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December 4, 2011 at 2:13 PM

How much do the Mariners have on them to spend at baseball winter meetings this week?

ADDITIONAL NOTE: 9:30 p.m.: As one of our readers, Allen Starr, correctly notes, an additional $1.7 million or so needs to be added on for the major league contract given Danny Hultzen. So, that takes our tally to roughly $79.8 million. Meaning the Mariners would have just over $14 million to spend if payroll stays the same.
Well, it’s come to that time of year again. The time when we take our “unauthorized” look at the Mariners and their payroll and attempt to determine how much they have in their coffers to spend this coming year.
Two years ago, we raised a huge fuss by publishing the amount. Not because the amount was inaccurate. It was actually pretty bang-on. No, the problem was assuming the Mariners were going to keep payroll where it had been in 2009. Teams planning a marketing campaign that tells fans to “Believe Big” and then trade for Cliff Lee, Brandon League and Milton Bradley after signing Chone Figgins don’t usually do that when they are planning to cut payroll and still have a ton of offensive holes to fill. But the M’s did indeed cut payroll in 2010, tried to fill the holes with bargain basement types and went on to lose 101 games while scoring the fewest runs of the DH era.
Fast forward to present day, we find the Mariners again needing to fill a bunch of offensive holes — whether or not they sign Prince Fielder. There’s a rumor going around that Fielder has narrowed his choices to Toronto, Texas and Milwaukee. Not buying it, sorry. Even if it’s true, it would be idiotic for Scott Boras or Fielder himself to put that out there for public consumption, thus undermining their negotiation leverage. Any decent agent will tell folks there are at least a half dozen teams interested in a premium free agent and that the choices are all viable options.
Would Fielder want to play in Toronto? Sure, a decent, up-and-coming team if its owners ever decide to compete by spending what it takes in the AL East. A three-hour direct flight to Fielder’s home in Florida. Fielder also knows team president Paul Beeston from the days when his dad, Cecil, played for the Blue Jays and used to bring him out to the ballpark. The Jays are planning to finally spend some money after a decade of phony Moneyball frugality designed to buy their owners a cheap ballpark, then break even on yearly operating costs while attendance plummeted to the league’s basement.
Would he play for Texas? Why not? Especially the way the ball flies out to right field at the ballpark there. The question is whether Texas will make the push. If they don’t re-sign C.J. Wilson, that’s a distinct possibility. The Rangers would be my first choice, but I’m not Fielder.
Back to Milwaukee? I doubt it. The Brewers don’t have the money to compete for him and would need a huge payroll boost to keep Fielder and his supporting cast together. With all that’s been said about his departure already, I’m thinking that ship has sailed and that any “reports” we see about the Brewers as a possibility are just face-saving moves by Milwaukee’s front office and Fielder himself to make his exit a little more graceful.
So, where does this leave the Mariners? Well, we’ll know soon enough. If GM Jack Zduriencik is going to sign Fielder, he’ll want to know sooner rather than later so he can proceed to Plan B if that isn’t going to happen. How much money will Zduriencik have to play with to upgrade his team? Let’s figure that out. We’ll assume, for now, that the team is done cutting payroll and will stick to the roughly $94 million spent by Opening Day the last two years. Cot’s baseball contracts is an excellent website as a payroll reference but there are slight differences in how they calculated things versus the Mariners, which is why their 2010 payroll lists the team a few million below $94 million. But as we’ve told you before, the M’s say it was right around $93.5 million that 101-loss year and we’ve broken things down to show you how.
Other than that, I’m using mostly Cot’s and some other references for this post. So, what do the M’s already have committed for 2012 money-wise? Let’s look. Here’s one possible 25-man Opening Day roster for the team. It’s by no means 100 percent, but the players in the minimum-salaried range are interchangeable. So, here is one educated guess if the season were to open today.
ROTATION ($26,140,000)
SP Hernandez – $19,700,000
SP Vargas – $5,000,000 estimated
SP Pineda – $480.000
SP Beavan – $480,000
SP Furbush – $480,000
BULLPEN ($7,600,000)
CL League – $4,500,000 estimated
RP Kelley – $700,000 estimated
RP Wilhelmsen – $480,000
RP Snow – $480,000
RP Cortes – $480,000
RP Ruffin – $480,000
RP Delabar – $480,000
STARTING LINEUP ($33,333,000)
RF Ichiro — $18,000,000
CF Gutierrez – $5,813,000
C Olivo – $3,750,000
2B Ackley $2,100,000
SS Ryan – $1,750,000
1B Smoak – $480,000
LF Wells – $480,000
DH Carp – $480,000
3B Seager – $480,000
BENCH ($11,060,000)
INF Figgins – $9,500,000
INF Kawasaki – $600,000 estimated
OF Robinson – $480,000
C Jaso – $480,000
Off that, we get:
Total payroll committed so far: $78,133,000
Plus: $1.7 million contract and pro-rated bonus for Danny Hultzen’s major league contract.
And then:
Amount remaining to reach $94 million: approximately $14.2 million.
So, there you go. The Mariners, if they keep the same payroll, have just under $16 million (actually, now we’re changing that to just over $14 million based on the additional of Hultzen’s contract) left to spend.

