The Mariners Got Very Lucky This Winter

Dave · April 30, 2013 at 10:58 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Over the winter, the Mariners made a strong play to sign Josh Hamilton. According to Ryan Divish, they offered Hamilton a four year, $100 million guarantee with two options that could vest easily, each tacking another $25 million onto the deal. If both options vested, the total contract would have been worth $150 million over six years. The Angels ended up signing Hamilton for $125 million over five years, all of it guaranteed.

And a month in, that contract looks like an unmitigated disaster. As I note in that piece over on FanGraphs, Josh Hamilton has been a below average hitter for the last five months, spanning a total of 543 plate appearances. Over the last calendar year, he’s been the equal of Jason Kubel at the plate. In that last year, Hamilton has been a less valuable player than Michael Saunders.

There’s an old adage about how the best deals a GM makes are often the ones he doesn’t make. That was certainly true with Bill Bavasi, who got outbid for Barry Zito back when he threw $100 million at the soft-tossing lefty only to see him sign with the Giants. I know there were a lot of people who were upset that the Mariners missed out on Hamilton this winter, but everyone should be thanking their lucky stars that the Angels outbid them right now.

I don’t think Hamilton is going to keep hitting .200 all year, and he will eventually get hot and launch a bunch of home runs, but that contract already looks like a bad investment, and it’s just getting started. For all the talk about how the Mariners need to step up and spend money to prove that they’re trying to win, let’s be thankful that the front office has not followed the Angels lead down the path of overrated and overpaid declining old guys. The M’s roster has a lot of problems, but at least those problems are fixable.

What the Angels are going to do in a few years when they’re paying Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton a combined $60 million per year to be average players is going to be pretty interesting, especially given that they probably have the worst farm system in baseball right now. The Angels were supposed to be mortgaging their future for some present greatness, and then they’d use the revenues from all that winning to offset their future problems. That plan might work if you’re winning, but right now, the Angels are a mess and their 2013 season might result in the same kind of organizational reboot that I think the Mariners are headed for. Only their reboot is going to have to work around a few hundred million in bad contracts, and they have little help coming through the farm system.

So, next time you look at the Mariners roster and wish it was better, just remember, you could be an Angels fan…


37 Responses to “The Mariners Got Very Lucky This Winter”

  1. Klatz on April 30th, 2013 11:08 am

    If only, somehow, the Bedard-Jones trade had been one that was not made.

  2. bigleaguechew on April 30th, 2013 11:20 am

    Lets hope the same is true when we look back at the opportunity missed with Justin Upton.

  3. jordan on April 30th, 2013 11:37 am

    But… Trout

  4. kellykoof15 on April 30th, 2013 11:39 am

    @bigleaguechew great name by the way!!!

    At least the Upton deal not going through can’t be blamed on the Mariners front office. He vetoed the trade hoping he would have a chance to play with his brother.

  5. mrakbaseball on April 30th, 2013 11:40 am

    The Mariners dodged a bullet, Hamilton looks lost.

  6. Seattleken on April 30th, 2013 11:42 am

    Justin Upton is entering his best baseball years while Hamilton is exiting his. I don’t think the M’s would have regretted the Upton deal but the fact was it was never our front office/ownership call to get him to play here.

    So I don’t see any reason to waste time thinking about Justin Upton. I’m more concerned that our front office doesn’t understand player value and consistently make the wrong judgement calls re: Jaso, Fister, Ibanez, Figgins, Olivo, Smoak, Montero etc.

  7. Westside guy on April 30th, 2013 11:46 am

    Dave is right, although I do find it troubling that they felt the only significant player available was Hamilton, and guys like Swisher and Bourne were apparently not even considered worth pursuing.

    Whoever the next Mariners GM is, he (or she!) won’t have to work with a bunch of bad contracts – even at the level of the ones Z inherited.

  8. Seattleken on April 30th, 2013 12:00 pm

    I agree the new GM will be coming into a great situation as there are no crippling contracts, a quality farm and a fan base that is hungry to see any improvement.

    My dream is that they actually hire a GM who is not just old school based but one that bases her/his moves on logic and analysis.

  9. GarForever on April 30th, 2013 12:30 pm

    As I said at the very tail-end of last night’s game thread, it remains to be seen if Franklin’s improved plate discipline over the short sample so far this season at Tacoma is sustainable, and whether and how he’ll translate his skill set to the majors. That Walker kid’s tearing it up at AA now (9.9K/9, albeit with some control issues). Who knows? The day may come when we look back at the Upton trade as one we’re glad we didn’t make, since it would have cost us both of them and two other decent pieces besides.

  10. PackBob on April 30th, 2013 12:36 pm

    Despite the lack of success at the ML level, Jack Z. did improve the MiL system by a large margin. Any GM that follows will have that to work with in addition to no bad contracts to work around.

    And there is still the chance that the Mariners improve their record this year enough to retain Jack and Wedge their jobs. Poor roster construction can be overcome by a hot streak or two. If just one of Smoak, Ackley, Montero puts together a good year, most likely Ackley, it may buy Jack some time.

