UPDATE 2:15 P.M.: Ken Rosenthal of FOX agrees with Geoff that Mariners are serious about Josh Hamilton.
I think most people would rate Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn as the top three remaining non-pitchers on the free agent market. Some might throw Adam LaRoche in there, but I wouldn’t, and besides, all signs point to him returning to the Nationals. With Mike Napoli, B.J. Upton, David Ortiz, Ryan Ludwick (not officially signed yet, but headed back to the Reds, by most accounts) and Torii Hunter now gone, this is the cream of the remaining crop (and each was rated highly even when the market was still full).
All three have been linked to the Mariners in recent days. And it sure appears to me that the Mariners, as they leave the winter meetings today, are well-positioned to land one of that group.
That’s not to say they will — there are no sure things in free agency, and surprise suitors are often lurking in the weeds. And that goes double when Scott Boras is involved, as he is as Bourn’s agent. I know there are some (many) that remain skeptical that the Mariners are truly motivated to sign one of the high-priced guys — and all three of these guys will cost upwards of $10 million a year; more realistically a minimum of $15 million, and in Hamilton’s case upwards of $20 million. I happen to believe the Mariners want to make a big strike (don’t get deterred by the Jason Bay signing; it’s indicative of nothing more than a low-risk depth move), and these three are now emerging as realistic targets.
Let’s look at their perceived market. Geoff wrote last night that things seemed to be heating up between the Mariners and Hamilton, and then updated today. It looks like the Mariners are the fallback team for Hamilton if things don’t work out with the Rangers, and that’s very much in question. For one thing, the Rangers are going hard after Zack Greinke, and it’ s hard to imagine they’d have enough money to sign both, though team president Nolan Ryan said it was possible. They could pick up some savings by trading Michael Young to the Phillies. By most accounts, the Rangers would pick up about $10 million of his $16 million salary for 2013, giving them an extra $6 million or so to play with. But the fact that GM Jon Daniels is said to be working feverishly to land Justin Upton tells me that they are ready to move on from Hamilton. Interestingly, the Mariners could help facilitate that Upton deal by being one of the teams in a four-way swap. Ken Rosenthal reported that their role would be to give up prospects for Rangers pitcher Derek Holland. There could be other teams ready to jump in on Hamilton, particularly if he is willing to take four years, but of the teams typically listed as possible suitors, the Red Sox seem to have moved on by landing Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino; the Phillies just traded for Ben Revere; and the Brewers keep saying they can’t afford him. The Mariners seem to be set up nicely to make a strong play for Hamilton if a return to the Rangers doesn’t happen.
As for Swisher, Jon Heyman has reported that his first choice is a Bay Area team, but the Giants have pretty much said no, and his original team, the A’s, aren’t a good fit. The Phillies, as mentioned, just landed Revere, which lessens their need. So by most accounts, that leaves the Indians and Mariners as the likeliest to make a big push for Swisher. His wife is an actress, and Seattle is a lot closer to Hollywood than Cleveland is. Swisher is said to love the city of Seattle, and he certainly mashes the ball at Safeco Field (a career .913 OPS in 45 games). So I’d say that possibility is very much in play.
Before free agency, Bourn was expected to be most heavily pursued by the Nationals and Phillies. But the Nats traded for Denard Span, and the Phillies got Revere. His old team, the Braves, signed B.J. Upton. Again, the Mariners are looking more and more like a logical spot for him. I discussed that possibility earlier this week, when the stories came out of the M’s meeting with Boras in Nashville.
Could the Mariners get two of those guys, or supplement the signing of one with a trade for an established hitter like Mike Morse? I guess it’s possible, though less so if they sign Hamilton, who would figure to eat up most of their remaining payroll budget. But let’s go one step at a time. I’m not going to do anything foolish like guarantee the Mariners will sign one of the remaining “Big Three” free agent hitters. But I’d be somewhat surprised if they didn’t.