And We’ll [Maybe] Be Royals

Jeff Sullivan · December 4, 2013 at 10:44 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

From the brand-new Bob Dutton:

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.

Comments

24 Responses to “And We’ll [Maybe] Be Royals”

  1. phineasphreak on December 4th, 2013 11:22 pm

    Thanks for the write up, Jeff. I agree with most of what you and Dave have written, but I don’t believe this part:

    “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.”

    It isn’t noble or bold, it’s selfish. The reason the Mariners want to make big splashes now, or the reason Jack Z wants to, is to save his job. That’s really the reason why I feel like he’s going to go overboard this offseason.

    I don’t envy his position. If he signs a Cano, then he’ll have to overpay for a position we don’t need as much as others.

    If he signs a Cruz or Beltran, he’s paying for dingers and bad defense, and he’s getting guys past their prime, all while the Mariners DON’T figure to contend.

    If he signs a Choo (bless you), it’s for too many years, too much money, and it’s only 1 piece.

    Finally, if he trades the kids, it might make us marginally better. In the future, if those kids get better, they’re the same players we’ll be trying to sign to large contracts once they hit free agency.

    I hated what the KC GM did last year. He’ll have Shields for 2 seasons, without getting to the playoffs. Shields won’t resign, and KC will have to watch Tampa Bay have a cost-controlled, potential All Star roaming right field for the next 5 years.

    I sincerely hope Jack Z doesn’t do the same thing for 2 years of Price.

    Once again, I don’t envy his position. There would be assholes like me getting angry at the decisions he hasn’t even made yet.

    There are ways to get better, if he thinks outside the box. The way Houston did with Fowler, and the way Washington did with Fister.

    Thanks again for the write up, Jeff.

    ~pp

  2. SonOfZavaras on December 4th, 2013 11:24 pm

    At least, don’t act like a window is closing when the window hasn’t yet opened.

    Really excellent ending sentence here. Encapsulates the essence of this current sitch in a nutshell.

  3. Jon S. on December 4th, 2013 11:31 pm

    Well said. I don’t want to be the Royals.

  4. Steve Nelson on December 5th, 2013 12:09 am

    @phineasphreak on December 4th, 2013 11:22 pm

    Thanks for the write up, Jeff. I agree with most of what you and Dave have written, but I don’t believe this part:

    “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.”

    It isn’t noble or bold, it’s selfish. The reason the Mariners want to make big splashes now, or the reason Jack Z wants to, is to save his job. That’s really the reason why I feel like he’s going to go overboard this offseason.

    We’re both just speculating, of course, but I think this is an overstatement. I think that any decision to make a big push this off-season is a collective decision among Lincoln, Armstrong, and Zduriencik.

    I think the decision is driven at least as much at the executive level, above Jack Z, to make the Mariners seem relevant once again. Seeing the city go crazy for the Hawks has to eat at them, because it’s almost a complete reversal from ten years ago.

    Armstrong is gone new, and Lincoln realistically has one push left – I can’t help but think that he carries a sense of urgency to make something happen sooner rather than later. I’m sure he wants to bow out with a legacy as a “winner”, as someone who shepherded the team to a new level.

    If that’s his goal he has to make it happen within the next several years. If he thinks that maybe everything is ready to come together, for him this is the time to push out all of his chips. Because even though this might not be ideal, he could still see it as close enough for this to be the time to make his play.

    Both Jack and Howard may be like guys who are playing with short stacks.

  5. mebpenguin on December 5th, 2013 4:59 am

    Jeff,

    I’ve been on the same page as you and and Dave on this; but your link to the current depths charts and projections brought up a question for me

    If I understand this correctly, this is projecting the Mariners to accumulate about 32 WAR as they are currently constituted. My understanding is that replacement level is 48 wins, so adding these two together puts the current M’s squad at about 80 wins. Dave has spoken repeatedly about the wide variance of projections (+/- 10 wins) and used this to argue for mediocre clubs to continue to make investments to improve themselves. You and Dave have both spoken about the win curve and how the wins between 80 and 90 are progressively more important and teams should be willing to pay more for them.

    If all this is true, and the Mariners have enough resources to get them from 80 wins to 90, or at least to the high 90′s, then shouldn’t they be willing to pay a premium to close that gap?

    Would love to hear your thoughts.

  6. bermanator on December 5th, 2013 5:56 am

    “And the other critical thing here is that there’s absolutely nothing more valuable in baseball than young talent under cheap team control.”

    We agree. Because betting on Seattle’s cheap young talent has been working great.

