The Seattle Mariners are focused on a September push to the playoffs but also have a bright future to look forward to in 2015 and beyond.
After five months, the Mariners have a strong idea of what their strengths and weaknesses are heading into the offseason. As exciting as the current chase for a wild-card spot is, the Mariners could be even better next season with a couple of moves in free agency.
General manager Jack Zduriencik did a nice job of balancing Seattle’s present and future at the trade deadline and again will be faced with a similar circumstance during the offseason. This season’s unexpected run set the Mariners up nicely for 2015, so a couple of win-now moves would not be surprising.
The club’s performance in September, and potentially October, will impact the offseason, but there are already a few storylines shaping up for the winter.
The core will be intact for 2015, but the Mariners still have a few players who are due to enter free agency:
- Kendrys Morales, DH
- Corey Hart, DH
- Chris Denorfia, OF
- Chris Young, SP
- Franklin Gutierrez, OF
- Endy Chavez, OF
That list is assuming the Mariners exercise a $7 million team option on Hisashi Iwakuma, which seems certain to happen.
Hart and Chavez are the most likely to be gone, while Gutierrez probably won’t be ready to return to return to the majors at all due to his health situation. The Mariners will have some interesting choices to make regarding the other three players.
September will be most critical for Morales, as he will have to finish strong to get anywhere near the amount of money he was offered last offseason.
If Morales continues to hit relatively well (106 wRC+ in August), the Mariners will look to bring him back, but Morales didn’t seem interested in signing with Seattle last offseason, and the cost may be too high.
Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune mentions that the Mariners will at least look at bringing Morales back in 2015.
Attempting to retain Young would make sense for both parties. Young was built for Safeco Field, while Taijuan Walker doesn’t appear as ready for the majors as the Mariners would have hoped at this point. James Paxton has some health concerns—meaning the team could use the veteran depth.
The Mariners will be gambling on Young avoiding regression and his shoulder holding up, but he’s been consistently strong in 2013. A short, incentive-laden contract would be ideal.
To the point about Young's health, the 35-year-old says he's been pain free since undergoing surgery to fix thoracic outlet syndrome last June, via Jim Caple of ESPN.com.
It's been pain free. It's been a big blessing for me and I don't take it for granted. I was at a point where I was basically ready to walk away. 'I've done what I can and my shoulder just is not meant for this.' And so, after having surgery, I woke up and I knew the pain was gone. Ever since, it's just continued to get better and better.
Finding Help at First Base and Designated Hitter
The Mariners have received little production at the plate from either position until the last few weeks, which needs to change in 2015. Help could be on the way soon from the minors, but the Mariners may want to make some moves that focus on the present rather than the future.
One decision the Mariners will have to make is figuring out where Logan Morrison fits into their plans as he heads into an arbitration year. Morrison ran an unfortunate .211 BABIP in July but has rebounded with a .352/.403/.465 line since.
Morrison would be a fine placeholder until D.J. Peterson is ready, unless a better option presents itself.
It seems unlikely at this point that Morales will be coming back. September will provide a brief look at Ji-Man Choi, who could DH or split time with Morrison at first, but the Mariners may want to look for more experienced hitters.
However, the free agent class doesn’t look too promising. Many of the big-name free agent first basemen are well into their 30s. Victor Martinez appears to be the best designated hitter available but will be expensive.
Potential Trade Chips
The Mariners used a valuable trade community in Nick Franklin to fill a need with Austin Jackson on July 31. Some similar moves could be on the way in the offseason.
Last winter, the Mariners flipped Carter Capps, a young reliever with high upside, for offensive help in Morrison. A similar move could be coming in the offseason, as the Mariners have several high-upside relievers, like Brandon Maurer, who could be available.
The team will also have to make a decision at shortstop between Chris Taylor and Brad Miller. Having one sit in Triple-A long-term isn’t going to help the club, and either one could land a decent return.
For now, the Mariners appear to be favoring Taylor, but they will have a better read on him after another full month in the majors.
If the Mariners don’t make a trade for a first basemen or designated hitter, they could be in the market for outfield help, particularly if Denorfia leaves.
Seattle’s outfield looks decent heading into 2015, but it depends on Dustin Ackley sustaining his current hot streak and Michael Saunders staying healthy. Both things could be impacted in September.
Possible Contract Extensions
Instead of spending a large amount on free agents, the Mariners may look to work on contract extensions for Hisashi Iwakuma and Kyle Seager.
Iwakuma has pitched like an ace for the past two seasons and could make upwards of $20 million if he hits free agency in 2016, so it would be wise for the Mariners to work on an extension shortly after the season ends. He signed a two-year extension following the 2012 season with the option for the third year.
Another three-year deal would be perfect as Iwakuma turns 34 next season, but he may want to test free agency.
"First and foremost, I am very happy with how the Seattle Mariners treated me throughout the season and for their evaluation in me as a starter...My family was a big factor in our decision [and] we are very happy and satisfied with Seattle, and we look forward to staying for at least two years."
Seager ranks ninth in the majors in WAR and is a critical part of Seattle’s core, so it’s time to think about locking him up long-term. The Mariners have more time with Seager, as he has three arbitration years remaining, but the price could go up if they wait another year or two.
Buying out those arbitration years will be more expensive over the next three seasons, but if the Mariners sign him for a few years beyond that it will save them money long-term.
All stats via FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted.