Seattle Mariners May Be Better Off Not Signing Dustin Ackley

Casey McLain@caseymclain34Senior Analyst IAugust 16, 2009

The Seattle Mariners have fallen victim to a recent Seattle trend, struggling to sign top pick Dustin Ackley.

Ackley, unquestionably the most polished college hitter in the 2009 draft, has asked for a bonus similar to that of Mark Teixeira, under the guidance of Scott Boras.

Boras is widely considered the most powerful agent in baseball. Despite a chink in his armor when Alex Rodriguez fired him, he represents each of the drafts top three picks: Stephen Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, and Donovan Tate respectively.

Tate, a high school outfielder picked by the San Diego Padres, are reported close to a $6.5 million deal. 

But Ackley’s demands are going to be closer to $10 million.

The Mariners have apparently requested a physical from Ackley, which could make the article irrelevant come tomorrow’s deadline.

But I think that a compelling case could be made that the Mariners may benefit by not signing Ackley.

Corey Brock opined that Strasburg may ultimately end up a San Diego Padre, but the Mariners could ruin those plans.

Strasburg, perhaps the best pitching prospect in the history of the game, appears far apart in negotiations with the Washington Nationals. The Nationals reportedly offered Strasburg a record-setting contract, but little progress appears to have been made.

Strasburg and Boras came into the negotiation process asking for upwards of $50 million, citing the contract signed by Daisuke Matsuzaka upon his entry into Major League Baseball.

It appears more and more likely that Strasburg won’t sign with the Nationals. While the team will hold the top two picks in next years draft, assuming they continue their league-worst pace. However, according to MLB rules they must receive permission from a player they drafted in the previous draft in order to draft him again.

So if the Mariners don’t sign Ackley, they would receive either the second or third pick in next year’s draft. But if the Nationals held the top two picks the Mariners would find themselves in the situation they should have set themselves up for in 2008, in position to draft Strasburg.

But one in the hand is typically worth two in the bush, and if the Nationals sign Strasburg, with a possible top pick next year they could load up on a battery of “super-prospects,” as Bryce Harper, perhaps the best catching prospect ever, intends to enter next year’s draft.

So inherently, the Mariners run the risk entering next year’s draft, assuming they didn’t sign Ackley, with the second-overall selection and nobody to take. The Nationals, or whoever held the top pick, would be expected to take Harper, and it’s likely that Ackley wouldn’t grant the Mariners permission to draft him again.

So what exactly is Ackley to the Mariners?

Ackley played first base in college, but it is well documented that he likely profiles as a left fielder, center fielder, or to a far lesser extent a second baseman.

The Mariners presently have their top MLB-ready prospect, Michael Saunders, penciled into the lineup in left field. Franklin Gutierrez appears to be the team’s center fielder of the future, and Ichiro Suzuki is all but certain to remain in right field.

Barring an offseason trade of Saunders or Gutierrez, it’s likely that Ackley would have to either return to first if Russell Branyan or Ken Griffey Jr. left (in which case Branyan would likely DH) in the offseason, or wait it out in the minors.

That is a somewhat counterintuitive way to handle the team’s second-overall pick, taken in large part due to his potential to fast-track his way to the bigs.

A large portion of the Mariner faithful would like to see Ackley take over the full time starting job at second base. Comparisons to Chase Utley have been made, if Ackley were able to successfully transition to the middle infield, which may be as prohibitive as they are hyperbolic.

Jack Zduriencik has committed to defense, opting for Jack Hannahan, Jack Wilson, Ryan Langerhans and Josh Wilson as part and full time replacements at positions of need over the season. Why would his philosophy be any different at second base?

Zduriencik is on record as stating that the team views Ackley as an outfielder also.

Ackley profiles as a guy who has gap power, a solid hitting approach, and plus speed.

Presently accepted wisdom, perpetuated by statisticians, is that it is much easier and less expensive to turn a good hitter into a power hitter than a power hitter into a good hitter.

However, many of the same examples used as success stories (Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Larry Bigbie, etc.) have also been implicated as performance enhancing drug users.

As baseball takes measures to crawl out of the hole the Steroid Era dug for it, success stories like the aforementioned could be less frequent.

If Ackley doesn’t increase his power dramatically he probably tops out somewhere between Jacque Jones and Darin Erstad.

Solid contributors? Sure.

Can’t miss talents? I don’t think so.

Ackley was the second-overall pick as much by attrition as ability. He’s the product of a very middling draft class where somebody had to go second. He’s a very good prospect, but certainly not an irreplaceable talent.

A lot has been made of the draft pick compensation system in the past few years, and while the value of the two picks is frequently overstated, and baseball may have the least reliable draft among the three major American sports, the Mariners did also draft a shortstop, Nick Franklin, who figures to have gap power and a solid glove.

Ultimately, if Strasburg doesn’t sign, the Mariners would have the opportunity to evaluate him against polished hitters.

Strasburg would likely join an independent league, where many players, former pros included, end up because they can’t hit breaking balls. Strasburg won’t be able to live solely on his triple-digit heater, at least in theory.

If the Mariners are going to handout a double-digit signing bonus, why not wait, and do it for someone who deserves it according to historical precedent?

If Ackley signs, he should be welcomed with open arms, but if he doesn’t, it may ultimately be in the team’s best interest.




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