  11. GarForever on April 30th, 2013 12:41 pm

    I think you may be right, PackBob, but I also think it will probably depend to some degree on a recognition that roster pieces will need to be shifted. If Smoak never breaks out (and I share Dave’s skepticism), then at some point you have to stop giving him at-bats and use his option to see if he can salvage some sort of trade value. The Ibanez situation is regrettable, though I wonder how willing the M’s are to admit the mistake and eat the remainder of the 4MM he’s owed. Some regression to the mean will help (the BABIP still seems too low, especially if Matthew’s Qual+ stat is at all indicative), but ultimately the M’s have to stop giving away too many outs with guys who add no value anywhere on the field.

  12. stevemotivateir on April 30th, 2013 12:53 pm

    No Hamilton? Sure, I can feel good about that. Never wanted him in the first place. Especially at that price.

    But we didn’t get Swisher either. This team needed at least one real outfielder that could hit. Morse can hit, but he doesn’t really count as an outfielder and we paid a steep price for him.

    I’m still concerned we’ll see a move of desperation if the team continues to suck and Jack retains the power to make such moves.

  13. The_Waco_Kid on April 30th, 2013 1:06 pm

    I’m scared of that too, Steve. Glad we don’t have Hamilton or Upton. I think we offered AZ too much.

    Hopefully, players not performing will be gone in the next few weeks

  14. Paul B on April 30th, 2013 1:07 pm

    I’ll never understand why they went after Hamilton, and not after Swisher.

  15. djw on April 30th, 2013 1:09 pm

    I’ve said this before, but the combination of:

    1) Zero bad money contracts for 2014 and beyond
    2) One of the best farm systems in the league
    3) New TV money coming soon

    should make the M’s GM position a really attractive one, generating interest from some of the best available candidates. Now if only the M’s could actually identify the best available candidates…

  16. GarForever on April 30th, 2013 1:13 pm

    Steve, I share your concern. I should have written “need to be shifted *wisely*.” But other than the two big trades he pulled off early in his tenure (the swap that brought Guti, Vargas, and Carp and the one that brought Cliff Lee), I have been far more impressed with his ability to build the farm than to pull off trades, so I worry. In fairness, though, none of Z’s trades still looks quite as stupid as any one of the trades that sent Adam Jones, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Shin Soo Choo packing. F****ng Bavasi. I still hate that guy.

  17. MrZDevotee on April 30th, 2013 1:19 pm

    I still love when Ron Washington showed Josh Hamilton– to his face– why they didn’t bring him back.

    When he Angels went to Arlington earlier this season, Washington intentionally walked whoever was in front of Hamilton to pitch to him. Even walked the bases loaded once. Hamilton struck out.

    He was 0-fer in a game they intentionally walked the guy before him twice.

    They dared him to make them pay for not resigning him.

    And he showed the “non-baseball” people of Dallas why he’s no longer a Ranger.

    (And like Dave pointed out about the $150 million on the table– his two biggest parting shots were at The Rangers- “not a baseball town”- for not resigning him when he wanted to stay, and at the Mariners– “wasn’t a serious offer”– for not guaranteeing all six years. I like seeing the decline in full motion. At least with Ibanez, I LIKE the guy if I have to watch him suck. Hamilton made quite a lumpy bed, with his mouth and his money, to try to sleep in with much comfort. And he’ll be as bad if not worse than Ibanez in a couple years.)

  18. groundzero55 on April 30th, 2013 1:36 pm

    I just saw Bret Boone on the Brandt Jerky commercial.. mind blown.

  19. diderot on April 30th, 2013 1:39 pm

    The same thought process that believed one Josh Hamilton would solve our problems is the same thought process that believes swapping out a GM will solve our problems.

    Yet Z’s departure seems like a foregone conclusion here.


  20. downwarddog on April 30th, 2013 1:40 pm

    The fact that Zduriencik wanted to sign the cancerous Hamilton is just one more reason why he should be fired.

  21. TIFO on April 30th, 2013 1:54 pm

    “The fact that Zduriencik wanted to sign the cancerous Hamilton is just one more reason why he should be fired.”

    I’d guess pretty much every team, if they had the money, wanted to sign the “cancerous Hamilton”, that’s one of the reasons his dollar/year value was so high despite the red flags. Should every team’s GM be fired?

  22. just a fan on April 30th, 2013 2:33 pm

    “Organizational reboot” is not really what the M’s need if Zduriencik gets fired. They just need to hire a GM who better evaluates major league players.

    On the other hand, it’s 28 games into the year, and the four worst Mariners have five identifiable replacements in AAA (Franklin, Romero, Zunino, Thames, Erasmo — Andino, Smoak, Ibanez, Harang).

  23. eponymous coward on April 30th, 2013 2:43 pm

    The same thought process that believed one Josh Hamilton would solve our problems is the same thought process that believes swapping out a GM will solve our problems.

    Mmm, fresh straw man and red herring. My favorite.

