After coming up short in the sweepstakes for Prince Fielder and Josh Hamilton in each of the last two offseasons, respectively, the Seattle Mariners were determined to land one of the few elite hitters in this year’s free-agent class.
Well, they got one Friday.
According to Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com, Robinson Cano and the Mariners have agreed in principle on a 10-year, $240 million contract, which ties Albert Pujols for the third-largest deal in major league history.
Though the Mariners will have the 31-year-old Cano under contract for the next decade, it’s doubtful the organization would have pursued him so aggressively if it didn’t plan on contending in the near future; the M's wanted Cano anchoring their lineup for the back end of his prime years.
While Cano’s contract will likely prevent Seattle from signing another big-name free agent this offseason, there is a growing belief that the organization will trade for Tampa Bays ace David Price during next week’s winter meetings.
Had you asked me at the beginning of the week which is most likely to occur this offseason, the Mariners signing free agent Robinson Cano or trading for David Price, I would have said the latter without hesitation.
Despite graduating Nick Franklin, Brandon Maurer, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino to the major leagues in 2013, the Mariners have both the talent and depth on the farm to execute a potential blockbuster trade—and the front office knows it.
Considering the Rays’ return last offseason—a four-player prospect package headlined by AL rookie of the year Wil Myers—from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for James Shields (and Wade Davis), it’s almost a foregone conclusion they will want Seattle’s top prospects in return for Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner.
With that said, here’s one realistic trade package Seattle may offer the Rays to land David Price.
Taijuan Walker, RHP
Selected by the Mariners in the supplemental first round of the 2010 draft, Walker has everything you want in a future ace. At 6’4” and 210 pounds, the right-hander is an outstanding athlete with a fluid delivery, quick arm and exceptional stuff.
After an up-and-down age-19 campaign at Double-A in 2012, Walker’s command and overall execution of his electric arsenal developed rapidly during his second tour of the level this past season.
The 21-year-old opened the season by mastering the Southern League with a 2.46 ERA and a 96-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 84 innings at Double-A Jackson, and he ultimately earned a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma in late June.
Despite the fact that he was one of the younger pitchers at the level, Walker held his own with a 3.61 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 57.1 innings in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Even though he logged a career-high 141.1 innings between both minor league levels, the Mariners decided to give their top prospect a taste of the major leagues as a September call-up.
Suffice it to say that Walker responded favorably to the challenge. In his final start of the year, on Sept. 9 against the Houston Astros, the promising right-hander allowed two earned runs on five hits and a walk with eight strikeouts over five innings.
Overall, Walker registered a 3.60 ERA, .a 204 opponent batting average and a 12-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 innings spanning three starts.
Walker boasts a plus-plus fastball that reaches the upper-90s, and he has also developed a high-80s/low-90s cutter that should be at least above-average at maturity. Although his command of both pitches has vastly improved this season, he still tends to leave too many up in the zone—something that will need to improve moving forward.
Both of Walker’s secondary offerings are also in need of refinement. The right-hander induces whiffs with a curveball that has big-time depth and heavy downer action, though his lack of control makes it an inconsistent offering. Meanwhile, he’s still developing a feel for a changeup that’s average at the moment but plays up when he’s working the corners with the fastball and cutter.
I think I speak for all prospect enthusiasts in saying that I hope Walker isn’t traded this winter. It’s not that he’d necessarily be less successful or worse off with another organization; I just think his future is especially bright with Seattle.
However, according to Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times, the Rays won’t trade Price to the Mariners unless Walker is included in the deal.
The only question is whether the Mariners are willing to make a long-term sacrifice (trading Walker) in favor of a potential short-term gain (acquiring Price).
Nick Franklin, 2B-SS
Selected by the Mariners in the first round of the 2009 out of a Florida high school, Nick Franklin asserted his place on the big league radar the following year with an outstanding full-season debut.
Assigned to Low-A Clinton, the switch-hitting shortstop batted .281/.351/.485 with 52 extra-base hits (23 home runs) and 25 stolen bases in 129 games. The Mariners moved Franklin up to Double-A for the final game of the regular season—a challenge to which he responded by going 2-for-3 with three runs scored.
