The Seattle Mariners are coming off of a season in which they were the only team in the American League West to finish with a record below .500, and also had the lowest team batting average in the league.
The good news is that the offseason can be used for fixing these types of matters.
Despite players such as Jesus Montero and Kyle Seager posting respectable batting averages following the All-Star break, only one Mariner was able to play in more than 100 games and bat at least .270 for the season.
In terms of power numbers, only Montero was able to hit at least 15 home runs while posting a batting average of at least .260.
However, in a division in which two of last season’s top three finishers tend to spend more during free agency to improve their clubs, the Mariners have taken a different approach by looking to the trade market this offseason.
In the process, they just might have laid a solid foundation that improves the team while helping to bridge the gap to younger prospects on the verge of being major league ready.
Last month, the Mariners were able to acquire Kendrys Morales from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for Jason Vargas, giving the team a power-hitting first baseman and designated hitter.
Among players who appeared in at least 110 games last season, Morales would’ve had the highest batting average and home run total on the Mariners roster. Morales appeared in 134 games and batted .273 with 22 home runs and 73 RBI.
However, the Mariners decided that they weren’t done adding power just yet.
According to ESPN.com, the Mariners acquired Michael Morse from the Washington Nationals in a three-team trade that also sent Jason Jaso, whose .276 average last season led the team, to the Oakland Athletics.
Morse batted. 291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBI for the Nationals last season after returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 50 games while on the disabled list.
So there you have it. Two trades, two players and a combined .282 average, 40 home runs and 135 RBI from last season.
Now, if only there was a player available who could bat in front of these power hitters and provide consistent RBI opportunities.
Enter Michael Bourn.
Yes, with agent Scott Boras representing him, Bourn will not be a cheap last minute addition this offseason. And, yes, Bourn is one of the last remaining free agents who is tied to draft pick compensation. Even more, at the beginning of the offseason, adding a player such as Bourn made little sense for the Mariners.
Overpaying for power can be justified, but overpaying for speed and above average defense is more difficult to explain.
Signing Bourn initially would’ve meant that the Mariners would have a legitimate leadoff hitter capable of getting on base consistently and getting himself into scoring position but, at the time, there were few guarantees as to who would move him around and take advantage of his skill set.
However, following the addition of Morse, should the Mariners have a different perspective on Bourn?
The Mariners currently have Dustin Ackley for the top of their batting order. But Ackley managed to bat just .226 with 13 stolen bases and a .294 OBP last season. As someone who will be 25 years old at the start of the season, there is still plenty of time for Ackley to progress and even outperform his 2011 performance, when he batted .273 in 90 games.
However, the Mariners could also use a consistent leadoff hitter this season, and now have a lineup in which adding Bourn makes more sense, despite the financial amount and draft pick compensation tied to him.
Unfortunately, the Mariners’ first round pick is just outside of the top-10, meaning that it is not protected and would have to be given up in order to sign Bourn. But with minor league talent nearing their major league debuts, would it make sense for the Mariners to lose one pick in order to obtain a player such as Bourn, who at 30 years old, could still contribute significantly alongside the young talent on the way?
Bourn batted .274 last season and struggled following the All-Star break, but had 171 hits, 42 stolen bases and a .348 OBP. The last two seasons combined, Bourn has batted .284 with 364 hits, 103 stolen bases and a .349 OBP.
General manager Jack Zduriencik said, in an article by Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times at the start of the offseason, that the team’s payroll could exceed its level from last season.
Morse is entering the final year of his contract, and will make $6.75 million this season, while Morales made $2.975 million last season.
With the additions of these players, and the subtractions of players such as Vargas and Jaso, the Mariners’ payroll is still near the same neighborhood it was in last season, although still off from where it stood just a few seasons ago in 2008.
That’s not to say that the Mariners need to spend in a way similar to the Los Angeles Angles or Texas Rangers, but if the money is available and the right player is out there, would it make sense for the team to go for one more big addition?
The Mariners traded Ichiro Suzuki last season on their way to a last place finish. The team’s minor league system provides reason for optimism, but these prospects still might be a season away from playing regularly at the major league level, and even more from turning the team into a consistent contender.
In the meantime, the addition of Morales and the recent trade for Morse have given the Mariners an opportunity to improve, albeit slightly, in the short term while remaining hopeful in the long term.
Adding a player such as Bourn could be another piece to the puzzle that turns the Mariners into a better team presently, and a contender in the near future.
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