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Before this signing, I looked at the current roster, subtracted Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, and Taijuan Walker, and added Robinson Cano, Matt Kemp, and David Price. There would be other moves, sure, and it’s not like those three outgoing players would automatically net the two incoming trade targets, but my hasty, instinctual reply got me wondering what that hypothetical Mariners team would look like.
You’d have a rotation of Felix, Price, Iwakuma, Paxton, and Erasmo. The bullpen would return as it was last year, but with Stephen Pryor hopefully back from injury in place of free agent Oliver Perez. The outfield would go Saunders-Kemp-Almonte, and the infield would be Smoak-Cano-Miller-Seager-Zunino. Willie Bloomquist would be cheerleading on the bench and Jesus Montero would somehow be the everyday DH. There’s an approximation of your 2014 Mariners, if those were to be their only moves.
And you know, I think I agree with my initial assessment: it probably wouldn’t work. The team drawn out above is extremely top heavy, with three top-end starters and two volatile youngsters. The sixth starter, in the event of an injury, is Blake Beavan, who is awful. The seventh starter is Hector Noesi. There’s very little depth in that rotation, though the upside is undeniable. This is where losing Taijuan Walker hurts, even if the team were to add a cheap Chris Capuano type in free agency. The bullpen could really use Ramirez as a talented swingman, someone who could be effective for multiple innings and provide quality outings in the rotation when needed. Remember, the goal now is to build a team that can compete for a World Series. The Mariners just signed Robinson Cano.
Offensively, the Mariners gain two well compensated impact talents while surrendering two low price young guys with considerable upside. Of course, Franklin is a near certainty to be dealt now, and Ackley is probably on his way out as well. Personally I’d rather the team jettisons Smoak and sticks Franklin at first, but that seems unlikely at best and a trade chip is a trade chip. The lineup would be good at second, third, and center, with upside at short and behind the plate. Neither Michael Saunders nor Abe Almonte should be starting for a team with World Series dreams. This team would be starting both, and employing both a first baseman and designated hitter who have long since been outshone by their prospect pedigrees.
Simply put, the Mariners have so, so much more to do before 2014 is anything but a crappy team surrounding a transcendental Robinson Cano. The team still needs two or three outfielders, a DH, and could really use a shot in the arm at first base. They need a backstop to split time with Mike Zunino. They need a strong bullpen arm and a top starter, and an insurance innings guy wouldn’t hurt either. And perhaps most importantly, they need to keep Taijuan Walker in place instead of dealing him for two expensive years of David Price. That’s Erik Bedard all over again, and simply must be avoided even as the team enters a win-now stretch.
So where do they turn? The trade market still beckons, and Kemp has never looked so appealing. Could he be had for Ackley and maybe a bit more? That remains to be seen. Mike Napoli looms as a perfect fit at first base/DH, and a Nick Franklin/Billy Butler swap also seems like it would make sense for all involved parties. Price is a temptation worth avoiding, given Tampa Bay’s adept ability to fleece the hell out of trade partners, particularly those who are going for it in an offseason where going for it is going to take a lot of maneuvering. Matt Garza would be a good fit, as would Ubaldo Jimenez. Bartolo Colon should really be a Mariner already. Brett Anderson is available. And somewhere along the way a good reliever and another outfielder should find their way to town.
In the wake of Cano, there remains lots of work to be done. But the Mariners, despite how much they’ve spent, still have tons of budget room and a wealth of young talent. All of a sudden, the Mariners are on the periphery of the Wild Card chase. Convincing the top available player to come to town is a tremendous step in the right direction, but the hardest work is yet to be done. This is still a team with a lot of holes to fill, and filling them just became that much more important. All the team has to do is be smart and calculated about their expenditures and 2014 could very well be a contending year. How hard could it be?