Mariners Off-Season Target - Shortstop

Mariners Off-Season Target - Shortstop

The Seattle Mariners undoubtedly have offensive shortcomings from the 2012 season to address. I am here to take a look at how that may all begin with a top of the lineup transaction that doesn't take them outside the American League West.

There are sure to be many differences in the AL West in 2013 as the Houston Astros join the division, Josh Hamilton will find himself a free agent, the Oakland Athletics have proven they have staying power by winning the American League West, the Mariners will possibly open with one of ‘The Big Three' in Seattle alongside King Felix, and one of the league's top ‘expendable' players is a member of the Texas Rangers.

That player is Elvis Andrus, an All-Star shortstop in all rights who is, fittingly enough, seemingly being unseated by a 19 year-old; much in the same way Andrus did to incumbent Michael Young when he made his MLB debut at 20 years of age. Jurickson Profar didn't exactly shine in nine games with the Rangers this season but his ceiling and skill-set are so highly touted that many analysts see no reason in returning him to the minor leagues and almost all of them rate him as the being in the top two or three prospects in the game. Combine that rising talent with Major League Baseball's new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which states that teams who acquire a player in the final year of their contract (i.e., 2014 for Andrus) will not be compensated with draft picks, and I believe Andrus' trade value is at its highest this offseason for Texas.

This leaves the Rangers in a position that any Major League Baseball team can only be envious of: a position that could re-stock their farm system and ensure they have the pieces to continue fighting for the AL West title for years to come. Two names have continually surfaced in regards to a possible deal for the Rangers current shortstop: David Price and Justin Upton.

Price has undoubtedly established himself as one of the Top-5 pitchers in the American League over his young career. The Tampa Bay Rays, as reported by Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, would be asking a price that includes the shortstop, LHP Martin Perez, and RHP Cody Buckel to part with Price. While few will argue that Buckel is indispensable, such is the position that the organization has taken with Perez over the years. The left-handed prospect sports three plus pitches (fastball, changeup and curve) and has already taken the ball in six starts for Texas at just 21 years of age.

The Milwaukee Brewers reportedly countered a Rangers offer by adding Perez at this season's All-Star break in order to walk away from the Angels offer for Zack Greinke. The Rangers ultimately refused what many analysts thought was a ‘Win-Win' scenario and Greinke moved on to AL West rival Los Angeles.

Considering that along with the fact that the Rays #1 overall prospect is shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, ranked the 7th overall prospect at his position in by MLB.com, I cannot see Andrus being traded to the Rays. Keith Law from ESPN.com said of Lee's overall game, "He projects as a +10 glove or better at short, which, with a solid OBP and doubles power, would make him one of the top 15-20 players in the league." MLB.com lists Lee's arrival as 2013 and while I am sure he could move to second base I would hardly ever expect a team to move away from a +10 glove at shortstop.

Justin Upton is committed close to $46 million dollars until the year 2015, which is not a bad deal in this market for a hitter who hit 31 home runs in 2011, but that number still might scare off bidders for a player who slugged 0.99 points lower in 2012 with just 17 home runs and whose overall effort has been called into question by opposing clubs. The Texas Rangers have a number of players that will be up for arbitration during the duration of Upton's rising contract, which peaks at $14.7 million dollars in 2015, including Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Mitch Moreland. With Josh Hamilton likely opting for Free Agency at the end of this season and Nelson Cruz facing the same situation at the end of the 2014 season, I can agree that Upton would be a valuable middle of the lineup bat and outfielder for Texas, but his numbers in 2012 haven't sealed any deals between the two teams. Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers said his team was not offering Upton at this seasons All-Star break, "I think what people need to know, specifically in Justin's case, is I didn't throw his name out there and say, 'Hey, he's available,'" Towers said.

I am not sure I see Arizona moving him until the 2013 off-season as his contract price stays reasonably low until the 2014 season begins and I do not believe his value will be as high this off-season as it could be following a productive 2013.

With that being said how about the Seattle Mariners?

The 2012 Mariners offense, through improved from 2011, was still one of the quietest in Major League Baseball. The Seattle Mariners offense finished fourth from the bottom in Major League Baseball for runs scored per game in 2012 at 3.82, well below the league average of 4.45. They ranked last in the league in all slash line categories (AVG, OPB, SLG, OPS) and posted the second lowest number of hits in baseball with 1,285. It almost goes without saying that the Mariners will be looking to fill multiple holes in their lineup this offseason. While right field and first base are among the areas of concern for the Mariners organization moving into 2013, I believe a case can be made that shortstop is the highest area of concern for the big league club.

Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers said it best of baseballs current shortstop shortage, "There's not really a lot to go around," Towers said "and teams tend to really horde those type of players. We might have to overpay to get one."

In 609 total plate appearances the Seattle Mariners received a line of .195/.273/.265 from the shortstop position in 2012. Compare that to a line of .239/.282/.380 from right field and .216/.296/.359 from first base. Looking at it another way, wRC+ is a baseball statistic that measures how many runs a player or position is worth compared to league average, which is set at 100. The shortstop position created a wRC+ of 55 in 2012 for the Mariners, 45% below league average. First base came in at 85 wRC+ and right field at 86 wRC+. I understand that right field and first base are considered two of the highest priority production positions in baseball but in looking towards the free agency pool in 2013 there is little even in terms of a value solution from the shortstop position.

