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The Mariners think they’re getting better, but probably aren’t

Jan 17, 2013, 1:18 AM EDT

Jason Bay AP

In Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik’s defense, he did aim high, pulling off a deal for Arizona’s Justin Upton that was negated by the right fielder’s no-trade clause. However, the moves that he’s actually completed this winter to aid the offense don’t bode particularly well for the Mariners’ 2013 hopes.

- Traded OF Trayvon Robinson to the Orioles for INF Robert Andino

- Traded LHP Jason Vargas to the Angels for DH/1B Kendrys Morales

- Signed DH/LF Jason Bay to a one-year, $500,000 contract

- Signed DH/LF/1B Raul Ibanez to a one-year, $2.75 million contract

- Traded C John Jaso to the Athletics for DH/1B/LF Michael Morse in a three-team deal with the Nationals

These transactions completely contradict the defense-first strategy that made Franklin Gutierrez a prized early addition for Zduriencik and has led to Brendan Ryan‘s continued employment. Ibanez and Morse are two of the game’s very worst outfielders, and Morales has played 28 games at first base since suffering his devastating leg injury in 2010.

Also an issue: none of these guys are particularly outstanding hitters. Morales is certainly pretty good and Morse did have the big 2011. However, in 2012, all of these guys finished with OPSs under .800 (Morales and Morse just barely). Jaso outhit all of them by batting .276/.394/.456 in his 294 at-bats as a platoon player last season.

It’s also worth noting that none of these guys are necessarily long-termers. Morales and Morse are both free agents next winter. Morales turns 30 in June, while Morse turns 31 in March. Neither is exactly over the hill, but the risk would outweigh the potential reward in giving either a multiyear extension.

Jaso, on the other hand, is three years away from free agency.

But this isn’t really about Jaso, who likely played over his head last year and is a pretty poor defensive catcher. It’s about the Mariners seemingly playing next season at the expense of the long haul without really improving themselves for 2013.

- With Morales, Morse, Ibanez and possibly Bay cluttering up the first base, left field and DH spots, there’s no room for Justin Smoak, Mike Carp or Eric Thames anywhere. Now, Smoak has had his chances, Carp has struggled to stay healthy and can’t help defensively and Thames probably isn’t going to hit enough to overcome his poor glove. But there’s still some upside there. Morse didn’t have his first promising half-season until 28. For Ibanez, it came at 29. Smoak, Carp and Thames are all 26 at the moment.

- The presence of those veterans also figures to put Jesus Montero back behind the plate fairly regularly, even though it’s obvious now that 2012 first-round pick Mike Zunino is the team’s catcher of the future. The Mariners are just delaying the inevitable, which is that Montero is going to end up as a first baseman or a DH. And they’re going to have a crappy defensive catcher while they’re at it. Worse, they’ll probably end up signing a non-entity like Rod Barajas to pair with Montero.

- The pitching has gotten worse with Vargas’ departure. The Mariners did manage to re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma to a club-friendly two-year deal, so they dodged that bullet. Still, he’s not an ideal No. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez, and behind him are promising sophomore Erasmo Ramirez and the homer-prone Blake Beavan. None of the team’s top pitching prospects figure to be ready to make an impact early on this season. If the season started tomorrow, Hector Noesi would likely be the fifth starter.

Of course, the winter isn’t done. The Mariners could still sign Michael Bourn to replace Gutierrez (not recommended) or maybe Kyle Lohse to serve as the No. 2 starter. They could try another trade to improve the offense (Jacoby Ellsbury? David DeJesus?). As is, it’s hard to imagine them contending in an AL West with a top three that averaged 92 wins last year (the Mariners were 75-87). And if they don’t, it doesn’t seem at all likely that Zduriencik will get another chance in 2013.

