Power Ranking Seattle Mariners' Biggest Needs Heading into Free Agency
The Seattle Mariners need help.
In some cases serious help that may require a significant investment of time and money this winter to help revamp the team's roster.
For this year, the good news is that the M's should have money to spend.
The bad news is that general manager Jack Zduriencik is still in charge of spending it.
Making matters worse is that the majority of the players that will soon be available via free agency inspire little if any confidence in regard to their long-term health or talent.
When you couple that with the added degree of difficulty involved in luring players to come to Seattle with a potential lame-duck GM trying to save his job, you have all the makings of what may well turn out to be an epic adventure this winter.
Whether this adventure is heroic, tragic or comical remains to be seen, but before things officially kick off I figured it might be fun to put together a prioritized shopping list.
What are the Mariners' biggest needs heading into free agency?
Working from the bottom up, here are five positions the team might want to address...
No. 5: Utility Infielder
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In terms of issues, the Mariners infield is a work in progress that looks to be trending towards the positive based on how things unfolded in 2013.
Kyle Seager, Brad Miller and Nick Franklin some day could very well form the nucleus of the Seattle infield, and if you're being charitable feel free to throw Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley in the mix as well.
Yet going into 2014, I feel the Mariners are lacking depth and should consider adding a veteran utility player just in case someone in the aforementioned group struggles either in spring training or coming out of the gate at the beginning of the season.
Technically Dustin Ackley should serve as the utility man capable of filling in when necessary at a number of positions. However, my faith in Ackley is quite low at the moment, and besides, isn't he supposed to be the team's left-center fielder?
Assuming Ackley is busy elsewhere and with Brendan Ryan gone, who else can the Mariners plug in?
Carlos Triunfel is certainly intriguing, but at this point I doubt he will ever get much traction within the organization and could very well end up as trade fodder this winter.
While I'm not advocating the team break the bank here, especially with the lackluster crop of players available (MLBtraderumors.com), I do think the M's would be well served adding a veteran to the mix as an insurance policy.
No. 4: Bullpen
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Going into the season, I had foolishly believed the Mariners bullpen was capable of being an asset.
Instead they were a liability.
Deep down I still believe there is some talent here that could be put to good use in 2014, but also think that Jack Zduriencik needs to figure out exactly who he believes should stay and who should go.
For starters, Charlie Furbush is a keeper, but on the flip-side, should the M's bring back Oliver Perez?
Should they stick it out with the likes of Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor, Yoervis Medina and Danny Farquhar?
What do you do with Tom Wilhelmsen, or for that matter Blake Beavan?
Do you consider Erasmo Ramirez part of this group, or is he still a candidate for the starting rotation?
While I imagine that this isn't going to be a huge priority for Jack Z this winter as he may decide to look for answers either on the current 40-man roster or within the farm system, I still think this group could benefit by adding another veteran, especially if Oliver Perez leaves.
No. 3: Catcher
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Every time it seems the Mariners have figured out a working solution to their catching issue, the whole plan completely goes awry.
This past season between the sudden downfall of Jesus Montero and the rush to anoint Mike Zunino as the Mariners' starting catcher, the powers that be decided that the likes of Kelly Shoppach, Henry Blanco, Humberto Quintero and Jesus Sucre could all lend a hand behind the plate.
In short, the plan was a complete and total disaster on all fronts.
While its safe to say that Montero will likely never see time behind the plate or at any other position in a Mariners uniform ever again, Zunino—after barely being a Mariner for a full calendar year—found himself thrown to the wolves.
Could Zunino's baptism by fire translate into a much-improved sophomore campaign in 2014?
To be honest, I don't think it's fair for anyone to find out.
Zunino some day may be very special, but right now he's not ready to catch 100+ games in 2014, and the team needs someone better than Kelly Shoppach or Henry Blanco to help carry the load.
In other words, retreads need not apply.
If the Mariners want Mike Zunino to be a star, they may need to invest the time, energy and money in finding him a mentor capable of showing him the way forward both on the field and in the dugout.
