MIKE SALK

Salk: Mariners’ offseason has been exciting if looked at in right light

Dec 13, 2022, 12:01 AM | Updated: 8:38 am
Mariners Julio Rodríguez Luis Castillo...
Julio Rodríguez and Luis Castillo celebrate after a Mariners playoff win on Oct. 7, 2022. (Photo by Thomas Skrlj/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by Thomas Skrlj/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Life is all about timing. When you strike is often just as important as how you do so – maybe more so. You might have the perfect plan but the wrong timing can destroy it before it ever gets off the ground. You can have your big moment, but other world events overshadow it and no one will ever notice.

For example, do you know who Harriet Quimby is? She was the first woman licensed as a pilot in the US, and on April 16, 1912 she flew across the English Channel. It should have been big news, but unfortunately the papers led with something else the next day: the Titanic had hit an iceberg and sunk. Sorry, Harriet.

So timing can also affect we view a situation. I think the Mariners have done a fantastic job of building a nucleus and building upon it. But the timing of when those moves were made has left some of the additions feeling uninspired.

Right now, the Mariners reacta-verse is abuzz with frustrated fans who want the team to do more to get better. Even more specifically, many of them want them to spend more money in order to “prove” their desire to win exceeds their need for profit. I love the passion and I’m psyched the fanbase is engaged and hoping the team can get to the next level. But I fear some are getting caught up in two issues.

First, some of the frustration is the result of timing more than action. The M’s have improved and spent to make their team better, but they did it before last season ended.

Second, some fans seem to equate spending money in free agency to a desire to win. I think acquiring talent and improving is more important. Let me explain.

Imagine this hypothetical Mariners offseason:

• Sign Julio Rodríguez to a 12-year extension worth $209-470 million
• Trade for and sign Luis Castillo to a five-year, $110 million extension
• Sign Teoscar Hernández to a four-year, $80 million contract
• Sign Kolten Wong to a two-year, $18 million contract

The first two deals are real, but they were announced during the season. The last two are reasonable estimates to what those two players would have been worth in this market (I asked a few folks in the business). The combined value of those deals would be $418-678 million.

If the Mariners had made those four moves this offseason, they would be hailed as one of the big winners of the hot stove cycle. They locked up their burgeoning superstar. They acquired a true ace (who we now know is perfectly suited to pitching in the postseason) and then ensured he’d be around for a while as well. They upgraded right field from a player who gave them very little this past season (Mitch Haniger) to one who would be worth an additional year and $37 million on the open market. And they got a significant upgrade at second base, a black hole for much of 2022.

And that is without trading young players like Jarred Kelenic and Matt Brash or top prospects Emerson Hancock and Harry Ford. It is without any other deals that they could swing for either free agents or other trade targets between now and April. That is without dealing from their starting pitching depth. All of those options are still on the table, and they still have money to spend on the right free agent at the right price.

The Mariners’ offseason isn’t complete yet, and they still could use more offense. But as far as I’m concerned, the Mariners are having a stellar offseason; they just started it before the regular season ended! It’s not unlike when they traded for Castillo a few days before the trade deadline and then folks were disappointed when it passed somewhat quietly. They still got the best pitcher available but it came early so it “doesn’t count.”

I am pumped for this team and I don’t even know yet what else they are going to do this offseason. They are good. They have a great pitching staff, a good bullpen, and an improved lineup (even if they’re a bat or two short, as they have stated themselves).

Mariners Offseason: Six under the radar free agents to fill need for two bats

But I am not going to let the need for constant action affect my view of what they’ve done. It’s almost like an ADD issue – we need constant stimulation and action in order to believe the team is improving. And that isn’t necessarily true. Some of their improvement should come from those upgrades (ace pitcher, right fielder and second baseman) and some should come from the natural growth of their very young stars (Julio, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby). But this appears to be a better roster than the playoff team they fielded last year.

Timing plays a role, but so does payroll. And this gets complicated because there is no salary cap in baseball and there are owners that decide to raise budgets to bring in high-priced free agents. That means some of the biggest available names get huge contracts to go elsewhere.

I am personally happy for owners to spend as much as they want (it isn’t my money!), but most of them set a budget roughly commensurate with their revenue and/or market size. Seattle is media market 12, but the top three markets have two teams each, and Toronto is larger as well. So that puts the Mariners… roughly in the middle. And as Jerry Dipoto has said, virtually every measure (market size, revenue, ticket sales, etc.) puts Seattle in the middle. The M’s are capable of spending and he believes their payroll will be in the top 10-15. But much of that money will be spent retaining their nucleus rather than adding long-term contracts to players in their 30s.

Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto explains their offseason direction and expectations

That isn’t to say they won’t spend in the meantime. They can add short-term salaries and may very well do so. But they are also mindful of the coming massive raises for their young players, and no one wants to be in a situation where they are let go (like the Red Sox did with Mookie Betts and now Xander Bogaerts).

I recently heard someone compare big name free agent signings to certain drugs. They give you a dopamine hit and they fire up a fanbase. But they tend to leave you less happy than you were before because those players tend to decline during their contract term. It’s safer to use them more like antibiotic medications – short-term fixes to help you get over a problem, or in this case a hole in your roster.

The Mariners worked trades for Teoscar and Wong, which cost them very little in terms of player assets. Both players should be upgrades over what they replaced. But some are mad because they aren’t being paid enough to prove a commitment to winning? Sorry, that doesn’t work for me. Would you be happier if they had signed the hypothetical contracts above? Would you believe ownership was interested in winning because they spent more for the same players?

Ultimately the proof will come on the field, and we’ll find out whether these were the right moves. I love debating baseball decisions because there are so many ways to create and improve a team, and those debates are fair and fun and often proven over time. But questioning intent based on a different view of how to achieve the best results? That doesn’t fly. And I don’t think we’d be even discussing it if the team had simply held off before announcing the deals for Julio and Castillo.

Of course, if they had, the same folks would just accuse them of waiting for PR reasons.

More on the Mariners from Seattle Sports

Shannon Drayer’s Mariners Week That Was on Seattle Sports 710 AM
Morosi: Are the Mariners a potential suitor for Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds?
Fann: Thoughts on Mariners’ offseason thus far and the great spending debate
Morosi: Wong, Hernández bring something Mariners need
Mariners Moves: Rule 5 Draft additions, losses; Casey Sadler returns

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