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Brett’s Off-season Plan!

October 9, 2012

I’m sure you all are used to Dave Cameron’s off-season plans (which came out today, about a month early based on past years. Here I was thinking I’d be early!) for the Mariners over at U.S.S. Mariner. Dave is a great analyst, so don’t think I’m trying to pretend that I’m anywhere in his league with regards to baseball knowledge, or industry contacts, or things of that sort. That being said, as far as I know I’m not a complete idiot, and baseball plans of only partial idiots have to count for something. It at least counts for one of the likely many off-season plans for the Mariners that will be posted on the internet in the coming weeks.

Much like Dave, for me the names aren’t the most important thing so much as the type of player. Locking in to specific names is a bad way to build a baseball team, but looking at available players’ skill sets and choosing the ones that fit your roster the best is just smart team-building. Anyway, without further ado, here is my off-season plan:

Swisher would raise the Mariners’ Fun Guy index by 14%.

Sign 1B/OF Nick Swisher to a 5-year, $90 million contract.

Nick Swisher has become my favorite off-season target for the Mariners. While he’s asking for a Jayson Werth sized contract (7/$126), there’s no way a team is going to pay Swisher that much money. Swisher is a very good player, putting up no less than 3.2 WAR for the last four seasons, including a 4.0 mark this year, but he’s not what Werth was before his contract.

Swisher is coming off a .272/.364/.473 season with 24 home runs, while playing +3.7 defense in right field, and at first base. Hey, the Mariners could use an upgrade at both of those positions! What a coincidence!

Swisher’s flexibility makes him even more attractive to the Mariners, as it gives young players already with the organization the opportunity to seize a job. If Swisher were to start the season at first base, but Justin Smoak rakes in Tacoma, no big deal! Just move Swisher to right field, or left field. If Casper Wells puts up a 1.000 OPS in Spring Training and wins the right field job, he can play first base. If  some combination of a young outfielder and young first baseman hit? Play Swisher in left, right, at first, and DH, and everybody still gets their at-bats.

Swisher’s flexibility, the fact that he is a switch-hitter, and a well above-average bat make him the perfect fit for the Mariners this off-season. Swisher will be 32 next year, but his important indicators such as contact rate, walk rate, and ISO are all in line with his career numbers. Throw in that he’s been one of the most consistent players in baseball, and signing Swisher is a no-brainer, if he’s willing to come to Seattle. If he does sign, you can assume the contract will be back-loaded, like almost all major, long-term deals. I’d also be willing to go a 6th year if I’m the Mariners, if that’s what it takes to get this done. I think he’d accept 5, however, with so many other good outfielders on the market taking away some leverage.

Give SP Felix Hernandez a 5-year, $100 million extension.

Add this deal to the two Felix has left on his current contract, and you’ve got seven more years of the King. Absolute no-brainer.

Sign C/1B Mike Napoli to a 1-year, $8 million (plus incentives) deal.

After looking like he was turning into one of the game’s next great hitters, Mike Napoli suffered a ton of regression this season, finishing with a .227/.343/.469 line in just 108 games. Like Swisher, Napoli’s indicators remain pretty close to his career numbers. While his rise in strikeout rate is alarming, he’s making contact at about the same rate he always has, so I’d expect that to go down a bit. The main culprit for his bad season was a .273 BABIP, well below his career .299 mark. Napoli’s true talent likely lies closer to his .259/.356/.507 career line. Naturally, Safeco will suppress that a bit even with friendlier dimensions, but Napoli’s average home run traveled 396 feet this year, so it shouldn’t hurt him too much. Considering that he is a right-handed bat, he can start every day at catcher vs. lefties, since Jaso should see most of his playing time vs. righties. Between first base, catcher, and DH, you can probably find about 450 plate appearances for Napoli, which would be a boost to the offense. The Mariners may need to overpay for him–a contender may not have to pay him $10 million to sway him–but taking a one-year deal to see his luck return to normal and try for a big contract next season has to be appealing to Napoli.

Re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma to a 3-year, $21 million deal.

I’ll be brief here, as I discussed Iwakuma last week, but the Mariners need a starting pitcher or three, and Iwakuma showed that he is good enough to be one of them. He’s got an above average strikeout rate, his walk rate was fine in the rotation, and he gets ground balls. Moving the fences in won’t hurt him much, and it’s likely that his home run luck won’t be so bad next year. This is an easy deal for me to make, the only issue is if Iwakuma will get a better offer from somewhere else.

Trade SP Jason Vargas and RP Tom Wilhelmsen to the Mets for 1B Ike Davis.

This is the one deal I’m not sure the other team would do, but I don’t think it’s impossible. With David Wright being the face of the Mets Franchise, I find it unlikely that they won’t try to get a deal done with him. With 3B Wilmer Flores coming through their minor league system fast–he posted a wRC+ of 136 in AA last season–they’re going to have to make room for his bat in the near future. Wright isn’t going anywhere, so the most logical move is to move one of those two guys to first base.

