Please Seattle Mariners, do these things this offseason

Relative to sports blogs, creating offseason plans for the teams that are the subject of the content on that blog is the functional equivalent to skinny jeans and clothes with birds and shit on them. I don’t know why we all do it, but we do it.*

*Actually, I do know why we all do it. Because Dave Cameron does it.

Let the record show, I don’t wear skinny jeans or clothes with birds on them.

It’s an easy way to highlight some players who are perhaps undervalued, some weaknesses that teams have, and some surplus parts that they may be able to find greater value in by trading them away.

In this case, the Mariners are a bad team. They’ve been in a rebuilding state for the past half-decade.

Don’t you fucking say they’ve been rebuilding for 10 years. Being bad doesn’t mean rebuilding. Being bad and spending a ton of money on bringing in veterans, and trading prospects away for bullshit – that being what Bill Bavasi did, and Pat Gillick before him – isn’t rebuilding. The team hasn’t been really good for more than 10 years, and hasn’t been even kind of good since 2009. Some of the players the team has drafted during that time are starting to trickle onto the 25 man roster, and a plan is coming into place. Now, to some extent, it is time to figure out how good that plan was.

Some people will point to Danny Hultzen and Dustin Ackley, both being disappointing to some degree, as evidence that this front office can’t scout talent. Those people don’t understand how amateur talent acquisition works, and how low the success rate of minor leaguers is. Those guys should have been good. Dustin Ackley was the sure pick at No. 2. Hultzen was risky, but polished. But they haven’t been good because sometimes players aren’t good.

That said, while this front office’s draft classes and international signings have created depth in the farm system, it has lacked in creation of breadth.

This farm system doesn’t have a center fielder that is close to being a big leaguer, let along a quality starter. For that matter, most of their outfield investments are tied up in young international guys that are struggling, with Stefen Romero as the team’s mostly likely shot to see the big league roster for significant time in 2014. Romero is a converted infielder, and while reports on his defense are a mixed bag, even the most optimistic reports have his ceiling at something below a defensive savant. Because of that, in order to be average or better, Romero’s bat will have to be pretty good. Romero’s bat was fine in Tacoma last year, but hardly the world-beating stick that he was packing in Adelanto.

Earlier this offseason I identified what I think are this team’s top needs, and the positions that I think they need to fill before the end of the offseason.

The needs were as follows: Outfielders that can hit and field, at least one more starting pitcher, and quality hitters.

The positions were as follows: backup catcher, two infielders, three outfielders, at least one starting pitcher, and a bunch of relievers.

To do that, I determined that the team had $42.8 million to spend if they support a $90-million payroll and Kendrys Morales turned down his qualifying offer. He did that, so we’re there.

(Steamer projected WAR in paranthesis)

Sign Jacoby Ellsbury for six years, $113 million (4.2 WAR)

Some context may be necessary for this. Scott Boras wants more than this. Presumably Jacoby Ellsbury wants more than this. Fangraphs thinks this is what he’ll get. MLBTR says 7/150. Ultimately it’s hard to be completely comfortable with either when you consider how injury prone Ellsbury has been.

I’ve said in the past that his injuries are from instances and not conditions. They aren’t degenerative we assume. I mean, I’m not a doctor, but whatever. No matter who signs Ellsbury, however, there’s a good chance the last couple years of the contract will be ugly. He doesn’t have old man skills. His game is built on speed, and how smart he is using that speed, whether on the base paths or in the field.

Ellsbury’s $18.8 million average annual value is not even a million dollars over what the Giants gave Hunter Pence, but the extra year means something, and there’s probably a breakeven point on Ellsbury that’s much higher than $113 million.

I toyed with the idea of making Brian McCann the guy here, but his value would be substantially diminished with equal production from the DH position, and his body probably can’t play catcher forever. For my money he’s the second best free agent in baseball behind Robinson Cano, but Ellsbury fits basically a direct and otherwise unfilled need.

 

Trade Nick Franklin to Detroit for Rick Porcello (3.2 WAR)

I can’t say that I know that this is enough to get Rick Porcello. The Tigers seem to have a relationship with Rick Porcello in which they’re constantly trying to get rid of him, but they value him very highly. I’d be willing to give up a little bit more for Porcello, and I can’t imagine the Tigers – who have a pretty awful defensive infield – would scoff too much at a Franklin-Porcello swap.

