This installment of the Mariners deadline dilemmas will chronicle the Mariners lack of and need for offensive production. The team’s most obvious, glaring deficiency is that of an established, complete hitter.
From the beginning of the season, the Mariners have set themselves at an essentially unavoidable disadvantage. In the past I’ve stated frequently that there are four premium offensive positions in the American League: first base, designated hitter, left field, and right field.
At every other position, while there are players who break the rule, there is generally less offensive production. Typically also, above-average offensive players at non-premium positions get paid like premium players, Adrian Beltre for example, who was paid on his monstrous 2003 season.
I’ve defended Beltre however, as the runs he’s prevented have made up for many of the runs he’s failed to produce, and he’s about an average offensive third baseman. Scott Rolen is widely considered the best all-around third baseman of his generation, but Beltre has been on par with him offensively in recent years, and probably better defensively.
That stated, the Mariners are, and will continue to be hamstrung by their loyalties to Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki.
I’m one of the supporters of keeping Griffey in the starting lineup. Quite frankly, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year, and I want to see my hero swing the bat as much as I can, first-round playoff appearance and subsequent exit be damned.
I’ve resigned myself to the idea that Ichiro will finish his career as a Mariner, as a right fielder, as a leadoff hitter, and overpaid; all things I think the Mariners should have been able to avoid.
With two positions taken up by an unproductive hall-of-fame plaque and an out-of-position slap-hitter, the two remaining positions are also presently filled by players with some serious flaws.
Russell Branyan strikes out to much, and appears headed for a regression to mean. He’s been the team’s most productive hitter, and deserves to keep his job for the rest of this season if he remains a Mariner, but he’s not the hitter I’m writing about.
Ryan Langerhans has cooled from a hot start, and will likely end the year around .250/.350/.380. Not awful, but certainly not the middle-of-the-order masher this team needs.
But is that masher available?
Perhaps the best hitter who would conventionally be on the market is Adrian Gonzalez. The Padres have held strong, claiming the slugger isn’t available, but that doesn’t stem from sense, rather the tough sell of allowing Trevor Hoffman to walk, actively shopping Jake Peavy, and trading the team’s best hitter all in the same calendar year.
If Gonzalez is available it would probably take a package akin to what the Braves gave up for Mark Teixeira. They gave up, among other prospects, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Elvis Andrus, both of whom presently start for the Rangers.
The Mariners equivalent would probably be something along the lines of Jeff Clement and Carlos Triunfel, a hefty haul for a guy who struggled in his short time in the American League.
As always, however, there are some bargains available.
I’ve mentioned Luke Scott in the past. He’s the left-handed fourth-outfielder and designated hitter in Baltimore, and is 31-years old. Scott has hit in both leagues, though each place he’s played, Houston and Baltimore, play their home games in band boxes.
That said, even a portion of Scott’s .294/.378/.571 line in 2009 would be an upgrade in left field in Seattle.
Though Scott is 31, he’s under team control through 2012, and makes only $2.4 million this year. That would work for and against the Mariners, as he’s relatively inexpensive. But the Orioles and other teams understand the value that carries, and the Mariners may have to send more to Baltimore than they would for a comparable player past his arbitration years.
The Mariners have expressed some interest in Josh Willingham. Unlike Scott, Willingham is right handed, but possesses a fairly similar skillset. At 30-years-old Willingham walks enough, hits for some power (.268/.367/.480 for his career), and gets hit by a lot of pitches (51 times in the last four years, 10 in 246 plate appearances this year).
Willingham is under team control through 2011.
The problem is that Willingham has never hit in the American League. There is a Nationals outfielder however, who makes a lot of sense for the Mariners, and his name isn’t Adam Dunn. Check back on Friday.
Another name that has been mentioned is Matt Holliday. Holliday represents essentially the same set of skills and flaws as Willingham, especially having struggled to some extent since leaving the light air in Colorado for the American League.
All at a higher price tag.
Also like Willingham though, Holliday has a teammate who may make more sense for the M’s.
Jack Cust always seemed like a guy destined to play for the A’s. He walks a ton, play average to below-average defense in the outfield, and hits the ball a ton. Like former-turned-current A’s slugger Jason Giambi, Cust has been tied to performance enhancing drugs.
Cust was mentioned in the Mitchell Report, and after denying allegations has strung together a couple of productive years.
Cust is under team control until 2011, and makes $2.8 million this year. He’s 30-years old and boasts a .240/.372/.465 career line. Those numbers aren’t incredibly impressive, but over Cust’s career he’s walked 17.3 percent of his at bats.
The Mariners attempted to employ a “three-center-fielder” outfield this year. While Cust plays a respectable left field according to fielding metrics, he may be a better example of the flaws of metrics than respectability.
Ultimately he’d be relegated to the designated hitter role, where he’s spent most of his time in Oakland, as he hasn’t played first base in the majors and only played 17 games there in the minor leagues.
In 2009 he’d make an excellent power option for the Mariners from the left hand side, but they may have to give up Brandon Morrow or another young pitcher with upside to get him.