2014 Mariners Offseason Plan Part 2: Right-Handed Bats


Jul 31, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers right fielder

Nelson Cruz

(17) watches his home run in the second inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Offseason plans and the like are very popular during this time of year. Everyone has ideas of what their team should do to rectify whatever problems ailed them in the previous season.

And on top of that, everyone is jonesing to know what will happen over the winter. And while we obviously can’t see the future, rumors, ideas and speculation are a close second at least in my opinion.

Often times, these plans are extremely specific and well thought out. They will give a list of signings and trades, with the cost right down to the dollar, or random minor league throw in that most people would call “random minor league throw in” rather than finding an actual name.

But rather than list specific contracts or trades, I will list moves that I feel need to be made or positions that need to be filled, then suggest a couple options that fit the bill. You may also notice that some players could overlap between parts. Don’t be alarmed. That’s just nature, or something.

Last week, for my 2014 Mariners Offseason Plan, I focused on the outfield, which is arguably Seattle’s biggest need this season. It is to the point where it almost doesn’t matter what kind of players they snag to roam the grass, just that they do.

But with this post, my focus will be a little more specific in terms of the kinds of players discussed. It has been speculated (and for good reason) that the Mariners will pursue multiple right handed bats this offseason. Their offense was bad overall last year, but it was particularly lousy against left handed pitchers, as the team grew increasingly lefty-heavy as the year went on.

Here are the 2013 Mariner’s numbers overall, against righties, and then against lefties:

vs. RHP0.2410.3120.4020.315
vs. LHP0.2290.2930.3640.291

As you can see, there is a pretty sizable discrepancy in the Mariner’s righty/lefty splits, including a 24 point difference in wOBA. In fact, that .315 wOBA against right handed hurlers would be 15th in the league overall, right in the middle of the pack. The Mariners instead — largely due to their struggles against southpaws — finished 20th in the league in wOBA.

And their .291 wOBA against lefties? That would be 29th in the league overall, sliding in ahead of the atrocious Marlins at .279.

Knowing that, it certainly makes sense for the M’s to target some right handed mashers to try to even things out.

As a side note, I would rather be lefty heavy than righty heavy since about 70% of pitchers are right handed. However, you cannot get to the point where 30% of your team’s at-bats are automatic outs.

It seems that the Mariners are getting even more specific, looking to acquire “frontline power hitters.” And while I don’t think we can assign this front office this much credit, there was a larger discrepancy in slugging between righty/lefty than there was on-base ability. Maybe they feel they have guys who can get on base regardless of the pitcher’s handedness.

Maybe they plan on bringing in guys who can get on base and hit for power. More likely, they value dingers more than getting on base.

The most talked about name in regards to the Mariners over the last week has been former Ranger’s right fielder Nelson Cruz. Cruz is a right handed bat who certainly brings power, but that’s where the positives end. I wrote at length about these rumors earlier in the week, and if you read that, you know how I feel about Cruz. Hint: Not a fan.

Cruz brings decent offensive production overall, but he struggles outside of Texas, and doesn’t offer much in the way of what we would call “value.”

He has been a sub-2 WAR player for three years in a row, due to poor defense, less-than-spectacular offense (especially in terms of getting on base), and injuries/suspensions that have kept him from playing more than an average of 130 games per season.

Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

While these rumors do not guarantee a massive interest in Cruz, he is the kind of player this FO seems to like, and fits the bill of “frontline power,” if power is the absolutely only characteristic you care about.

I am not completely against Cruz, because I would take him on a one or two year deal worth $7.5M per season. Unfortunately, that almost certainly won’t be the case, as someone will probably give Cruz $35+ million over three years. At that price, I am going to have to give a firm, yet fair, “Hell to the no.”

The next player has not been connected to the Mariners nearly as often, but I think he should be a target nonetheless. Mike Napoli has become a great hitter over the last few years, and he continued that trend last year in Boston.

At 32, he isn’t a spry young chicken himself, but he plays adequate defense at first base, while drawing a lot of walks, and bopping his fair share of the dingers that Jack Z seems to covet.

Last year, Napoli finished with a .367 wOBA, thanks largely to his 12.6 walk rate (which is actually about 1% lower than the previous two seasons) and 38 doubles (his 23 homers didn’t hurt either). He caught earlier in his career, but he spent all of his time last year at either 1B or DH, where I think he will remain for the remainder of his career.

Steamer projects that Napoli will post a .352 wOBA and 2.4 WAR next year, a fairly sizable decline. I personally think he will be somewhere between that projection and what he did last year, but I really have concrete evidence to base that on. I just don’t think Napoli overproduced last year, which it seems like Steamers prediction suggests.

My interest in Napoli also depends on price, as does anything else. But I think he will be a solid 2-3 win 1st baseman over the next three seasons, so a 3 year, $40 million contract would seem fair to me.

I certainly prefer him to Morales, especially if they end up having similar costs. If DH or 1st base is one of the positions the Mariners want to fill with a right handed stick, Napoli could be a fit.

Lastly, rumors of the Mariners interest in Dodger’s outfielder Matt Kemp have popped up around the twitters, receiving mixed views from the fan base. Kemp is certainly a very talented player, but he comes with more than his share of injury concerns. Kemp played just 106 games in 2012, and 73 in 2013, with various injuries hampering him constantly.

If you are willing to look past that (which is extremely difficult to do considering he had ankle surgery after it refused to heal right over the previous couple months), then there is certainly a lot to like.

Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

In his last full year, 2011, Kemp was an MVP candidate, and probably would have won it had the Dodgers made the playoffs. He posted a .986 OPS and .413 wOBA with close to average defense in center field, leading to a career high 8.4 fWAR. That kind of talent would be a welcome sight to the Mariners, even if that production is never met again.

I am in risk-taking mode this offseason, so Kemp is definitely on my radar. While his injuries scare me, I would love to have someone with his potential in the outfield over the next 6 seasons.

Because of his injuries and lack of good defense, I would propose moving him to right field for the future, and filling center field with a more capable defender (Ellsbury?).

There is also the problem of his contract, which is for $128M over 6 seasons. The Dodgers would undoubtedly need to eat a portion of that contract to entice teams and make it easier for them to swallow the Kemp-sized pill.

Ideally, yet realistically, I would be comfortable paying Kemp an average salary of $16M per season, meaning the Dodgers would eat $32 million, or 25% of Kemp’s contract, though that may be too much, depending on the return LA receives.

That way, Kemp only has to amass around 15-16 wins over the length of the contract (about 2.5-3 wins per year) to be economically “worth it.” That certainly allows for the standard early to mid-thirties age decline, as well as missed time for injuries.

There is still the factor of trade cost as well, which may be even scarier than the contract. This is a team that doesn’t have as much depth as we once thought/hoped, but that is doing quite well for itself monetarily. I think most of us would be much more comfortable overpaying with cash than with prospects or other talent.

But that being said — recall that I am in risk-taking mode — I would probably be willing to package together Nick Franklin and James Paxton to bring Kemp in. That will probably be an unpopular opinion, and is something I internally debated before writing this.

But if you can get Kemp, with the upside (and concerns alike) that he brings, at the cost of $16M per year and two unproven — yet talented — players that come from positions of moderate depth, then I think you pull the trigger.

This team cannot continue in mediocrity, and carry on signing second-rate players year-in and year-out, followed by a subsequent 90-loss finish.

There are certainly many more candidates out there. Some that have been discussed, others that haven’t, and even more yet that will be discussed at some point. But these three stuck out to me for one reason or another, whether because of rumors, personal interest, or likelihood.