  1. yankeepunk3000 - Jan 17, 2013 at 1:33 AM

    damn it Mathew when you put it like that it makes sense and make the Mariners look like idiots for signing and have basically 5 DH/1st basemen… still I wish the Ms have success and mabye it will all work out. Bay and Ibanez are going to platoon which can work. Morse will probally play 1st, while Morales Dhs. Montero will catch and hey he might improve a bit…still looks like. Very chaky defense. Reminds me of the Tigers but atleast the Tigers offense can score 800 runs these Ms won’t…

  2. shawnuel - Jan 17, 2013 at 3:14 AM

    This analysis leaves out the likelyhood that anywhere from one to 5 young regulars (Ackley, Smoak, Montero, Seager, Saunders) could easily improve just by being one year older and more experienced. Though, expecting a full season of good health from Gutierrez seems like a pipe dream, with he and Saunders in center and one corner, the horrible D of Morse/Ibanez is somewhat neutralized. If Guti hits like he did in the last two months (assuming natural progression from the young guys) the offense won’t suck.Could also see the team picking up a pitcher like Rick Porcello (For Wells/Pryor?) from the Tigers or Capuano from LA. One makes the rotation respectable. Both make it good. Peronally, I hate the trade today…..but it isn’t a disaster….just an indication that, perhaps, Zduriencik’s process isn’t what we thought it might be.

    • Ari Collins - Jan 17, 2013 at 9:07 AM

      It’s not that the young regulars can’t improve, it’s that that’s not a part of the analysis. Those weren’t moves by Seattle, those guys were likely to improve regardless of what Seattle did.

      The point is, it doesn’t make sense for Seattle to be trading long-term value for short-term value, especially when the short-term guys aren’t very good.

      • paperlions - Jan 17, 2013 at 10:25 AM

        …and it makes even less sense when the short-term value guys they have acquired will be taking playing time away from many of the younger guys that could possibly improve.

  3. sebaker - Jan 17, 2013 at 3:16 AM

    I’ve been writing a similar article about the A’s in my head … Jaso, who really is too poor a catcher to not play some DH and 1B, plus Norris plus Chris Carter plus Moss plus Smith plus the further plethora of outfielders … how is this shaking out exactly?

    Point being not that the A’s are screwed, just that I haven’t figured it out yet there either (but have more faith that there is a plan / logic)

  4. Baseball Beer Burritos In That Order - Jan 17, 2013 at 3:17 AM

    I went to a few Safeco games last year against the Padres and A’s, and I’ll tell you, it’s a good thing the pitching got worse, and it’ll be a better thing if the hitting improves at all. I really don’t care if it’s the home team or the away team, someone needs to score some runs in that park. After the 7th inning stretch, we were the only people in our row left in one-run games. I’m not the kind of fan to leave before a game is over, but I can’t blame people for not wanting to watch bad hitters swing ludicrously at bad pitchers.

  5. Reflex - Jan 17, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    Another day, another idiotic analysis of the M’s by Matthew. He makes me feel like a fan of the team if only because of his seeming passionate hatred of Jack Z.

    I don’t quite get what they are doing this offseason. I’m still on the “Give Smoak one more year given the fences are moved in and he hit well in the second half” camp. But I’ll wait till the offseason is over before judging it, the Upton move makes it clear that Jack’s not done. I’d be surprised if he isn’t trying the same deal for Giancarlo(but I hate pointing things like that out as I feel bad for a team’s fans when a star is traded like that).

    Its just too early, and the analysis ignores the changes in park dimensions and the dramatic improvement the M’s had in the second half last season. I’ll also add that it takes more than four years to rebuild a team gutted as thoroughly as the Bavasi administration gutted it. Astros fans are looking at a similar situation for the same reasons, and I’ll be shocked if they are contenders in only four years.

    • paperlions - Jan 17, 2013 at 8:20 AM

      Smoak hit well for 1 month last year. He’s been horrible for the majority of 3 years. Every scouting report on the guy says his bat is too slow to catch up to a FB so he cheats and gets burned by breaking balls. He’s 26 now. The likelihood that he suddenly develops the necessary bat speed to hit ML pitching is approximately zero.

      The changes in the park dimensions are irrelevant because they will help every hitter. The point is that the Mariners have a bunch of slightly above average hitters who struggle to get on base (which is more important than power) and are horribly limited in the field.

      There is no comparison to the Astros, the previous regime let their talent slip so badly that they may as well be an expansion franchise…so they are building to a point in the future. In contrast, the Mariners are making deals that will only affect the short term, none of the guys they are acquiring will be around in a couple of years (at least, Mariner fans should hope they aren’t).

