When people asked me who got the better deal in this trade, I can't really say with any certainty either side came out better. Both sides seemed to have addressed a need. The Mariners filled a need for a middle of the order hitter, while the Angels got a starting pitcher that eats up innings. Maybe that's the definition of a good trade.
But there are other questions I can answer, sort of.
How does Morales fit into the lineup? Well, he's going to obviously be a middle of the order hitter. He said he's comfortable hitting cleanup.
The bigger question is where they will play him in the field. Morales was adamant that his surgically repaired left leg was 100 percent healthy and that he's capable of being an every day first baseman.
“At this point, I think I’m 100 percent,” he said through his translator. “I’m ready to play every day. Obviously, that’s not my decision. But at the end of the day, I’m confident knowing that I’m 100 percent ready to play first base every day if that’s what’s needed.”
Of course, while he may believe that, there is no reason for the Mariners to do so. Playing Morales three days a week and putting him at DH the rest seems like a better idea. Why risk any issues. There was a time when he was pretty solid defensively. But he's a different player now.
So that means Justin Smoak or Mike Carp is still needed at first base. Buster Olney and many fans feel like the Mariners are ready to part ways with Smoak because of this deal. I wouldn't be so sure. Smoak is under club control and makes less than $600,000 dollars a season. He also has a Triple A option year left, meaning he could be sent to Tacoma. Yes, he's failed to meet expectations. But to just jettison him because you've acquired Morales is bad business.
It's also instructive to remember that Morales is a free agent after the season. GM Jack Zduriencik said they are going to wait and see when it comes to any talks of an extension with Morales. Really what Jack wanted to say is that Morales is represented by Scott Boras, and rarely, if ever, do any of Boras' clients sign extension. He's a firm believer in getting maximum value from his clients on the open market. Also if Morales is hot at midseason and the Mariners are out of it (Not to be a downer, but it could happen) -- Zduriencik could trade Morales at the deadline to get more talent.
Looking at the current roster, Smoak is the Mariners best option at first base over Carp or Alex Liddi. Any thoughts of catchers John Jaso and Jesus Montero playing first base are unrealistic. Eric Wedge really believes in Justin Smoak. I think he believes in Smoak perhaps more than anyone in the organization. So he's going to give Smoak every chance to get that first base job.
So if Morales is going to primarily going to DH, what does that mean for Jaso and Montero?
Well, they are catchers, who are going to catch. Zduriencik is not ready to just slot Montero in as a permanent DH. It decreases his value completely. The organization has had Montero in conditioning, agility and running form workouts this offseason in hopes of making him more athletic behind the plate and on the base paths (insert jokes here). He's going to catch. And Jaso will catch, but he's not going to play on days against lefty starters. But expect them to bring in a third catcher -- veteran defensive guy -- to have as security. Wedge is going to want to play both catchers at the same time, and they need that extra body.
I can hear people getting mad about this hindering Mike Zunino's path to the big leagues. Let's not go crazy. Zunino has not even had a full season of professional season, so let's not enshrine him as the Mariners every day catcher immediately and let him progress naturally. He needs to get at-bats and catch at a higher level. If he starts the season in Triple A as expected, you can expect a period of adjustment for him.
So it is possible to have Smoak, Morales, Jaso and Montero all on the same team and keep them happy with ABs for the most part.
And remember that rosters are organic and things can change in instant. Remember a year ago, it didn't seem like Michael Saunders was going to make the team out of spring training and his place in the organization was in question. Then Franklin Gutierrez gets hurt in spring training, Saunders makes the team, exceeds expectations and is now a penciled in as a possible starter.
Speaking of starters ... let's get to the starting rotation.
If the season started tomorrow, the Mariner starting rotation would be
1. Felix Hernandez, RHP
2. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP
3. Erasmo Ramirez, RHP
4. Blake Beavan, RHP
5. Hector Noesi, RHP
Other candidates include: lefties James Paxton and Danny Hultzen or righties Taijuan Walker, DJ Mitchell and Brandon Maurer.
At first glance, it's a rotation that gives you chills ... of nausea. Felix, Iwakuma and Ramirez are all locks. But Beavan still hasn't shown he can be more than anything than a No. 5 starter at best. He still needs better fastball command and needs to develop a better two-seamer. And Noesi? Well, we all know his issues. None of those young kids have thrown a big league pitch. In terms of experience, Mitchell might be the closest.
Obviously, the Mariners need to add a starter. I'd say maybe two. Zduriencik admitted they are in the process of looking via trade and free agency.
The free agent market appears to be getting smaller with Carlos Villanueva -- a very good fit for the Mariners -- apparently headed to the Cubs.
So here's an alphabetical list of available free agents starting pitchers (thanks MLB trade rumors) with comments (a shameless rip off of Yahoo's Jeff Passan) ...
Erik Bedard, LHP -- Hahahaha, no seriously. That's funny. Someone will give him a chance. But it won't be the Mariners. They couldn't? They wouldn't?
Dallas Braden, LHP -- missed all of last season with shoulder surgery to repair a torn capsule. Can't give him more than 1 year deal for the minimum with incentives or a minor league deal.
Aaron Cook, RHP -- The veteran sinkerballer's one shining moment came against Seattle ... an 82-pitch shutout ... ladies and gentelmen your 2012 Mariners!. A minor league contract only.
