A Hypothetical Alternative Off-Season

Dave · February 12, 2013 at 11:13 am · Filed Under Mariners 

I know pitchers and catchers report today. Starting tomorrow, we’ll talk about the future of the roster the team actually put together. For today, one final off-season what-could-have-been.

In December, the Mariners put their cards on the table, going after Josh Hamilton with an aggressive pursuit that resulted in a reported offer of $100 million guaranteed over four years, with two vesting options that could have pushed the total value of the deal to $150 million. They wanted to improve the offense, and focused primarily on doing that by adding one slugging corner outfielder. Because of that offer, we can be reasonably sure that the Mariners had the money in the budget to spend $25 million per year on offensive upgrades, and were willing to commit that money through 2016, with the chance of also spending that money in 2017 and 2018 as well.

That offer wasn’t good enough to land Hamilton, and we know what the organization went after for Plan B. But, now that the last of the interesting free agent outfielders has signed, I think it’s worth thinking about what might have been had the team pursued a different strategy with the same money.

The Indians signed Michael Bourn yesterday to a four year, $48 million contract. This comes in addition to the $56 million they gave Nick Swisher over the next four years. That’s $104 million guaranteed, but both deals contain a vesting option for a fifth year, and if the options vest, they could push the total commitment over five years to $130 million. In other words, the Indians signed Bourn and Swisher for almost the exact same contract the Mariners offered Hamilton, only without the extra sixth year vesting option.

We don’t know for certain that Bourn and Swisher would have chosen Seattle over Cleveland had the money been equal, but of course most of the negative things people say about playing in Seattle — losing team, cold weather, not a city athletes want to live in — are also true of Cleveland. I think it’s safe to assume that neither Bourn nor Swisher went into the market looking to play for the Indians, but settled on Cleveland’s offer because it was the best — and maybe only, depending on what you think of the Mets conditional bid for Bourn — deal on the table when they signed. Even if you assume that the Mariners would have had to outbid the Indians in order to secure their services, the differences likely would have been minor.

So for fun, let’s just say that the Mariners had signed Bourn for 4/52 and Swisher for 4/60 — both players get $1 million more in AAV than what they took from Cleveland — with both getting that fifth year vesting option. At $112 million guaranteed, it’s slightly higher than what they offered Hamilton, but then again, they didn’t get Hamilton, so perhaps this is more in line with what an offer that is likely to be accepted would have cost. Since they offered Hamilton 4/100 with two vesting options, I think it’s fair to say that they could have figured out how to make 4/112 with one vesting option work.

Let’s just say for fun that the Mariners had pursued that plan instead. Spending $28 million per year — though the contracts likely would have been slightly backloaded, as is the norm — on those two would have precluded them from making several of the other moves they did make, but it wouldn’t have been too difficult to fit them in even at the current payroll level. Don’t take on Morse’s $6.75 million salary, instead keeping Jaso at $1.8 million. You can still swap Vargas for Morales and sign Joe Saunders as his replacement, since that series of moves only added a few million to the payroll, which can be offset by not signing Raul Ibanez. To pinch pennies, they could have skipped out on the $500,000 they guaranteed Jason Bay for a chance to come to spring training, and if they needed a few million in flexibility, they could have asked Felix to reduce his 2013 salary as part of the long term extension they’re going to announce any minute.

What would that roster have looked like?

Catchers: John Jaso, Jesus Montero, Kelly Shoppach
Infielders: Kendrys Morales, Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan, Kyle Seager, Robert Andino, Reserve 3B
Outfielders: Michael Bourn, Michael Saunders, Nick Swisher, Franklin Gutierrez

Starting Pitching: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Joe Saunders, Erasmo Ramirez, Grab Bag
Bullpen: Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush, Carter Capps, Oliver Perez, Stephen Pryor, Josh Kinney, Lucas Luetge

Against RHPs:

1. Bourn, CF
2. Ackley, 2B
3. Swisher, RF
4. Morales, 1B
5. Seager, 3B
6. Montero, C
7. Jaso, DH
8. Saunders, LF
9. Ryan, SS

