Left Field Options
After taking two out of three from the Phillies, and thanks to the Rangers continuing mediocrity, the Mariners now find themselves just a half game out of first place on June 19th. They still aren’t a great team, but with the league-wide parity seen across baseball this year, the AL West might not require them to be a great team to sneak in and steal a playoff spot. Jack Zduriencik shouldn’t be looking to sell the farm in order to try and win this year, but the front office should absolutely be trying to upgrade the current Major League roster.
After the promotion of Dustin Ackley on Friday, there remains two glaring (and interconnected) holes on the team – left field and designated hitter. The M’s are currently using Carlos Peguero, Mike Carp, Jack Cust, and Greg Halman to cover those two spots, and even with defensive substitutions and platooning, it’s almost impossible to get decent production out of one spot from those four, much less two positions. No team trying to win games in 2011 should be throwing away at-bats by running out two guys from that group on a daily basis.
Additionally, having Peguero, Cust, and Carp all on the roster gives the team three left-handed platoon DH types, so there’s an overlap of skills that isn’t helpful and wastes a roster spot. You could make a case for platooning at both LF and DH, but you can’t do it with all three of these guys on the roster. At least one of them needs to go away, preferably sooner than later.
But, releasing Jack Cust or optioning Carlos Peguero to Tacoma won’t solve the team’s problems. The root of the issue lies in the fact that the team needs a quality hitter who can handle left field, both now and for the future. I think we can pretty safely write off Michael Saunders as any kind of real left fielder of the future, and Carlos Peguero is no more worthy of that tag than Saunders is. Neither of these guys should be in the long term plans for the M’s unless they make massive substantial changes to their approach. Greg Halman has the talent to potentially turn into an option at some point, though he’s not ready for regular playing time in the big leagues, and also isn’t someone the organization needs to be going out of their way to create a spot for.
Cust and Carp are both stopgap-DH types, and while you can justify using one of the two as the LH half of a DH platoon, I would argue that the team probably shouldn’t keep both. Given that Carp is younger and cheaper, he probably should win the coin flip, and if the team can acquire a decent LF/DH bat, Cust’s roster spot is certainly expendable.
So, let’s say that of the current group, you can make a case that the team should probably keep Carp and Halman around. That gives you the right-handed half of a left-field platoon (and a backup CF, which is still necessary) and the left-handed half of a DH platoon. If the team ditches both Peguero and Cust, they’d have the roster spots to aim for a left-handed hitting LF and a right-handed hitting DH. Or, if it turned out to be the best option, they could get a right-handed hitting left fielder who just moved to DH against lefties (assuming he’s a worse fielder than Halman, anyway), and it would have the same overall affect.
However, we’re still not advising a mortgage-the-future-for-the-present type of move, so the shopping list would hopefully be focused on someone who could conceivably provide value beyond the 2011 season and didn’t require sacrificing massive parts of the farm system to acquire. The M’s should be looking to upgrade left field (and potentially DH) for not just this year, but the future as well. Using that criteria, here are a few guys that I’d recommend the Mariners take a look at.
Ryan Ludwick, LF, San Diego
Ludwick turns 33 next month and he’s a free agent at the end of the year – at first glance, he doesn’t exactly scream “future value”. However, while Ludwick might not be a guy that could hold down left field for the next five years, he could be a solid option for the next few seasons. With a $7 million salary in 2011 and a pedestrian looking .255/.323/.400 line, however, Ludwick won’t cost an arm and a leg to acquire and he could be a good value re-sign before he hits free agency.
Ludwick’s value comes from areas that generally aren’t properly valued by the market – hitting decently in a ridiculously tough environment and playing solid defense in a corner spot. Ludwick is essentially a league average hitter (wRC+ the last three years of 105, 107, and 107) who has consistently rated above average in right and left field and played good enough defense to be considered an option in center field from time to time. The trade to San Diego last summer has hurt his raw offensive numbers and his advancing age will probably keep him from landing a big contract this winter, but Ludwick is still a productive player.
If the Mariners could acquire him without surrendering a key part of their future, they could get a significant upgrade in left field (and a much needed quality right-handed bat) who could potentially be re-signed at a reasonable cost at the end of the season. If he didn’t adjust well to the AL or the team decided to stay with the youth movement going forward, they wouldn’t have any long term obligations – he’s a potential option for the future, but not one they’d necessarily be locked into.
