And We’ll [Maybe] Be Royals
Used to be it was fun to compare the Mariners to the Padres, in no small part because they basically swapped all of their players. The last year or two or so, though, the running half-joke has been that the Mariners are the Royals, more or less. It’s been a half-joke because it’s been simultaneously funny and frightening. The Mariners haven’t gone full Royals yet, but I’ve been anticipating an offseason attempt to duplicate the Royals’ last offseason attempt. A year ago, the Royals decided they were tired of being bad, so they tried to go for it. They got panned, and a little bit better in the short-term. Now it seems the Mariners have decided they’re tired of being bad, too, and rumors say they’re trying to go for it. And it’s not all a load of crap. Even Jack Zduriencik is talking.
Zduriencik on mega-deals: “You have to adapt to the market. In some cases, if you have to stretch more than you want to, you just have to.”
More Zduriencik: “…always have felt there would be a time where we have to augment this club. I think we’re at that time.”
In the past, publicly, Zduriencik has been all about patience, all about sticking to his guns and his salary ceilings. Now it’s like he’s preparing us for a bunch of aggressive maneuvers. Of course, also a year ago, Zduriencik came out of nowhere to almost get Josh Hamilton, and to almost get Justin Upton. But now he’s deliberately setting an expectation. There’s no stealth behavior here — the Mariners are making no secret of their desire to add, no matter what it takes.
I don’t want to step on Dave’s post below, because it’s excellent and I agree with just about every word. But I did want to weigh in with my own piece, along some similar lines. The Mariners want to get better in a hurry. It’s noble of them, unusually bold of them, but you have to wonder about them picking their spot.
Let’s just accept that there’s pressure on the team to improve. Let’s accept that there’s all but a mandate to spend, and let’s accept that there’s some air of desperation. Maybe a desperate front office shouldn’t be the front office in charge in the first place, but we can’t get around reality. What’s the situation right now?
I can give you one idea. This is a link to some current FanGraphs projections based on team depth charts. They’re far from perfect, but they’re going to do for the time being. At present, the Mariners are pretty clearly better than the Astros. They’re presumably better than the Twins and the White Sox, too. And…that’s it. In the American League, anyway. They’re at least a little bit behind everyone else, and there are still more pieces to arrange. Figure the Yankees still re-sign Robinson Cano? All right, well, there goes the Mariners being close to them in the WAR projections. The Mariners are not a team on the fringes of contention. They’re a team on the fringes of the fringes of contention. They’re worse than three of their immediate rivals.
But, all right, the Rangers are looking a bit thin, and the Angels are in some trouble. The Athletics are good and super deep, but it’s not like 2014 would be an impossible mission. If the Mariners insist on being aggressive, they can spend to buy more wins. But a David Price trade doesn’t seem to belong. At least, not as it’s rumored. It violates both of my principles.
For one, the Mariners don’t seem like they’re good enough right now to really go for it in the short term. I think they’re worse than the Royals were a year ago, and I didn’t like what they did. And for two, if you’re going to try to make yourself better in the short term, don’t in turn give away pieces who can help you in the short term. One of the big problems with the James Shields trade was that the Royals made themselves a lot worse in right field by losing Wil Myers. If the Mariners gave up Taijuan Walker in a package to get Price, they’d get better on account of Price, but they’d also lose value at the same time losing Walker. And they could lose more giving up another piece or two from the big-league roster, like, I don’t know, Nick Franklin or Dustin Ackley. Hard enough for the Mariners to pick up enough new WAR to contend in the next couple years. They don’t need to lose WAR in adding it.
Walker, right now, is probably an adequate big-league starter. Worse than Price, of course, but Walker isn’t to be grouped with other good pitching prospects, because he’s already graduated to the highest level. He’s risky, still, but less risky. He’s survived all the levels. For whatever it’s worth, Price himself had a DL stint a year ago with an arm problem. The Mariners need not just better talent, but more talent, so Price for Walker would be an addition and a subtraction.
And the other critical thing here is that there’s absolutely nothing more valuable in baseball than young talent under cheap team control. Those players give you performance and all kinds of financial flexibility, because they don’t cost anything for years. Walker, as is, belongs to the Mariners through 2019. Willie Bloomquist will earn more next season than Walker will probably earn the next three seasons, combined. Jack himself has addressed this before, in pleading for patience:
“We’re committed to staying the course with these kids and trying to build,” he said. “I’ve had several scenarios where I could give up two or three of these players, but what has to be weighed is the return you’re getting, the years of control for what you’re giving up.
“Could I have made a trade? Of course. But taking on cost and getting a player with less years of control and giving up your very strong assets, that’s fine if it makes a lot of sense.”
Since a year ago, the Mariners haven’t really gotten better. Does trading Walker and more for Price make a lot of sense? If Jack weren’t under pressure to get better fast, would this be his course? You can point to the Upton trade, but then Upton was a position player with an extra year left. The prospects going the other way were a year less developed. Price would be a shorter-term gamble, at at least an equivalent player price, and he’s not cheap and the Mariners aren’t good. It’s a difficult thing to figure.
Of course, the Mariners could still do more. They’d need to. Maybe getting Price would make them more appealing to other targets, I don’t know. But if you trade for David Price, you don’t go halfway. You really have to add wins in the short term to bolster an intended contender. You probably have to get another starter, and you have to get a position player or two because the current crop is unremarkable and the outfield is too thin. Get David Price, and you sure as hell better make sure other pieces follow. Good ones. With Price and another good starter and a good position player, maybe the Mariners start to look like a Wild Card contender. Maybe they start to look like, you know, the 2013 Royals.
It just seems to me that the Mariners can maneuver aggressively without giving up that much player value. I’d rather overpay in money for free agents than overpay in young talent for non-free agents. I mean, I’d rather not overpay at all, but this isn’t an ideal situation. And there are other available moves, too, lesser moves, trades for players who aren’t as splashy and flashy. It doesn’t seem right for this team to lose Walker and more for two years of a great starter. The team isn’t good enough, and Price isn’t good enough. He is very good, but that’s only a fraction of the whole picture.
You want fans back? Win. Win for more than one or two years. The Mariners lost attendance in 2009, and they lost attendance in 2010 despite the splashes. That’s because the team still wasn’t good enough, and success is what fans respond to in the bigger picture. You achieve sustainable success by doing the right things. It can, sometimes, be the right thing to give up long-term value for short-term value, but the Mariners aren’t facing that circumstance. And if they were to really, really try, they’d need a hell of a lot of puzzle pieces to fall into place, because Price wouldn’t be close to enough. That’s just a few more wins for a team that still likely wouldn’t finish .500.
The Royals just won 86 games and gained fans. 134 of them, on average, per home game. That does ignore that ratings were up and morale was up, and people did get a chance to care about the Royals again for more than one or two months. That isn’t worth nothing. It’s still probably not worth what the Royals did. This season they get a second chance with Shields, but they’re still on the outside looking in, and Wil Myers was the Rookie of the Year. We all want the Mariners to be better. We all want the Mariners to win as soon as they can. There are worse ways to try to get there, and less worse ways. At least, don’t act like a window is closing when the window hasn’t yet opened.