The Seattle Mariners had a historically bad season in 2010. They saw almost every position player on the roster perform at career-worst levels, they scored less runs than they did in a strike-shortened 1994, they fired manager Don Wakamatsu and lost 101 games just one year after winning 85 games.
The Mariners are in desperate need of a turnaround similar to after the 2008 season in which they had an identical record as they did in 2010 (61-101). Luckily for us Mariner fans, the oft-criticized club President Chuck Armstrong and his partner in crime CEO Howard Lincoln chose to keep general manager Jack Zduriencik on for 2011.
Jack Z., as we so fondly call him in the Northwest, was the architect of the 2009 Mariners turnaround, and if Seattle is to do the same in 2011, he will need to make strong moves this offseason, and continue to let his fabulous draft choices mature and approach the start of their MLB careers.
The Seattle Mariners have several holes to fill before 2011 if they are to avoid a third 100-loss season in four years. The holes include: a starting pitcher (or possibly two), an infielder, a DH (designated hitter) and lastly a fourth outfielder.
Now the reason I said that the Mariners may need two starters is that top prospect Michael Pineda may or may not be ready to start the 2011 season in the Majors with the big boys. Already the Seattle Mariners have found their new manager Eric Wedge, and he has assembled his staff. So, all that is left now is to shape our roster for 2011.
Unfortunately, GM Jack Z. has only moderate resources to put towards improving for 2011. They have about $16 million to hand out in contracts (actually a little less because of arbitration raises and a raise to Felix Hernandez), and a few players who they could trade.
For example look for closer David Aardsma or set-up man Brandon League to be traded, perhaps Jose Lopez or Chone Figgins could be moved as well. In what will be a multi-part series, I will go over the personnel options that the Mariners face and give my opinion on who is the best fit. Today is infielders.
The free-agent market for infielders is very weak this year, however, the Mariners do not need an All-Star or even a multi-year fix. You may be wondering why the Mariners need an infielder at all. When you look at their current roster, which has Jack Wilson, Chone Figgins, Jose Lopez, Josh Wilson and Matt Tuiasosopo it seems that the infield is full.
The reason that they need an infielder, however, is that the Mariners are expected to move Figgins back to 3B, where he is strong defensively, and release the former 3B Jose Lopez. Now you might be wondering why the Mariners would release Lopez and that is simply because he is not the type of baseball player that good teams employ. His failures are well documented; he makes continual mistakes on the base paths, has unreliable power, is perceived as lazy and fails to work counts or draw walks.
So with that in mind let's look at the criteria for the man who will start at 2B next year in Seattle.
1. He needs to be cheap.
2. He needs to be able to handle 2B and SS with at least passable defense.
3. He needs to be benchable, for the time when phenom Dustin Ackley is ready to take over at 2B for the M's.
4. He needs to be willing to sign a one-year deal.
So, with those criteria in place, I can narrow the market down to just a few names.
The first guy that Seattle should look at is Christian Guzman. Who last year played SS primarily, with some innings at 2B and in RF for the Nationals then the Texas Rangers. As far as cheapness goes, Guzman will cost little more than $1 million. He also fits the bill in respects to being able to handle 2B and SS, even if it is only passably.
In 2010 he posted negative UZR/150 ratings. UZR/150 is used to judge a player's defense in terms of runs prevented. At SS he posted a -5.9 (so in a 150 games he would cost the M's six runs on D), and at 2B he recorded -5.3 UZR/150.
In no way are these numbers terrible, but the M's will likely try and do better. Guzman is also easily benchable, as he rode the pine for the Nationals and then spent most of his time in Texas on the pine. Guzman can also be expected to be had for one year. Last year he hit .266 so he has a little bit of upside with the stick.
The second infield option the M's will consider is Nick Punto. Punto has spent his entire MLB career to this point with the Minnesota Twins and the Phillies. Punto profiles as a completely opposite player to Guzman. He is a "defense first" type guy. He posted solid UZR/150, and would profile as a Gold Glove-caliber defender according to this metric.
At 2B Punto posted a 13.7 (that means he would save almost 14 runs per 150 games) and at SS he was even better. In 2010 at SS he posted a 22.2 UZR/150. As far as cheapness and contract length Nick Punto would probably be more expensive than Guzman but still affordable: a one-year player at $4 million-plus. He doesn't hit much either, hitting just .238 in 2010 with absolutely no power.
The third serious candidate would be the most costly, and the mostly likely to have multi-year contract offers. Juan Uribe was a big contributor for the 2010 champion San Francisco Giants. He brings something to the table that no other free-agent option does: real pop.
In 2010 Uribe smashed 24 home runs in a park that is similar to Safeco, meaning it is a major pitchers park. His UZR/150 numbers are solid as well, being a 16.0 defender at 2B and a 3.3 defender at SS. Uribe will likely cost around $6 million a year, and require two years, but is a significant upgrade.
He, however, does not fit in with the requirement that he can be easily benched when Ackley arrives. Though if the M's went the Uribe route he could just as easily start every game at SS once Jack Wilson goes to the DL, as is inevitable.
In conclusion, I feel that the best infielder fit in Seattle for the 2011 season is Nick Punto. The only reason I think he is a better fit than Juan Uribe is that ultimately he is more affordable and the M's have several more pressing needs, such as DH. However, if the Mariners choose to go with Uribe, who could blame them? His bat has to appeal to a team with such offensive woes.
Nick Punto does all the small things right, which helps profile him as the type of infielder Jack Z. prefers, just look at Jack Wilson. When rating the likelihood that one of these guys starts in 2011 for the Mariners it would be Punto, Guzman, then Uribe. However, when you look at improvement that they would bring to Seattle, Uribe tops the list by a great margin.