The Mariners season is over. And that is unfortunate.
But as the self-proclaimed world's foremost lover of baseball's offseason, I don't need to see a hot stove to know Mariners fans are hungry for baked goods.
Mariners brass is on record. "We're going to be active (this offseason)."
We're counting on it. And although I'm expecting multiple Mariner moves, a successful winter for the young Mariners could be made with just one big impact offensive signing.
Problem is, there aren't that many 2022-23 free agents that fit the description. So, the bidding will be frenzied. For the purpose of this exercise, let's recognize that short list of big ticket items and measure where a Mariner ticket purchase might be made.
1. AARON JUDGE. All he did was put together arguably the single most impressive Home Run season in MLB history. No big deal. Prior to his record-breaking season, Judge turned down a 7-year, $213 million deal. Didn't think it at the time, but he would have been a fool to take it. The 30-year old is going to land $40 mill per year minimum on the free agent market. It wouldn't surprise me if a bidding war for a game-changing, team-perfect, sellout-crowd-making public relations dream resulted in a salary around 50-mill per year. As I see it, there are two contenders, and unfortunately the Mariners aren't one of them.
MARINERS: Ticket window closed
So, it's going to come down to whether the Yankees will let anyone outbid them for Judge. Do they top any and every offer? Does Judge allow them?
As I see it, there is one team that could wrestle Judge from the Yankees. The San Francisco Giants. He's from Sacramento. He went to school in Fresno. He grew up a Giants fan. He kinda is a giant.
San Francisco is a massive market with a rabid fanbase, and the Giants seem poised to repeat their move in 1993 when they made the landmark free agent signing of Barry Bonds. Plus, the little voice in my head has been telling me since April that Judge already knew he had a better offer waiting for him when he turned down the Yankees.
So, who gets him? Yankees or Giants? A life in pinstripes? Or a new adventure back home?
TICKET PUNCHED: GIANTS
2. TREA TURNER. SS. Turner is known for his speed. And with the league changing rules to increase stolen bases, he could rank among the greatest benefactors. In a recent broadcast, Tom Verducci suggested the impact of larger bases, thus allowing base-stealers that extra fraction of time that often gets them thrown out, could result in a player like Turner stealing a hundred bags in 2023.
But Turner isn't just about his speed. The man can hit. And despite the fact that he's built like a pubescent skateboarder, Turner has pop, too (298/343/466/809). But what happened to Turner's fielding?
Turner played at a high defensive level with Washington, but the Dodgers acquired him mid-season 2021 and moved him to secondbase. He was back at SS this year, and good with the glove, but not great, ranking 13th in baseball in DRS (-1). And in the playoff loss to San Diego, he was an unmitigated disaster.
At his season-ending press conference, Jerry Dipoto admitted that, of the four big shortstops on the free agent market, the organization would prefer one willing to move to secondbase. Trea Turner seems the most likely to agree to such a transition. But the bidding will be intense for the 28-year old, and if he prioritizes playing shortstop, then he'll play shortstop for whoever signs him.
MARINERS: Strong contender
MARKET FITS: Dodgers, Yankees & Orioles.
TICKET PUNCHED: PHILADELPHIA. The Phillies postseason run to the World Series will only strengthen their resolve for spending big in the offseason. Turner could command a $300 million contract. With Bryce Harper serving as Turner's public champion, it makes sense for Philly to wave good-bye to Jean Segura, move young Bryson Stott to secondbase and sign Turner as their shortstop & leadoff hitter.
3. CARLOS CORREA. SS. There's no doubting the spectacular talent of Carlos Correa. He's a poor man's Alex Rodriguez, and a poor man's Alex Rodriguez makes 30 mill per year these days. Of course, Minnesota gave Correa a 1 year, $35 million in 2022, just to watch him lead the Twins to a spectacularly disappointing 78-84 record.
