It was the same old story for the Mariners in 2012. The modestly cutback payroll and made a ballsy challenge trade to acquire Jesus Montero, but still could barely mount a competent offensive attack. Now the Seattle front office will go back to the drawing board this off-season, only this time their jobs may be on the line if their moves don't produce big results.
For the fourth season in a row, the Mariners finished dead last in runs scored in the American League. That being said, they did improve offensively, narrowly avoiding their third straight season of being the lowest-scoring team in the Majors. Baby steps.
Considering how far they have to go to build a competent lineup, it is easier to focus on positions that are NOT a need. Kyle Seager looks like a keeper at third base. Dustin Ackley deserves a shot at rebounding at second base. John Jaso and Jesus Montero are both useful in some sort of catcher/DH rotation. After that, everyone should be considered replaceable. The only position they might want to think twice about beyond that is Justin Smoak. He's mostly been a giant bust at first base, but his torrid final month of the season might have granted him a reprieve and one more season as the Mariners' primary first baseman.
There is a chance Seattle could be in the market for some starting pitching given that Kevin Millwood and Hisashi Iwakuma are free agents, but it seems far more likely that they will just fallback on their bevvy of premium pitching prospects instead.
There has been a fair amount of speculation that the Mariners could go big and try and land Josh Hamilton to finally give their lineup a scary monster in the middle of the order. That seems like a longshot at best for a variety of reasons. What makes more sense for Seattle is to pursue a right-handed slugger. After all, why go through all the trouble to move the left-center fence in 17 feet if they don't have anyone who can benefit from it. Considering that, Seattle could wind up being a dark horse in the race to land B.J. Upton.
Really though, Seattle can't afford to be choosy given their many offensive needs. Given how far they are from contention, they're probably better off avoiding massive long-term deals and trying to boost the lineup by collecting veteran sluggers like Travis Hafner, Carlos Lee, Jonny Gomes or Luke Scott to fill in the holes in their lineup while they wait for their young talent to develop enough to make a real splash in free agency.
You realize I have to mention it, right? As vehemently as the M's have denied interest in trading Felix Hernandez, it is something that is going to come up. The team has opened talks with King Felix over a contract extension who only has two years left on his current deal, but if it starts looking like they aren't going to come to an accord, they will have to finally consider the unthinkable and trade Felix. If they do so, every contending team in the league would be sure to come calling with offers of epic proportion. That would be fun... it also probably won't happen.
Assuming Felix isn't moved, Jason Vargas could be. Vargas has been a solid rotation member the last few years, but his price is about to go up by a few million in his final year of arbitration. Seattle shopped him around at the trade deadline, so it only seems logical that they would entertain offers on him again this winter.
While the Mariners could fill out their rotation with the likes of Danny Hutlzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker to go after impact bats. Shin-Soo Choo's name has been floated out there as a potential match, likely because he first came up with Seattle. But if Seattle really wants to dream big about finally getting an offensive cornerstone, they could be the ones to try and lure Justin Upton away from the D'Backs.