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December 9, 2009 at 5:04 PM

Mariners aced out by division rival Rangers on Rich Harden

Throughout the week here, the Mariners made it clear that a prime focus was on pitching and that Rich Harden was a target. But as we’ve discussed at length on this blog, simply having a target — even one that makes sense and seems the perfect fit — is no guarantee a team will come away with the prize. Even though the Mariners had extensive talks with Harden’s side and went in-depth on the parameters of a potential deal.
In the end, we’re told there were certain clauses the Harden camp wanted included in any deal that the Mariners side was not entirely comfortable with.
Did the Texas Rangers meet those demands? We don’t know for certain yet. But the Rangers did indeed get their man, agreeing to a one-year, $7.5 million deal with Harden, followed by what’s been reported as a club option worth $11.5 million. Now, if it’s purely a club option, then that latter figure isn’t such a big deal.
But we’ve yet to hear what the buyout would be on that. Or whether there are any additional incentives in the 2010 part of the deal that could take the $7.5 million well beyond that amount. On the surface, this contract does not seem all that unreasonable if it’s just the guaranteed money and a club option with a nominal buyout.
If there is indeed more to this than has been reported, it might go a long way in explaining how the M’s did not get this deal done after investing so much time and effort in it.

These things happen, which is why there always has to be a Plan B, C, D and so on.
The Mariners could now turn to free agent Ben Sheets, a pitcher Jack Zduriencik knows well from his days in Milwaukee. Or, the M’s can try to aim higher for a John Lackey type. There is also the trade route. But unless something happens quickly tonight, the M’s could be done at these winter meetings.
Not quite the splash that had been expected of them here so far. Then again, the season doesn’t start until April. There really is no deadline in December for them to make any moves.
There have been ongoing developments that could impact Seattle’s ability to land free agents down the road. Adrian Beltre has about a half-dozen suitors after him, including the deep-pocketed Red Sox, who appear ready to go out and get that replacement for Mike Lowell. That could spell serious competition for the M’s if it comes to a throwdown of dollars.
On the positive front for Seattle, as discussed in the video on the opposite page by Larry Stone and myself, the market for Jason Bay is not exactly erupting with big-time spenders. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said today that his team is not making Bay a priority and that the slugger might not be a fit in Anaheim.
From what I’ve been told, the Red Sox are not budging from their four-year, $60 million offer to Bay. If the Red Sox should pull out and go after Matt Holliday, or Bay decide he really doesn’t want to return to Boston, then the market for him could collapse. That means his pricetag for the M’s could be far more palatable.
Waiting Bay out and seeing how badly he truly does want to play for Seattle could be part of the M’s strategy. Doubt they’d go anywhere near four years, $60 million on him.
Even if the M’s decide to go a different route than Bay, they could simply be biding time on hitters to see just how far some of their value plummets as the non-tender date comes and goes Saturday.
Big-time pitchers are a different story. Harden wasn’t considered a front-line guy anymore because of his injuries. But on the high-upside, medium-risk scale, he was about as good as it gets.
The M’s have some work to do.



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