Bay-Watch: Mariners Sign Free-Agent Outfielder, Mets Castoff

Another Canadian outfielder? I dunno know about this...

Two Canadians in the same outfield? What, did Matt Stairs not pick up the phone?

After being linked to nearly every big name bat on the market (Nick Swisher, Josh Hamilton, Raul Mondesi Jr, Justin Upton, etc.), the Mariners left the Winter Meetings instead with a player that the New York Mets paid to go away — let that sink in for a moment. Then drink copious amounts of liquor and try to understand Seattle’s thought process. Afterwards, dial 9-1-1 to seek treatment for alcohol poisoning.

No, Jason Bay isn’t the worst player in baseball, but he also isn’t close to the player who hit 36 home runs for Boston in 2009. Bay’s averaged has dropped every year since 2008, bottoming out at .165 in 194 at-bats for the Mets last season (a year in which he was paid $16,000,000 to produce -1.3 WAR). There’s a difference between a reclamation project and a reanimation project, and I’m not sure even Dr. Frankenstein could shock life make into Bay’s cadaverous career arc.

The move doesn’t come with a lot of risk ($1 million + incentives) but neither does eating at Applebee’s and I’m not lining up to try their newest sizzlin’ skillet. Seattle already has a younger version of Bay on the roster in the form of Casper Wells, so Bay’s presence is redudant unless veteran leadership is the only thing missing from a World Series roster. Here’s a hint, it isn’t.

It’s not an awful move, it’s just such a Mariners’ move. We’ve been down the washed up player looking for a change of scenery route before and it hasn’t worked out. Eric Wedge has a track record of giving more at-bats to players with “experience” (happy trails Miguel Olivo) so keeping Bay on the roster may steal playing time away from prospects who could make a difference when the M’s are ready to contend. What’s the upside?

Attendance is dwindling, Seattle hasn’t been to the playoffs in over a decade, Ichiro is gone, and this is the answer?

We don’t ask for much as Mariners fans, but we deserve better than Jason Bay.

Your move Jack Zduriencik.


Tube Socks Again? Merry Christmas from the Mariners!

Cust rhymes with bust? Uh-oh!

It’s that time of year again, when the instead of the shiny new remote control car we always wanted (Justin Upton, Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey III etc.) the Mariners decide to get us something a little more crappy practical: underwear, fleece pajama pants and tube socks! Here’s a look at what the M’s left under the tree for their fans this holiday season:

Jack Cust: With a limited amount of cash to spend this offseason (thanks for nothing David Aardsma’s hip) Jack Cust will likely be the Mariners’ biggest acquisition in both impact on the field and all-around girth. While Cust isn’t exactly a household name outside of the AL West, he is a suitable replacement (Cust posted a .272-13 HR-52 RBI-.395 OBP line in 2010) for Russell Branyan, and does two things that the Mariners struggled to last season: draw walks and hit home runs. If all goes as planned, the M’s new DH will start the year hot and allow me to cash in on my garage full of “I lust for Cust” t-shirts. Jackpot!

Miguel Olivo: It’s hard to belive that the Mariners could do worse at catcher in 2011 than the Rob Johnson/Josh Bard/Adam Moore monstrosity that they put on the field last season, but with the signing of free agent Miguel Olivo, it looks like they’ll give it a try. Olivo had a memorable first go-round as a Mariner during the 2004-2005 seasons in which he hit .200 and .151 respectively, so it’s easy to see why the front office was enamored with him. Olivo is a decent defender behind the plate but he never met a pitch he didn’t like (career 800/125 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and his power doesn’t translate well to Safeco Field. This is going to be a regular dumpster fire…

Brendan Ryan: It appears that Sauron, not Jack Zduriencek, is running the Seattle Mariners because with the addition of Brendan Ryan to a lineup that already includes Jack Wilson the M’s now lead the league in goblins. Why couldn’t we have at least signed a goblin that can hit? The St. Louis Cardinals were eager to jettison Ryan after a season in which struggled at the plate, hitting just .223 with 2 HR’s and 36 RBI’s, and the Mariners obliged (they hate offense after all) by sending away Mikael Cleto for the slick fielding utility man. Hopefully for M’s fans Ryan will simply serve as a stopgap until Dustin Ackley is called up because another season like the last may prove too much for the fragile Seattle psyche. WNBA Championships only do so much for a city.

Time to throw away the wrapping paper…and any hopes for a successful 2011 season.

Completing the Puzzle: Who Do the Mariners Need to Target in Free Agency?

Jason Bay has ties to the Pacific Northwest, but is he a good fit for the Seattle Mariners?

Though the Mariners signing of free-agent third baseman Chone Figgins  shows that they are serious about competing for the division, baseball’s Winter Meetings have come and gone and the team still has plenty of holes left to fill if they want to have a realistic shot at winning the AL West.

Texas has been busy all week, signing free-agent Rich Harden and acquiring Chris Ray and Mike Lowell (still pending) through trades, turning up the heat on Seattle to keep pace.

The Oakland Athletics were one of the most improved teams in all of baseball during last season’s second half, and figure to be even better in 2010 with all the experience their young players gained down the stretch.

Los Angeles lost Figgins and may be unable to resign their ace Jon Lackey, but the Angels are still dangerous after winning the division by 10 games last year despite battling injuries to key players the entire season.

All four teams in the AL West have a legitimate shot at winning the division next year, with no clear front-runner at this point in the offseason; what will it take for the Mariners to come out on top in 2010?

