COMMENTARY | With $34.3 million coming off the books this offseason, it's finally time for the Seattle Mariners to make some noise in the free-agent market.
The team needs to get better. After 2013 marked its fourth consecutive losing season, fan frustration with the current front office is high and interest is running low. Fortunately, for the Mariners, they might have a shot at signing one of the premier free agents of the offseason.
Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is set to become a free agent following the season, and figures to command the attention of several teams around the league. The Mariners are one of those teams that has been linked to Ellsbury, and Ken Rosenthal among others predicts that the star outfielder could land in Seattle for 2014.
The move would be a good fit for several reasons. One look at the current roster for next year will show how desperate the Mariners are for an outfielder. Michael Saunders still hasn't been able to put a strong 162-game stretch together, while Franklin Gutierrez simply cannot stay healthy. There was some signs of improvement for Dustin Ackley at the end of the year, so he will be in contention for a starting spot, but there are few other options.
Ellsbury would obviously make for an immediate upgrade in the outfield and a big impact in the Mariners' lineup. He hit .298 with a 114 OPS+ in 134 games, bouncing back from a 2012 season marred by injuries. The year before that, Ellsbury finished second in the MVP voting by hitting .321 with 32 home runs.
His excellent defense helped Ellsbury total a massive 9.1 WAR in 2011 and 5.8 this year. Seattle's defense was one of the worst in the league last season, with the outfield being a major reason why. Ellsbury can help make up for the loss of Gutierrez when he cannot play and provide some stability to the outfield as Ackley gets more acclimated.
Another thing Ellsbury would bring to the Mariners is speed. Seattle has some fast players but did not run much, ranking 28th in the league in stolen bases. Ellsbury's 52 stolen bases led the majors by a solid margin, as no other player had more than 46.
Rosenthal's estimate is that Ellsbury will sign with the Mariners for six or seven years at $21 million per year. That's obviously a lot of money, but Ellsbury is the type of player who is worth the risk.
It would be money well spent, certainly compared to some of the things the Mariners could do. General manager Jack Zduriencik has one year left to save his job, so it's easy to imagine him becoming desperate and signing a bunch of veterans to short term, overpriced contracts. At 30 years old, Ellsbury cannot only make an impact this year, but also for years to come.
The Mariners have to do something. Signing Ellsbury is their best option.
Nathaniel Reeves is a lifelong Seattle sports follower who is studying journalism at the University of Washington. He currently covers sports for The UW Daily and Sports Out West.
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