There are a number of clichés to characterize what the Seattle Mariners must do at the Winter Meetings. Strike while the iron is hot...Get while the getting's good...
Alright, maybe that's it. But the point stands: The Mariners need to do something. Preferably something worthy of headlines, as the one headline-grabbing move they have made this winter isn't enough.
After a noisy courtship, the Mariners agreed to terms with former New York Yankees superstar second baseman Robinson Cano last week. At 10 years and $240 million, his contract is one of the biggest in MLB history.
"People can write and say what they want, but this is an exciting time in Seattle,'' Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik told USA Today. "Any time you can make your club better, especially if you can upgrade with a star, it helps everybody. A star coming to our market is a great thing."
Even at the time the Cano deal was struck, however, it was clear that the Mariners couldn't stop there.
Since the Mariners can't let Cano's prime years go to waste, it's imperative that they put their fourth straight losing season behind them and win now. And to win now, they need more talent.
More than anything, the Mariners need more talent around Cano. On the offensive side, after all, this was not a team that was one superstar away from contention.
|Cano's 2013 vs. Seattle's 2013|
In other words: If the Yankees had dealt Cano for Seattle's entire offense last season, it would have been a bad trade for them.
Maybe that's being a bit extreme, but things really were bad in Seattle last season. It can vary, but FanGraphs sets the baseline WAR for an average regular at 2.0. The list of Mariners who did that well in 2013 includes:
- Kyle Seager: 3.4 WAR
And that's it. After Seager, the best Mariners player was Brad Miller at 1.7 WAR. Which, to his credit, he compiled in about half-a-season's worth of work.
Miller's one reason things should be better in 2014...but only to a degree. Here are the Mariners whom Steamer projects will be quality regulars in 2014:
|Steamer Projections for 2014 Mariners Position Players|
Steamer sees Cano being a superstar, as well as Miller building on a strong debut season and Seager being above-average once again. Mike Zunino, meanwhile, is projected to make good on his considerable talent.
However, four quality regulars likely won't be good enough. If we look back at how many 2.0 WAR players the 10 playoff teams in 2013 had, a baseline materializes:
|2+ WAR Players on 2013 Playoff Teams|
A baseline of five quality regulars does sound about right. That's more than half a lineup consisting of quality regulars, which is better than the basically one-ninth that the Mariners had in 2013 and the four-ninths they're currently projected to have in 2014.
With an assist from FanGraphs' free-agent leaderboard, here are some free agents who could help the Mariners based on their 2013 production.
|Top 2013 Players Left on FA Market|
With Steamer expecting Seager, Miller and Cano to earn their keep in 2014, the Mariners aren't the best fit for Juan Uribe, Stephen Drew or Omar Infante. Shin-Soo Choo and James Loney, however, are both players who could work.
Choo, who Jason A. Churchill of Prospect Insider says is on Seattle's radar, would be a tremendous upgrade for a leadoff spot that produced just a .296 on-base percentage in 2013. There's also a fit for him in right field, where the Mariners currently have Abraham Almonte penciled in as their starter.
Loney is coming off a season that saw him post a 118 wRC+ while playing characteristically solid defense at first base. He'd be an upgrade over Justin Smoak, who had a 109 wRC+ while playing less-solid defense at first base.
The Mariners could turn to the trade market instead. Names they've been linked to include Matt Kemp, courtesy of SI.com's Tom Verducci, and, as reported by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Billy Butler, whose right-handed stick would look good next to Cano's lefty stick.
One thing the Mariners must not do is throw money at Nelson Cruz, which is something Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times says they already tried to do with a five-year, $75 million contract offer. If the Mariners sign him, they'll be signing a guy who hasn't been worth 2.0 WAR in any of the last three years.
Any of the other names listed above would be better. Choo and Loney are coming off strong seasons, and Kemp and Butler both have 2.0 WAR upside. If he can stay healthy, Kemp's potential obviously far exceeds mere 2.0 WAR upside.
As to other matters, while support for Cano should be Seattle's priority, the Mariners certainly shouldn't neglect their starting rotation.
Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma were both fantastic in 2013, combining for 10.2 WAR. Beyond them, though, there wasn't much in Seattle's rotation. The baseline WAR for an average starting pitcher is also in the 2.0 range, and Hernandez and Iwakuma were the only Mariners starters to go there.
Steamer sees more of the same in 2014:
|Steamer Projections for 2014 Mariners Starters|
Taijuan Walker and Jamex Paxton are ready to contribute, but Steamer sees a 1.6 WAR for Walker and a 1.3 WAR for Paxton. Growing pains, in other words, which is a fair expectation given their youth and inexperience. Not every young pitcher is going to be Jose Fernandez or Matt Harvey.
The Mariners would have three quality starters lined up if they acquire an established pitcher at the Winter Meetings, and that's a baseline met by most of last year's playoff teams:
|2+ WAR Starting Pitchers for 2013 Playoff Teams|
There are still options for the Mariners out on the free-agent market, as the list of available starters who were worth 2.0 WAR in 2013 includes:
|Top 2013 Starters Left on FA Market|
Per MLBTradeRumors.com, Peter Gammons said on Monday that Bartolo Colon is on the Mariners' radar, and they're definitely a team with the means to get in on the big three still out there: Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana or Matt Garza.
And why rule out Masahiro Tanaka? If the Rakuten Golden Eagles choose to post him, there would be no harm in the Mariners meeting the maximum bid of $20 million to get in on the bidding. Given the Mariners' notable tradition of being a home to Japanese stars like Ichiro Suzuki, Kazuhiro Sasaki and now Iwakuma, Tanaka's undeniably an intriguing target.
Or the Mariners could go for the big one on the trade market: David Price. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has listed the Mariners as a top suitor for Price, and Dan Szymborski made a compelling argument on ESPN Insider for why the Mariners actually need the Cy Young-winning lefty.
Whether it's Choo, Loney, Kemp, Butler, Colon, Tanaka, Price or whoever else, or some combination of players, the best part of all this is that there's not much the Mariners can't do. In terms of assets, they're pretty well off.
In addition to young talent to deal, the Mariners have enough financial leeway to afford any big contracts they might be eyeing. We don't think of Seattle as one of MLB's top spenders, but it has a $2 billion TV deal coming its way and only Hernandez and Cano signed to rich long-term contracts.
The Mariners need to go big, can go big, and the time for them to go big is now. They went into the Winter Meetings with momentum after signing Cano, but things tend to happen fast when the Meetings are in swing. The players who fit Seattle's needs could soon be spoken for.
If the Mariners don't act, they'll be in danger of leaving the Meetings with fewer options to fill their needs, and then they'll be in danger of something even worse: wasting one of the precious few prime years they just paid $240 million for.
One can only imagine the criticism that would be directed at Seattle's front office. And at last check, it doesn't need any more of that.
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