Now, we can quibble about small amounts. Don’t forget, the major league minimum salary just went up to $480,000 in the new collective bargaining agreement, so that easts some of the money.
Shawn Kelley is a Super Two arbitration eligible player so he gets a boost, but probably not by much since he missed last season with injuries for the most part. He’ll probably cut a deal with the team and I’m thinking it will be for a minimal raise.
Free agent Munenori Kawasaki of Japan has stated he wants to play here and he could fit as a backup shortstop. If the team goes that route, it could be for a minor league contract with a bump if he makes the majors. He won’t get too much more than the minimum but the team probably would not want to insult his years in Japanese baseball by paying him like a big league rookie. Guys on minor league deals at the infield position — especially in Seattle — have tended to get money in the $500,000 to $800,000 range, but with the minimum salaries going up, $500,000 is barely above that. So, I gave him $600,000.
For guys who performed well and are arbitration eligible — Brandon League and Jason Vargas — you can usually count on them doubling their salaries and maybe getting a bit more from arbitrators. Players usually try to avoid arbitration and cut deals with clubs but a good doubling of salaries is usually a safe way to go. It’s possible League gets a bit more than the salary double I gave him — like maybe $5 million or so — based on his all-star year and status as a top-flight reliever.
Don’t forget, pro-rated signing bonuses count towards salary when teams plan payroll. So, Ichiro earns $17 million in salary this year plus $1 million in a pro-rated bonus. And though some of his pay was deferred as part of his contract, the team does indeed have to count all of it towards payroll (since the money must be set aside as per MLB rules even if deferred).
Dustin Ackley gets $1.2 million each year in pro-rated bonus money, so you have to calculate that on top of the $900,000 his major league deal pays him this year.
And with Felix Hernandez, remember, he got a $500,000 boost to his base pay for 2012 when he won the Cy Young Award in 2010, bringing it to $19 million with $700,000 in pro-rated signing bonus money on top of that for a $19.7 million true total.
So, there you go. There is the team’s budget room to work with. Clearly, when we talk about bumping that up a bit, the Chone Figgins contract would be one place to look. If the Mariners got a team to pay $3 million of what he’s owed this year, that’s $3 million more in the pile for Zduriencik.
With Franklin Gutierrez, many of you expect him to be better next season. The question becomes, how much better? Because his overall value to the team is not much better than Michael Saunders if we go off last year and Trayvon Robinson at the plate would likely be an improvement.
Unless, of course, Gutierrez is prepared to take a major step forward as he enters his fifth full season. There are teams out there that have the same optimistic outlook as some of you do when it comes to him and the Mariners could probably move his salary in the right package. He’s owed a combined $13 million this year and next (with a buyout for 2014 attached) so that’s another quick way to significantly boost payroll room.
Another would be to deal League and/or Vargas. The two of them alone will cost about $10 million.
This isn ‘t about playing favorites or who I like or don’t. This is about trying to better a 95-loss team and honestly, there aren’t many untouchables here. The Mariners should be looking to boost their payroll room considerably if they are to be serious in plugging their obvious needs.
Either that, or, they could choose to increase payroll with some of their surplus money from past years.
We’ll see what the team does these next few days and in weeks ahead. For now, consider this a reference point for money questions.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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