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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 16, 2011 at 9:59 AM

Is a “blatant money grab” the only way Prince Fielder comes to Seattle?

princesmile.jpg

(Photo by Associated Press)

Ken Rosenthal of FOX wrote something today that I found very interesting, and frankly a little irritating. But definitely worthy of discussion. I have a funny feeling this will inspire a lot of reaction.

The story, basically, is about how the Cubs make much more sense for Fielder than the Mariners because the M’s have nothing to offer Fielder. The only possible reason Fielder would choose Seattle over the Cubs is “a blatant money grab,” Rosenthal concludes.


Here are some of the pertinent paragraphs, but I’d recommend reading the whole thing.

“Scott can usually pull a rabbit out of his hat,” one executive said.
The Mariners, a franchise desperately in need of a jolt, could be that rabbit.
But does Fielder, 27, want to play for a team coming off back-to-back last-place finishes, a team with a laughably inept offense, a team that is the farthest of the 30 major league clubs from his home in Orlando, Fla.?
If the price is right, maybe.
And never mind that one of the Mariners’ all-time greats, Ken Griffey Jr., eventually pressured the M’s into trading him to the Reds so he could be closer to his home in Orlando.
Boras generally excels at exploiting the market to maximum advantage — or, to put it bluntly, finding the one dumb owner.
Fielder to the Mariners would be the sport’s most blatant money grab since Alex Rodriguez went to the Rangers for $252 million. That contract was Boras’ Mona Lisa. But after three years, A-Rod wanted out.
Fielder could make the same mistake, lauding the Mariners’ young pitching the way A-Rod once lauded the Rangers’ farm system, if he did not receive better offers.

It was just a few days ago I wrote about the challenges the Mariners have in attracting free agents. I wrote how in some ways it’s a Catch-22: To make this an attractive place for free agents, particularly free-agent hitters, they need to build a winning team that isn’t an offensive disaster — which is hard to do when you can’t attract free-agent hitters.
All the things Ken mentions are true, and duly noted. Yet to completely write off the Mariners as an inadequate destination for Fielder — beneath him, to put it bluntly — seems a bit extreme to me.
For one thing, aren’t most free agent signings “money grabs?” Albert Pujols taking $254 million from the Angels to leave his comfort zone in St. Louis wasn’t a “money grab?” Jayson Werth taking $126 million to go to the Nationals? Or C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Jason Giambi, et al, taking the Yankees’ riches? Occasionally, you’ll hear of a “hometown discount,” but in the vast majority of cases, money talks. The whole process is a money grab.
So are the Mariners, simply by virtue of being in a bad cycle, suppose to bow out of any pursuit of top-notch free agents? And “cycle” is the key word. The fortune of teams is constantly in flux. The Brewers were terrrible for a decade or more, and then they got Fielder, Ryan Braun and a few others — many of them, including Fielder, drafted by Jack Zduriencik, now the Mariners’ architect — and became a playoff team. The Orioles used to be a destination team, a highly attractive landing spot for free agents, until they made a rash of bad decisions. Now they’re looking at 14 straight losing seasons. I remember when Randy Johson signed a huge long-term contract with the Diamondbacks in 1999. They were a second-year expansion team coming off a 97-loss inaugural season. He, too, was accused of a money grab, and of caring more about playing close to home than being on a winner. Lo and behold, the Diamondbacks won 100 games in 1999, and a World Series title two years later. Turnarounds happen. A team is not doomed to losing forever, although it seems that way sometimes when you’re in the midst of a long drought.
The Cubs, mind you, aren’t exactly a powerhouse. They won 71 games last year — four more than the Mariners. Yes, Theo Epstein is a sharp general manager with a proven track record in Boston. But I think it’s possible to make a case that a Mariner turnaround is just as likely as a Cubs turnaround — with Fielder leading it. Keith Law of ESPN had the Mariners ranked 10th in his most recent organizational rankings, the Cubs 20th. Other rankings of minor-league talent have the Cubs ahead of the Mariners, but no one disputes that the Mariners have the makings of a championship caliber rotation, with Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. One of those could be used for trade bait to augment the offense.
I don’t want to sound like a Mariners honk. Their organization is rife with problems, and has a recent history of extremely poor decision making. They’ve dug themselves a tremendous hole that makes luring free agents even more difficult than it inherently is by mere virtue of geography. But couldn’t Fielder envision himself being part of a turnaround that reverts Seattle back to being the vibrant baseball town it once was? If Prince was still talking to his dad, Cecil, he could ask him about how it used to be in 1995 and 1997 — and that was before Safeco Field went up.
Yes, money will be a huge factor with Fielder, as with every free agent. The Mariners would have to swallow hard and pay an exorbinant amount of dough for a lot of years to land Fielder. But if he led a renaissance of the team that led to contention, a full stadium, and maybe playoffs and even championships down the road, would anyone call it a “money grab” then?

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