By Gary Hill
The Mariners are surging to start the month of July, having secured two series wins against formidable foes in the Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds. The youthful infield has injected life into the 2013 cause and has visions of future glory dancing in the heads of fans throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Kyle Seager has established himself as one of the bright young third basemen in baseball. His slash line of .287/.352/.477 has been another step forward this season.
The start of Nick Franklin's career has even been a touch better than Seager's was at the same point. Franklin is .284/.340/.482 with six homers and 19 RBIs through his first 153 plate appearances. Seager stepped to the plate 201 times as a rookie in 2011 and posted a .258/.312/.379 line with three homers and 13 RBIs.
Brad Miller tore through the minors thanks to his hitting prowess and has already made an impact at the MLB level in just 11 games. Mike Zunino has handled himself in the big leagues despite the fact it has only been a year since he was taken third overall by the Mariners in the 2012 draft.
Justin Smoak has been a monster since leaving the disabled list last month, posting an impressive 1.047 OPS with four homers and nine RBIs. He has also walked eight times.
The more holes the Mariners can fill this season, the more resources they can distribute to the remaining needs this winter. It would be of significant help for the Mariners if they can roll into the offseason feeling confident about the current infield.
The future of the Mariners' outfield is murkier. Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders will spend the remainder of 2013 trying to establish themselves as everyday outfielders.
Former Oregon State Beaver Stefen Romero has made pitchers suffer as he has rocketed through the minors and could be an option as early as this year, but the former infielder is currently making the transition to the outfield in Tacoma.
Julio Morban is having a solid season with the Double-A Jackson Generals and could be a part of the future puzzle in the outfield.
The list of in-house options is not long and one way or another help will need to be acquired from the outside world.
The list of free-agent outfielders is not deep, but holds intrigue for the Mariners. Here are some of the highlights:
There are a couple of names on the list that will hold interest for the M's this offseason, and one of them is sure to be Jacoby Ellsbury. The Scott Boras client will require a significant fee for his services given the thin market. The Red Sox center fielder, who is in town this week, does not come without risk. He will be 30 when he hits the market this winter and impactful, although freak, injuries have cost him time. He was limited to 18 games in 2010 and managed to just play 74 last season.
However, he has been brilliant when healthy. He is a gifted center fielder who maintains the best UZR/150, according to FanGraphs.com, among all center fielders since 2011.
The speedster has led the American League in steals twice in his career, including a whopping 70 in 2009. He currently leads all of baseball with 36 steals. That happens to be six more steals than the Mariners have as a team this year.
Ellsbury is hitting .301 with two home runs, 30 RBIs, 20 doubles, and an AL-high seven triples. He also has matched the entire Mariners team for triples this season.
He nearly captured the MVP in his magical 2011 season. He launched 32 homers and drove in 105 runs while swiping 39 bags. He went to the All-Star game, finished second in MVP voting and took home Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. It is not realistic to expect a home run total that approaches 2011 since he has not amassed more than that in the rest of his combined career, though.
He is rolling right now after a sluggish start out of the gates. He is .345/.398/.466 in the last 30 days. He has compiled 40 hits and taken 13 bases.
He has worked his way to 12th in the American League in WAR (3.3), according to BaseballReference.com, which happens to be just one spot ahead of Kyle Seager (3.0).
Ellsbury was a star at Oregon State University and helped establish the best decade in college baseball history for a school north of California. He was born in Madras, Ore., located about two hours southeast of Portland, where he was a high school star before making his way to Oregon State.
The northwest native will most likely be a very popular target this offseason for MLB teams thirsting for additional offensive punch. Time will tell if the Mariners are among them.