From a Mets persepctive, Vargas helps shore up a shaky pitching staff, and comes with just a one year commitment. Wilhelmsen improves a terrible bullpen and come with five years of team control, and the “proven closer” label. From the Mariners side of things, Davis represents a clear upgrade to Justin Smoak, even with his disappointing season last year. Davis has great power from the left side, and could see his numbers get better simply by having his putrid .246 BABIP regress. Davis gives the Mariners a potential first baseman of the future, and allows Smoak to go to AAA Tacoma to start the year. Neither is a sure thing, but having two young first basemen with upside is better than one. If he totally bombs it in Spring Training, too, he could always be sent to play alongside Smoak in Tacoma, with Swisher taking over first base.

Sign SP Jeff Francis to a 1-year, $1 million deal.

Jeff Francis is one of those pitchers that is always good that nobody ever seems to want to pay. After posting 2.6 WAR for the Royals in 2011, he had to settle for a minor-league deal with the Reds before being traded to Colorado and putting up 1.8 WAR in just 24 starts. He had a decent 6.05 K/9 and fantastic 1.75 BB/9. His Coors-inflated 5.58 ERA will scare some teams off, but his 4.27 FIP is good enough to fit at the back of any rotation. Unlike fellow lefty Jason Vargas, Francis’ ground ball tendencies will help him avoid being hurt by Safeco’s new dimensions, making him a perfect buy-low candidate for the rotation.

Sign SP Kevin Correia to a 1-year, $500K deal.

See Francis, just a bit worse. He should be dirt cheap, and is good enough to hold down the last spot in the rotation so we don’t have to see Blake Beavan ever again. Oh please don’t let us ever have to watch Blake Beavan again. He should be able to hold down the fort until one or more of Hultzen, Paxton, or Maurer are ready.

So, with those moves, the team in 2013 would look something like this:

Pos Player PAs/IP WAR Salary 2013 Age
C Jaso 400 2.5 $1M 29
1B Davis 500 2.5 $1M 26
2B Ackley 650 2.0 $1.5M 25
3B Seager 630 4.0 $500K 25
SS Ryan 450 2.0 $3M 31
LF Saunders 550 3.0 $1M 26
CF Gutierrez 350 1.5 $7.5M 30
RF Swisher 650 4.0 $12M 32
DH Montero 550 2.0 $500K 23
C/1B Napoli 400 1.5 $8M 31
OF Wells 300 1.0 $1M 28
OF Thames 250 1.0 $500K 26
SS Triunfel 150 0.3 $500K 23
IF Liddi 200 0.5 $500K 24
RHP Hernandez 230 6.0 $19.5 27
RHP Iwakuma 190 2.5 $7M 32
RHP Ramirez 175 2.5 $500K 23
LHP Francis 190 2.0 $1M 32
RHP Correia 100 0.5 $500K 32
RHP Capps 50 1.0 $500K 22
RHP Pryor 50 0.5 $500K 23
LHP Furbush 50 1.0 $500K  27
RP Rest of Pen 250 1.0 $2M
LHP Hultzen 90 1.0 $2M 23
LHP Paxton 110 1.0 $500K 24
RHP Maurer 70 0.5 $500K 22
SS Franklin 200 0.5 $500K 22
1B Smoak 150 0.5 $500K 26

That’s 23.5 WAR from the starting position players, 13.5 from the rotation, and 6.5 from the bullpen and call-ups. I tried to estimate WAR as conservatively as possible, as I know I have a tendency to overrate Mariners players. That being said, I think I was pretty fair here, and if you assume, as has been noted before, that a replacement level team would win 45.5 games, this plan makes your 2013 Seattle Mariners an 89-win team. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. A 14-win jump may sound like a lot, but adding Nick Swisher, plus expecting improvement from young players that have already had some major league success is not too far out of the question. Factor in the shorter fences as well, and the team should improve team-wide on offense.

This plan also fits the Mariners’ current budget. While these players only add up to $74.5 million, we can’t forget that the Mariners still, unfortunately, have to pay Chone Figgins $8 million next season, as well as Miguel Olivo’s $750K buyout, bringing this payroll up to $83.25 million. The money saved by trading Jason Vargas instead of giving him a raise in arbitration frees up about $8 million or so that they would’ve had to spend otherwise. For arbitration-eligible players, I just tried to give my best guess as to what they might get, while keeping in mind that arbitration-eligible players’ salaries must go up. Cot’s contracts gave me the specific figures for players with guaranteed salaries next season. For Swisher, I figured the Mariners would back-load his contract like any big-money contract that’s ever been given out in baseball, which is why his figure is $12M instead of the $18 that a 5/$90 contract averages out to be.

So that’s it. There’s my plan. Like I said, you can replace the names. If the Mariners got Melky Cabrera, David Ortiz, Ryan Ludwick, Lance Berkman, or swung a deal for another bat-first player that fits their gaping holes, that’s fine. Don’t lock in to the names, just the idea of the player types. The Mariners can go from an average-ish team to clearly above with the right moves this offseason. If they do anything like what I detailed above, Mariners fans should be very happy.

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