There’s no doubt Seattle will be in the market for offense. The Mariners are tied for last in the AL in wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) and have holes in left field and at designated hitter.
While offense is the primary need, the Mariners also will be looking for an addition to the middle of their rotation. Seattle has depth to sell at relief pitcher and shortstop, meaning it should be possible for the Mariners to address as many as three needs without mortgaging the future.
The Mariners don’t necessarily need to make a blockbuster trade to get into the playoffs. Simply addressing a few holes with even league-average players will make Seattle a significantly better ballclub.
Acquire a right-handed corner outfielder
Such a player would fit exactly what the Mariners currently need. Seattle’s lineup is overloaded with lefties and desperately needs an upgrade in left field.
Seattle has received a combined 0.3 WAR from Dustin Ackley and Endy Chavez, the team’s primary left fielders. Anyone who can post league-average offensive numbers over the rest of the season will be an upgrade.
The situation worsened last Thursday when Michael Saunders injured his oblique muscle, via Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune:
On #Mariners OF Michael Saunders, grade-2 strain in left oblique means partial tear in muscle. That usually means 6-8 weeks.— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) July 12, 2014
That means the Mariners are looking at playing both Ackley and Chavez every day until around September, if everything goes well with Saunders’ recovery. Upgrading both would be nice, but the Mariners must at least get one corner outfielder.
There are a number of right-handed corner outfielders who should theoretically be available. Marlon Byrd, Josh Willingham, Alex Rios or Justin Ruggiano would make some sense in Seattle.
Of those, Byrd seems the most likely to land with the Mariners at the moment. Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times reports that the Mariners have had “serious” discussion with the Philadelphia Phillies about acquiring Byrd:
Source said that #Mariners have had serious discussions with Phillies about Marlon Byrd. Said he is willing to waive his no trade clause.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 13, 2014
Byrd has hit .263/.315/.479 with 18 home runs this season, including a .954 OPS against left-handed pitching. That power would decrease in Safeco Field. Byrd has an ugly strikeout rate, but he would be a clear upgrade over Ackley.
FanGraphs has Byrd playing roughly average defense in right field over the past few seasons in terms of defensive runs saved. Byrd would likely be slightly worse than Ackley in left and slightly better than Chavez at either spot, but his offense would make up for it.
Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs offers a breakdown of how Byrd turned his career around in 2013 after bouncing around the majors:
Between 2010 and 2012, Byrd ranked in the upper eighth in ground-ball rate. Since the start of last season, he ranks in the upper fifth infly-ball rate. Byrd’s swing has a bit more of an uppercut, and the other numbers that come along with it aren’t surprising.
Again, the home runs would decrease, but Byrd has the kind of power the Mariners need.
Which outfielder should the Mariners acquire?
A dream scenario could be prying away Scott Van Slyke from the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it might be too much of a stretch. The Dodgers need to sort out a logjam in the outfield, but it’s unclear if they would be willing to part with Van Slyke.
Van Slyke has posted a 166 wRC+ in 155 plate appearances this season, including a 1.125 OPS against lefties. If he were available, Van Slyke would be more expensive than Byrd, as the Dodgers would be selling him when his value is at a peak.
The Mariners should be content with turning one of their high-upside relievers, likely Brandon Maurer, into a decent outfield bat. Ackley could also be involved in a change-of-scenery deal.
Look for an additional bat
The Mariners are last in the AL in on-base percentage and have scored 19 runs in their last 10 games. One bat is necessary to hold on to a wild-card spot, but Seattle needs two to be a serious contender.
Those numbers are about to get worse with Saunders’ injury, as he had the third-best wRC+ on the team among regular players.
Even if the Mariners can’t pick up two outfielders, they can get someone to be the DH. Corey Hart has a .628 OPS and is an injury risk, meaning the Mariners could use an upgrade.
Hart has been a bit unfortunate with a .246 BABIP and is still regaining his timing from a long stint on the disabled list, but he needs to turn it around by the July 31 deadline.
If Hart doesn’t improve fast, the Mariners will be looking to add another bat of any sort. Ruggiano hits lefties well (.869 OPS versus left-handed pitching) and should come at a reasonable price.
In addition to the outfielders listed above, Ben Zobrist is a big name who will be available. Zobrist has a wRC+ of 117 and can be plugged in at any number of positions, likely right field in Seattle’s case.
However, the Mariners can’t play Zobrist at second base, his most valuable position. Other teams will be likely willing to give up more for him.
Pick up a mid-level starter
Despite the great pitching numbers, the Mariners will soon have a need for a starter.
Roenis Elias is unraveling, with 16 earned runs allowed in his last three starts. He has never thrown more than 148.1 innings in a professional season and is quickly approaching that mark.
Greg Johns of MLB.com reports that James Paxton will make a rehab start at Low-A Everett on Thursday. Still, a lat injury is difficult to recover from, and Paxton could be shut down for the year with even another minor setback.
Taijuan Walker is back, but the Mariners are going to be incredibly careful with both him and Paxton. Lloyd McClendon was also less than pleased with Walker’s start in Tacoma last Sunday, according to Curtis Crabtree of Sports Radio KJR:
McClendon was pretty critical of Taijuan Walker's outing for Tacoma last night. "5 IP, 83 pitches and 1 K, that's not a good outing for me."— Curtis Crabtree (@Curtis_Crabtree) July 13, 2014
Even veteran Chris Young is on pace to pass his career-high innings count of 179.1. The Mariners need a healthy and reliable option behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
The big name out there is David Price. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports believes the Mariners should trade for the ace.
“Yes, the Mariners would need to give up legitimate pieces for Price – one rival executive suggested a package of right-hander Taijuan Walker, infielder Nick Franklin and third baseman D.J. Peterson, the 12th overall pick in the 2013 draft,” he wrote.
Walker and Nick Franklin would be understandable in a trade, but the name that should concern the Mariners is D.J. Peterson. The Mariners can’t afford to lose any offensive prospects due to the difficulty of attracting hitters to Seattle, particularly ones with Peterson’s power.
It would be hard to fault the Mariners for going for it, but acquiring Price assumes they can win a World Series in the next two years. That’s possible but not probable without at least two bats.
Instead, a cheaper mid-level starter might be a better option. Ian Kennedy is the kind of player who would be a good fit.
Kennedy has a 3.47 ERA (2.94 FIP) and has struck out 26.1 percent of batters faced while only walking 6.7 percent. He is a slight fly-ball pitcher, meaning his numbers shouldn’t drop too much transitioning from Petco Park to Safeco Field.
“I think Ian is throwing as well as he’s thrown in a few years as far as just pure stuff and making pitches. His velocity is up, his secondary pitches are good. So it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
If Seattle wants a starter, it will take more than a relief pitcher. The Mariners have a number of shortstops who are blocked at the major league level and could be traded.
Franklin is the most valuable, but the Mariners could also get something for Chris Taylor or include Ketel Marte as part of a package.
The Mariners need to make acquisitions, particularly bats, to reach the playoffs. Once there, anything is possible with Hernandez and Iwakuma at the top of the rotation.
All stats via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.