After battling through an injury-plagued 2011 campaign and playing in only 88 games, Franklin bounced back in a big way in 2012, batting .278/.347/.453 with 52 extra-base hits (11 home runs) and 12 stolen bases in 121 games between Double-A and Triple-A.
Although he has developed at both middle infield positions, Franklin’s range and arm are a cleaner fit at second base than shortstop. Therefore, when he moved to second base on a near-full-time basis early in the season at Triple-A, it was a strong indication that his call-up was near.
After batting .324/.440/.472 with 13 extra-base hits and more walks (30) than strikeouts (20) in 39 games at Triple-A Tacoma to begin the season, Franklin finally was promoted to the major leagues in late May.
It didn’t take long for the 22-year-old to enjoy success at the highest level.
In his third big league start, Franklin was 2-for-4 with a pair of solo home runs—the first and second of his promising career—at spacious PetCo Park in San Diego. So it’s not like either home run was cheap.
At the All-Star break in July, Franklin was considered a legitimate rookie of the year candidate in the AL after batting .268/.337/.451 with 16 extra-base hits (six home runs), five stolen bases and a 36-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 169 plate appearances.
However, Franklin’s second half of the season was essentially a two-and-a-half month slump during which he pressed at the plate and seemingly swung through everything. As a result, he batted .194/.280/.333 with a 77-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 243 plate appearances during that span.
While Franklin’s overall body of work as a rookie was impressive, it’s difficult to look past the severity of his struggles following the All-Star break. And with Cano now in the equation and presumably taking over at second base next season, the 22-year-old now represents the Mariners’ most expendable young player.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has been attempting to solidify its middle-infield situation for the last several years with minimal success. So expect Franklin to be included in a potential trade should the Mariners pursue Price.
Ji-Man Choi, 1B
Signed in 2009 out of South Korea, Ji-Man Choi had a very promising professional debut the following year, batting .360/.440/.517 with 21 extra-base hits and 10 steals in 50 games between the AZL Mariners and High-A High Desert.
Unfortunately, he spent the entire 2011 season on the disabled list with a strained back muscle. The setback in his development resulted in an assignment to Low-A Clinton in 2012, where Choi made up for lost time by batting .298/.420/.463 with eight home runs and 43 RBI in 66 games.
This year, Choi enjoyed the type of quick ascent through the Mariners’ system that had seemed inevitable back in 2010. It’s easy to point out that the 22-year-old’s triple-slash line deteriorated upon reaching Double- and Triple-A; however, it also marked the first time that he’d played at either level.
Depending on whether they re-sign James Loney, the Rays could be in the market for an inexpensive first basemen. On top of that, the Mariners still have Justin Smoak under contract through the 2016 season, so including Choi in a potential trade for Price actually makes plenty of sense for both teams.
Dominic Leone, RHP
Dominic Leone may not look like much at 5’11” and 185 pounds, but don’t let his size fool you.
Selected in the 16th round of the 2012 draft out of Clemson, Leone hopped on the fast track to the major leagues this past season (also his full-season debut).
The 22-year-old—in his age-21 season—amassed 16 saves and posted a 2.25 ERA with a 64-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64 innings between Low-A Clinton, High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson.
Concern about Leone’s size and lack of downhill plane will continue to follow him through his career. However, that should never detract from the overall nastiness of his stuff.
The right-hander boasts a mid-90s fastball that will play up due to his quick arm and release point. Leone will also attack hitters with a cutter that comes in a few ticks below his regular fastball velocity and features late slicing action to the glove side. Leone’s out-pitch is a nasty slider that dives out of the zone at the last minute to generate a favorable number of strikeouts and weak-hit outs.
Leone continued to improve his prospect stock even more this fall with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, saving six games and posting a stellar 15-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12 innings.
Although he’ll presumably open the 2014 season in the minor leagues—either at Double- or Triple-A—it shouldn’t take long for Leone to pitch his way to the major leagues. Once he gets the call, Leone’s combination of swing-and-miss, plus stuff and an above-average command profile should allow him to carve out a role as a solid seventh- or eighth-inning arm.
With a host of young, hard-throwing relievers ahead of him on Seattle's depth chart, Leone represents intriguing trade bait, given his proximity to the major leagues.