10 Offseason Moves the Seattle Mariners Need to Build Around Felix Hernandez
The list of things that went right with the 2010 Seattle Mariners season starts and ends with Felix Hernandez.
King Felix should be the favorite for the Cy Young after a stellar season that includes a 2.31 ERA (second in baseball), a 1.06 WHIP (tied for fourth in baseball), and 227 strikeouts (second in baseball).
Ichiro Suzuki is pretty good too, recording his 10th straight 200-hit season early last week.
After that, however, the Mariners roster is a collection of misfits, underachievers, over-the-hill veterans, and colossal busts.
Felix Hernandez is one of baseball's best pitchers. But as that 12-12 record shows, he can't do it alone.
Here are 10 offseason moves Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik should make to get Felix some help and put the Mariners back into the playoff race.
Get an Impact Bat
When the highest OPS on your team is .760, your team is not just anemic offensively—it's clinically dead.
With all due respect to Ichiro (he of the .760 OPS), he's not the middle-of-the-order bat that Seattle needs.
(Note: Russell Branyan would be first with an OPS of .802, but he only joined the Mariners midseason after being traded by the Cleveland Indians. Still, .802 is a pathetic number for your best power hitter.)
Branyan, by the way, led the Mariners in homers with 15. Only two other plays reached double digits (Franklin Guttierez with 12, Jose Lopez with 10).
The Mariners are dead last in every offensive category. Even Pittsburgh, the league's second worst offense, has scored 68 more runs than Seattle. When you can't even outhit the woeful Pirates, you know you have a problem.
Adrian Beltre may have underperformed during his time with the Mariners, but he was at the very least a legitimate power threat. Seattle needs a player who can replace Beltre's presence in the lineup, and maybe two players, before the team can consider itself a serious playoff contender.
Among the power bats available are Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Carlos Pena (if he returns to form), and Victor Martinez. The Mariners should go after all of these players and sign at least one to be the clean-up hitter.
See What Justin Smoak Can Do
The Mariners acquired Smoak from the Texas Rangers in the Cliff Lee mega deal and wasted no time getting him into the lineup as their primary designated hitter.
But the highly regarded prospect fell flat, hitting only .178 over 23 games (including 30 strikeouts) before being sent back to AAA Tacoma in late July.
The 6'4", 220-pound switching-hitting slugger was considered one of the top five prospects in the 2008 MLB Draft and has drawn comparisons to Mark Teixeira and Chipper Jones. Scouts rave about his defensive footwork and ability to hit for power from both sides of the plate.
He's only 23 years old and clearly needs some seasoning to reach his full potential. But the talent is undeniable.
The Mariners need this guy in their lineup today and for years to come.
Sign J.J. Hardy
The Mariners' current starting shortstop, Josh Wilson, is sporting a line of .234/.288/.302 (AVG/OBP/SLG). In other words, he's the offensive equivalent of Pokey Reese.
The other shortstop on the roster, Jack Wilson, is not doing much better with a .249/.282/.316 line. So the Wilson's have more than just a name in common—they both can't hit.
J.J. Hardy, however, can.
The Minnesota Twins shortstop is hitting .276/.327/.406. Those numbers aren't great, but they're certainly a significant upgrade over the Wilson family.
After all, Hardy is the same guy who in 2007 hit 26 home runs and in 2008 hit 24 home runs. He has plus power for a middle infielder but has struggled to stay on the field, missing at least 40 games in four of his six seasons.
He's only 27 years old, though, and certainly worth a contract offer, especially considering the alternatives (Alex Gonzalez, Chrisitan Guzman, Julio Lugo, Cesar Izturis). The Mariners would be wise to pursue him, unless they enjoy watching the Wilson show.
Add Ken Griffey Jr. To The Coaching Staff
In early August the Mariners tore apart their coaching staff, firing manager Don Wakamatsu, bench coach Ty Van Burkleo, and pitching coach Rick Adair. Earlier in the year they also fired hitting coach Alan Cockrell and replaced him with AAA Tacoma hitting coach Alonzo Powell.
But considering how the offense has performed since the coaching purge, they could probably still use a little help.
So why not Griffey?
He's probably the most popular athlete in Seattle sports history and is well respected throughout baseball as one of the few elite power hitters who managed to avoid the steroid scandal. Plus, he knows a thing or two about hitting, as his 630 career home runs would show.
Griffey could bring back a sense of stability in the Seattle clubhouse, either as a hitting coach or bench coach. Besides, the Mariners offense can't get any worse.
Non-Tender Casey Kotchman
Kotchman is not a bad player. He was good enough to be the 13th overall pick in the 2001 MLB Draft. He was also good enough to be the Angels everyday first basemen in 2007, putting together a solid .296/.372/.467 line.
But he's battled injuries and inconsistent performance ever since, and now may be out of a job.
His 2010 line is an underwhelming .217/.280/.336. That's a .616 OPS as a first basemen, for those of you scoring at home.
He's excellent defensively, setting the MLB record for consecutive chances without an error (2,379). But Seattle needs more than defense out of its first basemen, and Kotchman has not shown any offensive potential since 2008.
He's in his fourth year of arbitration eligibility and is a useful player, but at a price of at least $3.5 million he's too expensive. Seattle should non-tender Kotchman and let Smoak become the everyday first basemen.
