With plenty of money to play with this offseason, it's obvious general manager Jack Zduriencik and the Seattle Mariners need to make moves.
In the past, Seattle has brought in superstar players in an attempt to create a Yankees-like atmosphere and bank on All-Stars carrying the franchise. But the Mariners don't work that way. They never have. The most successful season in franchise history occurred with a starting rotation featuring Aaron Sele, Paul Abbott and John Halama. David Bell and Al Martin were everyday players. Mark McLemore and Stan Javier were key reserves.
What do all these guys have in common? They're veterans with solid all-around games. Nobody's ego was too big for the team. The present-day Mariners have some players who have shown flashes of brilliance and future stardom, but the supporting cast simply hasn't been there.
And sure, injuries have played a major role. But the biggest issue surrounding the Mariners seems to stem at the top and work its way down to the players, who often appear to have no chemistry, and there's an obvious gap in communication between the coaching staff and the roster.
The first thing that needs to happen this offseason is a staff overhaul. Certain areas have improved, yes. But wins won't be one of them. A new manager and coaches will give this club some new life, perhaps an identity. A few veterans should be brought in to complement the plethora of young talent and mentor the rookies.
That being said, here are five free agents the Mariners should target this winter.
All stats via ESPN.com and baseball-reference.com.
2013 stats: .279/.337/.449, 22 HR, 79 RBI
One of Zduriencik's top priorities should be to re-sign first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales. He was one of few consistent hitters in Seattle's lineup this season and hasn't been too shabby with the leather either, committing just one error in 307 chances. He hasn't played enough innings at first base to qualify for the leaderboard, but Morales' range factor of 10.04 is lower than only a handful of players'.
But he won't be cheap.
Morales is a switch-hitter who hits consistently from both sides of the plate, unlike Justin Smoak, so that ups his value. He's a solid hitter for power and for average and can hit anywhere from third to sixth in a lineup. He also ranks 26th in runs created with 84.
The Mariners need Morales back. His offensive production isn't eye-popping, but it's above average and extremely noticeable when compared to the offensive numbers of his teammates.
Besides, if he isn't brought back, he was essentially acquired for nothing.
2013 stats: .286/.356/.366, 7 HR, 34 RBI, 20 SB
Norichika Aoki's numbers this season aren't particularly noteworthy, but his hitting eye is. Aoki has walked more than he's struck out this season, and in his brief two-year big league career, he sees an average of 3.63 pitches per plate appearance, which is statistically one of the lowest in the league. But that's a sign of a good eye rather than impatience, evidenced by Aoki's aforementioned numbers.
He's also a true leadoff hitter, something the Mariners have been without since Ichiro was traded last season. The lineup is in desperate need of a leadoff hitter, given the team's collective .244 batting average out of the leadoff spot this season. Furthermore, Jason Bay had 69 at-bats in the leadoff spot this season. I'd say that speaks volumes in terms of the team's need for a leadoff man.
Seattle should be able to sign Aoki for fairly cheap. He'll be 32 by the start of next season and made $1.25 million this season. Milwaukee does have a club option on him and could decline it if they decide to rebuild.
2013 stats: .287/.424/.468, 21 HR, 54 RBI, 106 R, 20 SB
The Mariners didn't know what they were losing when they traded Shin-Soo Choo to Cleveland in 2006. Choo has developed into a five-tool player and will be a hot commodity this offseason, one Seattle needs to aggressively go after.
The outfield situation is foggy right now. Franklin Gutierrez has an expiring contract. Raul Ibanez is 41 and has an expiring contract. Dustin Ackley may or may not return to the outfield. Choo would fit nicely in center allowing Michael Saunders to move to right field. Assuming neither Gutierrez nor Ibanez are re-signed, Ackley could play left if needed.
Choo would also hit leadoff and get on base a ton, allowing the likes of Kyle Seager and Morales to actually drive in runs when they get hits, not just boost their averages.
2013 stats: .299/.355/.424, 8 HR, 52 RBI, 52 SB
Jacoby Ellsbury fits right in to Seattle's serious need for a leadoff hitting outfielder. He's had a couple relatively down years, but this guy finished second in AL MVP voting way back when and put up cleanup hitter numbers and a WAR of 8. The Mariners don't even need him to do that, just merely perform the way he has for the majority of his career.
He has some pop and unreal speed, which doesn't hurt his fielding ability. The only downside to Ellsbury is his price tag. At 30 years old and coming off a season in which he'll make $9 million, it'll likely take five years/$55 million to sign him. His potential alone drives the price up, as does the competitive bids he'll be getting from clubs around the league.
2013 stats: 2-3, 19 HLD, 0.74 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 46 K, 11 BB
The worst departmental turnaround for the M's this season was the bullpen. Their collective ERA is 4.50, which is better than only one team in all of baseball—the 51-108 Houston Astros. The pen's 518 strikeouts lead the league, but its 216 free passes are third worst.
Jesse Crain is the top reliever available this offseason. He's a veteran with closer ability who flourishes in the eighth inning, something else the Mariners struggled with. His demand will be high, so don't expect the Rays to bring him back, but don't be surprised if clubs offer him $6 million a year.