It’s Not Either Or
When I rolled out a few suggestions last week for low-cost players that I’d like to see the M’s go after, one of the common responses was that guys like Casey McGehee or Angel Pagan weren’t appreciably better than the younger players that were already here, with the idea being that the team shouldn’t bother bringing in any players who aren’t likely to provide significant upgrades at the team’s weak spots. This is one of the ideas that I most strongly disagree with, as it presents roster construction as a false choice of either this guy or that guy, when in reality, good teams give themselves the ability to have both.
For instance, let’s focus on third base for a second. Kyle Seager certainly has his supporters who feel that his performance last year should be enough to earn him regular playing time at the hot corner in 2012. As a guy whose only glaring flaw is his inability to hit left-handed pitching, he offers an overall package that projects as a +1 to +2 win player, and he could fill that spot for the league minimum. Because of his presence, quite a few people think the M’s should just leave third base alone and spend their resources elsewhere.
The problem is that the choice at third base isn’t really Seager or McGehee (or any other similar type of player), but that in reality, it’s just Seager or Seager and McGehee. If the M’s decide to go into 2012 with Seager as the starting third baseman, then their options for a backup plan at the position become pretty limited. You’re not going to lure any useful role players to Seattle unless you dangle playing time in front of their face – they’re not coming for the winning atmosphere or the hitter friendly ballpark, that’s for sure – and if you give Seager the starting 3B job, you’re quickly out of carrots to get another decent third baseman onto the roster.
So, then, you’re hanging all of your hopes on Seager producing next year, and if he doesn’t, the team is basically screwed. Alex Liddi isn’t ready. I still like Luis Rodriguez, but if he’s the team’s starting third baseman for long stretches next year, something went very wrong. We could sit around hoping that Chone Figgins remembers how to hit, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for that while the coaching staff yells “AGGRESSIVENESS” at everyone who goes up to bat, and I’d imagine the team will try to move him in a bad contract swap this winter anyway.
The M’s simply have no depth at third base, so sticking with the status quo forces the team to put all of their eggs in one unproven basket. Despite the quantity of left fielders on the roster, I’d argue the team is in the same position out there, as Casper Wells is the only guy on the roster that looks like he should get any real playing time at the position next year, and he’s probably not good enough to be a full-time guy either.
The M’s don’t just need one great hitter to “transform the line-up” – they need several decent hitters to stop them from running out a line-up full of black holes again. Here’s the team’s OPS by position in 2011, and where that ranked in MLB:
Catcher: .616 (26th)
First Base: .760 (20th)
Second Base: .736 (9th)
Shortstop: .659 (21st)
Third Base: .526 (30th)
Left Field: .649 (26th)
Center Field: .532 (30th)
Right Field: .639 (30th)
Designated Hitter: .648 (14th of 14 AL teams)
If you think one good hitting 1B/DH type is going to fix those problems, I don’t know what to tell you. The team is basically locked into hoping for rebounds in CF/RF, as Gutierrez and Ichiro have established track records that suggest they should be significantly better and contracts that strongly push the team to give them another chance, but C/3B/LF are still going to be glaring holes even if you sign a guy like Prince Fielder.
A significant part of the Mariners problems the last few years have been in having inadequate backup plans for when the guy being counted doesn’t perform. When the team got rid of Milton Bradley last year, they had to turn to Carlos Peguero because they didn’t have a Major League left fielder anywhere in the organization. When Chone Figgins showed he still couldn’t hit, the team turned to Adam Kennedy, and that went about as well as expected. When Miguel Olivo posted a .250 OBP, he still played everyday because the alternatives were Chris Gimenez and Josh Bard.
The 2012 Mariners should not go into the season so unprepared. It would be great if Seager showed he can hit enough to be a full-time player, Wells established himself as more than a fourth outfielder, Carp remembered how to take a base on balls once in a while, and Gutierrez and Ichiro rebounded to prior levels, but the reality is that the team cannot count on any of those things happening. They have to have realistic alternatives in place so that we don’t get another summer of ridiculous line-ups where Kennedy and Olivo are hitting back-to-back in the middle of the order.
Bringing in useful role players like McGehee, Snyder, and Pagan would provide depth that could insulate the team from having to rely on minor league players and guys that simply don’t belong in the big leagues in the first place. By simply going from atrocious to decent at a few positions, the team could get a more substantial offensive upgrade than they could by throwing huge gobs of cash at one player, no matter how good of a hitter he is.
The Mariners can’t be an all-their-eggs-in-one-basket team anymore. They can’t count on Prince Fielder to save their offense, and they can’t count on guys like Seager, Wells, or Carp to perform as regulars without any safety net. There’s spots for some of those guys on the roster, but the team has to make sure that the 2012 offense will still be decent whether those guys perform or not. They should be viewed as upside plays who can provide value in expanded roles if they earn those positions, but should not be counted on to be regular players from day one.
It’s not either the kids or the veterans. This is a team that needs some veterans to make sure that the team doesn’t sink with the kids once again.