Mariners’ RF Options: Aoki To Replace Saunders?


Nearly a week has passed since Jack Zduriencik’s criticism of Michael Saunders and his injury history left the right fielder’s future in Seattle in doubt. Both sides have mostly kept quiet since Saunders’ agent fired a retaliatory shot, but Zduriencik cannot be confident about keeping the situation under control, his deplorable interpersonal skills having already been put on display.

In-house options, including Stefen Romero and James Jones, have both shown a propensity to fall into prolonged slumps, and any faith placed Chris Denorfia as a full-time starter would be downright foolish.

Thus, the Mariners should at least be exploring what other right field options will be available once free agents are free to sign anywhere five days after the conclusion of the World Series (which, given the Royals’ sudden inability to lose, may come as soon as October 30).

Of course, Nelson Cruz is at the top of every team’s wish list after leading the majors with 40 home runs (well, except for Toronto and Miami, who are certainly content with their current RF situation), but with a full-on bidding war likely to commence this winter for the former Ranger’s services, we can probably rule the Mariners out.

Aug 17, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers right fielder Alex Rios (51) hits during the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

On the second tier reside the likes of Alex Rios, Torii Hunter, and Nick Markakis, who all come with their share of red flags.

Rios, an offensive force to be reckoned with the Blue Jays and White Sox, became just another underperforming Texas Ranger in 2014. Excluding an extraordinarily surprising and out of place down year on the South Side in 2011, he put up numbers not seen since his early days north of the border, and four homers while playing 81 in Arlington is downright shocking.

Texas declined a $13.5 million option, and executives everywhere have to wonder if the end has come. A failed stint in Seattle would likely take down Zduriencik as well, so look for him to disappoint in another uniform next year.

Markakis also lacks the power to make a real difference in the Seattle lineup (his high since 2010 is 15), though he could be counted on to hit at least .270, which no Mariners outfielder with significant playing time could accomplish in 2014.

The real drawback would be the eight-figure salary that he will command. Baltimore is not expected to pick up his $17.5 million option, but he still represents a valuable bat that will have at least a few suitors this winter. Even with Corey Hart and Justin Smoak coming off the books to go along with a planned increase in payroll, it would take much of what is available to management to get Markakis.

Hunter may be the best short-term solution, being a right-handed who could hit 20 homers, if at 40 he can stay on the field, while also being a reasonable DH possibility (another M’s position of need). He could cost a similar amount as Markakis while better filling Seattle’s gaping offensive holes.

But McClendon and Co. will have to constantly worry about him finally hitting the wall, which would certainly leave Seattle in dire straits.

As such, the best option, were Saunders to f0rce a trade, may be poaching one of Kansas City’s many surprise performers.

Nori Aoki would only a modest upgrade from Michael Saunders: the Mariners would basically trade Saunders’ power spurts for a guarantee of a solid average, decent speed and defense, and, most importantly, the expectation of 130-150 games played.

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But the money issue also is in Aoki’s favor. He is finishing a 3-year deal at just a tick under $5 million, and though the M’s could not snare him for that pittance, he would be a reliable replacement that would hopefully leave room in the budget for the M’s to bring in a DH and/or extra starter.

Jack Zduriencik royally messed up with his unnecessarily controversial comments, and perhaps the best solution is just to throw a little extra money at Michael Saunders. But if relations are damaged beyond repair, Jack should turn to the AL Champs for a little help in right.

At the very least, maybe Aoki could bring a little KC magic, something that could have given the Mariners the slight edge to put them, not the Royals, in the position of unlikely World Series representative this year.