Porcello has always been a groundball machine, but this year he struckout a career-high 7.22 batters per nine innings while walking 2.14 per nine. Omar Infante, the team’s best defensive infielder and second baseman, is a free agent. Jhonny Peralta is also a free agent, but the team has traded for Jose Iglesias, who should be able to handle shortstop long-term. Franklin fills both an immediate and long-term need at second for the Tigers.

Porcello figures to be a lot better when his grounders are hit in the direction of capable defenders. Among those capable defenders, in this scenario at least, would be Dustin Ackley, who would return to second base.

Porcello is expected to make $7.7 million in arbitration next year per MLBTR.

 

Sign Paul Maholm for one year, $6 million (1.4 WAR)

You could put a variety of starters in this very slot for a similar price. Paul Maholm just happens to be a lefty, which the Mariners will only have one of in their rotation if James Paxton breaks camp with the club, or none if Paxton goes back to the minors. Because of James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, you may recognize that the Mariners have what seems like six starters. The reality of having a certain amount of starting pitchers, though, is that that certain amount never increases by mid-season, but quite often decreases, as the attrition rate for pitchers due to injuries and ineffectiveness is very high. Maholm is insurance, and slows the service time clock for one of either Paxton or Taijuan Walker.

 

Trade for Ryan Hanigan (2.3 WAR in 399 plate appearances. This scenario would probably have him getting about 250 plate appearances, so 1.4WAR)

Hanigan is basically a career backup catcher that hits something close to average for catchers, and plays very good defense. In that sense, he’s the antithesis of John Jaso, but he’s similarly undervalued, ostensibly at least. Hanigan’s value isn’t very clear, but if he’s available for something outside of a top 100 prospect, he’s got potential to spell Mike Zunino while even spending some time in a DH platoon where he faces lefties sometimes, and he’s probably worth it. Hanigan is expected to receive $2.3 million in arbitration this offseason.

 

Sign Rajai Davis (0.5 WAR in 244 PA), Franklin Gutierrez (0.0 WAR in 374 PA), Kelly Johnson (1.0 WAR in 350 PA), each to one year, $3 million contracts

The first logical guy to address here is Gutierrez. He’s been an above average hitter when healthy the past two years, and when healthy for long stretches he’s been a phenomenal defender, maybe the best defensive center fielder in baseball. Signing him again is a risk with no precedent to justify it that has occurred within the past three years. Guti has missed two seasons worth of games in the past three seasons. He’s injury prone, including injuries of the recurring variety. He’s got digestive issues. There’s a chance that Gutierrez gets injured in spring training, or finds another way to be worth zero dollars in production.

Davis is a guy that has a history of playing league average defense in center field and also hitting lefties well. He steals a ton of bases, and isn’t expensive. He’s not a world beater, but a guy that can play all three outfield positions defensively, and makes a natural platoon partner for any combination of outfield the Mariners have on their roster.

Johnson is an interesting case. He’s been a second baseman and a left fielder, and even spent some time at third base for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. He’s got a bat that’s about league average, and his versatility would add to his value. While a platoon makes some sense for Johnson as a left-handed hitting infielder, he’s got very little platoon split between righties and lefties, and could make for a long-term fill-in at any one of left field, or either third or second base in the event of an injury, or if Dustin Ackley needs to be sent down or benched due to poor production.

 

Sign Clint Barmes for one year, $2 million (0.0 in one PA, Barmes will probably have a job, let’s say 0.5 WAR)

Save for the concept of Kyle Seager playing extended innings at shortstop, in the scenario I’ve created, the Mariners have no backup plan at shortstop. Barmes has been one of the league’s best defensive infielders for the past three years, albeit in limited time. He also hits lefties not-as-terribly as he hits righties, which makes him a decent platoon partner for the entire Mariners infield.

 

C: Ryan Hanigan – one year, $2.3 million

IF: Kelly Johnson – one year, $3 million

IF: Clint Barmes – one year, $2 million

OF: Jacoby Ellsbury – six years, $113 million ($18.8 million AAV)

OF: Rajai Davis – one year, $3 million

OF: Franklin Gutierrez – one year, $3 million

SP: Rick Porcello – one year, $7.7 million, plus one more year of arbitration.

