Mariners Are Better Off Not Going After Stanton this Off-Season

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 24: Giancarlo Stanton
PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 24: Giancarlo Stanton /
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No matter how great it would be to plug reigning N.L. MVP Giancarlo Stanton into the Mariners order, being on the outside of the Stanton sweepstakes is actually a great thing for a team that already has a couple of bloated contracts sitting on the books.

With the Mariners in position to have the fifth highest total payroll in the MLB in 2018, staying away from Stanton will let the M’s focus on the fundamentals of tacking onto the rotation and finding a spark plug or two to insert into the lineup. While the Mariners have some creative options to get involved in a three-team trade involving Stanton, whichever team lands the slugger will have a hard time getting a fair value. And for a team like the Mariners that won 78 games in 2017 and has a strong core to build around, there are much better moves to be made.

For starters, the Mariners had an overall good offensive season in 2017, potentially putting them only a minor piece or two away from being one of the elite units in the A.L. Even with Kyle Seager coming back to Earth after his 2016 campaign, the M’s still finished near the top of the A.L. in both batting average and runs. Where they could use some help, however, is in the walks department. The average playoff team around Major League Baseball in 2017 walked about 580 times on the season, though the Mariners finished with just 487. The Mariners were competitive with the top offenses in the league in just about every other major offensive category.

Looking for value and upside.

This points to a team that really could use an all-around player who can contribute as much with strike zone discipline as with the bat – preferably someone who has a bit of speed to score from first on a single. That makes guys like Lorenzo Cain so attractive. Cain not only hit .300 for the third time in four seasons in 2017 but he set a career-high in walks and on-base percentage, suggesting that he’s one of those veterans learning to weaponize his experience at the plate as he ages (just like Nelson Cruz). Meanwhile, Cain’s 27 doubles, five triples and 26 steals in 2017 were all right in line with his career averages.

Although Cain will still get a nice contract somewhere, his status as a facilitator with a terrific glove instead of a major run-producer, could make him a very good value for whoever nabs him. Unlike Jason Heyward, who snagged a big contract without being an offensive superstar, Cain even comes with considerable upside if he clicks in the right lineup.

After all, he was third in MVP voting just a few short seasons ago in 2015. USA Today recently reported that Cain was among a group of top potential free agents to receive a one-year $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Royals, though it seems very likely that he will end up on the open market looking for a longer deal. Even if players of Cain’s all-around ability are rare, going after another player cut from similar cloth would be much less risky than a splashy move to land Stanton. It would also give the Mariners more moves to make in the future while still giving the offense significant upside for 2018.

Contract Complications.

But the main reason that the Mariners shouldn’t be considering Stanton is because they already have plenty of money tied up in the heart of the lineup – at least for 2018. Although Cruz’s $14 million salary is set to come off the books at the end of 2018, $42-$43 million per year already goes to Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager through 2021. Unless the M’s can unload one of these salaries, Stanton’s contract would make for one of the most heavily concentrated rosters in baseball, with more than $90 million per year going to just four players (including Felix). It would also make it nearly impossible to hold onto Cruz past 2018 even if the 37-year-old proved (again) that he had enough pop left in his bat to be worthy of a new deal in 2019.

Next: The Official Off-Season Plan

The Mariners have had their moments going after some of the biggest names available, yet this seems to be an opportune time to target other pieces who can fill in around Seattle’s biggest contracts. With a pitching staff that definitely needs a couple of quality arms and an offense that is a bat or two away from reaching the next level, focusing on value, quality and depth instead of the biggest name available is a wise move to keep the Mariners looking forward.