The Seattle Mariners completed their fourth straight below .500 season in 2013, and only the presence of the Houston Astros kept them out of the AL West basement for the fifth time in six seasons. Last winter, GM Jack Zduriencik was quite busy, and whiffed on two of the four major transactions he made. 2014 might be a make or break season for Zduriencik's regime in Seattle, and he'll need to make all the right moves this winter.
Unlike last year, when Seattle signed Joe Saunders, the Mariners probably don't need any pitching this year. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma will be back next year, and they'll be joined by young studs James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, and Taijuan Walker. With guys like Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer in the fold, Seattle is good on depth as well.
The Mariners' focus this winter will be the offense, which seems like a perpetual thing over the last few years. First base/DH Kendrys Morales seems content to explore the free agent market, and the contract he's seeking wouldn't be a good use of revenue for the club. If the Mariners do let Morales walk, they'll need a bat that can fill his spot in the lineup, especially if the team isn't impressed with Jesus Montero after a lost 2013. The questions surrounding Justin Smoak will also be continuing to grow as he heads into his first year of arbitration. The Mariners also seem fine with young talent throughout the diamond, but could use an outfielder due to the departure of Franklin Gutierrez, the erratic nature of Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders, and the uncertainty surrounding Abraham Almonte.
I highly doubt Mike Napoli would want to come to Seattle, but his bat would be exactly what the Mariners need in that first base/DH slot that Morales would be vacating. A weak market at the position tells me that if the Mariners want to upgrade, they'd need to pay substantially for someone like Napoli or Morales, stand pat with Smoak and Montero, or roll the dice and pray on someone like Mark Reynolds. In the outfield, Jacoby Ellsbury's name has been linked to the Mariners time and time again, and he'd be a solid fit in Safeco Field. I'm not sure how wise it would be to pay someone with Ellsbury's skillset the salary he desires, but the Mariners desperately need what he offers. Other possible options include Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, and Nelson Cruz, though the Mariners would need to pony up a decent bit of money for any of them.
The Mariners don't have much to trade at the moment on the major league roster. The only player making any significant amount of money is Hernandez, who isn't going to be traded. Seattle could look to deal some of their disappointing young players, like Ackley, Saunders, or Smoak, but all would simply be components of a trade as opposed to the centerpiece.
The Mariners could trade one or two of their cadre of young arms for a big league bat, but doesn't that seem like it would be patching one hole by creating another? The team made a play for Justin Upton last winter (and would have had him if they weren't on Upton's no-trade list), and Zduriencik clearly isn't afraid to make a move to improve the team right now. But really, there isn't much out there in the form of a slugger for the middle of the lineup. Maybe someone like Chris Carter, Dan Uggla, Adam Dunn, or Josh Willingham would be a fit, but none of them strike me as an impact type. The big prize would obviously be Giancarlo Stanton, but the package it would likely take to pry him from the Marlins' grasps would start with Walker and blow up everything the Mariners were building for beyond 2014. However, getting a superstar like that in the middle of the order might be worth it, especially with the other pieces that Seattle has in place right now.