SP: Paul Maholm – one year, $6 million

 

Addition to 2014 payroll: $45.1 million, a little over budget.

2014 projected WAR added: 12.4

2014 projected WAR lost (Franklin and Morales): 3.2

 

About the DH position

While Johnson and Gutierrez are fine bats, they aren’t necessarily guys you will intend on playing much DH, or guys that you can count on for 600 at bats. That said, a team with a full-time DH has a roster construction issue. Sometimes the impact of the problem is mitigated by elite production from the aforementioned DH. Sometimes it is not. There’s not a chance that the Mariners can bring in Ellsbury, or McCann for that matter, and one of free agencies best DHs. Another option is for the team to bring quality prospective DHs in on minor league contracts. Tyler Colvin used to be a good hitter, and Tyler Colvin used to be a good outfielder. If he can figure out how to be either of those things he’d be a worthwhile addition to the Mariners. Conversely, the team could take a look at bringing back a guy like Michael Morse, who would probably be more valuable as a DH than as a hitter who was a butcher in the field, and may have a better chance of staying healthy without fielding duties.

The reality is that the exchange rate of dollars for wins is very high when it come to power hitters, but wins are wins regardless how they’re acquired. It would be good for the Mariners to have elite players at first base and designated hitter, but not good if it’s done completely at the expense of outfield defense, outfield offense, or other value, period.

About the bullpen and other positions

Despite their warts, the Mariners have done a phenomenal job of finding bullpen talent for basically nothing. There’s no reason to overpay for bullpen talent to make what should be a respectable bullpen marginally better, especially without a high probability of success this season.

Abraham Almonte and Carlos Triunfel would have the opportunity to make the roster under this scenario. Either is probably the 25th man on the roster, but in some ways, each has a unique ability to offer, something that’s not always true of 25th men.

Note: There are a bunch of 2014 offseason plans floating around. I’ve read about half of one. Would be thrilled to see the Mariners execute any quality plan, whether they’re close to this or very different. 

  • Jimmy Lolita

    just because Morales rejected the Quaifying Offer doesn’t mean he can’t be re-signed. Elllsbury isn’t signing with the M’s unless other improvements are made. With all these non-improvements on the rest of the offense, there will be nobody to drive him in.

    • Casey McLain

      Certainly true on Morales. This isn’t a projection, it’s what I want to happen. I do think that there is a breakeven point on Morales, definitely not close to $14 million annually on a multi-year deal.
      So far as the “non-improvements” are concerned, I’d have to argue. Adding only homeruns without other valuable skills marginalizes the value of those homeruns.

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      Ellsbury may see them as non-improvements, and thus Ellsbury may sign somewhere else. But they are just unconventional improvements, and there are probably a few other unconventional pieces that could be bought for the $20M Ellsbury wants each season.

  • Adam Salazar

    this plan does not make us even close to good.

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      Making a 70-win team into a 90-win team overnight requires a lot of things going right, or a lot of money, or probably both. An off-season plan that improves the team by 8-10 wins, doesn’t mortgage the future, and allows us to see what we can expect from Walker and Paxton is a good move, even if it makes the Mariners average.

    • Casey McLain

      Teams should be using free agency to augment something already good, not to “become good.” Young players will, and will ALWAYS have to develop for teams to get good.

  • Marinerjim

    Interesting ideas. I think that we should offer Ackley and a minor leaguer for Porcello and try to keep Franklin

    • Casey McLain

      I think they are comparable, with Franklin having the greater offensive upside, and Ackley already a better defender with offense that could regress. I’d be fine with Porcello for Ackley/prospect as an augmentation to this. Thanks for reading Jim!

  • maqman

    Not bad, probably second place to Rick Randall’s plan, which was not perfect either, none ever could be obviously. I’d keep Morales and sign Dioner Novarro, not trade for Porcello, sign two of Vargas, Arroyo, Feldman, Johnson, Haren and their ilk. Ellsbury seems unavoidable. I like our bullpen arms.

    • Casey McLain

      I have always liked Navarro’s bat. Pitch framing studies hate him though.