Against LHPs:

1. Bourn, CF
2. Gutierrez, RF
3. Swisher, 1B
4. Montero, DH
5. Seager, 3B
6. Shoppach, C
7. Saunders, LF
8. Ackley, 2B
9. Ryan, SS

In this scenario, John Jaso never even has to catch a game, since his defense is apparently so deplorable to Eric Wedge that he couldn’t stand the sight of Jaso crouching behind the plate ever again. You simply keep him as a cheap platoon DH and emergency catcher, so that Montero can DH against RHPs and allow Morales to take days off against left-handers. It’s essentially the same catching alignment as the team is going forward with now, so that gets rid of one talking point that’s not worth discussing. Guti ends up as an expensive fourth outfielder, but if he’s healthy and playing well, they could always work him in against right-handers as they rotate off-days for Saunders, Bourn, Swisher, Morales, and Jaso. Due to the positional flexibility, Gutierrez could actually replace any of them in the line-up on any given day. There would be enough playing time to go around for everyone except Casper Wells — who gets squeezed out and would have had to be traded for a better #5 starter than the team currently has — and Justin Smoak, who can hang out in Triple-A while establishing that September was or was not a fluke.

Yes, it would have required a little more flexibility than “full time player” or “part time player”, but this is basically the strategy the Indians are going to deploy this year, so it’s not an absurd construct that MLB teams can’t implement. And, with Bourn and Swisher under contract through 2016, the M’s would have actually set themselves up to have solid role players in place even beyond this season, and still had the flexibility to let Jaso/Montero/Morales/Smoak fight over the 1B/DH jobs going forward. The outfield defense would have been among the best in baseball, the team would have had a comparable offense to the one that will actually take the field this year, and they would enter the future with more pieces in place to make a competitive run as the kids grow.

Bourn and Swisher might not have been the “power” bats that the team coveted, but it’s hard to argue that the team wouldn’t have been better off with both of them rather than simply having one Josh Hamilton. That they were willing to extend something in the range of 4/100 for Hamilton but not for the Bourn/Swisher pair is regrettable, as the Mariners certainly had options available to make substantial upgrades to their team.

But, what’s done is done. The Indians were the beneficiaries of the Swisher and Bourn markets, and they’ll be the ones using positional flexibility and platoons to maximize the value of a roster that still has some holes. The Mariners are betting on dingers and veteran presence instead. Let’s hope it works.


34 Responses to “A Hypothetical Alternative Off-Season”

  1. Sports on a Shtick on February 12th, 2013 11:24 am

    I like these Bizarro Mariners, especially that feisty Grab Bag.

  2. KBomb on February 12th, 2013 11:26 am

    Perhaps I don’t understand how front offices work well enough, but how can we know exactly what free agents the team pursues without leaks from the team or agents or beat writers?

    The narrative that players just don’t want to come to Seattle seems more and more plausible as each losing season accumulates. I’m wondering if one or both of Swisher and Bourn was made an offer and rejected it…

  3. scraps on February 12th, 2013 11:26 am

    “Let’s hope it works” is all we’re left hoping for every spring, unfortunately.

  4. Thirteen on February 12th, 2013 11:27 am

    Only quibble: it’s not at all apparent to me that Swisher went with the highest offer. There was a lot made of his desire to play near his hometown; the picture of him at the stadium that’s named after him at the university, etc. He may have chosen Cleveland for reasons that were not entirely monetary.

    I still can’t believe the Mariners had no interest at all in Swisher.

  5. maqman on February 12th, 2013 11:39 am

    If for no other reason than it will shut up Geoff Baker I’m glad to see Bourne go to Cleveland. Glad for the Indians too, they are showing what teams can do with the increased national media money. Their’s will just about cover the cost of Bourne and Swisher together after this season. (The Indians owner also sold their regional Sports Time Ohio network to Fox for a reported $230MM in December and increased the team’s TV contract to $40MM, up by $8MM.) The M’s can boost their payroll by over $33M next year with their new national media money ($25-$26MM) and Figgin’s $8MM finally off of the books; plus an additional $7MM if they don’t pick up Guti’s option. They can keep one or both of the M&Ms (Morales and Morse) if they produce and still sign just about any free agent they want. They will find out who the keepers and sleepers are this season and then fill in the holes.

