** In a total “shocker”, the Mariners did exactly what I expected them to. They signed a retread player with a history with the organization who A) Did absolutely nothing and B) Almost immediately retired. And we’ve seen it again and again as fans. Franklin Gutierrez, Raul Ibanez, Griffey. At some point, it’s time show some imagination in the front office. **
Originally published January 25th, 2012
If it wasn’t clear when the Mariners traded Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero, it was clear yesterday: The Mariners were not in the running for Prince Fielder. Not in the running is very different from not interested. Were the Mariners interested? You have to think that w/Jack Z’s history with the Brewers and Fielder that the Mariners were definitely interested, but factors like Seattle’s distance from Orlando (Fielder’s home in the offseason) and contract term/value, left the Mariners on the outside looking in on the second premier Free Agent this offseason. Online opinions have been strong on both sides, a ton of anger that Fielder wasn’t signed, and sighs of relief. The Tigers made a bold signing when they signed Fielder, but it’s a signing that could come back to haunt them in the long term. As much as I wanted a player like Fielder on the team, 9 years for a 5’11” player that is probably over 300lbs is a HUGE risk. Fielder isn’t going to get any smaller as he gets older, and once he crosses 30, it gets that much harder. (Trust me, I know. Ha-ha.) Fielder is one of those players that could see a big decline in productivity as he gets older and heavier, or as the weight takes it’s toll on his knees and ability to turn w/power on a pitch. Anyone that’s angry that the Mariners didn’t spend over $200 million for a player w/Fielder’s potential future risk, should probably take another look at it objectively. It was a right “non-move”, that from the sound of it, the Mariners weren’t in anyway.
Now that Prince Fielder has signed with another AL powerhouse, the Mariners are left trying to shore up a light hitting offense with what’s left on the Free Agent market. At the start of the offseason I thought players like Jason Kubel or Michael Cuddyer would have been a great fit for the team, but both moved to the National League. When you look at what’s left, there isn’t a whole lot. It’s sad, really, but it’s all “leftovers”, a collection of underperformers or former-performers. Jack Z has historically gone for a veteran clubhouse player to fill these one or two year position gaps. Designated Hitter is the gap this year — If the season opened today you would be looking at a platoon of Mike Carp, Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and maybe a player like Carlos Peguero. Jack Z has said during interviews w/both KJR and ESPN Seattle that Montero was not here to be a full-time DH.
There are three specific players that I expect the Mariners to look at over the next two weeks that all fit Jack Z’s mold: A player looking for a 1-2yr deal that has a history of past performance, but is clearly out of their prime. (It’s interesting how the Mariners mold is getting closer to the Athletics free agent philosophy — finding veteran players at low year commitments that can be traded easily if successful, but that’s a story for a different day…)
Johnny Damon — Damon seems like the best fit. While he only hit .261 last year w/an OBP of .326, he’s known for taking pitches and giving everyone on the bench a better chance to see what the pitcher has for the day. (Take a lesson, Ichiro.) Johnny Damon is also the kind of player that helps everyone around him stay loose. He’s great for the team dynamic, which is something a younger team like the Mariners could use. I could see the Mariners signing Johnny Damon to a 2yr contract to help solidify the position and work w/the younger guys on fundamentals and overall attitude of the team. The danger here is that Johnny Damon is used to winning — The barrier for the Mariners could be attracting a player like Damon who could have other offers on stronger teams, even as a bench presence.
Vladimir Guerrero — Drool… Guerrero is one of those players that I’ve loved to watch for so long. The ferocity in his swing and ability to hit even the ugliest of pitches is something to watch in awe. The problem for Guerrero is he looks like a player that’s losing batspeed. A lifetime .318 hitter, Guerrero hit .290 last year w/only 13HR. (Yes, I know that would still lead the Mariners…) Guerrero has had off and on injury problems too, which could make him a risk. I like Guerrero a lot as a player, but the other part of the Jack Z formula could be a problem here: Leadership. Guerrero is a quiet leader. He’s never looked comfortable in the spotlight, and I think there’s a big language barrier here. The demographics of the team have shifted the past few years, Gutierez, Olivo, Felix, and Montero are the main spanish speaking players on the team. Rightly or wrongly, I think that could have an impact on a decision to sign someone like Guerrero, who again, as a player I’ve always loved. The Mariners have had the chance to sign Guerrero as a Free Agent and passed both times. Will the 3rd time be a charm? Probably not. I wonder if we won’t see Guerrero back in Texas after the Rangers pulled away from Fielder in the final week.
Carlos Guillen — I have zero interest in signing Carlos Guillen to a contract, but for some reason his name keeps popping up. Guillen had some solid year’s in Detroit, including his time as an All Star in 2007 and 2008, but he’s also been the most injured player on their roster. Carlos hasn’t played in over 100 games since 2008, and only played in 28 games last year hitting .232. He’s a looooong ways from the player that hit .320 in 2004-2006, but his lifetime .285 average is solid enough for the Mariners to give him a look. Who will the Mariners sign? The skeptic in me says Carlos Guillen. He’ll be happy to sign a 1yr deal to show he can still hit, and he’ll be as close to “free” as a veteran hitter can be.
One player that is not on my list is Raul Ibanez. Why? I know Mariner’s fans are excited at the chance to yell “Raa-uuuuulll” again before every at bat, but Ibanez will probably be the least likely pickup. Raul is coming off of his least productive year since 2000, but his 20HR added value to the Phillies. I get the impression that the fans like him, which isn’t something you hear very often for a guy hitting .245 in Philly, and he seems like a quiet presence on the bench. I see the Phillies resigning Raul as a bench/spot-start player. Think about how long the Phillies kept Matt Stairs. Some guys just add value to a team, and Ibanez is worth a lot more than Matt Stairs, that’s for sure.
It’s been a frustrating offseason as a Mariners fan. Outside of Iwakuma and last week’s trade for Montero, the Mariners have been content to sign castoff pitchers like Perez, Millwood, and Heilmann. The Mariners haven’t stepped up to sign one hitter outside of Kawasaki, who begged to be on the team. I’m concerned at the lack of moves made in the offseason to make the team better, while division rivals in Anaheim and Texas have strengthened their already pennant-contending teams. The next two weeks will be an important time for Jack Z. The Mariners need to make a move for a DH-quality hitter either thru Free Agency, or a trade.
I’ve been clear in my past posts. I like this team! There are some good, quality, potential players on the team. I don’t have a problem with a youth movement. Tampa Bay has shown that you can develop talent in the Minor Leagues and put together a winning culture, but a winning culture needs help. A veteran DH-quality hitter is a missing piece that this team desperately needs to compliment a team filled w/youth.