By Shannon Drayer
Now that a number of you have had some time to vent and others to exhale, let’s take a look at where the Mariners stand after Josh Hamilton signs with the Angels.
To recap my initial thoughts on the signing, a) no surprise he did not sign with the Mariners as I always believed that the Hamilton negotiations would not go beyond where the Mariners were comfortable going with a player with such risk, b) wow, I was wrong with the “Texas could get all three” as they appear to have missed out on their big three targets. And go ahead and add a fourth to that list as Anibal Sanchez is reportedly close to signing with either the Tigers or Cubs and c) holy cow that is one hell of a lineup the Angels have for the short term at least.
It would appear that Hamilton was never coming to Seattle. ESPN’s Buster Olney on the Scott Van Pelt Show Thursday said that he had been told by friends of Hamilton’s that he preferred not to go somewhere where he would be “the man.” With Albert Pujols and Mike Trout in the Angels lineup there will be others to lean on.
Olney also commented on why Hamilton may have passed up Seattle.
“They’ve kind of been out there with a lot of offers to players and players just don’t want to go there,” answered Olney. “Maybe because of the location, maybe because the Mariners aren’t really a contender right now, maybe because of the fact that it just is not a great hitters park.”
We’ve heard the reasons before why Seattle may or may not be attractive to free agents. Jack Zduriencik has tried to sell free agents on the fact that it is a great city to live in, that they have a great fan base and the direction he sees them going with the young players that they have. It’s a great vision but for the most part it is not there yet and premier free agents are not biting.
Despite often being voted as the favorite road city by players it still is a haul to most parts of the country. The fan base was great when this team was winning but it is impossible to ignore the decline in attendance. As for the plan and youngsters? I doubt what they cannot yet see carries much weight with free agents who have other choices.
And so the Mariners find themselves in a place where their best chance to lure a high profile free agent is to overspend. It’s part of the free agent game with the premier players.
I have no problem with the Mariners doing that if it is the right player. Josh Hamilton was not the right player and it most likely would not have made a difference. Once Arte Moreno decided he wanted Hamilton it was all but a done deal.
Nick Swisher appears to be a better and cheaper fit, but if he is a target of the Rangers it would appear that they have more to offer. Michael Bourn? I am intrigued by the possibility of adding a true leadoff hitter but the lack of power, any power, just doesn’t excite me. And do you really want to deal with Scott Boras at this point?
The best avenue for the Mariners to improve most likely will be through trade and it won’t be for a Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Troy Tulowitzki or Giancarlo Stanton. Those players aren’t available. Still, wins and help could be out there in the form of lesser names, but Zduriencik has established that he wants fair value for his young talent.
“There is this balancing act that you put this thing together, and it is starting to look like it is going to be pretty good going forward, and then you get these phone calls offering you a player that has one or two years control and is typically a high money player, and it is tempting because you know you could make your big league club better right now. But the discipline is to say no, we are gong to continue along this road,” he said on the Hot Stove League Show Tuesday.
“Sometimes it is not exactly what you want to tell your fans. It is not exactly what you want to do,” he continued. “I would love to be able to do something now, and maybe we will through free agency. We’re going to listen (on trades), but at the end we have got a pretty good thing going right now. But to throw it away for a short term fix? I don’t think that is the right answer.”
The belief is that the value for the prospects will be higher once they get their feet wet at the major league level. It is a tough call for Zduriencik to make because he doesn’t want to sell low and you as fans no doubt don’t want to see the next big thing on another team two years from now without something equally big in return. We have been through that before.
So Zduriencik digs in and Wedge is on board as well. Both have said in the last two days that the biggest impact could come from inside, not outside. Josh Hamilton could only do so much from one spot in the lineup. The young “core players” collectively could do more if they take the next step. Of course there are no guarantees that they take that step forward and that’s the gamble Zduriencik is taking.
If top tier free agents do not want to come to Seattle however, and he feels he cannot get fair value in trade for prospects he might not have much of a choice. He is not going to make moves out of desperation.
It’s not a horrible way to go and the Mariners under Zduriencik are in good position to do so with recent strong drafts. Yes, it takes longer. And yes, this is painful. But if he is correct about a good percentage of his young players he will soon not have to be dependent on good free agent classes or at the mercy of other teams in trade situations.
It’s a tough road to take and while he has empathy for the fans Zduriencik is not apologetic.
“My comments when I took the job on day one, we were going to try and acquire talent in any way we could,” he said. “We were going to try to build this thing from the ground up. It is not like in football, you draft a quarterback and he is your starter the next year, or the NBA. In baseball it takes five, six even seven years. The amount of young kids that technically, in three drafts here, that are already on our big league club? I don’t know that anyone has that. But we are going to stay the course. We are going to try to do what we can do but we are not going to chase fool’s gold.”
I think the possible fool’s gold is off the market. I think it would be hard to make a crippling mistake with the remaining free agents. Zduriencik has money to spend. Let’s hope he can.