I’ve had the weekend to mull over the reaction locally to news the Mariners offered free agent slugger Josh Hamilton a four-year, $100 million contract with two vesting option years worth $25 million apiece.
As we now know, the Los Angeles Angels offered Hamilton five years, $125 million and got the hitter they were after.
So, my analysis of the situation? The Mariners were outbid by $25 million. Plain and simple.
As for the rest of the talk that went on throughout the weekend, about whether the deal was “competitive” in the sense that the Mariners really believed they had a shot at Hamilton, that’s more about spin and PR and all else. I mean, $25 million is a whole lot of money and whenever a winning team on the field can outbid a losing one by a 25 percent margin in the eight-figure dollar realm, that club will usually take home the free agent 100 times out of 100.
Was the Mariners’ bid truly competitive? Or merely designed to look competitive in order to serve the PR purposes of the damage-control leaks that came out about the offer on Friday morning?
I’ll admit that my standards for true competitiveness may be higher than that of some other analysts out there, but if I was going to make Hamilton an offer I hoped would actually win his services, my bid would have been for more than four years.
Here is why.
First off, everybody and their caddy’s assistant knew that the Texas Rangers were almost certainly going to go four years for Hamilton if they had to. So, if you’re the Mariners — owners of a last-place team three years of the last three and seven of nine — you know that a two-time World Series finalist is going to keep Hamilton if the years and money are the same.
All the teams in the Hamilton bidding knew roughly what the yearly dollar amount was going to be because that’s how these things work. So, if you’re the Mariners and you’re pretty sure the Rangers will go four years to keep him, you have to go five.
There is no debate about this. If you want to win, instead of finishing second with a bid designed to look competitive, you know you will likely have to offer five years. It’s not some magical formula I’ve designed. It’s plain old common sense.
What the Mariners offered was a bid in which they hoped by some reason not known to any of us that the Rangers might just sour on Hamilton and pull out of the chase at the very best. And if that happened? Celebration time in Seattle! The low bid turns out to be the winner by default, the Mariners walk away with what anybody would have called an absolute bargain last June and everyone in the Emerald City hails the conquering heroes.
And if that miracle doesn’t occur? If the Rangers actually do go four years to try to keep Hamilton? Well then, the Mariners, having never expected to really win the bidding with their safe, lower offer, can still point to the $100 million amount and those vesting options and claim “We tried!”
Oh, a word on those vesting options.
They are in no way the same thing as guaranteed money. I’ve read a bunch of nonsense in recent days how Hamilton’s unwillingness to sign off on Seattle’s vesting options as opposed to taking guaranteed money from the Angels is somehow a blight on his own competitiveness.
Please, let’s not embarrass ourselves by indulging in such jibberish.
Hamilton gained no advantage whatsoever from those vesting options.
If he played well enough to merit the Mariners using him in enough games to trigger those options, chances are he’d be worth more than $25 million per season four years from now the way salaries are headed. So, if a free agent, he’d likely get that money from another team in any event.
And if he wasn’t playing well enough to warrant triggering those options? The Mariners would never let him get there. That’s how the business of baseball works. They would have found a way to avoid him getting to those options.
Know who else had vesting options the past half-decade in Seattle? Chone Figgins and Jose Vidro.
Figgins was cut loose with a year to go on his contract. Vidro was released with two months to go, well before his option could be triggered.
That’s what those vesting options for Hamilton were worth. Next to nothing.
At least, next to nothing compared to guaranteed money.
In the end, the Angels went the five years a winning bid was going to take. Since they are a winning club and Seattle is not, the Marines would likely have had to offer six years to have a shot.
But as I just wrote, this bid by the Mariners doesn’t seem like it was designed to truly have a shot to begin with. It was designed more for the PR spin and window dressing that came along with it. This was a safe, calculated bid designed to score a miracle lower-price haul (lower than anyone once dreamed Hamilton could be had for, in any event) if everything fell into place for the Mariners.
And to let them say “We tried!” if it inevitably was beaten out.
I don’t work for the Mariners so I’m not going to worry too much about how they saved themselves future costs for four and five years down the road. I’m more worried about their on-field performance of the last three years and what it’s going to look like the next year or two. More worried about how their ownership is deploying the vast resources available to them in the face of declining popularity locally as exemplified by the biggest fan attendance drops in North American pro sports the past 10 years.
Hamilton was going to be one step — not the only step but a big one — towards changing that.
And the Mariners were outbid by $25 million.