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November 28, 2012 at 3:45 PM

As Mariners fans wait for moves, another free agent outfielder comes off the board

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Photo Credit: AP

Chone Figgins was officially released by the Mariners today, nine days after the team announced he was being designated for assignment. In other words, there was no other team willing to trade even a bucket of baseballs in order to get Figgins before he became eligible to be grabbed by anybody for the league minimum.

While fans now wait to see whether the Mariners will ever sign another free agent to a deal of more than three years (dont worry, the time will eventually come — just maybe not this winter), another outfielder was grabbed off the board this afternoon.

Word is, the Atlanta Braves are on the verge of signing center fielder B.J. Upton for five years and $75 million. Now, I mention this only because Upton was one of the guys I mentioned after the season ended when the annual chorus of “Who? Who?” began, with fans asking whether there indeed existed a free agent capable of helping the last-place Mariners.

There have been plenty such free agents over the years, Upton just one of them. Is he a better overall player than Franklin Gutierrez? Yes, indeed. And he stays on the field longer. Is he better than Michael Saunders? Yes indeed. Is he 35 years old? Nope, he’s still only 28 and won’t be 35 until well after this deal with the Braves runs its course.
So, yes. He could have helped the Mariners.

No, he is not the only free agent or trade candidate capable of doing so. No need to get depressed. There are still plenty of opportunities for this baseball team to get better if it is willing to pay the going rate.

And Upton just showed you the going rate for a good center fielder young enough to be relied upon for years to come.
More interesting to me is just who paid for his services.

One of you threw a months-old news item up in the comments section yesterday that quoted Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk about the team’s lousy TV deal and his musings on free agency.

“In a way, I almost relish when one of our competitors goes in the free-agent market because it’s so inefficient and such a bad use of dollars,” McGuirk said. “You almost never get the value out of a free-agent market expense. We all have limited dollars to spend, so if someone in wasting those dollars in a competitive situation, it helps us.”

In fairness, that quote was given last January. That was before the second wild-card was added, giving hope to teams that otherwise wouldn’t stand much of a playoff chance because of the game’s growing financial disparity. Also, it was given before the Dodgers became the biggest spender in baseball thanks to a pending new TV deal. Like it or not, the Dodgers are potentially one of those teams the younger, allegedly “smarter” Braves would have to beat out for an NL wild-card spot.

And yeah, the Braves needed to find somebody to replace incumbent center fielder Michael Bourn, who is a free agent as well. So, they did what McGuirk seemed to be “tsk, tsking” 10 months ago.

What to conclude? Well, unless paying a guy like Upton close to $15 million per season over a full five years was somehow always defined by analysts as “smart” baseball spending, we are continuing to see a growing evolution in baseball’s value system and the willingness/ability of teams to spend.

It’s hard not to miss the contradiction between McGuirk’s statements of less than a year ago versus his team’s actions today.

I have no doubt that some of those who staunchly supported the Braves and their stance last January will now start to shift some of their views ever so slyly to make it seem like they always believed in moves like this. As if giving $75 million to Upton was exactly the type of cost-effective move they were advocating in Janaury 2012.

Good luck with that.

For the rest of us, this move is further evidence that teams of all stripes have money to spend and will continue to spend it big and take risks if they decide they truly want to win something. You can talk about a young core and all that and sure, most good teams have a decent young core. Some bad teams have a good young core too. Some bad teams have a lousy young core. All teams have a young core.

But the good teams find the balance between youth and veteran experience. And even the most cost-conscious of teams will have to open their wallets and take a chance on a free agent every now and then.

For the Braves, they know they have a decent young team and made it into the playoffs last year despite self-imposed cost constraints. Now, they’re trying to keep the window open the way all teams do it: by spending.

Somehow, I don’t think we’ll be hearing any more cracks from McGuirk this week about how he can’t wait until a rival signs a free agent because it can be such a waste of money. That sounded ridicuous last January and it looks hilarious this afternoon.
In the end, the Braves could look brilliant for this signing. Or, they could look dumb. Time will tell. But they took the plunge all teams that want to keep winning sooner or later have to take and — as with the Mariners and Figgins — will cross their fingers and hope this was the right move. They aren’t “smarter” than anybody else. And they aren’t “dumber” either. They’re just playing the game of major league baseball.

Anyhow, this is why you shouldn’t fall victim to paying lip service to what teams say. Focus more on what they do. The teams that want to spend on free agents find ways to do so. The teams that don’t want to spend come up with excuses for why it’s not a good idea and make it look like every free agent signing blows up in disaster.

At the end of the day, the Braves just decided that paying Upton $15 million per season was a “smart” move for them. And believe me, they aren’t set up any better financially than the Mariners are right now.

In other words, enough with the “Who? Who? Who?”

Are there free agents out there who can help the Mariners?

Yes, there are plenty. If they want to pay the going rate to get better.

0 Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: Atlanta Braves, B.J. Upton, Chone Figgins

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