Not literally now, since the playoffs are going on and there won’t be much roster activity until after the World Series, when free agency starts and important people start having meetings with each other and stuff. But this post is about an often forgotten reason why there ought to be a particular sense of urgency about 2012. (No, this is not an argument for the Mariners to sign Prince Fielder.)
What factor gives the Mariners a big head start on building a team that can make the playoffs, but is potentially going to disappear in the next couple of years? Let’s take a look, shall we?
Felix playing out his contract and becoming a free agent? Look, I want him to win and be happy here as much as anyone else, but is it more critical to get him his shot at a World Series than it was for any other fan favorite, whether that’s Griffey, Ichiro, or even Alvin Davis? From a budget perspective, he starts getting pretty expensive in 2012, so the real advantage has already been wasted, although he still has surplus value. Which is one reason the media will continue to gin up trade rumors regardless, so if you just want those to go away, I’m not sure even being in contention will prevent that. (Cue New York writer with, “The Mariners still need offense, so they would have a better shot at the Rangers by adding a big bat to their everyday lineup than relying on a guy who only plays once every five days. So a fair trade would involve Alex Rodriguez to plug their hole at third base, paying the difference in salary, plus throwing in a couple prospects I’ve been hyping for the past month to get warmed up for this.”)
How about the accumulated financial surplus from Safeco Field being exhausted, so that ownership hamstrings the payroll budget in the face of mounting losses and continuing attrition in fan attendance? Maybe an issue, but we don’t actually know where things stand in terms of the franchise’s internal accounting. Anyway, if the owners start crying poor from self-inflicted wounds, they’re not going to get a lot of sympathy and they know it. They’ll be under pressure to make a choice: front the cost or sell the team.
So, how about… that’s right, the AL West. That structural advantage of only having to beat out three other teams, instead of four or even five, to win your division isn’t going to last forever. It could disappear as soon as the next collective bargaining agreement, which is conveniently timed to be negotiated around the time of Jim Crane’s deadline to complete the purchase of the Houston Astros from Drayton McLane. So guess which team is the prime candidate to switch leagues in realignment. Yes, I know the Astros are terrible right now, even worse than the Mariners, but every obstacle counts and in the long term their current state doesn’t mean anything. There might be just one more season left to go, depending on what the deal is with divisions as well as potentially a different playoff structure going forward. Remember, flags fly forever, or something like that.