Correa is now 28. He's still yet to hit more than 26 homers in a season. He's never knocked in a hundred runs (save it, analytics dudes). And despite his terrific athletic ability, he hasn't even attempted a stolen base since 2019. Correa is a good offensive player, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to buy that he's going to develop into anything more. He is, however, an elite defender. He has a thirdbaseman's body but he shows no signs of regression at short. People will pay--just not the Mariners.
MARINERS: Not a match.
MARKET FITS: Yankees, Cubs & Red Sox
TICKET PUNCHED: DODGERS
Correa might take less money to finally land with a mega-market. The handsome, smooth-talking shortstop could desire the ability to begin his post-career aspirations while playing one of the game's largest stages. He bought a year in Minnesota for the Dodgers SS position to open up. If Turner leaves, Correa makes perfect sense to step in.
4. DANSBY SWANSON. Whenever Mariners fans consider the big four shortstops on the 2022-23 free agent market, the name Swanson seems to get left off wish lists. it shouldn't. Swanson might be the ideal fit for the Mariners.
The former #1 overall pick hit more HRs than Turner, Bogaerts & Correa this year. No one of the four had a higher WAR (He & Bogaerts both registered at 5.7). And he was nominated for a NL Gold Glove. The 28-year old is an ascending talent with those "ballplayer" qualities that teams still covet. But because he struggled early in his career to live up the expectations of a #1 pick, fans tend to underrate him.
Swanson will likely insist upon staying at shortstop. And the Mariners shouldn't let that get in the way of signing him. Crawford will move to 2B, if it makes the team better. And Swanson certainly would.
MARINERS: Strong contender.
MARKET FIT. ATLANTA. The Braves seem like the logical choice, but the organization has gone out of its way to make their own feel wanted. Ronald Acuna and Austin Riley were locked up long before it was necessary. Michael Harris and Spencer Strider were given mega-extensions without having concluded their rookie seasons. And Matt Olson was in town for a week before they locked up their newly acquired firstbaseman. Atlanta could have done the same for Swanson, but didn't.
TICKET PUNCHED: YANKEES.
The Yankees showed their hand in the postseason, when they started benching Isaiah Kiner-Falefa during some of the biggest games of the season. IKF was supposed to provide, at minimum, a sure-thing defensively. Late-season struggles with the glove emphasized what the organization sacrificed with the bat at SS. The Yankees resisted spending big money on a SS last season. But with the money they set aside for Aaron Judge potentially opening up, nothing will stop them from adding a SS this winter. Swanson just might be the fit.
5. XANDER BOGAERTS: SS. Boston didn't fight to keep Bogaerts, and no one seems to understand why. He's a terrific player, a team leader and a star in the community. He's also coming off his best defensive season, which solves the lone area of concern one might have had for investing in Bogaerts.
Bogaerts (30) is older than any of the big four shortstops. He also hits with the least amount of power, collecting only 15 this season. But he slugged above his career average anyway and his .377 OBP ranked in baseball's top 10.
MARINERS: Strong contender
MARKET FITS: Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs
TICKET PUNCHED. SEATTLE.
That's right. This will be the guy. He might not be the best fit for the Mariners (Turner & Swanson make more sense to me), but he might be the one that can be lured. He'll play shortstop, moving Crawford to 2B. He'll hit no lower than 2nd. And with an OBP like that, perhaps he's your new leadoff man with Julio batting second.
6. JOSE ABREU. 1B. The 36-year old Abreu is a couple years removed from his MVP season. His power numbers have dropped noticeably. But he can still hit & field & lead. WIth Ty France back at firstbase, there doesn't seem to be a hole that needs filled. And if Jerry wants to bring his good-luck charm, Carlos Santana, back on a cheap deal, then there's no room, at all, for Abreu. But this roster needs a hitter, and Abreu represents the next best thing on the free agent market.
MARINERS: Checking ticket prices.
MARKET FITS: WHITE SOX, CUBS, ORIOLES
TICKET PUNCHED: MARLINS. It's what they need. It's how they should spend.