Freddy Garcia, RHP -- The Mariners got rid of him largely because they felt he was a bad influence on Felix Hernandez. Now Felix is all grown up, and Freddy is old. He will give you innings. That's about it. Pass.
Justin Germano, RHP -- A veteran starter, who made 12 starts for the Cubs and went 2-10 with a 6.75 ERA. Minor league deal.
Rich Harden, RHP -- He's been cast as a talented guy, who can't stay healthy. Why? Because he's talented guy, who can't stay healthy.
Edwin Jackson, RHP -- He's probably the best remaining starter on the market. He is a guy that will eat up innings and give you 30 starts. But he is rumored to want something like three years for $36 million dollars or more. He'd be a nice addition, but that's pretty steep.
Jair Jurrjens, RHP -- Very talented, very unsure of where the ball might go (1.86 WHIP) . So much so the Braves decided not to tender him a contract. He's also arbitration eligible and is projected to make $5.5 million. It's a risk, but there could be reward. There could also be frustration.
Jeff Karstens, RHP -- He made $3.1 million last season, and was arbitration eligible. But there were concerns about his durability, having dealt with hip and shoulder issues, so the Pirates didn't tender him a contract. He's projected to be a 1-year, $3.8 million signee.
Francisco Liriano, LHP -- So very talented, so very frustrating. Even after arm surgery, he still has unhittable stuff. But sometimes his stuff is unhittable because it's never in the strike zone. He walked 87 batters in 156 1/3 innings. Remember when there was a debate that he was more valuable than Johan Santana. Turns out we were all wrong. A true free agent ... he wants multiple years.
Kyle Lohse, RHP -- He's went 16-3 with 2.86 ERA for the Cardinals this year. That's what you do in a contract year. But he's 33 years old and doesn't have overpowering stuff, just outstanding control. His previous contract was 4-years at $41 million ... He'll want more. Don't do it Mariners. Do. not. do. it.
Derek Lowe, RHP -- the one-time Mariner prospect who along with Jason Varitek landed the team Heath Slocumb via trade (no Bavasi didn't do that deal). Lowe pitched his way out of his starter's role in Cleveland and then pitched in relief for the Yankees. He's still got the sinker and can be effective at times. But there's better than at times effectiveness.
Shaun Marcum, RHP -- He's a control pitcher that can't stay healthy. His arm troubles range from elbow to shoulder and everything in between. He'd be a one year heavily incentive laden contract at most.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP -- Of course, the Mariners have been always friendly to Japanese players. So it's surprising that they haven't been linked to him. Perhaps his plus-8 ERA might have been an issue. He made huge money with the Red Sox. He deserves minimal money as a free agent. There is talent. But the thought of his long drawn out starts with 100 pitches in three innings gives me Miguel Batista-like flashbacks.
Kevin Millwood, RHP -- Hey, I'd have no problem if the Mariners brought him back on another 1-year deal. He gave them good innings, was a good presence in the clubhouse and was still able to be the narrator for the "Beef: it's what's for dinner" commercials
Dustin Moseley, RHP -- dime a dozen right-hander that you only sign to a minor league deal because he's been mostly a minor league pitcher.
Jamie Moyer, LHP -- As much as the Mariners love to live and regale in the past, this is way too much of a stretch.
Roy Oswalt, RHP -- The whole starting the season when you want thing was a colossal flop for Oswalt and the Rangers. MLB teams should just all conspire to say ... either come to spring training like the rest of the players or retire. Of course, Oswalt has talent and someone might still take a chance on him.
Carl Pavano, RHP -- The oft-oft-oft-injured Pavano battled shoulder issues all last season. He's 36 years old. Minor league deal only ... and even then it seems like a low-risk, no-gain flier.
Jonathan Sanchez, LHP -- How bad of a starter was he? He couldn't even stay in either the Kansas City Royals or Colorado Rockies' rotation! In 64 2/3 innings pitched between the two teams, he walked 53 hitters. Maybe Carl Willis is the pitcher whisperer and can fix Sanchez. But he is left-handed, and the Mariners lack one in their rotation. Still, seems like a bigger risk
Joe Saunders, LHP -- A lefty that relies on control, good changeup and deception to overcome an average fastball. Seems like the guy the Mariners just gave up. And like Vargas, he will take the ball when its his turn in the rotation. He's got an offer from the Twins. He made $6 million last season. He'll be looking for at least a two year deal.
Tim Stauffer, RHP -- he had season-ending elbow surgery last season. A minor league deal at most, probably will go back to the Padres.
Chien-Ming Wang, RHP -- He got his foot healthy, but his sinker was still sick ... and not in a good way.
Kip Wells, RHP -- He's 35, and has made over 200 big league starts. He's a candidate for a minor league contract. It's what he signed last season.
Randy Wolf, LHP -- he'd be a good fit for the Mariners. But alas, he will be out this season while having Tommy John surgery.
Chris Young, RHP -- Seattle has always been a good place for 6-foot-10 pitchers. And it used to be a good place for flyball pitchers. But the new fences at Safeco Field would make signing Young a tough fit ... like him trying to fit in a Yugo.
Carlos Zambrano, RHP -- It's one thing to be unstable and volatile and good. But it's another thing to be unstable and volatile and bad. The Mariners already did that dance with Milton Bradley. Big Z's stuff is eroding. This is a pass.