Thanks to some work by Matthew over at Lookout Landing, we can safely assume the Mariners will have around $15-20 million to spend on free agent talent next season. Matthew also suggests that people like me will suggest how to spend that money. I will oblige.
First, a look at what positions are filled, with whom they are filled, and expected production:
|SP1||Felix Hernandez|| |
|SP2||Jason Vargas|| |
|Total||Smoak on the Thames|| |
Those questions marks in the final three pitcher slots could be filled internally by any combination of Blake Beavan, Hector Noesi, Danny Hultzen, Erasmo Ramirez, or even Andrew Carraway. But Beavan and Noesi have already shown us that they are not very good, and the others have little-to-no experience at the major league level.
If Seattle wants to build on the success of this season and take an outside shot at a playoff spot next year, it would helpful to get a few better pitching options, as well as upgrades at first base and at least one outfield position. This is where Jackie Z’s spending money comes in, and these are some options I like (given the weak free agent class, and the difficulty of drawing hitters to SafeCo).
I looked at both first and second base options (with a potential Ackley move to first), and there’s just not a lot to choose from in the 2013 free agent class. The Ms may have to evaluate how best to use Mike Carp, Justin Smoak and/or Jesus Montero at that spot. The sooner Zunino is ready the better, because I have a feeling that Montero could be the man at first.
Outfielder Conor Jackson has been wasting away for the White Sox AAA affiliate, slashing .285/.374/.437 in 340 plate appearances. His career walk percentage sits at 10.1%, and his strike out percentage is just 11.7%. He derives his value from contact and patience, and thus being a right-handed batter won’t ding him as much in SafeCo. Jackson would also serve as a great platoon partner for Eric Thames, a lefty, as both players have conventional splits. Jackson could probably be had for $3-4M per season, having spent this entire year in the minors.
Francisco Liriano is just two seasons removed from a Cy Young caliber 2010 campaign. His fastball velocity is back up this season—nearly two full miles per hour on both his two and four-seamers—and he’s only going to be 29. Signing Liriano to a longer deal wouldn’t impede our young pitchers since Vargas becomes a free agent for the 2014 season. He could probably be had for something like $25 to $30 million over 3 years ($8-10M per year).
Zach Duke has spent much of his career in Pittsburg, with recent stops in Arizona and Washington. The National’s league-leading starters have kept him in the minors all season, and he will be a free agent this off season. Zach Duke is a pitch-to-contact lefty (4.64 K/9) that gets more groundballs than most (49%) and doesn’t walk too many batters (2.44 BB/9). So take Jason Vargas, subtract strike outs and add some groundballs. On the road, away from the friendly, SafeCo-like confines of Pittsburg’s PNC park, Duke gave up a few more ding dongs than one would expect for a 49% groundballer, but he was able to limit the damage more so than Beavan or Noesi, for instance. At 30, Duke isn’t likely to fall off the cliff, nor is he likely to cost a lot since he’s spent the entire season to this point in the minors. The Mariners could probably get him on a one or two-year deal at $4-5M per season, which would allow Paxton and Walker some time to mature.
These signings would likely cost the Mariners between $15 and 20$ million, and would improve the team next year without impeding any growth or committing too much money to players in a weak free agent class. Sure it would be nice to get an impact bat like David Wright or Josh Hamilton, but those players are going to cost a lot, are probably going to want long contracts, and aren’t likely to want to spend time in SafeCo field with so many other suitors.