Looking At What We Have
Before we get into discussing who the Mariners should go after, we have to first do a little bit of inventory and figure out exactly what the organization has in place for 2011 already, and then figure out what kind of pieces will complement the existing players in order to form a roster that works. This will require some speculation, but we’ll try to explain the thought process as best as we can. Today, we’ll deal with the position player side of things, since that’s probably where most of the interest lies.
This is, essentially, the M’s position player crop for 2011, based on what they have in house at the moment.
Barring an unforeseen move, I’d guess that all of the starters listed above will be back next year. Gutierrez and Ichiro aren’t going anywhere, obviously. Moore, Smoak, and Saunders are part of the young group that the team needs to evaluate at the big league level over a full season. Figgins and Wilson have contracts that will be nearly impossible to trade and no obvious internal replacement if the team moved them. It’s possible that the front office could move one of these guys this winter, but I wouldn’t count on it. 2B and DH are holes because it’s unlikely that the team will want to depend on anyone in the organization to handle those jobs on an everyday basis. Ackley will likely begin the year in Tacoma, while Bradley can’t be counted on as any more than a part-time player.
On the bench, I’d say that the spots are more fluid. Bradley and Johnson are penciled in because they’re here and they can fill the 4th OF/DH and backup C roles respectively, but I don’t think either is guaranteed a roster spot. They could be back next year, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Mariners replaced them before the 2011 season opened up. There are no good internal options for backup middle infielder or backup corner infielder, so both of those spots will have to be filled externally.
That leaves us with potentially four to six new position players. We’ll assume four for now, as adding six new guys in one winter requires a lot of work. So, let’s just focus on the open spots, and figure out what kind of player the organization will be looking for to fill those holes.
It’s no secret that the organization is counting on Dustin Ackley to be the future at the position, and they’re hopeful that he’ll take over the job at some point next year. However, he’s only got one professional season under his belt, and it’s the only year in his career that he’s played the position, so he’ll almost certainly begin the 2011 season in Tacoma. That means that the team will need a starting second baseman to open the year, but will need someone who can potentially move into a utility role if Ackley proves he’s ready for the job sooner than later.
This won’t be a place where they’re looking for a long term fix or for a guy who wants 600 plate appearances next year. The guy who lands this job will almost certainly just be a placeholder. They’ll be shopping in the low rent district for this spot, I’d imagine, so they might not have the ability to be too picky. If they had their druthers, though, I’d guess that the preference would be for a right-handed hitter who could potentially give Ackley a day off against LHPs if he does make it to the big leagues. The ability to play SS and 3B is also probably on the wishlist, since they’ll want him to be able to slide into the utility infielder role if he surrenders his starting job at some point during the summer.
This is where it gets a little more interesting. This is really the only spot where the team can add some offensive punch this winter, but most guys who fit the DH mold aren’t guys you rebuild with – they’re guys at the end of their careers, unable to play the field, and often come with injury problems. The team is going to want a guy with some thump in this spot, but they’re not going to be much of a destination for the Jim Thomes of the world, who will all look for contending teams to land with.
So, I wouldn’t expect a free agent to fill this void. I think the team will turn to the trade market to try to find a guy with some offensive firepower who doesn’t have the ability to command a market rate for his salary, doesn’t have the right to choose where he plays next year, and could be around for more than just one year. I’d also suspect that the preference will be for a left-handed bat, since the organization won’t want to invest heavily into a bat-first player who will have to overcome the Safeco factor. Finally, I’d expect them to favor a guy who can play either LF or 1B, since they have unproven young players at both positions and an injury prone 4th OF at the moment. They’ll want some depth at those positions, and bringing in a guy who can’t play the field would limit their options at both spots.
Reserve Middle Infielder
Any team that is starting Jack Wilson needs a backup shortstop, and one that they don’t mind playing on a fairly regular basis. Josh Wilson is obviously not that guy, so the team will probably be on the hunt for someone who can handle the position without being a total black hole in the line-up. Given that the best case scenario probably involves Wilson staying healthy enough to establish some trade value, there’s even a chance for some real playing time in the second half of the season, so the club would like to have a guy with some upside. If they could get an unproven young guy in his pre-arbitration years, that would be ideal. This is the kind of spot where the team has to hope to find a diamond in the rough.
Reserve Corner Infielder
This spot could go a few different ways, depending on how the first three spots shake out. If the DH can also serve as a first baseman on days when Justin Smoak can’t play and the reserve infielder is a guy that the club is okay using at third from time to time, this spot could go to a right-handed hitting outfielder to complement Saunders. If the DH can fake it in the outfield occasionally, than this would probably be more of a 1B/3B type. Either way, I’d expect him to be a right-handed batter or a switch-hitter – they don’t want to find themselves in a situation like this year where Ryan Langerhans was their platoon LF vs LHP.
Based on those rough estimates of what the team may be looking to acquire, we can begin to identify potential targets at each spot. We’ll do that in a couple of different posts over the next few days.