Notebook: Where do Mariners turn with Victor Martinez off the market?
Missing out on Victor Martinez earlier this week had to be a disappointment for the Mariners, but one no doubt they were prepared for. It was not an eggs-all-in-one-basket situation and there are plans B, C and most likely Q as well. It is believed that the team has the ability to take on payroll in the form of a big-splash signing or trade. That deal must be made with an eye toward the future, however, as it may be the last such signing or trade they are able to make for some time.
The payroll should go up – significantly up – in the years to come, but at the top of each payroll through 2019 will be the $50-51 million that goes to Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano. Tack on whatever Kyle Seager makes through 2017, and even before they make a significant addition they are very unbalanced. How unbalanced? Last year the top 3 Mariners salaries added up to $54 million, basically 50 percent of the $107 million paid out to the 40-man roster.
The $54 million to three players was not terribly out of the ordinary with Detroit, the Yankees, both LA teams, Texas and Philadelphia all paying more to their top three. The difference is those teams all had higher payrolls. If you look at this in terms of percentages, the Mariners had the greatest percentage of payroll dedicated to their top three and four players among all MLB teams – 50 percent to the top three and 56 percent to the top four. The next closest is Philadelphia, which paid $73 million to three players with a payroll of $177 million for a total of 41 percent of its payroll, and Texas, which also spent 41 percent of payroll on its top three players, $56 million on a $135 million dollar payroll. (Note, the $107 million payroll for the Mariners is self-reported, while all other figures come from Cot’s Contracts and most likely do not include the full 40-man roster.)
The number of club controllable players the Mariners have has helped allow the bulk of the budget to remain at the top, but obviously the budget cannot absorb some of the names the team is being linked to without a significant raise and it looks like they are prepared to take on one of those kinds of contracts. After that, will they be able to do the same in the next few years? It is hard to see how they could, which makes whatever moves they make or don’t make this year that much more important. If they whiff on their top targets it shouldn’t be a matter of next best; it should be next best fit for this year and beyond.
My biggest concern here is the outfield, which also translates in large part to offense. The Mariners scored just 10 more runs in 2014 than they did in 2013, and while they put together an outfield that was greatly improved defensively, they still came out of the year with just one answer in regard to the future. Dustin Ackley is the only semi-sure thing in the outfield for the Mariners after 2015. This would not be of huge concern if there was a hot outfield prospect in the minor leagues that was near ready, but that is not the case.
Their outfield of the future most likely is going to have to come from the outside, be it by trade or free-agent signing, this year or next. One answer may be Yasmani Tomas. My initial thought was this was a risk the club could not take in the position (playoffs now or else) they are in. I am leaning more toward taking that risk, but then I wonder if it would be better to wait a year. Assuming that some acceptable short-term fix could be made, with Alex Gordon, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes all set to become free agents after 2015, would that money be spent wiser a year from now?
It is possible the Mariners could swing a trade for a young outfielder that is cost-controllable, but that won’t be easy. Teams tend to hang on to that guy. There will also be considerable competition for the above outfielders, and obviously nothing is certain even if the dollars are available. Perhaps it is best to take it one year at a time, but if you do what could you miss out on the following year?
Teams may budget year to year but operating plans are mapped out for beyond what is right in front of them. The Mariners know some of their young players will be getting more expensive. This is not a surprise. They have a good idea of what they can spend in the coming years and there very well could be a way to add two major salaries in the next two or three years. But if not, what do you do? Do you make a push for a player that comes with question marks that could be the answer but could limit what you can do in the next year, or do you make shorter-term fixes with an eye on next year? What’s your plan B, C and D?
• Hisashi Iwakuma had a rough go of things in his Japan Series start early Friday morning. He gave up five runs on 10 hits in four innings and took the loss as Japan beat the MLB squad in Game 2. With the six-week layoff it is not surprising that Kuma wasn’t sharp. He also admitted to the media he was a little emotional pitching in his home country. This is the only appearance he was scheduled to make in the series.
• The Mets signing of Michael Cuddyer, who was extended the qualifying offer has moved the the Mariners up a spot in the 2015 draft. If they themselves do not sign a QO player the Mariners will hold the 20th pick.
• The Surprise Saguaros did not make the championship game so the AFL season has wrapped up for the seven Mariners minor leaguers who have been playing for the past month and a half. Assuming championship games do not count toward final stats, Patrick Kivlehan finished hitting .280/.387/.473/.861 in 93 at-bats, good for top ten in OBP, SLG and OPS for those who played in 20 or more games. He also led the league with 22 RBIs. With the quality of pitching in the AFL these numbers are impressive. I will have more on the Mariners in the AFL next week.