No. 2: Starting Pitcher
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Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are one of the better starting combos in all of baseball, but beyond them the starting rotation is a mess.
While the M's certainly do have a few candidates in house to fill out the rotation, I'm afraid I'm not particularly sold on any of them.
Similar to the situation at catcher, I like what the Mariners have in youngsters James Paxton and Taijuan Walker; however, penciling them both in to the staring rotation for Opening Day makes me cringe.
Meanwhile, even if Paxton and Walker are ready, that still leaves one spot open in the rotation's back half.
Perhaps Joe Saunders or Erasmo Ramirez could help fill one or two spots if either Paxton or Walker falters, but unlike a lot of other options in free agency this winter, I do feel the market for starting pitchers holds a good deal of promise.
Naturally most, if not all come with risks, but with the right deal I can see the Mariners attracting a pitcher either down on his luck in recent years and/or with something to prove coming to Seattle as a means of resurrecting their career.
Could someone like Tim Lincecum, Josh Johnson or Phil Hughes find Seattle appealing under such circumstances?
Then again, might the Mariners go big and place a bid for Iwakuma's former teammate in Japan, Masahiro Tanaka?
Either way, I think the M's need to add at least one pitcher to the competition this spring with the hopes of giving Felix and Kuma a little more help.
No. 1: Outfield
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Last but certainly not least, the M's could use some help in the outfield.
Whether you agree with such a move or not, just brace yourself as the whispers are only going to get louder in the coming weeks and months whether we are talking about Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran or whomever.
Personally, none of the options available are terribly appealing when you start doing the math involving money and years that will be needed to get these players under contract, but then again neither is the status quo.
A potential starting outfield of Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and Abraham Almonte in 2014 is scary, and not in a good way.
Beyond them though, do you bring back Franklin Gutierrez one more time?
How about another year of Raul Ibanez or Endy Chavez as insurance?
By the way, there are only a handful of prospects who will have an outside shot at spring training, and none of them are "can't miss" by any measure.
So with all of that said I think it's safe to say that some way, somehow, the Mariners will be in the marketplace for an outfielder this winter.
Bonus: First Base/Designated Hitter
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However, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, there is still the matter of who will play first base and designated hitter next year.
This past year Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak did a decent job playing both positions, but last week Morales essentially told the Mariners he'd prefer to test the market rather than accept their qualifying offer.
While there is still a chance he could come back before all is said and done, I'd actually love to see the Mariners call his bluff and toss their hat in on the bidding for Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu instead.
Pursuing Abreu is not without risk, but unless the sticker price for Morales drops considerably from the $13.8 million the M's offered, I see little harm in going after a younger player with a potentially higher ceiling.
Of course, since this is the Mariners, I'm skeptical as to whether they will get either player under contract this winter—hence the reason we all need to pretend that Justin Smoak made a "breakthrough" this season and perhaps brace ourselves for having Raul Ibanez back one more year to play DH and occasionally start a game in left field.
Or maybe the team could once again try to convince Mike Napoli that he belongs in Seattle after having failed to do so last winter?
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Finally, I'd like to close things out with a joke.
Did you hear the one about the Mariners contacting Lou Piniella (Fox Sports) to see if he would be interested in managing again?
Last week this "non-story" (USS Mariner) was good for a laugh, yet without a manager I fail to see how the team can seriously tackle any of the issues discussed here.
That is unless the Mariners decide to put the cart before the horse and simply go about their business by offering huge contracts to players on their wish list.
While I wouldn't rule that out, if I'm a free agent talking to the Mariners in the coming weeks, I'd probably like to know who is going to be the skipper for at least the next year before I sign anything.
So whether the Mariners have a long or short list of managerial candidates, they need to find one fairly soon if they intend to have meaningful conversations with anybody they'd like to sign.
Until then all of the talk here and elsewhere is cheap.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, revamping their roster will be anything but.
Let's just hope that if the and when the Mariners do spend money it will be for the betterment of the club long-term, not just a quick fix to save someone's job.