With most of baseball’s major award announcements out of the way, the hot stove is ready to be turned up all the way up to 11. And so far, no general manager has made more of an attempt to burn the freakin’ house down than new M’s GM Jerry Dipoto.
Despite having high expectations entering the season, the M’s
uncharacteristcally disappointed, leading to a house-cleaning that resulted in the midseason firing of GM Jack Zduriencik and eventually, numerous members of the coaching staff.
Enter Jerry Dipoto, respected WAR veteran, who has very quickly begun to demonstrate his plan to make the Mariners a long-term contender going forward. Through trades, Dipoto has acquired SP Nathan Karns, RP Joaquin Benoit and CF Leonys Martin, all of whom figure to play a significant role for Seattle next season. With the Winter Mettings just two short weeks away, here is a look at several free agent and trade options that Dipoto could explore for when the M’s contingent heads to Nashville:
OF Jason Heyward
I’ll go ahead and get the biggest and least-likely name out of the way first. Outfielder Jason Heyward is undeniably one of the most talented free agents available and figures to come away with a 7+ year deal worth upwards of $200 million. Entering the market at just 26 years old presents teams with a unique opportunity to get an impact player like Heyward under contract for every one of his prime years.
Despite his power numbers dipping since his career-high 27 home run season with Atlanta in 2012, Heyward is still a catalyst at the top of any lineup you put him in. His strikeout rates have dropped in each of the last four seasons and in that timespan, he’s posted a wRC+ of 110 or above in every one of them. Add this to Heyward being arguably the best defensive outfielder in the game, and you completely understand why Heyward is likely due for the biggest contract of the winter.
When it comes to fitting in Seattle, Heyward is exactly the type of player Jerry Dipoto covets. A premium athlete who also happens to be a phenomenal defender (who would fit in tremendously at Safeco Field) and great addition at the top of the lineup. Had Seattle not doled out a 10-year, $200 million to Robinson Cano last winter, there’s no doubt that we’d probably be talking about the Mariners being one of the frontrunners for Heyward’s services. This doesn’t mean that Seattle is completely out of the running, but it would be an awfully thin line to walk if adding Heyward meant having to withstand the club’s payroll being hogged almost entirely by just five players (Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz, and Cano).
It’s highly unlikely any of the current expensive payroll obligations will be traded. A non-tender of 1B Mark Trumbo could potentially make some room for the salary Heyward would command. The Mariners will also have to decide whether signing Heyward is worth surrendering the 11th overall pick in next year’s draft, which St. Louis would receive as compensation after Heyward rejected the club’s qualifying offer. Ultimately, it’s a longshot that the M’s end up with Jason Heyward but we’ve already seen Dipoto be creative in his tenure thus far so there’s always a chance.
If it happens: 7 years, $155 million
LHP Wade Miley
With former Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski now overseeing the roster construction in Boston, the Red Sox could be one of the most aggressive teams of the entire offseason. They already paid a steep price to acquire Craig Kimbrel from the Padres but it’s unlikely their wheeling and dealing will stop there.
One team that has been consistently mentioned in trade rumors with Seattle has Boston, due in part to Jerry Dipoto spending time there as a consultant after he resigned as GM in Los Angeles. According to Dombrowski, Dipoto managed to complete a top-to-bottom evaluation of the Red Sox organization in a short time and his familiarity with their roster could help Seattle in future trade negotiations. Up until the M’s acquired Leonys Martin from Texas, Boston OF Jackie Bradley Jr. was a name frequently thrown around as a potential acquisition for Seattle. However, another name that could be of interest is starting pitcher Wade Miley.
Miley, a 29-year-old lefty, was a first-round selection of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2008 draft, a team whose scouting director at the time was none other than Jerry Dipoto. The D-backs traded Miley to Boston following the 2014 season and despite not having a great first season with the Red Sox, he could become expendable depending on how Dombrowski plans to address his starting rotation this winter as they’ve already been linked as a strong suitor for David Price.
Miley is currently signed to a team-friendly deal and due approximately $14 million over the next two seasons, with a $12 million team option for 2018. Even with his up and down season with the Red Sox, there are several metrics indicating Miley could have a bounceback year in 2016, particularly at the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field. For one, Miley gave up fewer home runs and induced softer contact (Hard% of 24.2%, down from 31.5% in ’14). Most of these numbers line up closely with his 2012 rookie campaign in Arizona, where he was named an NL All-Star and finished 2nd in the NL ROY voting behind Bryce Harper.
For a team like Seattle looking to bolster its rotation as much as possible to brace for the possible departure of Hisashi Iwakuma and injury concerns of James Paxton, adding Miley to the fold would be another step in the right direction for Jerry Dipoto.
If it happens: Red Sox trade LHP Wade Miley, OF/1B Nick Longhi to Mariners in exchange for LHP Charlie Furbush, IF Patrick Kivlehan, IB Jesus Montero, LHP David Rollins
RHP Shawn Kelley
The M’s bullpen was one of the biggest reasons for the club’s struggles in 2014 and Jerry Dipoto has already made a point of addressing it early in his tenure. Out are Danny Farquhuar and Tom Wilhelmsen and in (so far) is Joaquin Benoit. It’s likely that Seattle will look to add one or two more pieces for the ‘pen via trade or free agency, and one low-cost option could be Benoit’s Padres teammate and former Mariner Shawn Kelley.
Traded by Seattle to the Yankees in the spring of 2013, the 31-year-old Kelley has enjoyed several solid seasons since leaving the Mariners, including the best of his career in 2015 with the Padres.
Though he’s had some injury issues in the past, Kelley has appeared in 50+ games in three straight seasons, posting a K/9 rate north of 11 in all of them. He enjoyed his best season in 2015 with San Diego, and part of that could be attributed to the pitcher-friendly atmosphere of Petco Park as well as a large spike in his groundball rate — to a career-high 42.7% in 2015.
Adding an arm like Kelley on a short-term deal would give the Mariners one of the best back ends of a bullpen in the AL with Charlie Furbush, Carson Smith and Jaoquin Benoit already in place.
If it happens: 2 years, $10 million
C/1B Yasmani Grandal
Yasmani Grandal was enjoying a breakout year in his first season with the Dodgers in 2015 until a shoulder injury just about decimated his statline for the rest of the year. Grandal had surgery to repair the shoulder last month and all reports indicate he will be ready to go for spring training. If Dipoto is comfortable with taking the injury risk associated with Grandal, he could be a potentially valuable buy-low candidate for the M’s.
Through the first half of last season, the 27-year-old Grandal posted an impressive .282/.401/.526 line and bopped 14 home runs. And behind the dish, Dodgers’ co-ace Zack Greinke glowed about Grandal’s ability to call games and his defensive value. Grandal played a handful of games at first base while with the Padres, so having the option to rotate him between catching, first base, and DH for an American League club could help his wear-and-tear throughout the course of the season.
A source told me a while back that the Dodgers have long coveted Seattle lefty Roenis Elias, which could help pave the way for a deal to be worked out. With the Mariners’ current catching situation being just about as glaring a need as any in baseball, acquiring Grandal would allow them to buy some time in dealing with the potential resurrection of Mike Zunino and bring another versatile, OBP machine to Dipoto’s revamped Seattle lineup.
If it happens: Dodgers trade C/1B Yasmani Grandal to Mariners in exchange for LHP Roenis Elias, IF Chris Taylor, RHP Mayckol Guaipe
Other names to watch:
OF Gerardo Parra
LHP Antonio Bastardo
RHP Ian Kennedy
OF Ender Inciarte
1B Justin Morneau
RHP Mike Pelfrey
1B Brandon Belt