Who is the Mariners top priority? Let’s play the odds.
By Mike Salk
Jack Zduriencik and his top lieutenants have left the Winter Meetings. While they were here, they finalized their deal with Chone Figgins, added minor league free agents Josh Wilson and Corey Patterson, and snagged pitcher Kanekoa Texeira in the Rule 5 draft from the Yankees. They also were foiled in attempts to acquire Carl Pavano, Rich Harden, and Edwin Jackson. And while they had productive talks with the Felix Hernandez camp, nothing appears imminent on that front. Nor does a deal for Jose Lopez.
So my final grade for the week is………..incomplete. Obviously, there’s the obvious.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to give the team a final grade because so much is still up in the air. Rumors continue to link the team to John Lackey, Jason Bay, Russell Branyan, Nick Johnson, Adrian Gonzalez, Marlon Byrd, Mike Cameron and others. They could still use a DH, number three hitter, veteran catcher, left fielder, and first baseman. Obviously, the roster for the 2010 Mariners has not yet taken shape.
So what happens now?
Well, let’s look at each of the remaining options and assign a percentage to it’s likelihood.
John Lackey. 75%
Alright, 75% is a pretty high number considering the number of teams interested, but I have a gut feeling on this one.
First of all, I believe that pitching is the number one priority for the M’s. Look at the guys they made runs at in Indianapolis: Jackson, Pavano and Harden. What do they have in common? Right handed pitching! Lackey is the best available arm on the market and the Mariners have the money to sign him.
Furthermore, I’m told by a major league source that the M’s have significant interest in him, and that he is their top priority.
What’s more, I don’t see the Red Sox or Yankees jumping into the fray too seriously. The Sox try to shy away from expensive free agent pitching and the Yankees seem focused elsewhere. I think if the Mariners want Lackey, they can get him. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to stick it to the Angels again either.
Jason Bay. 30%
I just don’t see it. I’ve written about it throughout the week, and I’m sticking to my guns. He just doesn’t seem to be the right fit, even though he’s almost the right fit. Yes, the Mariners need a powerful run producer who can play either left or first. But Bay has questionable defensive skills (especially in a large park like Safeco) and his power as a right handed pull hitter would be downplayed 81 games per year. Plus, there are serious beliefs that Bay would need to move to DH within a year or two, making his salary demands untenable. I would also argue that if he were to stay in left, he would be blocking some of their top prospects. Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and Greg Halman are all outfielders who are nearly major league ready, though I am told the team isn’t sold on Saunders or Halman, and obviously Ackley is playing second base for now. I think Boston will keep Bay when all is said and done, though Anaheim (and maybe the Mets) will make a serious challenge, especially if the Sox complete their proposed Mike Lowell and serious cash to Texas trade and sign Adrian Beltre.
Nick Johnson. 40%
Johnson remains my choice to play first for the M’s. I think he would be a perfect fit for the M’s. His glove is passable at first, but his on-base percentage plus his ability to be productive without relying on homeruns would be a huge addition to their lineup. Yes, he is an injury risk, but I think the team likes Mike Carp enough to trust him for an extended stretch if necessary. Plus, if Branyan were around, the two could split time at first and DH, which would help keep them both healthy and allow them to fill in for each other. To be fair though, it would likely just cost too much to have both.
The problem with Johnson is that he’s a good fit for a lot of teams. He is looking for a multi-year deal that so far no one has offered him. I like the fit in Seattle, I just think another team could cave on a second year.
Mike Cameron. 20% Marlon Byrd. 20%
Two similar options to play the same position and fill same role. Both guys are former center fielders, though Byrd has more experience as a corner outfielder. Cameron has just three games played in left (and not too many more in right) while Byrd has a few hundred games played on the corners. Byrd has hit well the past few years, but how much of that has been playing in Texas and hitting in a very strong lineup? Cameron has been remarkably consistent over the course of his career â€“ he is the only center fielder to hit 25+ doubles and 20+ home runs in each of the past four years, plus his teams tend to win. The Mariners join multiple teams in looking at both players, so my guess is they push for whichever guy wants less money or fewer years. Always a great way to get leverage when the players each have multiple suitors.
Adrian Gonzalez. 5%
Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported on Thursday that the M’s had talks with the Padres regarding the slugging first baseman. I believe that they talked; I just don’t believe that anything will come of it. New Padres GM Jed Hoyer was part of the Red Sox front office that tried to acquire Gonzalez last year. Trading your only premier player as your first major move seems unlikely, especially when he is only making $4.75 million in 2010 with a club option for $5.5 million in 2011. Also, people I have talked to believe that Gonzalez’s value will be at it’s highest at this year’s trade deadline. I don’t think it will happen now, but check back on this rumor in July.
Russell Branyan. 60%
Not a lot of talk in Indy about the Moose, which leads me to assume that the multi-year deal he’s looking for isn’t out there. If it comes down to a choice between one year contracts, I’d bet on the M’s as his choice. There is a mutual affection between him and Zduriencik.
Jose Lopez trade. 25%
The Mariners are in a good spot on this one in that they certainly don’t have to trade Lopez. His play at second is serviceable enough with the defense around him that he won’t hurt them in the field, and his flexibility to play first helps. He’s young, relatively cheap, and he does have some pop as a run producer at a defensive position. Clearly they would like a more patient approach, but the team also does not believe in trying to force players to be someone they’re not. So, if Lopez isn’t already the type of hitter they want and they don’t want to try and change him, it makes sense to shop him. The only problem is, not too many teams are interested. Shannon Drayer lists Arizona as a possible partner, and I heard Colorado and the Mets at various points, but nothing has been close.
I would also bet on the M’s to find a cheap, disposable veteran catcher. Heard again from a major league source that the organization loves Adam Moore, and Don Wakamatsu is obviously fond of last year’s September call-up as well. They view Moore and Rob Johnson as a potential 1-2 punch, but would want a veteran to push them and to potentially start the year on the big league roster in case Johnson isn’t fully healthy to start or Moore’s hitting goes south in spring training. But I wouldn’t expect them to bid seriously on any of the mid-level catchers looking for two-year deals.
What do you think? Feel free to comment below, email or tweet questions, disagreements or opinions. Which of these guys do you like? Which ones do you want? Which ones do you think will get done?