Making A Splash

Jeff Sullivan · July 10, 2013 at 4:51 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

We have to begin with the necessary caveat that everything is situation-specific. Maybe Chris Davis wouldn’t be having one of the best offensive seasons of all time this year had the Mariners earlier picked him up for Brandon League. Maybe Troy Tulowitzki wouldn’t have blossomed into Troy Tulowitzki with Seattle. Maybe Jeff Clement and Chone Figgins would’ve been big assets somewhere else. Maybe anything. Life is complicated! My idea of heaven is having instant access to the results of countless controlled experiments, just to sate my own undying curiosity. But with that out of the way, let’s selectively highlight a few could’ve-been Mariners splashes, and then selectively highlight a few other guys who weren’t such splashes:

  • Josh Hamilton: 0.4 WAR
  • Jason Bay: 0.4
  • Raul Ibanez: 0.8
  • Prince Fielder: 0.7 WAR
  • Justin Smoak: 1.0
  • Justin Upton: 1.5 WAR
  • Nick Franklin: 1.0 (partial season)
  • Taijuan Walker: top prospect!

The Mariners strongly pursued Josh Hamilton, only to lose out to the Angels because the Angels looked better and guaranteed more money. Hamilton appears to have been this front office’s top priority. To date, in the first year of his contract, he’s been lustily booed at home, and he’s been out-done by old guys the Mariners picked up for a catchy song.

The Mariners may or may not have strongly pursued Prince Fielder, but they were in the mix, and a lot of fans were in love with the idea. Jack Zduriencik, of course, has his own unique relationship with Fielder, going back to their time in Milwaukee. Fielder was good last season, but so far in 2013, he’s been only fine, while Smoak has elevated his game and posted the higher WAR despite missing some time.

The Justin Upton rumors came after the Josh Hamilton rumors, and though we can’t really confirm anything, there were multiple reports that the Mariners tried to give the Diamondbacks Nick Franklin, Taijuan Walker, and more. If rumors are to be believed, the only reason Upton isn’t a Mariner right now is because he personally didn’t want to be. He got off to an amazing start in Atlanta, but he’s mostly struggled since, and the Mariners aren’t complaining about the guys they got to keep. Franklin’s been at least as good as Upton, filling an organizational hole, and Walker is one step away from making an impact in the major leagues.

This doesn’t count as a “study”, because this is hardly rigorous, and nothing’s conclusive. As before, now we still don’t know what Josh Hamilton might do next, and Prince Fielder is probably better than this, and Justin Upton is confusing. And we don’t know what any of those guys might do in a Mariners uniform. We don’t know and can’t know, until I die and go to my heaven and somehow preserve access to this blog’s editorial page. That information would be of little relevance, unless I were to die alarmingly soon. Hell, maybe Franklin regresses. Maybe Walker falls apart. Maybe anything, like I said in the intro.

But just going off those numbers, and taking them for what they are, had the Mariners made any of those big splashes, today they might not be in a better situation. They might be in a far worse one, depending on, say, how you feel about Hamilton’s contract and future. There was always a chance Hamilton would collapse. There was always a chance Upton wouldn’t figure things out on a consistent basis. There was always a chance Fielder would begin to decline sooner than desired. What we have is only a half-season, but still there are lessons.

Big splashes aren’t guarantees, no matter the magnitude. The only thing that’s guaranteed is that the team is going to be out a lot of resources. The hope is that the team receives equivalent or superior value in return. Big names are sexy, and people are easily excited by sexy moves, but that’s short-term thinking. A lot of the arguments are about short-term thinking. Sending a message to the fans? There might be an initial boost in mass attention, but the only way to sustain that is to win. Sending a message to the players? There might be an initial boost in roster enthusiasm, but the only way to sustain that is to win. Making a statement? I don’t even know what that means. Nobody wins anything for raising the most eyebrows. Baseball stops for a minute when someone makes a huge move, then it resumes, moving at the same speed. Eventually someone wins the World Series. That usually has to do with talent and health and good luck.

It’s not like the Mariners haven’t made actual splashes. Remember when the Mariners traded for Cliff Lee? That was awesome, until the team sucked a lot and it didn’t matter that Lee was around. Whatever messages are sent by a transaction last until the next baseball game is played, and then a reminder is issued that the thing that matters most, for everyone, is winning, winning as many games as you can, however you can, whoever the players might be. That’s the goal. That’s it. That’s it. It’s that simple. Build the best team you can. Maybe that involves making a huge splash, and the Mariners certainly don’t regret the guys they gave up for Lee, but they might’ve regretted the guys they might’ve given up for Upton. Usually, the team that wins a major sweepstakes wins by overpaying. Overpaying is usually bad, hence the “over-” part. You need to think short-term and long-term and efficiency always always always matters. It’s not about being cheap. On average, good teams spend more than bad teams. It’s about maximizing the payroll you set for yourself, and only sometimes are the biggest names actual values, especially after they reach free-agent age.

Maybe this is getting preachy, or maybe this is getting unnecessarily long. Do you think the Angels would give Josh Hamilton the same contract today that they gave him some months ago? Do you think the Angels fans now are thrilled to have him on the roster? Boy, that was a splash. That one really made headlines, really got people excited about the Angels’ prospects for a title. Hamilton right now is riding a hot streak, lifting his OBP all the way up to .288. His teammate, future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols, has a lower WAR than Kelly Shoppach. Miguel Cabrera on his own basically makes the case for making a splash and taking a chance, but the counter-examples are numerous and impossible to ignore.