    This more realistic than a chain of “what ifs.”

  6. _Hutch_ on February 12th, 2013 11:47 am

    It’s one of four things:

    – They didn’t want to lose the draft pick, because they’re so confident in their drafting ability that they think they can turn the 12th (or whatever) pick into a perennial 3-4 WAR player down the line. History shows that’s a roll of the dice.

    – They didn’t think Bourn/Swisher would age very gracefully into their 30s. I’m not huge on Bourn and would tend to agree there, but both these players certainly come with less red flags in that respect than Josh Hamilton, whom they appeared ready to back up the $ truck for.

    – One or both players essentially made it clear that they had no interest in playing in Seattle, regardless of money. I find that far-fetched since it would eliminate leverage for the agent.

    – Z or someone in the front office gave the edict that it was Dingers or Bust this off-season and the team wanted power at any cost and wasn’t going to go big for players with other skillsets. Pretty disappointing if that’s the case.

    I’m also trying to move on and not dwell on what could have been and appreciate that there are some real HR hitters in this lineup for the first time in years. Plus I’m going to Spring Training for the first time ever so I need to be thinking good thoughts. But you’re right, this was a C+ off-season when it could have been an A. You know what’s better than a long-term Felix extension? Putting together a competitive playoff contender in 2013/2014 that justifies the rebuilding we’ve gone through the last few years. This feels like a half-hearted attempt at contention.

  7. csiems on February 12th, 2013 11:52 am

    It’s an interesting scenario. What is the delta in projected wins between the Hypothetical Team and the Actual Team? Is that worth $100 million, two draft picks and the sacrificed roster flexibility?

  8. GhostofMarinersPast on February 12th, 2013 11:58 am

    Next years free agent class is pretty thin. I would like to see the front office still be willing to push for a big time trade, because we aren’t going to find answers in FA after this season.

  9. californiamariner on February 12th, 2013 12:06 pm

    I would be so excited for baseball if all of this happened..

    But, at least Greg Johns is reporting the Felix deal is official!

  10. ChrisFB on February 12th, 2013 12:06 pm

    “The Mariners are betting on dingers and veteran presence instead.”

    Well, yes, mostly. What they’re really betting on, is Z’s kids being for real. This year.

    If there isn’t some sort of ‘core’ to be found this season among the lot of Ackley, Montero, Seager, Smoak, Guti, and Montero… if Seager significantly drops off and only 1 of the remaining 5 in that group takes significant strides forward… then it doesn’t matter how Zunino takes off or how well the AAA pitching advances, this team is even further off than anyone thought.

    The silver lining to yet another lackluster offseason of warmed over blue light specials and retreads, is that the vets meet the goldilocks standard – not too hot, not too cold. The vets that are brought in are disposable if the kids work out, but hardly so high-caliber that anyone can think the team was expected to be carried by said vets either, so no more excuses for the younger players. The young core of the team should have the perfect environment to step up and be whatever they’re going to turn into. They won’t lack for playing time by being blocked by corpses, but they won’t get thrust into batting middle of the order if that spooks them.

    The fences are no longer a factor. Deadweight, sullen and/or overstayed-welcome non-performers are no longer a factor. Rookie break-in seasons are no longer a factor. Playing time shouldn’t be a factor. All the excuses or legit reasons are gone. Either the main first wave of Z’s imports and picks work, or they really don’t.

    I don’t know if Hamilton, or Bourn/Swisher, would have allowed for exactly that. If 2013 was a flop with one of them, then the storyline would be “Hamilton was a bust” or “Bourn was another Figgy”, etc. But if 2013 is a flop without them, the storyline could more likely be “Z’s batch of players isn’t working out. Is it time to clean house, both on the roster and in the front office?”.

