Too Much of the Same Thing
Not counting Carlos Peguero — because, actual presence on the roster or not, he’s not a Major League player — the Mariners currently have five outfielders on their big league roster: Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, and Eric Thames. On one hand, it’s a balanced bunch, as there’s two left-handed hitters, two right-handed hitters, and a switch-hitter. On the other hand, there’s not much balance at all, because the team has only two types of players in the OF, just with multiple versions of each.
Here’s the 2010-2012 core stats for the five active outfielders on the roster.
Wells, Thames, and Saunders are all basically the same type of hitter – low contact guys who don’t many walks and thus need to hit for significant power to justify their spot in the line-up. They’re always going to be low-OBP players because of their approach at the plate and their problems putting the bat on the ball. Saunders and Wells are better versions of this player type because they can hold down center field and play all three OF spots, while Thames lack of range and moderate offensive abilities make him more of a bench guy.
Then, on the other end of the offensive spectrum, you have Gutierrez and Robinson, who have to compensate for their lack of power by doing other things. Guti obviously plays incredible defense, so he’s got value on those rare days when he can actually stay on the field. Robinson is essentially Guti without defense and with even worse contact rates, which is why I don’t buy him as a Major League player. He doesn’t hit well enough to be a starter and he can only play left field because of his absurdly weak arm, so he doesn’t really fit in as a fourth outfielder either. While I get that he’s the flavor of the week, he’s also the worst player of the bunch, and not someone that should be in the organization’s future plans.
Realistically, the only one of these guys you can look at as an everyday guy going forward is Saunders, and even he’s a bit of a fringe starter. Wells and Thames are both decent enough platoon options, and you could probably get away with platooning them in right field next year if you had center and left locked up with players you could count on, but the Mariners don’t have that. Gutierrez remains a complete wild card, as they simply cannot count on him being able to play on any given day. From a talent standpoint, he’s still the team’s best OF, but from a health standpoint, he’s simply too unreliable to depend on. So, if you build out a roster that includes Gutierrez as one of your OFs, you need to have three other capable starting OFs around him. And, if you’re already carrying Saunders, Thames, and Wells, you only have two spots covered despite taking up three roster spots.
So, in reality, the Mariners are either going to have to carry five full-time outfielders next year, or they’re going to have dispense with one of the job-sharing situations and bring in a full-time player who can play everyday. If, for instance, the team brought in a full time corner outfielder, a three-way rotation of Saunders, Gutierrez, and Wells sharing two jobs is workable, as long as the organization can convince Eric Wedge to stop benching Wells every time he goes into a slump anyway.
And, really, it’d be nice if the new guy wasn’t cut from these same two cloths that the organization has been trying to carve an outfield out of. The team has run through a ton of low contact guys in the last few years, and hopefully by now is realizing that these kinds of players have too many flaws to be everyday starters. Likewise, if you’re going to get a low-power outfielder, he better either be able to play really good defense at all three outfield spots and be durable enough to play everyday.
Right now, the Mariners have five outfielders, three of whom are best utilized as role players and one of whom probably doesn’t even have the skills to pull that off. That kind of roster construction isn’t going to work next year. If you’re penciling Michael Saunders into one job — no matter what spot it is, really — and Franklin Gutierrez in for a roster spot in some form, then the only way to put together a good outfield in 2013 is to bring in a full-time, everyday, guy who can play all nine innings no matter who the other pitcher is.
That means that the organization is going to have to make some calls on these guys this winter. With any luck, someone else will want to hope Trayvon Robinson either finds some power or is interested in using him to test out a new bionic arm replacement, and they can ship him off for something useful, as he doesn’t really fit into any kind of need the team has for 2013. The remaining four could fit on the roster as long as the team acquired another full-time outfielder to hold down one spot and Thames was also utilized as a reserve 1B/DH type, allowing him to provide a little more depth than simply serving as another part-time OF.
Right now, though, the pieces don’t fit. Guti’s contract and talent make it worth giving him one more chance to try and stay healthy, but you can’t go into 2013 with Saunders in one spot, Guti in another, and then Thames/Wells/Robinson fighting over one the remaining spot. There’s just not a productive enough player in the group to make that work, and the team would be surrendering too much value in giving three roster spots to guys who come with so much risk.
There’s going to be a lot of focus on the M’s getting “a big bat” this winter. In reality, their biggest need is actually just for one good everyday outfielder. If they can find a +3 win OF who can play 150+ games next year, that will free the team up to take risks on Saunders and Gutierrez. Without that guy, though, this current group of outfielders just doesn’t work.