After the 2009 season, when the Mariners nearly made the playoffs, and appeared to be headed for sustainable, long-term success, the team was rumored to be in on seemingly every prominent player traded or signed. That offseason ended up being headlined by Chone Figgins and Cliff Lee, both of whom ended up being the subject of their own Mariners-related disasters. Figgins revealed a self-destructive character flaws that nobody saw coming, and Cliff Lee pitched out of his mind. Lee was traded to Texas in a deal that featured Justin Smoak, and getting Lee for the Rangers was the last good thing Justin Smoak did for any team.
This offseason the circumstances are much different. They overachieved in 2009, and they underachieved in 2015. The Mariners have a roster that has potential to be a playoff contender. If Robinson Cano can bounce back, and Nelson Cruz can somehow maintain the torrid pace he kept in 2015 (remarkably unlikely), the Mariners have two stars to combine with Felix Hernandez. They’ve also got holes, upon holes, upon holes.
On Wednesday the Mariners were rumored to be in on Brett Gardner, the Yankees outfielder who would become the team’s best candidate in center field, essentially by default. The same day the Yankees traded for Aaron Hicks, who is basically a younger, cheaper version of Gardner, and the Yankees gave up a catcher who was basically destined to be a backup.
Jerry Dipoto says he prefers trades to free agency, and while that’s noble and valuable information on its surface, it can go quite haywire with the wrong context. Trading for Gardner, especially if the rumored James Paxton swap is actually true, would probably be a mistake. Gardner is due $39.5 million guaranteed over the next three seasons, which will take him into his mid-30s. It’s possible that the Mariners don’t have the pieces necessary to have acquired Aaron Hicks, at least without giving up a higher-level prospect than the Yankees did. But the team should be looking to trade for players who have cheap years of team control, and who are likely in their defensive peaks. Gardner is none of those things.
Jackie Bradley Jr. was a rumored target come Thursday, and he makes a lot more sense than Gardner. However, he’s got five more years of team control, and had an inexplicable (and likely unsustainable) power surge in 2016. Bradley experienced excellent fly ball luck in 2015, and it can’t be expected that he will continue that pace in 2016 or beyond. He doesn’t play an amazing defensive center field though, and if he’s being sold as glove-first kind of player, the Mariners should be buying.
The team addressed one outfield hole on Wednesday when they re-signed Franklin Gutierrez. According to USA Today, Gutierrez is due only $1.5 million guaranteed, and if he hits all of his incentives the most he’ll make is $5.75 million. This is basically paying him for what would be a 0.7 WAR player. Gutierrez has had health issues, but in only 151 plate appearances in 2014 he put up 0.6 WAR, and in 189 plate appearances in 2016 he put up 2.3 WAR. Of course, his power surge was also unsustainable, but there seems to be a very high chance that he provides the team some value over his salary, especially if he plays enough to max out his incentives.
And the team traded for Joaquin Benoit, in a curious move. The team sent Enyel De Los Santos and Nelson Ward to San Diego for Benoit. De Los Santos is a guy with a live arm and some projectability by most reports, but he’s not a guy who entered the Mariners farm system with a ton of fanfare, and most farm systems are littered with live arms that can handle Single-A. Considering that Ward is basically organizational depth, the Mariners gave up very little in terms of prospects for Benoit. One thing that is concerning is that Benoit is due $8 million next year, and he’s entering his age 38 season. It’s not clear if the Padres will be picking up any of that salary, and it seems like the Mariners could have added considerable depth to the bullpen with $8 million spent in free agency, and could have kept the prospects.