The addition of Figgins fills Seattle’s need for a third-baseman, but the Mariners still need help at first-base, catcher, left-field, designated hitter and in their rotation (more on this in a later post). Statistically one of the worst offensive teams in the American League last season, Seattle’s superb pitching staff carried the team all year, leading the AL with a 3.87 team ERA. While the pitching will likely regress a bit next year due to the losses of Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn, it’s clear that the Mariners main focus this offseason needs to be on adding offensive firepower; this may prove to be an expensive proposition with four positions yet to be filled.

After Endy Chavez’s season-ending injury the Mariners got virtually no production out of leftfield, with the trio of Bill Hall, Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans performing well below replacement level. Jason Bay is imminently available after being unable to come to terms with the Red Sox and has strong ties to the Pacific Northwest, but is seeking a contract in the range of 4-5 years and $60+ million dollars, a deal that would leave the Mariners out of cash and still needing a first baseman, catcher and right-handed DH. Additionally, there are concerns about whether a one-dimensional player like Bay, who hits for power but provides little else, would be worth a long-term investment in a park like Safeco Field that caters towards pitching.

Free-agent outfielder Matt Holliday offers more versatility than Bay but would need a similarly hand-cuffing contract to come aboard (he is represented by Scott Boras after all). A more budget friendly option is former Seattle Mariner Mike Cameron, who despite turning 36 last season, is still a plus defender in the outfield who offers good power and patience at the plate. The Mariners could probably ink Cameron to a one-year deal, limiting the risk if he performs poorly, which would also give Saunders another year to develop in Triple-A Tacoma. Other players to consider in left-field include Randy Winn, Jonny Gomes or Josh Willingham.

A breakout performer last year, Seattle would be happy to bring Branyan back at first base in 2010.

The Mariners got surprising production out of first base last season, with Russell Branyan taking advantage of his first chance to play full-time by slugging 31 HR’s and driving in 76 runs. The early indications seem to suggest that Seattle plans on bringing Branyan back for at least one more year, although he would probably be due a substantial raise over the $1.4 million dollars he earned in 2009. Branyan stated all season long that he owed it to the Mariners to resign with the club because they were the only team willing to give him a full-time role, but it remains to be seen whether that will hold true if another team offers him a lucrative deal.

If Seattle loses Branyan to another team they could replace him internally with Mike Carp, who performed admirably in a short trial last season (.315 in 54 AB’s), or they could pursue free-agent Nick Johnson. Though injury prone, the 31-year-old Johnson has one of the best batting eyes in the game (.426 OBP in 2009) and is a solid defensive first baseman who could fit comfortably into the Mariner’s lineup as their number three hitter. There has also been some speculation that Seattle would consider shifting second baseman Jose Lopez (a defensive liability up the middle) to first base and moving Matt Tuiasosopo (a third baseman in the minors) to second, a possibility now that the hot corner has been filled by Figgins.

Catcher was another gaping hole for the Mariners in 2009, with a disappointing season from Kenji Johjima and young catchers Rob Johnson and Adam Moore struggling to adjust to big league pitching. With Johjima back in Japan, the battle for starting catcher in 2010 will boil down to Johnson and Moore unless the Mariners try to acquire a catcher via free agency or trade. Johnson received praise from the pitching staff for his game-calling abilities but he hit only .213 with 2 HR’s and 27 RBI’s. Moore saw limited action with the Mariners, spending the majority of the season in the minor leagues, hitting a combined .287-13 HR’s-56 RBI’s between Double and Triple-A. S

eattle has been mentioned as a possible destination for free-agent catcher Miguel Olivo, a defensively-challenged backstop who hit 23 HR’s in only 390 AB’s last season. While Olivo has never shown the ability to draw a walk, he has consistently produced good power numbers and is the best player available in a very thin catching market. If the M’s could sign him to an incetive-laden one-year deal, Olivo is probably a worthwhile gamble; if he wants a multi-year deal Seattle is better off allowing Johnson and Moore to develop in the majors.

Could the former Mariner killer become a killer Mariner?

Designated hitter may have been the most popular position for Seattle in 2009, with clubhouse favorites Mike Sweeney and Ken Griffey Jr. manning the post, but it certainly wasn’t the most productive. Griffey’s back and figures to get the majority of at-bats against right-handed pitching; the Mariners hope he can rebound from a sub par return to the Emerald City last year (.214-19 HR’s-57 RBI’s). Seattle needs to find a player who hits left-handed pitching well to platoon with Griffey, but this year’s free agent crop is very thin in terms of quality hitters.

The M’s might have to take a flier on someone coming off an injury or a bad season. Some possible candidates include Xavier Nady, Olivo, Carlos Delgado or even longtime thorn-in-the-side Vladimir Guerrero. While Guerrero’s power has dipped in recent years, he would still be a significant upgrade over Sweeney as a part-time DH, and could become a solid run producer with Ichiro and Figgins at the top of the lineup.

As of today there are still 266 free agents available for the Mariners to sign, so despite the team’s need to fill multiple holes in their lineup, there’s no need to panic–yet. The Rangers’ lastest moves have upped the ante, but Jack Zduriencik has shown himself to be a very capable baseball man, and will work tirelessly to make Seattle a frontrunner for the 2010 AL West title.

The Mariners certainly have issues to address, but the pieces to build a title contender are out there; now it’s just up to the Mariners and their front office to fit them all together.