So, who’s left after Angels nab Hamilton?

Staff writerDecember 16, 2012 

It’s been a few days since the Los Angeles Angels surprised the baseball world by signing free-agent slugger Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract. It was a stunning and unexpected move from an organization that signed Albert Pujols the year before to a $250 million deal.

For the Seattle Mariners and general manager Jack Zduriencik, it was a crushing blow in two ways. First, the organization was also vying for Hamilton’s services, putting together a substantial contract offer that included four years at $100 million and two option years that were easily attainable. Second, the Mariners lost Hamilton to a division rival that now boasts a monster lineup featuring Pujols, Hamilton, Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout.

So, where do the Mariners go from here? The need to upgrade their anemic offense still remains.

Realistically, the best option is outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher, the top hitter remaining on the free-agent market.

Swisher hit .272 with 24 homers and 93 RBI for the Yankees last season and would be a logical fit for the Mariners in right field.

Although his value had been sinking in recent weeks due to lack of market interest, it got a big boost with the Hamilton signing. The deal leaves his former team – the Texas Rangers – in need of a bat. Right now, the Rangers, Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians are all candidates for Swisher, who is was reportedly looking for at least a five-year contract of around $100 million.

After Swisher, free-agent center fielder Michael Bourn is probably the next best player available. Bourn, a speedster who hit .274 with nine homers and 57 RBI, doesn’t quite fit the power profile the Mariners have been looking for. He’s a lead-off hitter, who stole 42 bases last season. But Seattle could move Gold Glove center fielder Franklin Gutierrez to right field, which he played before coming to Seattle. Bourn is looking for a contract larger than the four-year, $39 million deal Shane Victorino got from the Red Sox.

Beyond Swisher and Bourn, another possibility is outfielder Cody Ross, who hit .267 with 22 homers and 81 RBI for the Red Sox last season. The Phillies and New York Mets are also looking at Ross. His price tag would be significantly less than Swisher or Bourn.

The other way the Mariners could acquire help is through trade. Former Mariner Mike Morse would be available if the Nationals re-sign Adam LaRoche. The cost to acquire Morse would likely be one of the Mariners’ hard-throwing young relievers – Carter Capps or Steven Pryor.

The Mariners have also discussed a possible trade with the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Brennan Boesch. But the career .259 hitter would hardly be an impact bat in the Seattle lineup. He has averaged 14 homers over three seasons.

At this point, Seattle is coming dangerously close to rolling out the same team it did a year ago – something that would not sit well with impatient Mariners fans. Zduriencik has said they are having on-going talks with multiple agents. But it’s clear that Hamilton had been the focus of their offseason push.

Right now, they have only a low-risk flyer on free agent Jason Bay to show for their attempt at upgrading the offense. Considering the Mariners are operating with a larger payroll budget than previous years, its doubtful fans will consider that an improvement.

ryan.divish@ 253-597-8483 @RyanDivish

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