Somebody asked Magic Johnson at the Zack Greinke press conference yesterday why his Dodgers keep throwing bucketloads of money at every half-decent free agent and trade return out there.
“We want to win,” Johnson replied.
“Ouch!” went the teams not prepared to go as deeply into their wallets.
We’ll see whether or not this strategy leads to a playoff berth for the Dodgers, because, as we’ve discussed ad nauseum on this blog, there is no guaranteed method for winning in baseball. But spending to get the best players is one way that’s been proven to help get teams to the post-season — witness the Yankees of the past 18 years, along with the Red Sox and Phillies, the Braves and Blue Jays of the early-to-late 1990s — and the Dodgers aren’t planning to spend the next five or seven years embarking on any rebuilding plans.
The price of “wanting to win” — at least, by Johnson’s definition — appears to be going up.
Yesterday, we saw two more names of hitters who could have potentially helped the Mariners get taken by other teams. Kevin Youkilis signed a one-year, $12-million deal with the Yankees, while Shin-Soo Choo was traded to the Reds in a three-way deal between Cleveland-Arizona and Cincinnati that cost a pretty bit in prospects and young major league players.
I’ll be the first to say that I never expected Youkilis to get that kind of money. Then again, I never thought Angel Pagan was worth $40 million over four years.
The price of acquiring talent — be it top-of-the-line, or fading-but-veteran — seems to be rising quite a bit and it isn’t only the Dodgers leading the way.
None of this is good news for the Mariners.
The deal last night means the Diamondbacks will likely be holding on to Justin Upton, which in turn, means he won’t be traded to the Texas Rangers. And that means the Rangers could indeed re-sign Josh Hamilton unless they are outbid by the Mariners or some other team. Remember, Hamilton has given the Rangers a chance to match any deal, which means that — all things being equal — he prefers to stay in Arlington unless somebody else coughs up more money.
There was a report yesterday that the Phillies had offered three years, $80 million to Hamilton. The Mariners had been in extensive talks with Hamilton’s camp last week in Nashville and one report said various deals of three years — ranging from $60 million to $75 million — had been discussed.
Had the Rangers signed Greinke, or acquired Upton, the Mariners were prepared to move quickly to try to get a deal done, assuming that the Rangers would have been tapped-out finanacially from further pursuing Hamilton.
Now, it seems, he’s going to get some money. Will it be from the Mariners? Only if they step up and pay the new going rate.
In terms of prospects, looking at what the Royals just paid for James Shields and Wade Davis, not to mention last night’s Shoo trade, you have to wonder whether the Mariners currently have enough young currency to swing an impact deal for a hitter via trade. For all the talk about how coveted Seattle’s farm system is by some people — including the Mariners themselves — you have to wonder what it’s worth on the open market.
The easy answer? It’s worth what somebody will pay for it.
And as Jack Zduriencik himself seems to be suggesting each time he speaks about the topic, other teams are not prepared to offer up the value Seattle thinks its prospects are worth just yet. Zduriencik keeps drawing the line between unproven minor leaguers and the added value they’ll acquire once they get their feet wet in the major leagues.
If that’s the case, the Mariners may have to hold on to their guys for another half-season, or full season, before throwing them out there as trade bait. That is, if the Mariners hope to get what they think guys like their Big Three or Nick Franklin, are really worth.
What’s left, then?
To pay the going free agent rate…rising by the day, at least by the frightening Youkilis standards.
Don’t forget, you still have Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher out there, in addition to Hamilton. They haven’t been paid yet.
Or, the team can forego acquiring the impact bat (or three) that they need and try to trim down their runs against total through more pitching.
They’ve tried that formula three years running now and we’ve seen the results. But they can always hope that moving in the fences and another year of development for their young core adds to the runs scored amount (which will almost certainly happen, barring a complete disaster).
But that’s where things stand. There is still plenty of off-season left for the Mariners to do something. It will be interesting to see which route they choose to go down.
But make no mistake. The rules of the game are changing. And the cost of “wanting to win” by Magic Johnson’s definition, is going up, not down.