  11. Westside guy on February 12th, 2013 12:14 pm

    I am rooting for both Bourne and Swisher to succeed in Cleveland.

    Of course, both baseball people and the media at large are good at ignoring stories that go against what passes for their thought processes, so I don’t know if that’ll accomplish anything other than make me more angry with the current front office…

  12. californiamariner on February 12th, 2013 12:15 pm

    Trying not to get caught up in the offseason narrative on how good Garland looks. But, do you guys think he could become the 5th starter?

  13. ChrisFB on February 12th, 2013 12:21 pm

    Ackley, Montero, Seager, Smoak, Guti, and Saunders, I meant. Not Montero twice. And yes, I know Z didn’t bring Saunders into the org, but out of young outfielders he’s still getting playing time over and possibly has higher ceiling than Carp or Wells, which Z did bring in…

  14. eponymous coward on February 12th, 2013 12:44 pm

    If there isn’t some sort of ‘core’ to be found this season among the lot of Ackley, Montero, Seager, Smoak, Guti

    Gutierrez will be 30 this year. He’s not a kid- his skill set is what it is at this point (including the made out of glass part). Maybe he has another 2009 in him, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    Smoak has 1400 MLB PAs. There is an outside chance of him turning into Carlos Pena or Raul Ibañez and blowing up relatively late in his career, but realistically he’s Mike Carp (his minor league stats aren’t that different a skill set, he’s basically a year younger and less able to play OF).

    It’s Montero, Ackley, Saunders and Seager who have some potential headway, but even there it’s kinda chancy- look at Justin Upton (or Dustin Ackley).

    Having two talented 3-5 WAR players in the OF instead of a random assortment of one year patch jobs would have been nice, especially given that the wealth of minor league talent the M’s have doesn’t seem to involve outfielders. Oh well. Play ball.

  15. toughguy5128 on February 12th, 2013 12:44 pm

    I’m having such a hard time with the love for John Jaso. He might have been the best M’s hitter last year, but that doesn’t mean he is the greatest of all time.
    Since the M’s were trying to move him for such a long time maybe he didn’t get along with Wedge or some of the other players. There is more to look at than just numbers of a player.
    Personally I am very glad we didn’t sign Bourn or Swisher. They are both older and command way too much money for the value they bring. Hate to have lost 2 draft picks for them also. Correct me if I am wrong, but seems like the M’s have done a pretty good job drafting these last few years. Most of all though, I’m really glad we didn’t sign Hamilton. That would’ve gone down as the worst move in M’s history. Yes, worse than Slocumb.

  16. shortbus on February 12th, 2013 12:45 pm

    The worst thing about not signing a legit outfielder is how bereft of outfield talent this organization’s minor league system is right now. Morse is a one year guy and doesn’t belong in the outfield. Plus, when Smoak tanks it and gets sent down, Morse probably moves to first base much of the time. Maybe they convert Romero.

  17. MrZDevotee on February 12th, 2013 12:47 pm

    I think a better title would have been “Wishful Thinking: Hindsight Is 20/20”

    There was no way of knowing Bourn was gonna go for as low as he did earlier in the offseason, so planning on that happening would have not been very wise. He was hailed as the top outfielder after Hamilton, with Boras holding his purse for him.

    The reality is, the plan to sign the two of them would have had to take into account adding $30-35 million to the payroll if that was what we went into the offseason wanting to do. Sure the two of them ended up signing for less, but that couldn’t have been foreseen. So I don’t think it could have been a realistic plan at any point, early on. Which is when it would have needed to be the plan if it was our “instead of Hamilton” tact.

    ((On a side note, how does draft pick compensation work if we signed both Swisher and Bourn? We obviously only have 1 pick to give up in the 1st round, so where does the other team’s compensation come from? Our 2nd round pick? A compensation/sandwich pick? Just curious?))

  18. BackRub on February 12th, 2013 12:48 pm

    Looks like M’s signed Kam Loe. He’s pretty good; his HR problem for last year should normalize. Loe is a righty specialist who probably takes Pryor’s spot in the pen.