    So, Jack Zduriencik has about the same record as GM as Bill Bavasi did when he got fired. Does he get a pass in 2013 because the farm system’s in better shape and there aren’t a lot of long-term contracts for junk cluttering the roster, even if this team doesn’t make it to .500? How long does he get passes?

    This is kind of a separate question from whether or not you wanted to back up the truck for Josh Hamilton.

  24. Westside guy on April 30th, 2013 2:54 pm

    “In that last year, Hamilton has been a less valuable player than Michael Saunders.”

    Condor needs to demand a pay raise, apparently! 😀

  25. make_dave_proud on April 30th, 2013 3:05 pm

    Because it’s not beneath me, I went rubber-necking over at Halos Heaven the other night after the 6-2 win. Wow, is that fanbase sour on Hamilton — already. I certainly got the impression the LAA fans weren’t super-pleased with that signing when it happened, much less at this point in the season/contract.

    Re: org reboot — while the team isn’t strangled by long-term contracts, it also has a dearth of talent. Lots of potential, but so far a lot of whiffs. While the situation is good, the team still needs to grow talent — bigger and more.

    JZ did a good job rebuilding that minor league system, but he’s shown a major weakness in evaluating league-ready talent. The team really cannot move forward with that kind of leadership. What’s really frustrating is that JZ and company don’t seem to be learning anything in the process — they repeat some of the same mistakes over and over (e.g., Olivo -> Ibanez).

  26. qwerty on April 30th, 2013 3:07 pm

    PackRob, according to Geoff Baker, this year’s performance has NOTHING to do with roster construction…..please understand.

  27. Woodcutta on April 30th, 2013 3:20 pm

    Hey, I’ll be the GM of the M’s and I guarantee I’ll evaluate major league level talent better than JZ. I might even make a few trades that will help the team in the short term and the long term.

  28. greentunic on April 30th, 2013 3:38 pm

    God, imagine if he did come here and was performing like this. We’d all be shitting ourselves and I’d be blaming Safeco.

  29. ck on April 30th, 2013 4:44 pm

    Felix ? yes, spend spend spend…but after the Figgins, Carlos Silva, and, sadly, Gutierrez contracts have burned the M’s, if we signed Hamilton and he flamed out and crashed ala Figgins, this ownership would be pressured by the angry fans, with torches and pitchforks in hand, to demand a sale to more competent ownership.

  30. GarForever on April 30th, 2013 5:57 pm

    eponymous — good points all, and if this season turns out to be a rolling catastrophe then, no, I don’t think Z gets any more passes. He traded Jaso, signed Ibanez, and is obviously invested in Smoak beyond the point of reason, so if the team parks in below 81 wins this season, then probably time for a change.

    That said, I think comparing the records of Bavasi and Zduriencik is a little specious. Bavasi took over a team that had averaged almost 101 wins over the previous three seasons and had some real talent on the farm. Five years later, he bequeathed to Z an atrocious major league team, and compounded that by leveraging the farm in a futile attempt to improve said atrocious team because he failed to realize that the 2006-07 teams had over-performed and weren’t really all that good.

    Therefore, whether Z stays or goes, and whether whatever happens is the right decision, I submit that Bavasi left the franchise in far worse shape than he found it, while Z has materially improved it, even if the results have yet to manifest themselves at the major-league level (which I concede, obviously, is also an important part of the equation).

  31. MKT on April 30th, 2013 6:03 pm

    “I just saw Bret Boone on the Brandt Jerky commercial.. mind blown.”

    I would find that commercial highly amusing if I were convinced that it’s tongue-in-cheek. But I’m not sure that it, and Bret, were trying to be ironic.

  32. GarForever on April 30th, 2013 6:20 pm

    Is the jerky “enriched”? 🙂

    I no longer live in the Pacific NW, so I haven’t seen the spot.

  33. djw on April 30th, 2013 7:02 pm

    The same thought process that believed one Josh Hamilton would solve our problems is the same thought process that believes swapping out a GM will solve our problems.

    This doesn’t make any sense. What is this “thought process” of which you speak? Who holds it? No one I’m aware of has given any indication to believing either of those things.

  34. djw on April 30th, 2013 7:07 pm

    PackRob, according to Geoff Baker, this year’s performance has NOTHING to do with roster construction…..please understand.

    I swear, someday Dave should write a long, thoughtful, analytic post on the importance of pitchers throwing strikes, just to see if Baker will take the bait.

  35. G-Man on April 30th, 2013 8:18 pm

    Bret Boone commercial.

    Why they would hire him, I have no clue.

  36. GarForever on May 1st, 2013 4:33 am

    G-Man: Thanks for the link. I just watched it, and…well, wow. I share your bafflement.

  37. Westside guy on May 1st, 2013 12:37 pm


    Ten years ago, I could see a company possibly hiring Bret Boone. I’ve not nothing against the guy, but – we’re talking about a guy who retired some time ago, and as far as I know hasn’t been in any sort of spotlight since then.

    It’s not about Boone, really. You could sub in any well-known ballplayer from a decade ago. Imagine an advert with Wade Boggs in 2013 – why would you hire him now?

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