Do you think Nick Franklin will be traded before the season starts?
-- Tom B., Bellevue, Wash.
That is certainly a strong possibility, given Robinson Cano's signing makes Franklin expendable after starting 102 games at second base last season as a rookie. If general manager Jack Zduriencik makes a deal, Franklin would be a prime trade chip now as a promising 22-year-old who already got his feet wet in the Majors and showed some promising pop and a good glove.
But the Mariners don't have to rush to trade Franklin. They can bring him to Spring Training camp and let him compete with fellow rookie Brad Miller at shortstop, which is the position Franklin was drafted at and played in the Minors until transitioning to second a year ago. There's nothing wrong with youthful competition and depth at a key position.
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Both Miller and Franklin have Minor League options, so whoever doesn't win the job could be sent to Triple-A Tacoma and be a phone call away in case of injury or struggles. Unexpected things often happen in this game and having quality backup options -- or future trade potential -- is never a bad thing. But if a trade makes sense to add a player at a position of greater need, that certainly could happen.
Do you expect the Mariners to sign Nelson Cruz or Shin-Soo Choo this offseason?
-- John S., Biloxi, Miss.
I think that ship sailed once the Mariners signed Cano and Corey Hart, and traded for Logan Morrison. I don't believe Seattle is done for the offseason, but I would expect smaller moves now instead of another big-ticket signing like Cruz or Choo. The Mariners still have some payroll room, but they're already paying $24 million to Cano and $22 million this coming season to Felix Hernandez.
If they sign another $15 million to $20 million a year player like Cruz and Choo are seeking, now you're getting in the $60-plus million range for just three players. And unless you're the Yankees or Dodgers, it's nearly impossible to fill out the rest of a balanced Major League roster when just three players are earning that large a percentage of the budget.
Hernandez and Cano have two of the 11 largest contracts in the history of baseball. Even if the Mariners increase their payroll, they'll likely want to keep some flexibility for the future by not adding a third large long-term megadeal on top of that, but instead opt to spread their remaining resources around and upgrade wherever they can with veterans on shorter deals. Which is what every team is trying to do when possible.
Since the Mariners have signed Cano and have a protected first-round pick, if they don't sign Kendrys Morales, will they lose their second-round pick or their compensation pick from not signing Morales?
-- Zack R., Seward, Alaska
Initially, the Mariners had the No. 6 choice in the first round (which is protected as a Top 10 pick, as you note) and were scheduled to receive the first compensation pick (31st overall) if Morales signed elsewhere. However, because they now must forfeit their highest non-protected pick because of signing Cano, they will lose the No. 31 compensation pick if Morales signs with another team. If he doesn't sign elsewhere prior to the June Draft, they'll give up their second-round pick (which is currently 46th overall).
Is Justin Smoak still the starter at first base?
-- Christopher H., Big Rapids, Mich.
I realize this became a matter of great debate after the signing of Hart and trade for Morrison, who can both play first as well as the outfield. But my sense is that Smoak remains firmly in the plans, given the need for Hart and/or Morrison to fill the designated hitter role vacated by Morales, and also to help out in the outfield rotation.
Personally, I'd like to see Smoak get a chance to work with Lloyd McClendon and new hitting coach Howard Johnson, who was himself a switch-hitter, and see if last year's progress can be built upon with a guy just hitting his prime years.
What's happening with Oliver Perez?
-- Monti S., Abbotsford, British Columbia
There was talk of the Padres being interested in the 32-year-old lefty at one point, but otherwise things have been pretty quiet with Perez so far this offseason. He re-upped immediately with Seattle last year on a one-year, $1.5 million deal and pitched extremely well for the first three months before running out of steam.
Former manager Eric Wedge acknowledged he leaned too heavily on Perez as one of his few veteran relievers in the first half. And Perez also had to get ready extra early last year to pitch in the World Baseball Classic, so both those factors might have caused his late-season dropoff. I'm sure he'll get another shot somewhere as veteran lefty relievers remain a valuable commodity and he's a guy who loves playing the game.
Why don't the Mariners trade Danny Hultzen in a package for David Price? And what are the Mariners' chances of getting Price?
-- Garrett N., St. Louis, Mo.
While Hultzen was one of baseball's top pitching prospects, on par with Taijuan Walker a year ago, his shoulder problems have put a cloud over his future. Hultzen won't pitch at all in 2014 after having rotator cuff surgery, so his trade value would be greatly reduced right now.
Zduriencik has been clear about saying he won't include Walker in any trades right now, and despite national speculation, I can't see Seattle dealing Mike Zunino either, given he's their primary catcher and they don't have any other options there at the moment. So while the Mariners keep getting mentioned prominently in the rumor mill about Price, I'd be very surprised if they match up in any deal there.