This past Winter, the Seattle Mariners were linked to Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Melky Cabrera (sort of), Andre Ethier, and Justin Upton, among a handful of others. Their anemic 2012 offense and the vacancy of a corner outfield slot in their lineup pretty much guaranteed they would be kicking the proverbial tires on any outfielder available. What they wound up adding amounts to a reclamation project and a couple of designated hitters. But for fantasy purposes, the Mariner outfield presents a couple of interesting possibilities that you ought to keep an eye on.
Franklin Gutierrez takes back his role in catching everything humanly possible in the now not quite as spacious Safeco outfield. Gutierrez hasn’t been particularly useful in fantasy formats since 2010 almost entirely because he just isn’t playing. The line of the day on Guti comes from Patrick Dubuque’s FG+ piece as he notes, “Franklin Gutierrez’s career has played out like a bad episode of House,” which is just about perfect. When he’s hitting 18 home runs and stealing 16 bases as he did in 2009, you can use that production. But Gutierrez has been such badly damaged goods over the last several years, he’s just not anyone you want to spend a whole lot of time thinking about in standard fantasy formats.
The likely starter in right field is Michael Saunders, who had something of a breakout performance in 2012. But when a .247/.306/.432 slash line is considered a career year, you can spare yourself the back flips in fantasy baseball. Saunders is still just 26, and if he can manage 600 plate appearances, he’ll flirt with 20-20 again. But he’s not likely to hit for average and his OBP will barely hover over .300. His improvement versus left handed pitchers last season should quell the need for a platoon, but you can’t really try to apply logic to how Eric Wedge might manage.
Then there’s left field. Proving there is a God of baseball and he has vicious sense of humor, there’s left field in Seattle. Since the 2000 season, 56 people have played left field for the Mariners including the likes of Jaime Bubela, Jose Offerman, Hiram Bocachica, Matt Lawton, Jolbert Cabrera, and Ed Sprague. Now the Mariners are bringing back a couple of familiar faces from their left field past in Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez.
Ignoring the fact that watching Ibanez play the field is about as funny as watching a drunk Boris Yeltsin trying to catch a pig, the reality is Ibanez isn’t likely to get enough at-bats to be at all relevant in fantasy baseball. Morse, on the other hand, can hit — and if you don’t include defense in your league, he should certainly be on your radar. He’s frequently on the trainers table, but if he can amass 500 plate appearances, you should be able to count on 20+ home runs, a good number of RBI (75-85) and a batting average that ought to sit in the .280 range. His injury history is the risk, but there’s also the potential reward when you look back at his 2011 season and that .303/.360/.550 line with 31 home runs and 95 RBI.
But this is a depth chart discussion and we haven’t gotten too deep quite yet. The Mariners also have Casper Wells and voted-off-Mets-island Jason Bay. I really don’t expect Bay to make the squad, but stranger things have happened in Spring Training and you can never discount the value Wedge places on that priceless veteran savvy. But even if Bay does make the team out of Spring, he’s second or third on the depth chart in left field and likely third down on the DH list. And let’s say disaster strikes and Bay somehow falls into a starting role — he is still the same Jason Bay who hit .234/.318/.369 over 1100 plate appearances as a Met over the last three years.
There are a couple scenarios where Casper Wells might wind up being useful. If Wedge decides he doesn’t like what he sees in Saunders versus left handed pitchers, it’s possible Casper Wells falls into a platoon in right field. If Gutierrez winds up on the shelf again, it’s likely that Saunders shifts to center and Wells could become a regular. Wells definitely has some power and if he managed to find regular playing time, he’s another Mariner outfielder that could generate 20 home runs with an underwhelming batting average. But a lot would have to go right for Wells to get more than 250 at-bats, and it’s entirely possible that he’s shipped to another team this Spring since he’s out of options.
Further down, we have Eric Thames, Carlos Peguero, and maybe even Vinnie Catricala. For fantasy purposes, don’t draft Thames or Peguero, both lefty-hitting platoon possibilities who strikeout for a living and hit occasional moon shots. If either make the big league squad, they’ll be buried on depth charts. Catricala is likely to start the season in AAA, but I could see where you might consider him in dynasty leagues, and he might be a piece for 2014. Between high-A and AA in 2011, Catricala hit .349/.421/.601 with 25 HR and 106 RBI over 600 plate appearances and was then subsequently over matched last season in Tacoma. Just 24 years old, there’s still time for Catricala to right the ship.
Preliminary depth chart in the outfield for the Seattle Mariners:
Left Field: Michael Morse/Raul Ibanez/Casper Wells
Center Field: Franklin Gutierrez/Michael Saunders/Casper Wells
Right Field: Michael Saunders/Casper Wells/Eric Thames