Mariners Insider Blog

Mariners shift focus to first base; see Lind and Napoli as possible solutions

Free-agent Mike Napoli is on the Mariners’ radar as a possible answer to their hole at first base.
Free-agent Mike Napoli is on the Mariners’ radar as a possible answer to their hole at first base. AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The focus shifted Tuesday for the Mariners at the Winter Meetings to filling their need for a first baseman and bolstering a bullpen now loaded with question marks.

And in keeping with general manager Jerry Dipoto’s emerging track record, answers weren’t be long in coming: The Mariners acquired reliever Evan Scribner from Oakland for minor-league pitcher Trey Cochran-Gill.

As for their hole at first base, the Mariners have confirmed interest in Milwaukee’s Adam Lind as a trade target and are increasingly linked to free-agent Mike Napoli.

"We have some deals we’re working on," Dipoto said. "There are a lot of discussions that we’ve had, both with free agents and with different clubs on possible trades. (First base is) definitely an area where we want to improve."

Napoli, 34, slumped last year to .224 in 133 games at Boston and Texas but still had 18 homers and 50 RBIs. Industry projections say he is likely looking at a pay cut to $10 million after making $16 million last season.

But since Napoli was traded in August, he isn’t subject to free-agent compensation — i.e., clubs can sign him without losing a draft pick. The Rangers and Red Sox each show interest in reacquiring him.

Competition for Lind, a left-handed hitter, figures to be stiff. He batted .277 last season in 149 games with 20 homers and 87 RBIs and projects as a one-year rental, at $8 million, before becoming a free agent.

Lind, 32, fits the Mariners’ recent pattern of avoiding additional long-term commitments, but Milwaukee, which is in a rebuilding mode, is seeking prospects.

That might make it tough for the Mariners, who have few high-quality projectable players at the upper levels of their farm system.

One possible exception is D.J. Peterson, a former first-round pick who struggled last year after a strong 2014 season. The Brewers need a third baseman, which is Peterson’s natural position.

Tellingly, perhaps, the Mariners interest in Lind and Napoli reflects an increased emphasis in on-base percentage in light of their recent decision to trade Mark Trumbo, 29, to Baltimore.

Trumbo is projected to make $9.1 million in arbitration after batting .262 with 22 homers and 62 RBIs in 142 games for Arizona and the Mariners. Even so, his on-base percentage was just .310. His career mark is .300.

Not good enough.

"From the first free agent we brought on board in Chris Iannetta," Dipoto said, "to the most recent in Nori Aoki, what we’re trying to do is create traffic that feeds the middle of our lineup."

Napoli posted a .324 OBP last season in a disappointing year, including .396 in 35 games after joining the Rangers. He has a .355 mark over his 10-year career.

Lind boosted his on-base percentage in recent years. He achieved a .360 rate last season and has a .364 mark over the last three years.

That makes either one — or someone similar — a comfortable fit as what currently projects as the No. 7 spot in the batting order.

"The way our lineup sets up today," Dipoto said, "is Aoki and (Ketel) Marte who feed (Robinson) Cano and (Nelson) Cruz and (Kyle) Seager. Then you get into the (Franklin) Gutierrez/(Seth) Smith platoon.

"Then we need someone to make that lineup longer to get us back to Iannetta and (Leonys) Martin. With the exception of Leonys Martin, all of those guys have a career norm above the league average in getting on base."

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