The Roster As It Stands
Before we get too far into discussing what moves the team should be looking to make this winter, we need to take a realistic assessment of what talent is already on hand, both for 2012 and beyond, as the inventory already here will dictate where the organization should focus on acquiring upgrades. While the team has enough quantity in place to go forward with a “let the kids fight it out and see who wins” strategy, there’s not enough quality already in place to make that a viable strategy at every position. In reality, the M’s are going to have to make some decisions this winter about which of these kids should be part of the 2012 team, and at the positions where there isn’t a good solution internally, they’ll need to make some moves to bring in talent from the outside.
Given what’s already here, this is how I would view the team’s roster for next year in terms of reasonable expected amounts of playing time if the team is interested in putting a respectable team on the field.
Position – Player – Plate Appearances
First Base: Justin Smoak – 600
Second Base: Dustin Ackley – 600
Shortstop: Brendan Ryan – 500
Third Base: Empty
Left Field: Casper Wells – 200
Center Field: Franklin Gutierrez – 600
Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki – 600
Designated Hitter: Mike Carp – 200
By my estimation, those 10 position players should be penciled in for approximately 4,100 plate appearances. A normal team gets about 6,100 plate appearances in a season, so the M’s are about 2,000 PA short. That’s basically three full-time players – no easy task to acquire in one off-season.
Looking at the chart above, it’s easy to see where the holes are. Catcher and third base are the biggest holes, and the only two options on the Major League roster are both better fits for a reserve role. Olivo’s a decent enough back-up and Seager could be a useful utility infielder who backs up everyone around the infield, but if either of them are starting on opening day next year, the team likely has a problem.
The other open position is something of a hybrid between LF/DH. Wells has enough talent to justify a job as the right-handed half of an LF platoon and could likely serve as the team’s backup in CF and RF, but he hasn’t shown enough to be expected to be a full-time player. The rest of the left fielders we saw on display this year belong in the minors next year, and I wouldn’t be comfortable giving any of them a job on the 2012 team at this point.
With Carp and Wells both penciled in for part-time jobs, the team could acquire one guy who could split time between LF and DH, and the three of them could essentially combine to handle those two positions. Knowing that they’d have some DH availability could give the team the flexibility to pursue a guy who might not be a great defender but has enough offense to make up for it.
If the team added three starting caliber players – one at C, one at 3B, and one at LF/DH – to that group of position players, you could actually have the makings of a decent group of talent.
Now, for the pitching.
Despite all the talk about pitching depth, the M’s actually have some problems on the pitching staff as well. Danny Hultzen and James Paxton are talented kids, and they might be options for the rotation in the second half of 2012, but you can’t count on them being able to carry a spot all season long. Behind Vargas, the team doesn’t really have any quality Major League starters, and they’ll likely need to add an starter this winter to fill out the rotation.
The bullpen could be mostly set except for one small fact – the team should be looking to trade Brandon League. Closers are generally overvalued, and headed into his final year before free agency, the M’s would be better off moving him and using his roughly $5 million salary elsewhere. Of course, they’re unlikely to hand the closer role over to any of the kids currently penciled into the setup roles right now, so moving League might necessitate a move for a reliever with a bit more experience who could be given the chance to close.
Put it all together, and the team is probably looking at needing to acquire a third baseman, a catcher, an LF/DH type, a starting pitcher, and maybe a solid reliever who they could make into a closer. Even if they move League and shed his salary, they’re still looking at something in the $20 million range in terms of budget flexibility, and they’d be looking at getting four players and a reliever for that.
Obviously, just targeting free agents and throwing money at them isn’t going to work – you can’t get four Major League regulars and a potential closer for $20 million on the open market. The only way to get that kind of quantity of talent from the outside is to focus on trading for players whose salaries are not set by public bidding. Of course, teams aren’t exactly looking to move their cost-controlled young stars, so the M’s will have to get creative to pick up players who can fill these holes without busting the budget.
Over the next week or so, I’ll talk about a few of the guys I’d like to see the team target who could fit that profile, and what types of players they might be able to land to fill those spots and stay under budget.