It’s now October, and while some teams are still currently participating in the game that they get paid to play, the Mariners, sadly, are not. The book on the M’s is shut, the toe tags are on, and now it’s time to look to 2014.
While M’s fans hibernate away the winter months, Seattle General Manager Jack Zduriencik — whether you approve of his doings or not— will be busy continuing what he has done consistently during every offseason: wheeling, dealing, and presumably pleading.
But unlike some recent seasons, this year, regardless of the final record, the cupboard isn’t so depressingly bare; in fact the M’s have a solid young core of experienced players under contract for next season.
As ridiculous as it sounds every year when someone says it, going into 2014 the M’s (prematurely) look like they’re only a few players away from fielding a competitive team (though ‘competitive’ doesn’t mean ‘playoffs’).
With this in mind, and disregarding the coaching search for now, let’s take a look at three areas on the field where Jack Z can make some moves that could considerably improve the team.
- Resign Kendrys Morales: Yes, this move is not exactly earth shattering and has been a topic of conversation throughout the season, but signing Morales should be near the top of Jack Z’s priority list. Morales isn’t the second coming of Edgar Martinez, but he does provide something the M’s have been sorely lacking for several years: a middle of the order bat who consistently produces offensively. When compared to most of the M’s cleanup hitters of late (Richie Sexson, Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman) Morales is a considerable upgrade in most offensive categories. He also affords the young hitters in the lineup some protection —which should be an invaluable service when looking at the M’s youthful lineup. It sounds as if the M’s are interested in retaining his services, and if they can be had at a reasonable rate, Jack Z should pull the trigger.
Sign or trade for an established outfielder who can bat leadoff: The turnover rate for M’s outfielders and leadoff batters the past few seasons has been considerable. Between injuries and poor offensive and defensive production, the M’s have struggled to find three players worthy of patrolling the outfield on a regular basis. If Jack Z can bring in an outfielder who can produce at the plate without being a liability in the field, it will without a doubt improve the team; to go along with this, the M’s haven’t had a truly potent leadoff hitter for several years, and if the M’s can bring in a outfielder who can hit for average at the top of the lineup, it’ll allow guys like Brad Miller and Nick Franklin to move down in the order where they will have more protection. The team has an option on Franklin Gutierrez, but considering his history, he probably won’t be the answer to the M’s question marks in the outfield. Some free agent candidates out there who could all potentially be signed at varying prices are Shin Soo-Choo, Nate McLouth, Nate Schierholtz, Jacoby Ellsbury, or even Curtis Granderson.
- Sign or trade for a veteran starter to fill in the back end of the rotation: When Jack Z signed Joe Saunders last season it looked like decent move. Saunders was a workhorse who could keep his team in the game more often than not. Unfortunately, Saunders was mediocre for the majority of the season, and while the M’s could probably resign him if they wish, signing another veteran starter should be a priority. The rotation is obviously solid at the top with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, but beyond that there are question marks. Erasmo Ramirez still has the potential to be a solid back end starter, and either Taijuan Walker or James Paxton will presumably be able to fill the fourth or fifth spot, but if the M’s want to avoid having an Aaron Harang type guy gifting opposing teams long balls every fifth day, Jack Z should make an effort to bring in another starter. The dynamic in the M’s starting rotation this season was not a good one. The extremes between the front end and back end were a major reason the M’s rarely managed to win more than two games in a row. There are obviously many starting pitchers that will be free agents next season, but some potential candidates that wouldn’t command too much money would be Jason Vargas, Ricky Nolasco, Bruce Chen, Tim Stauffer, Scott Baker, or, yes, even Joe Saunders again.
There are a multitude of problems with the M’s right now, but several things —like the bullpen and the struggles of the younger players— can be remedied without outside help or player additions. The coaching search will presumably be a key feature of the offseason, but resigning Morales and finding help in the outfield and in the rotation should be some of Zduriencik’s top priorities this offseason.