The Short Term Fix
As we head toward the winter meetings, there’s few questions that the Mariners are going to try to do something fairly significant. They’ve made it clear that they have money to spend, they have young players to trade, and they have a glaring hole in the outfield that needs addressing. You can bet that they’ve called on Justin Upton, they’ve talked to Nick Swisher‘s agent, and they’ve kicked pretty much every big free agent tire they can find.
But, as Jack is fond of saying, it takes two to tango, and it’s possible that Swisher might end up in Boston, the D’Backs might not want what the Mariners have to sell, and that for various reasons, the team might not be able to land anyone who would be seen as a major addition. I’m not rooting for this outcome, but the organization at least needs to have backup plans in place, and be able to make moves to upgrade the roster even if they’re not as impactful as the ones they’re hoping to be able to make.
So, with that in mind, here are a few guys that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the organization go after if their original options fall through. These guys are more short term stopgaps than long term solutions, but they would have some appeal in terms of upgrading the 2013 team, at least theoretically.
Mike Morse, 1B/DH/cover-your-eyes-OF
You may remember Morse as an underpowered guy who couldn’t defend even a corner OF position and got shipped off because the Mariners had a similar prospect in Matt Tuiasasopo. Of course, Morse went to Washington and started hitting for power, so swapping him for Ryan Langerhans doesn’t look so hot in retrospect. But, after yesterday’s acquisition of Denard Span, the Nationals are now shopping Morse, as he no longer fits into their plans. They’ve put up with his horrific outfield defense long enough, and between the injury problems and his awful approach at the plate, they’re not convinced that he’s a championship caliber first baseman. So, rather than pay him $7 million to be a pinch-hitter in the final year of his contract, they’re looking to see if anyone else wants to take him off their hands.
Morse isn’t a great fit for the Mariners in that he’s something of a clone of what they already have, but if the organization wants to bring in a guy to challenge but not completely displace Justin Smoak, Morse could be a 1B/DH/occasional OF option. In terms of overall profile, he’s basically Jesus Montero — an overly aggressive right-handed hitter with opposite field power and no real defensive value. He has more present power than Montero at the moment, though, and is a better bet to be able to defend first base in 2013, so adding him to the 1B/DH mix would give the team another option if they wanted to continue to mix and match. He’s more of a depth guy than an impact player, but the price to acquire him won’t be overly high, and his $7 million price tag for 2013 isn’t especially onerous. I’m not a big fan, and I don’t think he should ever play the outfield again, but he wouldn’t be the worst guy to have around for 400-500 plate appearances if they want someone to push Montero and Smoak.
Jason Kubel, 1B/DH/cover-your-eyes OF
Meet the left-handed version of Mike Morse. He’s also an adventure in the outfield without the kind of bat that makes that worth it, so he profiles better as a 1B/DH type. He’s got a better approach at the plate than Morse does, but he doesn’t have the same kind of power, so it’s more of a trade-off than an improvement. And, like Morse, he’s got one year left on his contract, which pays him $7.5 million in 2013 and then includes a team option for 2014. Kubel’s got a better track record than Morse, and the D’Backs don’t have the same need to dump him, so he’d probably cost a little bit more in trade, but we’re still not talking about a guy who would cost you a premier prospect here. If the M’s wanted a left-handed platoon guy who could fit in at 1B/DH and play some OF on days when a groundballer was on the mound, Kubel’s not the worst player ever. Which is about the nicest thing I can say about him.
Ryan Ludwick, OF
If the M’s would rather just sign a short-term guy rather than trade for one, then Ludwick’s probably in the mix. He had a career resurgence last year in Cincinnati, but given that he’s going to be 34 next year, he’s not in line for any kind of long term deal. The Reds want him back but the bidding probably isn’t going beyond a two year deal, and he might not even get that. As a dead pull right-hander, he’d have to hope that the fences coming in at Safeco were going to make a huge difference, and he probably doesn’t have fond memories of the place from his days in the AL, but if the M’s are the highest bidder, that can all be water under the bridge. My guess is he comes in at around the same annual salary as Morse/Kubel, so you’re looking at the trade-off between giving him an extra year versus giving up some kind of player to acquire either of the other two.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF
I’m putting him near the bottom even though he’s the best player on this list because he’s also the least likely to be a fit for the team. The Indians are willing to trade him because he’ll be a free agent next year and Scott Boras doesn’t generally do contract extensions prior to hitting the market, so any team paying for Choo has to look at him as a rental. But, because he’s the Indians best hitter, they’re not just going to give him away. He’d cost a real prospect – probably someone like James Paxton. And, with only one year of value coming back, given his platoon issues and declining defensive skills, that’s probably not a price I’d want to pay. Of course, if the Indians come down in terms of what they want in return, then maybe this is a better fit than expected, but I’m not holding my breath.
Travis Hafner, DH
This is still the guy I’d go after. He’s not a full-time player, and you just deal with the fact that he’s going to spend half the year on the DL, but when he plays, he hits. He can’t defend even first base, so he’s a DH-only, but if the organization is willing to get more serious about Montero as a first baseman, then they don’t really need another 1B, since they can make Montero and Smoak fight for playing time at that spot. In terms of impact at the plate, Hafner is pretty similar to Swisher, and obviously he’ll cost a lot less. If you’re willing to trade the defensive versatility and the durability for some upside when he is able to go, then Hafner could be a pretty nice bargain. And, of course, as a DH-only, the market for his services is going to be limited, which will keep the bidding down, so he’s probably the cheapest guy on this list too. At $3 or $4 million with some playing time incentives, Hafner could be a nice part-time offensive booster.