Sign Javier Vazquez
Seattle went into the 2010 season hoping the terrific tandem of Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee would be enough to challenge for the division.
But the Mariners never got the proverbial bat off the shoulder and tanked early in the season, forcing them to trade Lee to division rival Texas and put AAAA native David Pauley into the rotation.
The Mariners have a good rotation, though. After King Felix, Jason Vargas (3.91 ERA), Doug Fister (3.91 ERA), and Ryan Rowland-Smith (6.90 ERA) are all good pitchers with tremendous potential for growth. Each of them is under 27 years old.
Vazquez, however, could make the rotation great.
The 34-year old righty has been a bust for the Yankees, going 10-9 with a 5.07 ERA. He's now in the bullpen and will be a free agent at the end of the season.
But over the course of his career, Vazquez has been one of baseball's best pitchers. His 2,374 career strikeouts ranks him near the top among active pitchers. He also finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting last year, meaning that his 2010 season is likely just an aberration.
With Vazquez on board the Mariners would have the veteran leadership they've been missing since the days of Jamie Moyer and a quality starter at every spot in the rotation. Assuming Vargas, Fister, and Rowland-Smith can improve their games, the Mariners will have one of the best rotations in baseball.
Bring Back Freddy
If the Vazquez signing falls through, the Mariners fall back plan should be old friend Freddy Garcia.
Garcia played for the Mariners back when they still good (with the likes of Griffey, Edgar Martinez, and John Olerud). He made two All-Star teams in the early part of the decade and was the ace of the rotation through 2003.
Garcia has since bounced around both leagues and finally landed for a second stint with the Chicago White Sox. In 27 starts this season, Garcia is 11-6 with a 4.74 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 150 innings.
Those numbers don't exactly jump off the page, but at a salary of $1 million the White Sox really aren't complaining. Garcia will be a free agent after this season and, at 35 years old, will likely be looking for his last big league contract.
He would be well served by ending his career exactly where he started it—with the Seattle Mariners.
Garcia would be a No. 4 or a No. 5 starter for the Mariners and a veteran presence in the clubhouse. He'd also be the only pitcher on the staff with playoff experience.
Trade For Colby Rasmus
The 23-year-old left-handed slugger for the Cardinals has indicated he's unhappy in St. Louis and would like a trade. The Mariners should do Rasmus a favor and oblige him.
Rasmus can flat out rake. In his second full season with the Cardinals Rasmus has proven himself as a dangerous complement to Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. He's already hit 23 home runs and has an OPS of .875. He may strike out a lot (140 times in 441 at-bats), but he's undeniably one of the best young power hitters in the game.
But what would the Mariners have to give up to get him?
Presumably Michael Saunders, the promising 23-year old Seattle left fielder, would have to be part of the initial package. The so-called "Condor" is hitting a measly .202 this season but has shown flashes of power, pounding nine home runs 303 plate appearances.
The Mariners would also likely have to part ways with one of their young pitchers, like a Ryan Rowland-Smith or a prospect like Dan Cortes. Seattle has several promising outfielders in their minor league system, but none can compare with Rasmus.
Plus, Rasmus won't be arbitration eligible until 2012 and won't be a free agent until 2015. He's good and he's cheap. Sounds like the perfect future Seattle Mariner.
Sign Scott Downs
The Mariners have a serviceable closer in David Aardsma and a potentially great set-up man in Brandon League. But the rest of the bullpen is rather mediocre.
Sean White has a 5.24 ERA in 34.1 innings. Long time starter Jamey Wright has pitched well with a 3.15 ERA but is 35 years old. Garrett Olson, the only useable lefty in the bullpen, had high expectations but has only thrown 34 innings to the tune of a 4.76 ERA.
The Mariners have a solid and potentially great rotation, but little to no bullpen to back it up.
Enter Scott Downs.
The 34-year-old lefty reliever for the Toronto Blue Jays has been one of baseball's best kept secrets. This year the secret finally got out.
In 65 games Downs has a 2.73 ERA and a 1.028 WHIP. He also has a SO/9 IP ratio of 7.0, and generally has very good control.
The Mariners will have to compete with the Red Sox and other big market teams for Downs' services. But if they can sign him, Downs will give their bullpen an immediate boost as a power lefty opposite League.
Hire Bobby Valentine As Manager
Little known fact—Valentine retired as a Seattle Mariner in 1979 at the age of 29.
What's more fitting for the 60-year old former manager than to end his coaching career in Seattle as well?
Valentine is currently an analyst for ESPN, but he has to be itching to get back into the dugout. He's regarded as one of the better managers in the game and recently interviewed to be the Baltimore Orioles' manager and has been mentioned as a possible candidate as Florida Marlins manager.
Valentine would be a great fit in Seattle because he's known for having strong relationships with Japanese players after five years spent managing in Japan.
The Mariners obviously have Ichiro Suzuki, but they have always been a popular destination for Japanese-born players. Think back to the days of Shigetoshi Hasegawa or Kazuhiro Sasaki, or more recently Kenji Johjima.
Seattle has a large Asian market, but it can't compete dollar-for-dollar with Boston or New York in bidding for star Japanese baseball players. Having Valentine in the dugout would make Seattle a more attractive option for potential international free agents.
Seattle could use all the help it can get, and having Valentine on board would be a terrific start.