Young to a four year 30 million dollar deal.
Bring back virtually the same team next spring and see what happens.
Roll the dice on an aging All-Star third baseman and see if he can make the difference in helping the young nucleus mature into a formidable lineup and perhaps offer him a deal at some point if things work out.
Every option has risks, every option has potential benefits, but which one would should the Mariners choose?
Honestly even I'm not entirely sure which of these options makes the most sense, but I am curious to hear your thoughts.
If you're a Mariners fan, you will have an opinion on the subject.