By Shannon Drayer
After a good week and a half (with a small Lou Piniella interruption) of being about as Mariners-free as I have been the past 11 years – and yes, it was a nice break – it is just about time to dive into the not-so-offseason. Monday would be ideal, but I am feeling a little guilty for not writing much even though I was off, so here are a few thoughts before the weekend:
First of all, nothing significant to report on the Mariners' manager search. I have heard that the list of candidates is huge – more than the 20 that some outlets have reported – and I have to wonder if this is going to take longer than I originally thought, much different from when Eric Wedge was hired in 2010. While I wasn't expecting an announcement until shortly after the World Series, after what I have heard recently, I have to wonder if this is going to take longer.
Names you may have heard at this point would appear to be just that – names and not necessarily front-runners. There clearly is interest, mainly from those who are looking to get their first shot at managing, which shouldn't be a surprise as aside from Dusty Baker and a vehemently retired Piniella, there aren't exactly a lot of established managers out there looking for jobs. There have been interesting names, and again, just names and not front-runners, that I will get into a bit more next week. This obviously is a huge hire and a hire that I think has the opportunity to make a much bigger impact than most would think.
Moving on. The first "big bat" is off the market as Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu has agreed to sign a six-year, $68 million deal, which is the largest initial contract ever given to an international free agent. While there were reports of workouts with representatives from every team present, the Mariners were never linked to Abreu in any kind of serious fashion. He is a player that intrigued me – the team could certainly use a right-handed slugger – but because of the unknowns I am not too disappointed that he will sign elsewhere. While some scouts raved about the power, others were concerned about the bat speed. There was also the question as to whether or not he could play in the field. While I have to believe he can hold down first base, if he can't, that is a hefty price to pay for a bat that has never faced major-league pitching. This is not a Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes-type athlete.
In my mind a better international risk for the Mariners would be Masahiro Tanaka. I have talked about it before here on the blog, but I believe the biggest impact-move the team could make with a single player would be to upgrade a rotation (that is already upgraded with Taijuan Walker and James Paxton) by bringing in an established starter. In addition to what such a move could do every five days, it would have a huge impact on the bullpen, which was beyond taxed last season. Bringing in what could possibly be another No. 2 or No. 1 would also provide insurance should you lose someone already in the rotation.
While Tanaka is established in Japan, and how, and not here, I am much more comfortable with the Mariners' (and other teams', for that matter) ability to project how Japanese pitchers will fare in the MLB than any hitter who hasn't faced its pitching. If there is truly money to spend and the ability to go above and beyond for the right player, this very well might be the best player this offseason to go after. I have heard the Mariners have scouted him, but the extent of their interest is unknown.
We have a long way to go before seeing what happens with Tanaka. He has yet to be posted (in fact he is still playing; he took the win to improve to 25-0 on the season in Rakuten's playoff opener), and that posting system could actually change in the next month, according to David Lennon of Newsday. It is something to watch for. Should the player be allowed to choose from multiple teams, then the Mariners, if interested, could see themselves competing with the Yankees and Red Sox. While it has been a down year for the Yankees, it is hard to believe most Japanese players would not want to play on that stage. It would be tough to compete with Boston as well. As I said, something to watch for.