Just when you were ready to give up on the Seattle Mariners this winter, they go out and make a deal to pique your curiosity.
Following a series of lackluster moves and near misses in free agency, M's general manager Jack Zduriencik kicked things up a notch by dealing left-handed starter Jason Vargas to the Los Angeles Angels for designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales.
At first glance, this move should help stabilize the M's middle of the order with a much needed veteran bat, but at the same time the trade may have also created a few issues as well.
These issues lead me to believe that the M's front office isn't quite done reshaping the team's roster and that we should expect a few more moves this winter.
So while we wait for the Mariners to add another Jeremy Bonderman or Raul Ibanez, I figured it might be fun to propose a few changes the team should consider making before spring training with the hopes of further solidifying their roster.
Regardless of whether you liked the Kendrys Morales for Jason Vargas trade or not, the fact remains that the Mariners no longer have a left-handed starter in their rotation.
Depending on your philosophical point of view, this may or may not be a problem, but I happen to see it as being a small issue.
The good news while we wait is that General Manager Jack Zduriencik does seem keen on adding arms to his staff, as last Friday the M's signed former Detroit Tigers right-hander Jeremy Bonderman to a minor league deal.
However, unless there is something we don't know about the development/readiness of either Danny Hultzen or James Paxton to step up this spring, the M's might want to do themselves a favor and pick up a lefty either by trade or through free agency.
A trade, though in some ways, would negate the value of dealing for Morales in the first place, depending on how Jack Z puts it together.
As for Plan B, is it free agency?
Unfortunately the list of available free agents is quite thin at this point when you consider that Joe Saunders may be the best option, although Sports Illustrated's Ben Reiter lists him at No. 33 among his Top 50 this season:
You're not supposed to improve after moving from the NL West to the AL East, but that's what Saunders did upon being traded by the Diamondbacks to the Orioles in late August. He was 6-10 with a 4.22 ERA in Arizona, but 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in Baltimore -- and he pitched terrifically in the playoffs, allowing one run over 5 2/3 innings in both his club's wild-card game win over the Rangers and ALDS Game 4 loss to the Yankees.
Perhaps, but what's funny is that when you take a quick look at Saunders' projected numbers for 2013 from Fangraphs, it initially leaves you to wonder whether the M's should make him an offer to acquire a record of 9-12 with a 4.10 ERA over 189 innings.
Meanwhile, for the sake of comparison, Jason Vargas is projected by Fangraphs to have a record of 10-13 with a 3.82 ERA over 205 innings pitched.
Feeling a bit underwhelmed?
At this rate, you're not alone and by spring training we might need to dust off a rocking chair for Jamie Moyer...
Meanwhile, amidst the chaos surrounding the potential logjam at DH, first base, and catcher created by the Kendrys Morales deal, the question remains whether or not the M's need a backup catcher beyond Jesus Montero and John Jaso.
Should the Mariners give up a roster spot to someone they will probably use sparingly this season?
How does Mike Zunino fit into the team's plans?
Following the Morales deal, Dave Cameron at USS Mariner summed up the situation on Zunino quite well by stating:
To me, this move basically seals Zunino’s fate in Tacoma for the first half of the year at minimum, and I’m totally on board with that decision. If he destroys Triple-A pitching for a few months, the Mariners can figure out who they want to toss overboard in order to get him on the roster, but now, they don’t have to count on him doing that. The team can now plan on giving him a September call-up to get his feet wet, then tell him to come to camp in 2014 fighting for a job. And that’s probably best for everyone.
That works well enough in theory, but should the M's invest in bringing someone on board that is that expendable?
If so, who?
Certainly not Miguel Olivo, but beyond him, options here are thin.
For now I think we need to wait and see if any other moves come into play here on the chess board.
Last season Kyle Seager proved that his solid spring in Arizona could translate to a breakout season in Seattle.
He was nothing short of a revelation last season, but can he do it again?
Right now, if Seager got himself hurt, Robert Andino would be the team’s starting third baseman; Andino has a career wRC+ of 67. If Seager got himself hurt on a day when Andino was already subbing in for the brittle Brendan Ryan, the team’s third baseman would be… a random fan who brought his glove to the park, apparently. It’s safe to say that the Mariners need a guy who can play a little third base.
If not a random fan, then either Alex Liddi or perhaps in a real emergency Carlos Triunfel.
Perhaps Liddi, if given the chance, could rise to the occasion similar to Seager the year before.
Quite frankly, I'm not a believer in lightning striking twice, especially after what we've seen of Liddi through the course of the past few seasons.
Unfortunately, the free agent pool at third base also looks quite shallow, although Brandon Inge would be tempting if he were willing to catch a little as a potential means of killing two birds with one stone.
I'll give you that idea sounds ludicrous, but at least I didn't suggest bringing back Jose Lopez?
Ok, so this issue isn't new by any stretch.
In fact, if we were to rank these issues in priority order, it should probably be at the top of the list as the Mariners outfield doesn't inspire much confidence at the moment.
Sadly, not a single player on the roster comes without a question attached to him.
Is Michael Saunders a one-year wonder or a legitimate starter?
Can Franklin Gutierrez stay healthy?
Will Jason Bay rediscover his swing?
Can 40-year old Raul Ibanez make a meaningful contribution?
Can Eric Thames, Casper Wells, Mike Carp or Carlos Peguero do a decent job of filling in or perhaps step up if the opportunity should present itself?
Kind of makes you miss Ichiro just a little, doesn't it?
Ryan Divish over at thenewstribune.com though is trying to stay positive:
As for outfield playing time, the Mariners have Bay, Ibañez, Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez, Casper Wells and Eric Thames. One opposing big league scout characterized the players who manned the Mariners’ outfield last season as “a collection of fourth outfielders.”
Saunders might be the most complete player among them. He can play any of the three spots at an above-average level and his hitting has improved considerably. If Gutierrez is healthy and Bay returns to even 80 percent of his best years, Saunders could be the starter in right field.
How Jack Z sorts this out will likely make all the difference this season for the Mariners. If he can get at least one quality outfielder to pair alongside Michael Saunders, then the issue of filling the third spot becomes a competition rather than a compromise.
Realistically though, can Jack Zduriencik really lock down the likes of a Michael Bourn or make a deal for someone else instead?
Either way something's got to give. The Mariners only have so many roster spots available once the season starts and at some point between now and then need to start focusing on quality over quantity.
Saunders, Guti, and either Bay or Ibanez would have been workable maybe four or five years ago, but now it sounds like some serious wishful thinking. If nothing changes though, we may all be crossing our fingers and holding our breath come April.