    • manifunk - Jan 17, 2013 at 9:19 AM

      You blame Matthew for idiotic analysis of the M’s….and in the next paragraph you call for them to let Smoak play more. Amazing.

  6. seattletony - Jan 17, 2013 at 4:17 AM

    Matthew,
    I disagree that Jaso for Morse makes the Mariners worse off. Despite having three more seasons of team control and being 28, Jaso is a pretty lousy defensive catcher coming off an abnormally productive offensive season in which he could only hit right handed pitching. Granted, most pitchers are righties, but these factors mean Jaso would best be used part time as a back-up catcher/platoon DH. If the Mariners are planning on either signing a stop-gap back up to Montero or breaking camp with Mike Zunino as catcher, the M’s trading a limited role, soon to be redundant Jaso for everyday player, non-platooning, better offensive producing Morse would seem to be a pretty good trade for them. At the worst the Mariners have Morales and Morse to trade to contenders mid-season for decent returns. I’m inclined to think this trade makes sense for the Mariners.

    • seattletony - Jan 17, 2013 at 4:20 AM

      Jaso is 29.

  7. motobus - Jan 17, 2013 at 7:34 AM

    Depth is bad? They’ve got a lot of options, and given the injury history of most of these guys, that’s not a bad thing.

    It’s not like they’re tied to these guys financially. I’m sure the best players will end up playing.

    • jarathen - Jan 17, 2013 at 7:43 AM

      Stockpiling guys who are marginally good at DH but generally pretty poor fielders is not a great strategy. The Angels dumped Morales for this very reason.

  8. phillyphreak - Jan 17, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    I really don’t get this from the Mariners end either.

    But I’m not sure how much Jaso played over his head last year. Did he have a better year, no doubt but how much is luck vs more development? He’s a good platoon bat against RHP and has shown good OBP skills in 2 out of 3 years in the ML

    (year, OBP, wOBA, wRC+)
    2010: 0.372, 0.340, 117
    2011: 0.298, 0.252, 85 (BABIP related in part? walk rate plummeted)
    2012: 0.394, 0.372, 143 (BABIP and walk rate reestablished)

  9. icanspeel - Jan 17, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    hmm Move in fences and sacrifice defense to employ more offense first guys. Sounds like the Mariners are sick of low scoring games.

  10. realgone2 - Jan 17, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    Jason Bay looks like Mike Nelson from Mystery Science Theater 3000.

  11. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jan 17, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    What is the over/under on Felix’s ERA this year? Given the new fences, terrible defense and adding Minute Maid park to his division (albeit with Houston batters), I’m saying 4.50…

  12. rwsh - Jan 17, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    Z is good. But, they will be no better under current ownership. Owner has never even stepped into Safeco!

    • IdahoMariner - Jan 17, 2013 at 1:47 PM

      i have always been at a loss for why this matters to people so much. the people who are actually running the team do step into safeco all the time…and i can’t say i am a huge fan of their management. similarly, jeffrey loria is always at the marlins new park….and that’s not just irrelevantto whether he’s a good owner,it’s actively aggravating to see him there.

  13. harpdog - Jan 28, 2013 at 8:07 PM

    Jack is an idiot and so is the Mariners scouting staff as far as verterns go. Getting rid of a stud like Vargas for Morse is idiocracy(movie title about how the world is dummying down) at its best. We lost outfield speed, and he has traded away so many good players and received doodoo back. 5 dh/1st baseman are now on the team and we got what, 5 catchers and we traded away a catch, Jaso, who was improving day by day.
    For some reason Jack has kept Seattle’s reputation of being a team that veteran players go to earn big bucks before they retire and they don’t have to give 100% effort.
    Jeez, it frustrates me so much and I know he relies of the opinion of the least creative coach in the MLB who seems to want loser veterans and then plays them over young talent until the season is hopeless.
    I bet there are 20 people who relied here that could out GM this guy. HeyJack, Ichiro for who?
    And by the way Jack, as fans, we do not appreciate you giving away our top draft picks for bad veterans after we as fans suffer through another bad season to get them
    I would trade Jack for a dozen used balls. Any takers please

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