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November 8, 2012 at 8:07 AM

Mariners can pursue all the big names they want, but at some point have to get the job done

Already, we’ve got Prince Fielder II brewing down at the GM meetings in California, with the rumor mill percolating that the Mariners are poised for a run at free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton. Hey, more power to them. The rumors are buzzing because many baseball executives, agents and media members are all aware of the same thing they were aware of a year ago: the Mariners have the resources and the long-term payroll room to go after pretty much any free agent they want.

Again, just once for the record:

The Mariners are not a small market team.

Taxpayers helped build them a beautiful, state-of-the-art, cash-cow ballpark which takes away the need for them to play Moneyball like the A’s, or the Rays.

The Mariners have allowed most of their long-term contracts to run out the past few years while fielding last-place teams with payrolls designed to maintain or grow franchise value.

The Mariners are poised to reap a massive financial windfall from a renegotiated TV deal that will take their franchise value close to the $1 billion mark.

After the 2013 season, Felix Hernandez will be the only player even close to eight-figures in salary left on the team.
There you go. So, yes, the Mariners can well afford Hamilton over the long haul and the short haul. Just as they could have afforded Fielder.

But anybody can pursue a player. With the Mariners looking to snap their string of futility, especially on offense, it is imperative that they actually get the job done this winter. In other words, get a player’s signature on a contract. Otherwise, it is just a whole lot of hot air and there’s been too much of that around Seattle going on several years.

Talk is great and allows a fanbase to dream big over the winter and sometimes forget how bad the previous summer was. And sometimes, a free agent just doesn’t want to sign in a city for whatever reason and you shrug your shoulders and move on to Plan B. But last year, there was no Plan B. We’re starting to hear mumblings that the Mariners actually had over $90 million in potential payroll room last year, just as they do right now. If that’s the case, why oh why did they put an $82 million team on the field and wind up committing only $85 million to payroll ($1.2 million of which went to guys so bad they were cut loose in spring training)?

That won’t do. There were plenty of additional players last winter who could have rounded out an 87-loss team if indeed it’s true the Mariners did have that much payroll room. Going into the season with a payroll that low pretty much doomed this team to last place even with that late-July-August revival against the AL cellar-dwellars that prevented another 90-loss season.

Fielder told me back in April that the Mariners weren’t among his final list of choices even though Zduriencik went on radio this past season and said he was hovering around the entire way waiting to see whether the slugger’s price would drop. That’s all fine and good, but going “all in” on Fielder (if that’s indeed what happened, rather than just a whole lot of talk and no action) resulted in very little else of substance getting done on the free agent front and another year of treading water for fans paying full price for tickets.

If you’re OK with that, well then, party on.

For those who actually want to see signs of progress, I’m sure you’re hoping for a little more substance this time. And I’m with you. We’re heading into Year 5 of the Zduriencik regime and any honeymoon period should have been long done a while ago. It’s well past time to start grading what this regime has actually accomplished rather than supplying the next generation of highly-rated farm prospects (which every GM has, not all of which turn out to be anything in the majors) and saving money for an ownership waiting on a future cash windfall.

In other words, it’s time for Zduriencik to get something done.

Photo Credit: AP

Now, that doesn’t have to be Hamilton. His rumored pricetag of seven years, $175 million as an ask gives even me reason for pause. That’s an awful lot of years to commit to a player who is going to be 32 when the deal starts. If the M’s want to hold out for a smaller, four, or five-year package, that’s great.

But there has to be a Plan B this time that involves more than treading additional water in fourth place until 2015.
There has to be some other deals in-the-works that Zduriencik can actually make happen this time and utilize the payroll room he has.

Hamilton would greatly improve this team. So would Nick Swisher. So would B.J. Upton. So would Justin Upton. So would Angel Pagan. So would Alex Gordon. So would Billy Butler. So would a host of other names who are potentially out there, pitchers included, in both free agency and trade.

We play this little game of owls every winter.

“Who? Who? Who?” chime the payroll-skittish Mariners fans, reluctant to leave their safe little comfort zone of low-risk, last-place spending because Carlos Silva and Chone Figgins once happened.
Well, start with the names I just gave you and move it on down from there.

Because if you truly believe what the penny-pinching owls say, the Mariners might be the only team in the history of baseball that could field so many bad squads in a row and still be unable to find a single free agent of substance who could better them. I mean, that takes a serious allignment of the stars. Not a single free agent out there since January 2010 who could have bolstered one of the worst offenses of all-time. An offense so bad that they managed to get the ultra-conservative Mariners ownership to agree to reconfigure Safeco Field’s dimensions.

No, I don’t buy that either.

There have been plenty of names and bats out there who could have helped this Mariners team more than Eric Byrnes, Ryan Garko, Jack Cust, Adam Kennedy, Carlos Guillen, etc., etc., etc.

It’s OK to raise your expectations a bit. OK to expect Zduriencik to get something better accomplished this winter. OK to expect him to finish the job and get a deal done rather than have a fanbase talk about potential moves all winter only to come up empty.

At some point, every GM has to get it done. Fair or unfair. Tough market or not. That’s why they are paid the big bucks while the rest of us sit at home making like a fantasy GM on our computers.

Zduriencik has had too many off-seasons and too many trade deadlines to better the team at this stage and it is well past time to start grading the progress. So, if indeed the Mariners go into next season with few substantial improvements and finish fourth (ahead of only Houston) in the AL West, he will have helped make that bed for himself.

Perhaps this isn’t the best winter in terms of what’s out there. Perhaps this winter will require more creativity than a year ago, or two years ago, or last July’s trade deadline. Maybe so. That’s the price you sometimes pay for waiting.

ometimes, holding on to David Aardsma at the trade deadline doesn’t look so hot a few months later when you discover he’s never going to throw another pitch for you because of injury.

It’s all a risk. Waiting for some future that never comes might be the most comforting strategy for the skittish out there. But it isn’t always the best option because then, not only do you allow more time to slip away wasted, but you also back yourself into a corner when you finally do have to make a move and the timing isn’t all that great.

No GM has forever to get it done and Zduriencik’s time, like it or not, is fast approaching. Sure, the Mariners could do nothing and just keep aiming towards 2015, or 2016 or whenever the owls expect this team to magically contend without spending any money. If you want to kill off baseball as a top sport in this town — like they did in Cleveland — that might work as a strategy. Or, if you just want to see owners grow their investment down the road while you keep buying tickets to see more water-treading in the interim, you should also skip right on by this blog post because things are going just peachy for you.

But all kidding aside, even the really conservative fans out there are starting to get antsy. And Zduriencik is smart enough to know that he’d be on dangerous ground if he treats the fanbase to an instant replay of 2012 over the next 12 months.

So, he has to finish the job he starts this winter.

It doesn’t have to be Hamilton. It doesn’t have to be a guy named Upton. It doesn’t have to be Swisher, or anybody whose name you could even pick out of lineup.

But it has to be somebody who makes this team notably better. Shrugging your shoulders, saying “We tried” and heading off for another fourth place season of losing baseball while scoring 600 or so runs is no longer realistic.

Every GM tries. At some point, the results have to be there. Or else, you go to Plan B and let somebody else have a crack at it.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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