The Padres already did well for themselves by taking a chance on Cameron Maybin, and they’ve made it clear that they want to get more athletic in the outfield, so a guy like Saunders could have some appeal to San Diego. I’m not sure I’d swap Saunders for Ludwick in a one for one deal, but it’s the kind of base to a trade that could make sense for both teams.
Luke Scott, LF/DH, Baltimore
Another older option, we’ve talked a lot about Scott over the past few years, but the Orioles have likely reached a point where he’ll actually be available this summer. He turns 33 this week, is playing through a torn labrum in his shoulder that has hindered his productivity, and is standing in the way of increased playing time for Nolan Reimold. He’s also going to be arbitration eligible for the final time this winter, and you have to imagine the Orioles might not be in the mood to give him another raise from his current $6 million salary this winter.
His value has certainly decreased over the last year, so the cost to acquire should be fairly low, especially given that he’s damaged goods. However, even at his reduced performance level, he’d still be a substantial upgrade over what the M’s are getting from left field right now, and his previous performances offer hope that he could be even better than he has been the first few months of 2011. A strong finish to the season might give the M’s enough incentive to offer him arbitration and keep him around for 2012 as well, but like with Ludwick, there’d be no long term commitment if it didn’t work. He’d be a short term upgrade with the possibility of future value, but without getting locked into a multi-year commitment to a guy on the downside of his career.
Chris Coghlan, OF, Florida
I’m speculating on Coghlan’s availability, but given that the Marlins
just shipped him to Triple-A this week placed him on the DL after he told them his knee hurt when they said he was going to the minors, it’s safe to say that his value has taken a hit in Florida. The Marlins are in an epic tailspin (their manager resigned today after 18 losses in 21 games), and Coghlan’s struggles are one of the reasons the team has failed to win games as of late – he was hitting just .230/.296/.368 when he was optioned out.
That said, this is still a 26-year-old with a career .283/.350/.414 line in just over 1,200 plate appearances, and the sole reason for his drop in production this year is a .263 BABIP that is 100 points below what his mark was two years ago when he won Rookie of the Year. There’s no reason to believe that his current level of production represents a real shift in his abilities, and while he’s more of a solid player than any kind of star, his contact skills and gap power would play well in Safeco. He’s also improved defensively in the outfield, but perhaps more interestingly, he played a decent amount of third base in the minors – Coghlan could potentially be a guy who could slide back to third base where his bat would profile better down the road.
That’s probably not a transition the team would want to make in season, but if they could get Coghlan back on track offensively in left field to finish 2011, they could potentially convert him back to third base over the winter and have a new third baseman for 2012. At the very least, he presents some options, and he won’t even be arbitration eligible until after next season. Because of his low cost and previous success, he’d probably be the most expensive player to acquire, but it’s possible that the M’s could put together a package that would convince the Marlins to move him.
Dexter Fowler, CF/LF, Colorado
Continuing with the different mold than the first two, Fowler is probably not a guy that Eric Wedge would love, but he’s an interesting long term bet who would also offer a present upgrade over what the M’s are running out there right now. He was the Rockies center fielder of the future a few years ago, but up-and-down performances have him on the outs in Denver – he was placed on the DL with an ab strain on June 6th, and Charlie Blackmon has done well in a short stint as his replacement, leaving an open question about whether Fowler will have a job for him once he’s ready to be activated in the next few days.
Fowler is a switch-hitter who draws walks, runs well, has gap power, and would likely have some of the best range of any left fielder in baseball if the M’s put him next to Franklin Gutierrez. However, he also strikes out a lot and isn’t a thumper, and this isn’t the kind of skillset that Eric Wedge has shown much affinity for this year. As a guy with 10 career home runs despite playing half his games in Coors, the M’s would be adding another guy to the line-up who isn’t a long ball threat, and that may not be the direction the team wants to head in given the current roster.
That said, Fowler could be a really nice buy-low option for the team. His skillset is perfectly suited for Safeco, and lining him up with Gutierrez and Ichiro could give the team an elite defensive outfield once again. The team could even platoon him with Halman (he’s traditionally hit RHPs far better than LHPs) to get some extra thump in there against southpaws, and Fowler would provide some long term center field flexibility if Gutierrez’s health problems continue to affect his ability to hit.
At 25, Fowler is the youngest and cheapest option by far, but he’s also the one likely to provide the smallest upgrade in 2011. He’d be the kind of guy the team should be targeting if they were out of the race and committing to a youth movement. Given their current place in the standings, I’ll understand if the M’s decide to go another direction, though I still think he’s an interesting talent who could fit in well in Seattle.