The Seattle Mariners finished the 2016 season with a ten-game improvement over their 2015 campaign (86-76). However, they were still three games shy of gaining a Wild Card berth, continuing MLB‘s longest playoff drought. Seattle finished with one of the best offenses in baseball, driving in 700+ runs and finishing behind only the Boston Red Sox in wRC+ (107). The pitching staff pitched competently in flashes, but injuries and inconsistencies derailed the rotation. This offseason, the decision will be made whether the Mariners are in win-now mode with their current stars or to build on their weak farm system and rebuild.
Seattle Mariners 2016 Offseason Needs
Offense: Adding Depth
Seattle boasts a top power offense in baseball. Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager all produced outstanding 2016 campaigns and are fixtures in the Mariner attack through at least 2018. Otherwise, the support in the lineup is lackluster. Seattle will look to add to the depth of the lineup.
General Manager Jerry DiPoto started adding to the supporting cast early this offseason. Seattle acquired NL hit leader Jean Segura from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte. Segura fits perfectly into the Mariners’s offseason scheme: a cost-controlled, speedy, top-of-the-order on-base machine for the power trio of Cano-Cruz-Seager to drive in. Segura also averages 31 steals per season since becoming a full-time player in 2013. The Mariners were in the bottom-five in baseball last season on the base paths.
As powerful as the Mariner lineup can be, none of that power comes from the outfield. Seattle’s 2016 outfield, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, Franklin Gutierrez, and Nori Aoki, provided slim production. Martin is the only outfielder they have under control in 2017, and Aoki has already signed with the Houston Astros.
Seattle has a $7 million club option on Smith, which they plan on exercising, leaving one outfield spot open. The best option: free agent Ian Desmond.
Of the top outfield power bats on the market, Desmond would be the cheapest, though that doesn’t mean he is cheap. Desmond would require a eight-figure salary and a draft pick. Yet, slotting him behind Seager in the lineup presents an even more dangerous slate for opposing AL West pitchers.
Defense: Removing Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz is a designated hitter. Everyone knows that.
However, most people don’t realize that Cruz made 48 starts in right field last season for Seattle. Now, that’s fewer than the 80 starts he made in 2015, but Cruz is heading into his age-37 season. He doesn’t need to be playing the field anymore.
This further adds to the Ian Desmond scenario. Desmond revived his career as an everyday outfielder with the Texas Rangers last season, after abysmal performances at shortstop for seven seasons.
The infield shows very little concern. The Cano-Segura double-play combo is elite. Seager was a Gold Glove winner in 2014 and performed admirably at third in 2016. Seattle doesn’t have an established player at first base. Adam Lind is one free agent the Mariners will not re-sign. Dan Vogelbach, acquired in the Mike Montgomery trade with the Chicago Cubs last July, could be a streaming option in the batting order. Unfortunately, he has no range at first base. With little available in the trade market and the expense Seattle would have to take on the free agent market, Vogelbach may be the best choice for the Mariners.
Catcher Mike Zunino will take the next step toward managing the Seattle pitching staff. He’s an asset defensively, even if the bat hasn’t came around for the 2012 third overall pick.
Pitching: Creating a Complete Rotation
Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and James Paxton are locks for the Mariner rotation. Outside of that, Seattle would like to round out the final two spots and feature a complete rotation, which they were lacking in 2016.
Walker would have filled one of those spots before being traded to Arizona. Acquiring a durable innings-eater through free agency would suffice; however, most of those guys have already been signed (R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon, Edinson Volquez).
Right-hander Doug Fister is an interesting name. Fister started his career in Seattle, and produced a healthy 2016 campaign after struggling to stay on the mound in 2015. Fister also fits into the “mid-rotation starter” mold that DiPoto has stressed in interviews regarding the offseason pitching market.