Offseason Upgrades (Free Agency)
By JJ Keller
I think we can all agree that while the Ms offense has been better as of late, there are still many upgrades that can/should be made. A few spots that could stand to be improved upon are first base, and both corner outfield spots. While Thames, Robinson, and Carp, before another injury, have played well in those positions lately, they are still the weakest links on a mediocre offensive team. Jesus and Jaso could see time at 1st, but I fully expect and hope that Olivo will be gone, and that the two of them split time between catcher and DH. Also, just because we sign someone that plays those spots, doesn’t mean they are guaranteed a spot in the lineup. There could still be some battles that take place in Spring Training. Now for my list of guys who I think could help improve the offense, and get us that much closer to the postseason.
Nick Swisher, 32, OF/1B, SH
This is probably my favorite option for a couple reasons. First, Swisher is one of the more consistent guys around. He was always a solid contributer, but since joining the Yankees he has become a legit power threat. In his first 3 years with the Yankees he has averaged 27 HR, along with a .370 wOBA and 126 wRC+. That kind of production would instantly improve our team and give us a legit, MOTO (middle of the order) hitter. The second reason he makes sense is because he can play both corner outfield and first base. He has played mainly RF over the last few years, and he has become an above average defender there, but played a lot of 1st earlier in his career, and with his age, that may be where he fits best in the future. He has said he is looking for $100 million, but I dont see that happening, and think we could get him for around $13-15 million a year for 3-4 years.
Bringing in a proven veteran guy like Swisher that can play both position that we could look the upgrade allows the young guys like Thames, Carp, Wells and even Smoak to all battle for spots in the lineup. That kind of competition brings out the best in players, and will really allow us to see who our best options are to make our lineup the best it can be.
Mike Napoli, 31, C/1B, RH
Napolit broke out last year in his first year as a Ranger, and hit .320/.414/.429 with 30 HR and 178 wRC+. This year has been a different story as Napoli has missed some time due to injury, and has not played as well when he’s been healthy. While he is only hitting .223 with 17 HR on the year, he is getting on base at a solid .342 clip, and would still be an upgrade at 1st. Plus, he could join Montero and Jaso and form a 3 headed monster platoon at 1st, catcher and DH.
Most people expected him to come back down to Earth this year, but not quite to this extent. I still think he has a chance to be an All Star caliber player again when healthy. The best part is, his struggles this year COULD drive his price down, and we might be able to snag him for $10-12 million a year, which would be a steal if he plays close to how he did in 2011. If the Rangers decide to re-sign Hamilton, I think there is a good chance Napoli hits the market, and the Ms could have interest.
Josh Hamilton, OF, 31, LH
A guy can dream can’t he? Josh Hamilton is one of the biggest stars in the game. He was an All Star in his first full year, and has been voted into the All Star game every year since. He was on fire to start the year, and many thought he has locked up his second MVP season. Through May, he was hitting .368/.420/.764 with an unheard of 21 HR and 207 wRC+. However since then, he is hitting .239/.309/.457 with 14 HR and 93 wRC+. That together comes out to .290/.353/.578 with 35 HR, 140 wRC+ and 4.2 WAR. That is still All Star caliber play, and there are going to be a lot of teams in on him this offseason. I’m not confident that we have a chance to get him unless we overpay, and I’m not sure I would want us to do that with his injury and drug abuse history, and how much he fell off in June and July. He will probably end up wanting a 7 year deal, but it would be ill-advised for a team to do that, considering he would be 38 years old at the end of it, and would still be making $15-20 million a year. That’s fine for someone who never misses any time, but its rare for Hamilton to break 135 games per season. In fact, he has only done it once. If that’s him now, imagine him at 38. I think a 5 year, $90-100 million deal is realistic for Hamilton. We can afford it if we wanted to, but I’m not sure we do.
A guy like Hamilton would put us right into the race because not only do we get an MVP caliber guy, the Rangers lose one. Unfortunately (or fortunately if he ends up getting 7/$130) I don’t see him becoming a Mariner in 2013.
B.J. Upton, OF, 28, RH
I would prefer his brother, but Bossman Jr is a nice consolation. He has speed, power, and solid defense. However, he has had a hard time putting it all together since his first couple years in the league. He was great in 2007, his first full year, when he hit .300/.386/.508 with 24 HR and 138 wRC+. Since then, he has had seasons in which he had good power but did not hit for average, and vice versa. Even so, his career stat line is as follows: .255/.337/.415, a .336 wOBA, and 108 wRC+. That has given him 21.5 WAR over his career, or just under 3 a year.
Upton isn’t my favorite option, but he would definitely help, both at the plate and on the bases. The thing is, he is limited to the outfield. Hamilton is also, but the effect he would have on the offense is much bigger than Upton would. Upton will, however, probably be the cheapest of the four I mentioned ($8-11 million/year?), and is also the youngest.
In the end, all of these players would improve the Mariners offense, some more than others. Some would/could put us in contention, others will get us closer to that point. These are only a few of the many options the Mariners have in the coming offseason. I happen to think they are some of the better options we have to help fix this offense and bring it up to where we want it to be.
With the young pitching prospects we have coming up in the next year or two, if we can just get our offense to the middle of the pack, we have a great shot at contention. We have seen flashes this year, particularly of late. Hopefully those flashes become permanent sometime soon, and we have winning baseball back in Seattle.