Time will tell if Mariners' moves make a difference
Over the past two months, the Mariners have moved from having a dearth of power-hitting corner players to having a surfeit. It's unclear whether this counts as progress.
To general manager Jack Zduriencik's credit, he identified an issue facing his team and acted decisively to address it. The Mariners made two small moves, signing Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez as free agents. They also made two bigger ones, bringing in Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse in separate trades that cost the club Jason Vargas and John Jaso, respectively.
The end result is a Seattle team that assuredly will have more power, and should improve on its dead-last-in-the-American-League .369 slugging percentage of last year. At the same time, it's also a club that will be weakened defensively, and one that may not have improved its also-dead-last .296 team on-base percentage. The Mariners had a plan, and they executed it. The question is whether it was the right plan.
"This was an area that I thought that we really needed," Zduriencik said on the MLB.com/Live Hot Stove show. "And the fact that we have created competition, the fact that this is going to be an interesting Spring Training ... it's going to make for really, really good, interesting times."
The Mariners still have a ballpark that will help their pitchers and frustrate their hitters, even after some adjustments to its dimensions. They still have pitching depth to burn, with some seriously talented hurlers making their ways up the Minor League ladder. They still have what should be a slick defensive infield. The differences will come behind the plate, where Jesus Montero will step out as the main man, and in the outfield and at designated hitter.
A second-year surge from Montero could paper over the loss of Jaso, at least on offense. Defensively it will be a different story. Montero is raw behind the plate, and that may be putting it kindly. Still, when the Mariners looked at Jaso, they didn't see a star-level catcher despite his big 2012. They saw a player with limitations, and an opportunity to cash in on his big year.
"We like John Jaso," Zduriencik said. "It was very respected what he did here last year. He did a very nice job for us. [But] he was a part-time player, alternating with other catchers that we had, and we viewed that as the same this year going into the season.
"I would love to have kept him and still had Mike Morse, but at the end, when you look at a big, physical presence that you can put in the middle of your lineup, you had to really weigh that. It was not an easy decision. But adding Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse to this club right now gives us a major component that we didn't have, and that's hitters with raw power."
They both certainly have that. Morse hit 31 home runs in 2011 and has a career .492 slugging percentage. Morales has a career .491 SLG, and hit 34 homers in 2009. But Morales has never been a good on-base-percentage source, and Morse took a step back in that regard last year.
There's also the fact that the changes to Safeco Field should most benefit right-handed pull hitters, while Morse is a right-hander who hits to the opposite field and Morales is a switch-hitter who is much more dangerous as a lefty.
It adds up to quite a bit of uncertainty for a team that made a late-summer run but ultimately finished 12 games under .500. The Mariners are a different team than they were at the end of 2012. It just remains to be seen how much better they are.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.