  19. JasonJ on February 12th, 2013 1:13 pm

    Another great post and while it is fantasy and almost too good to be true to think that we could have had both Swisher and Bourn for what I consider bargains, it easily could have happened and it did happen to what is essentially Seattle’s doppleganger.

    It is so frustrating not having any idea what the FO is doing and not knowing whether we made a run on either Bourn or Swisher, but I have to think that JZ and co. see what Cleveland did and realize that they blew it.

  20. Spideysage on February 12th, 2013 1:42 pm

    Swisher is worth a 4+ year contract. Bourn is too much of a risk, at 12 mil/year, in addition to giving up the draft pick. Organizational flexibility is what the M’s appear to have done this year. They brought in some players who have the potential to help them win this year, but aren’t going to saddle the franchise if they don’t pan out. I guess it’s just how high you are on Bourn. To me he’s a guy on the other side of 30 who admittedly has above average speed and defense but limitations in the rest of his game. I’m not sure how much better he would’ve made that outfield, if at all.

  21. ripperlv on February 12th, 2013 3:11 pm

    I’m ok with the M’s moves in that they are still committed to a youth movement. Now if Upton would have been obtained for prospects, I’d feel less positive. The big if, if the prospects start performing and increasing their trade value and/or make themselves productive starters, and the M’s are in position to sign a top FA, or FA’s, then I see a bright 2014.

  22. Miles on February 12th, 2013 3:15 pm

    Bourn and Swisher. Blah.

    I’ll take Morales and Morse any day of the week. I’ll take the short term contracts. If the M’s had tied up their payroll for the next 4 years on Swisher and Bourn, they would have been in the same situation they just got out of with Figgins and Suzuki. The M’s get their 2 picks, the M’s get the slot money and the M’s brought in 2 legit MOTO bats that can be extended or QO’d if they produce well.

    Let’s see how happy the Tribe’s fans are in 2 years when these guys are well into their decline.

    In the meantime, I’ll take the 60 homers and 200 RBI that Morales and Moorse will bring to the table this year.

  23. scraps on February 12th, 2013 3:58 pm

    60 and 200? You’re dreaming.

  24. Miles on February 12th, 2013 4:13 pm

    So, who is incapable of hitting 30 homers, Morse or Morales? Who doesn’t drive in 100 runs, Morse or Morales?

    Over his last 3 years Morales has hit .19 homers per game. that’s 31. Morse has averaged .18 homers per game over the last 3 years. That’s 29 over a season. Both of these guys have power that won’t be affected by Safeco.

    Dreaming? Maybe, but it’s not out of the question. Dreaming is that Smoak hits 30 also and Seager, Saunders and Montero all hit 25+.

    Call me optimistic.

  25. JasonJ on February 12th, 2013 5:04 pm

    I think it’s the “will bring to the table” comment that is a bit hard to digest.

    60/200 is Cabrera/Fielder territory. 30/100 is an extreme best case scenario for both of those guys and it is unlikely that they would both have such exceptional seasons at the same time. Not out of the question if the stars align but also not very likely.

    That being said, I sure hope you are right!

  26. jjracoon on February 12th, 2013 5:26 pm

    I feel optimistic about this team offensively. Based on last year and with a little spike plus if Morales and Morse perform up to expectation, we could easily see six players reach 20 plus homers. On a team that doesnt look like it will have a very high OBP, that might be valuable!!!
    Morse, Morales, Seager, Saunders, Smoak, Montero

    Heck with the right breaks you might get some production out of Ibanez in that area not to mention Ackley and Guti. This is a team that could give you 65 wins if all goes south or 90 wins if Z was right.

  27. MKT on February 12th, 2013 5:46 pm

    True, but if we split the different between 65 and 90, we get 77.5 wins, which is probably a good guess at the M’s win total for 2013. Which is not good in absolute terms, and even worse in context, given that the Ms should be an improving team and as Dave shows, had the opportunity this off-season to make some major moves. Instead we got Ibanez and Morse. Bleeah.

  28. terryoftacoma on February 12th, 2013 6:37 pm

    I knew this post was coming when I saw that Bourn had signed with Cleveland.