Brendan Ryan plays an excellent defensive shortstop but his final arbitration year is next season and I do not foresee him receiving a long-term deal to stay in Seattle. The Mariners do have Brad Miller and Nick Franklin, both primarily shortstops in their professional career, among their Top-20 prospects, with Franklin ranking as the 4th overall shortstop prospect in baseball according to MLB.com. But he knock on both of those players has been their ability to play shortstop defensively at the Major League level. Franklin is a .943 fielder through 246 games played and Miller is at .941 in 148 games with 36 errors committed in 2012. Franklin has shown the ability to play second base, a position his offensive skill-set compliments, while Miller has never played a position other than shortstop in his professional career.

Andrus is what I refer to as a ‘three pillar player', meaning he can beat you with his bat, with his speed, and with his defense. With his glove the past four seasons (2009-2012) Andrus has recorded the most putouts from shortstop, turned the second highest amount of double plays, and leads all of baseball shortstops in ‘Range Runs' (RngR) measuring the ability of a player to reach and execute on balls hit within their ‘specified' fielding range; a full 10.9 points ahead of current Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan. With his speed the past four seasons Andrus leads all Major League Baseball shortstops in stolen bases (123) and comes in sixth just below Cubs phenom Starlin Castro for triples (23). With his bat since 2009 he is second in runs (341), fourth in hits (628), and fourth in walks (217). His 14.0 wins above replacement from the position place him sixth in baseball since 2009 behind just Jimmy Rollins, Derek Jeter, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, and Troy Tulowitzki; pretty good company to be among.

Andrus is a career .263/318/.343 hitter at Safeco Field in 36 games played, carrying an average of .324 on balls hit in play thanks to a skill-set that should help make him a successful career hitter at the stadium. Andrus is a career .707/.702/.908 hitter with a 1.609 OPS when hitting a line drive (268-379) carrying a career average of 21.6% of plate appearances going for line drives in any given season. There is a miniscule 4.8% percent difference between his career average in BB% (8.4%) and K% (13.2%) which along with his base running aptitude of 74% (123-166) in stealing bases fits well with Safeco's need to be patient and avoid costly mistakes. Andrus is only 23 years of age and posted career highs in doubles (31) and triples (9) this season. Andrus could become a dominant gap hitter from the lead-off spot for the Mariners at Safeco Field; something the organization is in serious need of.

Let's take a look at some areas of concern for the Texas Rangers:

• Catcher Mike Napoli is a free agent after the 2012 season and back-up Geovany Soto hit .196/253/.338 on the season in 37 games with Texas.
• The Rangers lack a serious contender for center fielder of the foreseeable future with their top four outfield prospects listed for 2016-2017 MLB arrivals.
• Texas could use a young bullpen arm.
• Texas is low on left-handed starting pitching with Matt Harrison their only full season lefty in the rotation in 2012.
• Texas needs to add infield versatility depth.

These are all areas that I believe the Seattle Mariners could meet the Texas Rangers in a possible deal. Now comes the real question: What would the Mariners have to offer to receive Andrus in a deal? We'll never know for sure, but I believe that to get the clubs talking the Mariners would have to start here.

Option 1: James Paxton, Nick Franklin, and John Hicks. Paxton meets the Rangers need to add additional LHP this offseason, Franklin adds MLB ready depth at second base and shortstop with ample time to become a better hitter in a deeply talented infield, while Hicks was one of the toughest catchers in all of minor league baseball to steal a base off throwing out 57 of 106 this season (54%). This deal would net Texas two Top-100 prospects, both within a year of being MLB ready, and a possible franchise catcher.

Option 2: Danny Hultzen, Leon Landry, and a farmhand of Carlos Triunfel value and readiness. Hultzen, like Paxton, addresses the Rangers need to add LHP while Landry meets the organizational need to replace Michael Young's dynamic offensive game from the top of the lineup, while playing a solid outfield with plus range, if Young decides to retire or leave Texas when his contract ends after 2013. Landry led all of Minor League baseball in triples (18) this season and was one of just twelve minor league players to accrue at least 10 stolen bases, 10 doubles, 10 triples and 10 home runs this season. Triunfel has shown his ability to play second base and shortstop, being named Tacoma's Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, with an offensive game that should translate well into a Major League utility role. This deal would net Texas a Top-10 prospect, a dynamic outfielder with the ability to replace Andrus at the top of the lineup, and a toolsy infielder.

If you are anything like me and enjoy putting together 'trade scenarios' in your head; there are three things to keep in mind regarding this one. 1) Andrus is represented by Scott Boras. 2) The market for shortstops is at possibly the highest level it has been the past decade with overall positional production peaking low. 3) The price for dealing in division will always be higher when a player of Andrus' quality is concerned. For me, in the 'trade scenarios' I have created above, Andrus is worth every penny the team would trade away to acquire him.

Looking for more Mariners prospect player interviews, news and articles? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse Contributing Writer Josh Dobner on Twitter at @JPDobner and site Editor Rick Randall at @randallball.

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