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December 10, 2012 at 9:08 AM

Teams keep making big moves, Mariners content to wait

Free agent pitcher Zack Greinke signed a six-year, $147-million deal with the Dodgers, spurning the Texas Rangers, who are now expected to keep pursuing Mariners hitting target Josh Hamilton. Photo Credit: AP

We’ll have that meet-and-greet with new Mariners outfielder Jason Bay later this afternoon to bring to you. In the meantime, other teams kept making big moves over the weekend while the Mariners have yet to pull the trigger on anything major.

The Zack Greinke domino did indeed fall and it wasn’t to the Texas Rangers, as had been expected. Greinke wound up staying in Los Angeles, signing a six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers that allows him to move over from the Angels. What this means for the Mariners is that their likelihood of getting a short-term bargain on Josh Hamilton just dwindled a bit. The Rangers are also interested in keeping Hamilton around and now have the money to do that after missing on Greinke and trading Michael Young to the Phillies.

We’ve heard — courtesy of Ken Rosenthal of FOX – that the Mariners were exploring three-year deals with Hamilton. But if the Rangers were to go one year beyond that, then Seattle would either have to cough up bigger annual money or extend a five-year offer. That’s still less than the six-or-seven-year deal Hamilton was said to be seeking when the off-season began, so we’ll see how far the Mariners are willing to go with some actual competition for Hamilton’s services.

But that scenario posed at the end of the winter meetings — where the Rangers would sign Greinke and bow out of the Hamilton running — leaving the Mariners to grab a really quick deal based on parameters they’ve already laid out with Hamilton’s camp? Unlikely to happen now. But like I said, Hamilton’s still out there. The Mariners don’t have to wave the surrender flag just yet on him, or any other top free agent out there. Last I checked, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn still haven’t signed anyplace and Seattle still has money sitting around that is supposedly available to be used this off-season. There remain obvious options for the Mariners to upgrade this team both in the short and long term.

The other major move took place yesterday when the Royals traded top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi to the Rays in a deal that brought back starting pitcher James Shields and swingman Wade Davis (expected to go back to starting full-time now that he’s out of Tampa Bay). My first reaction to this trade was Mariners-related, naturally, since some had wondered whether Seattle could go after Myers, a guy who made sense for a rebuilding club.

Well, these trade returns should tell you that was never going to happen for the Mariners, who don’t have anybody in their current rotation other than Felix Hernandez who can match up with Shields and his track record. Half a season of Hisashi Iwakuma isn’t much to go on and Jason Vargas is a free agent after this coming season. As for prospects, the Royals have paraded enough of those in and out of their lineup the past several seasons of going nowhere and they are clearly tired of building for three years down the road. This is a move designed to contend now and nothing the Mariners had to offer up was going to help the Royals towards that goal better than Shields. So, a Myers deal was never going to happen.

Now, will the Royals be able to contend with their current team? I don’t see them overtaking the Tigers for the AL Central, but as a wild-card entry it is possible. Let’s face it, the Tigers messed around all season long and still won the division and went to the World Series. Their starting pitching remains great and the offense should be improved over last season with incoming Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez to go with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

So, no, I can’t see the Royals being better than that, despite the pretty good job they have done overhauling their starting rotation since the last time the Mariners faced them and steamrolled Kansas City seven out of eight games they played in the second half. The Mariners won those games because the Royals were sending a bunch of “B” and “C” level scrubs to the mound each time and found themselves down multiple runs after an inning or two. That probably won’t happen this coming season.

The current consensus take on the trade from the chattering classes is that the Royals gave up too much in terms of prospects. They gave up a lot compared to previous baselines, that’s for sure. But we heard throughout the winter meetings that teams were demanding a premium in prospects when it came to making a deal and it’s possible this will become the new normal. After all, we’re seeing the bar raised big-time when it comes to the money dished out to free agents, so why not in trades, too? The Royals could have gone out and paid Greinke to come back to Kansas City, but, oh yeah, they let him go a couple of  years ago because they didn’t want to pay him.

So, if you don’t want to upgrade with big money via free agency, or to keep your own all-stars, you have to pay the going rate in trade.

The Royals paid the going rate and got the deal done. They aren’t guaranteed a division title. Like I said, I don’t like their chances of overtaking the Tigers. But I’ve been wrong before. And their chances are certainly better now than they were with that pitching staff they were rolling out there in late July and early August.

And we’ll see how well the prospects wind up doing. Remember, the Royals have been down this prospects road before with “can’t miss” guys, especially on the pitching side. Luke Hochevar was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2006, will turn 30 before next season ends, and still hasn’t logged a 200-inning season yet despite making his debut late in 2007. And he’s one of the guys who made it.

So, I can understand where Royals GM Dayton Moore feels the pressure to start winning something other than the title of “Most Promising Farm System” sometime before he gets fired. Plenty of pundits picked the Royals as a trendy, darkhorse contender back in spring training based on their young talent, but they were clearly wrong. Yes, injuries hurt the Royals early on and for much of the season, but so did their lack of experience and depth — something most winning teams need. And in the end, Moore had to address both parts this winter. He’s got a lot of young talent assembled on the hitting side and lining up daily for the Royals. But the pitching needed a major upgrade if the Royals were going to win anything the next few years.

Now, he’s taking his shot. The Royals didn’t want to spend big money to address their needs, so this was the only way left to do it and yeah, it could come back to really look back if Myers and Odorizzi live up to the hype. But the alternative was likely several more seasons of spinning wheels with lots of young talent but not enough major league balance to win anything.

0 Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: greinke, hamilton, myers

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