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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

December 4, 2009 at 9:13 AM

Is Zduriencik’s strategy to strengthen the Mariners while weakening the Angels?

figgins.jpg

Update 12 noon: Fox’s Ken Rosenthal is reporting the Mariners are on the verge of signing Figgins to a four-year, $36 million deal.

Here is the ugly truth about the balance of power in the American League West: Since 2004, when the Mariners’ story turned sour, the M’s have been absolutely destroyed by the Los Angeles/Anaheim/California/Disneyland/Orange County Angels. Crushed. Annihilated.

In those six seasons, the Mariners have a collective record of 444-528, a .457 win percentage. The Angels are 567-405, a .583 win percentage. Yes, the Angels have won a staggering 123 more games than the Mariners — an average advantage of 20 additional wins per season. The Angels have won five division titles in those six years. The Mariners have four last-place finishes. Even in the two winning seasons the Mariners produced, they still finished well behind the Angels — six games in 2007 (and it took a five-game win streak at the end of the year to get that close), and 10 games this past season.

Obviously, the Mariners’ task is to keep closing the gap. They made a nice start last year, whacking 29 games off the differential, moving from 39 back in ’08 to 10 back. And it appears their strategy for 2010, in the best-case scenario, is to attack on two fronts: Strengthen the M’s while simultaneously weakening the Angels.

The way to do that, of course, is to move one (or two, if they get really greedy) of the Angels’ impact players from Anaheim to Seattle. By recent accounts, they are making a strong play for Chone Figgins, whose .395 on-base percentage and excellent defense at third base would be a godsend for the Mariners. And, not so coincidentally, would be a huge blow for the Angels.

Similarly, the Mariners are definitely kicking the tires — and maybe more — on John Lackey, the Angel ace. Getting Lackey would be another win-lose situation when it comes to the Mariner/Angel dynamic. The prospect of heading into a three-game series in Seattle with Felix and Lackey working two of the games wouldn’t be comforting to Mike Scioscia, no matter who he had going (although Roy Halladay and Joe Saunders would be a pretty good answer).

The ultimate, of course, would be to sign both players, but that would be a huge cost both financially and in draft picks, since Figgins and Lackey are both Type A free agents who have been offered arbitration by the Angels. That means if the Mariners signed one, they’d have to hand L.A. their first-round pick (No. 18 overall). And if they signed both, they’d have to hand over their second-round pick as well. The Mariners stand to add a supplemental pick between the first and second round if Adrian Beltre rejects their arbitration offer and signs elsewhere, as expected.

Zduriencik seems willing to give up their middle-of-the-pack first-rounder for the right Type A free agent. He said as much in a conference call on Thursday. The Mariners have the money to pull off one major signing, particularly if the market stagnates, and still be able to make ancillary moves. Keep in mind that the Mariners, theoretically, would have more money in their budget without the prospect of having to pay out a first-round signing bonus in the draft, if they lose that pick.

Zduriencik still has a dozen balls in the air, and a few plates spinning on the side. It’s hard to predict which way they’ll go, because there’s so many avenues open. But it would be particularly sweet for the Mariners if they could fill their own holes, and in the process create a gaping hole in their arch rival.

(Photo by Associated Press)

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