Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The standard rumor about the Seattle Mariners these days is that they have a lot of money to spend and they might be chasing big-name free agents. At the risk of channeling the playground version of myself from many years ago, I will ask the following question:
I don’t want to say that all the tweeting baseball writers are guessing. Okay, maybe a few of them are guessing.
In general terms, the logic is sound. Felix Hernandez is literally the only player signed to a long-term deal. The bulk of the young core is under club control for a reasonable amount of time and cannot demand lucrative contracts. Based on past performance, most of them wouldn’t get paid very much anyway.
Therefore, the assumption is that Jack Zduriencik will arm himself with the revenue from a new cable deal and do some serious holiday shopping for free agents. Yeah, maybe.
Then again, what if the Mariners are going to stick with the plan of building from within? What if management wants to give this youngish lineup one more year and see if Taijuan Walker and James Paxton can provide a spark from the mound? What if free agent outfielders aren’t coming and the expansive grass in Safeco Field will be patrolled by Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and Abraham Almonte?
This scenario is not nearly as exciting to anticipate, but the fans have to look at recent history and recognize that the Mariners have not exactly been aggressive in the marketplace. We were told that the M’s might have been in on Prince Fielder and Josh Hamilton over the last couple of winters, but that could all be conjecture.
Let’s look at a possible scenario. Just for the sake of argument, let us assume that the Mariners can sign someone like Shin-Soo Choo. They get him with a five-year, $90 million contract and steal him from the Texas Rangers. Choo arrives, hits well, and the Mariners improve. Seattle finishes the 2014 season with 10 more wins than 2013. In other words, they play .500 baseball.
Will the fans come flocking back to a team that ranked 25th in home attendance last season? Will one Seattle resident say to the other, “Let’s go see the M’s tonight! They are above average!” Forgive me if I do not see that happening.
For the fans to come back in large quantities, the Mariners will need to put a winner on the field. As in, a legitimate winner that has star power and contends for a division title. Even then there are no guarantees as some fans can be slow to return after several seasons of disappointment.
Will the Mariners build a winner by signing pricey free agents? Perhaps. However, expensive contracts are no guarantee of success. Behind closed doors the philosophy may be that the Mariners should remain a budget-conscious franchise that retains stars (King Felix) only when absolutely necessarily.
There is the possibility that the biggest free-agent signing by the Mariners will be the reported addition of Willie Bloomquist. Welcome home, Mr. Bloomquist.
Maybe Jack Z will live up to the hype of the rumors and start cutting serious checks. Then again, we might see another year of mysterious free agent courting that may or may not have happened.
The Mariners have money to spend…maybe.