The Seattle Mariners are a young team. Up and comers like: Kyle Seager, Brendan Ryan, Michael Saunders, Jesus Montero and Casper Wells can be found up and down its roster. As one of the youngest teams in the majors, it was important to General Manager, Jack Zduriencik, to add some veteran presence in the offseason. With the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics in the same division, the Mariners are working on a core for the future and veteran influence is always essential for forming work ethic and team philosophy.
The logic was there.
Unfortunately for Seattle, now there is a log jam of veteran presence at a select few positions. Montero, one of the younger guys, is widely not deemed an everyday catcher and the M’s also carry defensive, everyday catcher, John Jaso on the roster. While it’s not hurting anybody for Jaso to be a backup, Montero isn’t physically effective enough to man behind the plate everyday. What this means is most of his time will have to be spent at first base or the DH spot, which is where the problem begins.
Another younger hitter, Justin Smoak, still just 26 years old, is slated to be the everyday first baseman, and is also likely the biggest trade piece Seattle has and is willing to give away. Smoak has yet to reach what was considered a very high ceiling (he was traded to Seattle for Cliff Lee over Montero) and as he heads into his late 20’s, the time is now or never. Thanks to a red-hot September, it’s possible Seattle can net a fairly valuable return for Smoak while his stock remains high.
Besides those two players, who can actually be a part of the long-term future or net something similar in return, the Mariners have Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales under contract, plus Mike Carp, another younger player, but one who saw most of his time at first base last year due to injury problems. Carp used to be a left fielder and also represents trade value.
It’s plausible Bay can see some time in left field, though with a fragile injury history to match his knees, and a massive outfield at Safeco, this practice should be limited.
We saw Ibanez play left field more than he was comfortable last season with the Yankees due to Brett Gardner missing most of the year and Andruw Jones falling apart, but not only is his defense awful, it seemed to tire the veteran out until his October heroics where he was, you guessed it, the DH.
Kendrys Morales was a savvy trade acquisition when he was obtained for Jason Vargas, an innings-eater the Mariners can easily replace with some of the best minor league starters in the game and deep pockets in the Front Office (if they chose to spend). Morales’ bat is worth it, and after missing most of 2010 and all of 2011 with injuries, he returned to hit .273/.320 with 22 home runs for the Angels last season.
With Seattle among the worst in power hitting in the game and with freshly moved in outfield fences, there is no question this was a positive acquisition. Still, Kendrys saw just 28 games in the field last season and all of it was at first base, where we know Carp, Smoak, possibly Montero and maybe even Ibanez are already slated.
So Seattle, with some of the youngest and highest potential players in MLB, will have to decide how to play: Carp, Ibanez, Montero, Smoak, Bay and Morales at three primary positions (since Wells, Saunders and Franklin Gutierrez will likely play everyday in the outfield).
The Mariners would be wise to deal Smoak or Carp (possibly to Boston if they strike out on Morse and Napoli) to start. Ibanez can platoon at DH or first base in an emergency, with Jason Bay since he only hit .197 against lefties anyway. That is of course if Bay can revert to his career numbers against lefties of .275/.386 instead of .172/.264 like he performed last year.
With Bay/Ibanez platooning two positions and Smoak or Carp gone (likely after the Morse and Napoli situations are resolved), that means the holdover will either play part-time in left and primarily at first, leaving Morales to play first base, but mostly DH. Montero, when Morales and Smoak/Carp aren’t playing (Morales did miss 28 games last season), can play first and catch the rest of the time and Seattle could be left with some useful veterans on the bench.
It won’t be easy, particularly keeping veterans from boosting value in platoon roles and possibly taking away younger player’s at bats, but the Mariners will have to get creative, and more realistically active, if their logjam of veterans is going to work out in 2013.