The Mariners today aren’t in a wonderful situation. It’s not bad, and it could be worse. There’s nothing wrong with wishing that the team would have a higher payroll, but there’s more than one way to get that done. There’s concern about a potentially massive landslide on the Isla de La Palma, in the Canary Islands. Such an event could cause a big splash, and a catastrophic tsunami.


14 Responses to “Making A Splash”

  1. DarkKnight1680 on July 10th, 2013 5:14 pm

    So…you’re not in favour of pursuing Ellsbury, Granderson, Choo, Cruz, or Pence in the winter? Really, only Choo and Ellsbury hold any interest for me, but your outlining of the “big names” makes me wary-er.

  2. shamus on July 10th, 2013 5:15 pm

    As Dave pointed out on his Fangraphs chat this morning, Jack Z’s offseason was a shocker. Thankfully the lesser-of-the-three-evils plan was the one that came off. Jack Z. Great prospect evaluator, terrible major league talent evaluator??

  3. Liam on July 10th, 2013 5:34 pm

    I liked what Dave said in his Fangraphs chat today:

    Jack Z’s Plan A was terrible, his plan B was terrible, and his Plan C was terrible. Basically, his off-season was a series of disasters, and he lucked into the least bad of the three.

  4. stevemotivateir on July 10th, 2013 6:05 pm


    Nothing Marc said suggests he wouldn’t be in favor of signing a high-profile free agent. He was simply pointing out that nothing’s guaranteed and that the Mariners lucked out by losing out to LA on Hamilton and with Upton rejecting the trade.

    Personally, I think Pence is the most appealing of the FA’s you mentioned. I’d have no problem with the M’s making a push for him.

  5. Eastside Suds on July 10th, 2013 6:10 pm

    As was suggested on an earlier thread post today: We would be wise to go after Ellsbury and Pence. Maybe a Matt Garza and see if Bloomquist would like to return as a utility guy. Those would be great additions to the kids.

    Would surprise me to see Grandy bolt NY, plus Cruz is going to be dinged 50+ games at some point. Would love to get Choo back. That still should piss every Mariner fan that he was once ours. Thanks Bavasi.

  6. Klatz on July 10th, 2013 6:23 pm

    It’s still too early to say whether it was better have any of the those big 3 (Hamilton, Fielder, Upton) over the current incarnation of the Ms.

    Of those though, if the front office was willing to pay Hamilton, we’d still have Hamilton, Miller, Franklin, Smoak 3.5, and the bevy of pitching prospects. Of course whether Hamilton would be worth it is another question.

  7. californiamariner on July 10th, 2013 6:40 pm

    It seems like any plan from this past offseason was doomed. Bourn is about the only successful one you could say the team should have signed.

  8. don52656 on July 10th, 2013 8:24 pm

    Seriously, what percentage of free agents are ever worth the money they receive? While I don’t mind the idea of adding an Ellsbury or Choo, if we sign a free agent we will end up overpaying for him. The most encouraging thing about the Mariners right now is that next year the overwhelming majority of the talent will be home grown, under team control, and worth more than the cost.

    Frankly, the most cost-effective way to bring in top talent would have been what JackZ attempted: trading his plethora of home-grown talent for a Justin Upton.

    Free agents are exciting and make us feel good when they sign (or feel bad when they sign elsewhere), but they will rarely ever be worth the money.

  9. eponymous coward on July 10th, 2013 10:58 pm

    <I.Seriously, what percentage of free agents are ever worth the money they receive?

    Believe it or not, Bill “yeah, THAT guy” Bavasi made a good signing: Adrian Beltre for 5/75 million. So it can be done, even if you’re a horrible GM.

  10. GhostofMarinersPast on July 11th, 2013 8:31 am

    And then there is Giancarlo Stanton……..he should be pursued like a Fortune 500 company executive position

  11. PackBob on July 11th, 2013 8:51 am

    The M’s already made their Big Splash with the extension of Felix, great for keeping his talent but iffy because he’s a pitcher. I think that was really Jack’s Plan A, with Hamilton and Upton B and C. So Jack succeeded in one of his attempts, even if he was aided by Felix. Good thing he failed on B and C.

    A Medium Splash, such as Bourn or Swisher, would have been much better for the M’s.

  12. stevemotivateir on July 11th, 2013 9:09 am

    Felix was more of a side move. He was still under contract. They likely wanted to get that done, not just for the fans sake and to retain whatever credibility was left, but to do so before the bar was raised with other pitchers, such as Kershaw.

    The M’s still haven’t done a thing to address the outfield. A position change for Romero and Ackley doesn’t count, yet, and even if they do work out, it’s not enough.

  13. GhostofMarinersPast on July 11th, 2013 9:45 am

    Stanton. I think you would have to really consider putting something together for Stanton. And it would probably have walker as the centerpiece. And to get Stanton in our outfield, I would be just fine with that.

  14. djw on July 11th, 2013 10:55 am

    Do you think the Angels would give Josh Hamilton the same contract today that they gave him some months ago?

    Fun question: if JH were a free agent right now, and you were a GM with needs in OF/DH, what would be your max offer?

    I can’t really imagine going much higher than 3/24.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.