    I’m not into “what if baseball” which shouldn’t surprise many people here. I’m not high on Bourn, Swisher, Jaso, Morse or Ibanez and it comes from my gut more than numbers. I would have done this off season different if I was GM but I’m not and I don’t try to be, either.

    I look foreward to Dave’s next article. He’s thoughts are usually the first ones I read.

  29. djw on February 13th, 2013 7:50 am

    Who doesn’t drive in 100 runs, Morse or Morales?

    To state the obvious, the number of RBIs either of these players gets is only very partially related to how well they play. RBIs are about opportunities provided by other players and lineup placement. If these players end up with 100 RBIs, it will be in large part because Ackley and whomever hits second are having good years. Don’t use RBIs as a benchmark for player performance, they’re a terrible stat for that purpose.

    (And as to your larger point, of course Morse and Morales are capable of hitting 30 home runs each. It’s well into the upper half of reasonable projections for both players, though, so there’s no good reason to assume either, let alone both, are likely to hit that benchmark. Treating 75th-90th percentile outcomes as ‘likely’ because they are ‘capable’ of happening is not a good way to think about future probabilities.)

  30. Jopa on February 13th, 2013 7:53 am

    I’m not sure if constantly using the 4yr/$100M (or 6yr/$150M) contract for the basis in your arguments is all that useful since Hamilton himself denies that the M’s every made him anywhere near this kind of offer.

    I’d bet that after Hamilton signed, the M’s simply leaked that to the press for some PR to appear as if they go hard after free agents and “just miss out”. This isn’t the first time I’ve been suspicious of this and I think other teams do it as well.

  31. rickyabc on February 13th, 2013 9:51 am

    In two years when we are hoping this M’s team is really good I am not sure Bourn and Swisher are assets. They more than likely might just be untradeable bad contracts.

  32. eponymous coward on February 13th, 2013 1:23 pm

    You mean like how Raul Ibañez was done as a productive player by the time he hit 33? Or Edgar Martinez? Or Mike Cameron?

    If you’re going to let the experiences we had with Richie Sexson and Chone Figgins color the potential worth of every FA signee, and assume that as the default outcome, you’ve essentially said “don’t ever sign a free agent for longer than a year”. So, you want the M’s to be the farm team for the Yankees, I take it- once the players get good and the deals to keep them by necessity take them past age 30, well, time to see them go somewhere that will pay real money and assume the Sexson/Figgins downside risk. I know Jack’s pretty good at building a farm system, but having to continually replace players once they hit their late 20’s (and to have to subsist off of one year deals and Large Item Pickup Day for any veterans) is a lot to ask.

    Also- didn’t we just decide to pay Felix all the way through age 33? Oh, I guess pitchers are special when it comes to very long term deals and are far less risky than position players…

  33. Marinersince77 on February 13th, 2013 9:02 pm

    I hope that I am wrong, but this feels like a lost offseason. I don’t think the Mariners improved for this season or the future. I hope I am wrong.

    I sure get the impression that something is fundamentally flawed with the way this organization is run. The team has spent a lot of money over the last ten years, but hasn’t really put a competitive team on the field. $100 million for 10 years is a Billion dollars and they can’t win half their games?!

    Some of our players have gone on to star elsewhere. I know this happens to every team, but I would love to be able to ask some of them why they think it happened. Beltre for example.

    I hope all the young talent does great and the M’s win 100 games, but it feels like 70 wins might be a stretch.

    I can’t help but wonder why I keep putting myself through this. Why don’t I just root for a franchise that has some idea of how to put a competitive team on the field? Why don’t I root for some franchise that doesn’t seem to have a fundamental flaw?

  34. Mariner.lovechild on February 14th, 2013 7:16 pm


    MLB-wise, there just ain’t much else around here to root for…but anyway, just sit tight and remember our guys (players, at least) want wins as badly as us fans do… and more.

    Anywho, I’m bummed about Swisher particularly. Confused about Ibanez. And was only momentarily phased by losing Jaso… we gotta let that one go.

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