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Mariners blog

Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

December 7, 2011 at 9:25 AM

Mariners “frontrunner” status could get blown out of the water today

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Keep an eye on the ongoing Albert Pujols discussions if you are hoping the Mariners will eventually sign Prince Fielder. In fact, even if you don’t want the Mariners to sign Fielder, you should keep an eye on the Pujols situation.
That’s because the Miami Marlins appear poised to lose out in bidding on Pujols to the St. Louis Cardinals, one of three teams said to have made 10-year offers to the 31-year-old first baseman. My first reaction when I heard that news about multiple 10-year offers was: “Wow, they must have found Albert’s real birth certificate. The one that says he’s really 25.”
My second reaction was to figure that whoever loses out in the bidding on Pujols is positioned to blow any Mariners bid for Fielder completely out of the water. And word here is, if the Marlins lose out on Pujols, they’ve already internally discussed going after Fielder.
The Mariners might have been “frontrunners” yesterday if they were ready to offer Fielder a six-year deal. But they’ll be “also rans” if the Marlins get involved and commit anything close to what they’ve offered Pujols in terms of years.


For instance, if the Marlins offer 10 years to a younger Fielder, the Mariners will have to just pull up their tent and go home. Six years is a stretch. A decade? Maybe if you’re the Yankees. The Mariners aren’t there yet.
Even if the Marlins offer seven years to Fielder, the Mariners might not have what it takes stomach-wise. Not so much from a financial perspective, just from a baseball logic angle. That’s what this is really about with Fielder: how long is too long from a smart baseball point of view?
Those still worrying about $20 million annually versus $25 million are missing the point. At least, when it comes to what owners can afford.
The Marlins are proving what the real smart folks have known about Major League Baseball for years. The money is overflowing. Give any team a ballpark subsidized mainly with public money and it’s a license to print it.
All the sob stories we’ve heard for years about how small market teams are pinching pennies together to buy a loaf of bread? Nonsense.
There are two types of teams in this game: the ones bankrolling themselves on the backs of taxpayers and the unlucky few hoping to get there.
The ones who don’t yet have that public-bought stadium merely bide their time with lower payrolls until they get the closest thing to one. It’s why the Oakland Athletics keep playing “Moneyball” trying to break even year after year so as to maintain their franchise value until somebody votes to build them a new ballpark. The minute that park comes in, Moneyball disappears and it’s back to trying to compete the only real way you can in this game — by spending.
You don’t have to outspend everybody. But trying to play Moneyball without the “Money” aspect of it is a losing battle. You have to at least stay within spitting distance of your rivals on the money front to have any chance of your Harvard-educated general manager making the best use of his talents.
Otherwise, it’s all about breaking even. Maybe going on a splurge once per decade when your young talent happens to mature all at the same time.
Look at the bucks thrown around by the Minnesota Twins after they got their new ballpark.
You don’t even need a brand new park. Sometimes, a mere facelift will do.
I watched the Toronto Blue Jays play Moneyball the first half of last decade until they won a game of “chicken” with their stadium landlords and picked up ownership of their ballpark for a mere $25 million. After that, bye, bye Moneyball and spend, spend, spend — starting with the 2005 winter meetings that year right here in Dallas.
But the spending was done poorly, the ballpark really wasn’t all that great to begin with and attendance plummeted. That team has gone back to spending the past few years trying to break even until the young talent supposedly all meshes and is deemed “ready” to all contend at the same time.
Give them a brand new, subsidized facility (not the 22-year-old public-built venue they currently have) you’ll see Blue Jays payroll vaulting right up there to what the Phillies and Red Sox throw around.
Ah yes, the Phillies. How exactly did they become one of the top-spending teams in baseball, rivaling the payrolls of a much-larger New York market with their division-rival Mets?
New stadium, folks.
It’s how the Pittsburgh Pirates keep raking in the cash profits year after year — with help from a poorly-monitored revenue sharing agreement — despite fielding arguably the worst team of the past two deacdes.
It’s why they moved baseball out of Montreal. The city wouldn’t give in to corporate blackmail and build the team a new ballpark with tax money. Unlike what was done for the Washington Nationals, who are now trying to spend, spend. spend on Jayson Werth and others.
It’s why the Tampa Bay Rays keep playing “Moneyball”. Buying time until they figure out what to do about their stadium.
Meanwhile, across the state of Florida, the Marlins are now turning the game of baseball on its ear with their suddenly-flush pocketbook. Just last year, they were the Rays. Playing in an outdated ballpark with little fan interest and crying poor. With an owner, Jeffrey Loria, who wouldn’t put his own money up for a stadium in Montreal when he owned the Expos and helped ruin what was left of the franchise there after 35 years. Now, he’s Daddy Warbucks.
Don’t buy it, folks.
Not in Miami. Not in Oakland. Not in Toronto. Not in Pittsburgh. And certainly not in Seattle. All of these team owners have money. They just want to risk as little of it as humanly possible while reaping the benefits of team ownership. They want the taxpayers to foot the bill, to take the risks. And they adjust their spending habits according to how much risk the taxpaying public around them is willing to take on. An owner taking on personal risk? Nah. Very rare in modern-day MLB, unless you happen to get hammered financially in your other business ventures or invest with the wrong types of people.
The Mariners have been rolling in the dough from their taxpayer-funded facility for over a decade, making an annual profit every year but one.
The Mariners don’t even have the “biding time for a new stadium to be built” excuse. They have a stadium. They keep padding their franchise value with it. They have the money to make a run at Fielder and always have had the money. If not, they have owners that haven’t put in new cash in over a decade while the value of their investment had doubled.
They can always be asked for more, no?
Anyhow, I’m just biding my time here until something happens with Pujols. Just don’t be fooled. Baseball is flush with cash. The Mariners have plenty of money.
Don’t want them to give Fielder a 10-year contract? Great. Neither do I. But it’s strictly for baseball reasons. Has nothing to do with concern over the team’s bank account.
Because the team has the money to make Fielder a six, or even a seven-year offer if it chooses to do so. Those arguing that they don’t had best present some reasons why. Especially when you look at the Marlins right now and wonder what the heck is going on.
Nothing is going on. It’s just business as usual. The business of baseball.

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