    Sincerely,

    Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Mike Saunders…

    This isn’t to the overall point isn’t correct. It does, however, say that it’s going to be a hard sell. At what point do people just treat the latest “Prospect XX is the next big thing!!!!” approach as just another front office giving them a vague promise of future success and a losing team with little hope to watch.

    I have a lot of sympathy for Z and the front office. You have a team that has what seems to be a disproportionate number of national baseball writers with SABR backgrounds who watch you like a hawk and have more than a casual interest in what you do — but you also have a wider fanbase that doesn’t go to games anymore or watch on TV.

    It’s great to say that if you were running this team in a vacuum, you’d go all in on the kids. But the reality is that you also have to market what you have to sell today. What, exactly, does Seattle have to sell besides Felix? Right now, you can’t even really sell hope. At what point go you become the Astros and dig yourself such a big hole that regaining interest becomes far more difficult?

    Those are the very real problems the Front Office is dealing with, and I don’t envy them that task.

  7. CYK on December 5th, 2013 6:46 am

    As I recall, the Cliff Lee/ Felix pairing didn’t enable the Mariners to scale new heights. Price is good, but probably not as good as Lee was at that time. M’s should look elsewhere to improve, and they certainly should not give up Walker. Too bad Seattle is probably rejected outright by most FA’s. Frustrating situation, and the front office may have the wrong mentality to do the right things.

  8. casey on December 5th, 2013 7:43 am

    Seems to be a lot of talking out of both sides of our mouths by fans and commentators. “This management team has done nothing over the last 5 years to create a winning team” combined with don’t waste your money on impact free agents or mess with the nucleus of kids.

    Most of all don’t repeat any of those past Bedard or Figgins type horrors. In fact we want you to be just like Billy Beane – get those bargains but not dumpster style bargains, tasty ones, ones that help you win 95 games.

    Or Pete Carroll would be a good role model – pull a couple of Russell Wilson and Marchand Lynch miracles out of your hat. Hey Beane did that too with Donaldson, find one of those – Dave has a list of approved targets that will gain you sabr cred but not compromise you by blatantly playing to putting fans in seats.

    I am envisioning us winter of 2016 commenting that Tai Walker made great strides in the second half of 2015 to finish with an 11-14 record and 4.2 era. Most excellent for a starting pitcher so young and seems healthy so far. 2016 the year the M’s will win 80 games for their new GM and coach.

  9. Eastside Suds on December 5th, 2013 7:54 am

    Beautiful city? Check! Gorgeous ballpark? Big check! Relatively low pressure media and fans? A definite check! Lower cost of living and no state income tax? Check and check!! A winning tradition? An aggressive and time tested front office? A history of making positive moves and having an intelligent plan for the future of the franchise? Well, not so much.

    No question that many of the top free agents eye Seattle with a wary lens. Let’s be totally honest. Jacoby was never coming west. He has tasted the “promised land” and kissed a world title trophy. He’s in his prime and he wants more. Why would he go to a young, rebuilding team with an uneasy future when he could roam center field in pinstripes? Would you? Robinson Cano isn’t coming to Seattle. He will either come to his senses and resign with the Yanks or sign a huge deal with a big market team. Baltimore? Dodgers or Tigers? The Mets? There is one thing you can count on here. Jay-Z is not about to let his top client and poster boy for Creative Artists Agency go to Seattle Washington where ¾ of the country will never see him play.

    This building process needs to be more Andy Beane and less Brian Cashman. I am in total agreement with Dave and Jeff in that going for the big ticket items through trading away our best farm hands will hurt the work we have already put in thus far in terms of the “kids” unless we can fleece someone. As we can all attest, Jack won’t be pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. Jack has also preached and preached about patience and letting these blue chip prospects develop. So much so that we can all repeat his mantra by chapter and verse. To give them away for a short period of less mediocrity would be foolhardy and irresponsible. No doubt he feels pressure to have a turn-around year for his own sake, not to mention for “LinkStrong”. But, let’s do it intelligently through spending on viable free agents and intelligent trades rather than “go-for-it” headline grabbing deals.

  10. ChrisFB on December 5th, 2013 7:57 am

    At least, don’t act like a window is closing when the window hasn’t yet opened.

    I had the mental image of a bird smacking into a closed window, there.

    I just hope that at the introductory press conference, Z doesn’t have a Freudian slip and intro Price as Cliff Lee.

  11. kinbote on December 5th, 2013 8:13 am

    I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
    By feigned remoteness in the windowpane

  12. IdahoFan on December 5th, 2013 8:44 am

    This: “You want fans back? Win.” Exactly.

  13. just a fan on December 5th, 2013 8:49 am

    If the M’s really believe in James Paxton, then absolutely they should trade Taijuan Walker for David Price. The club really shouldn’t bet two starting spots on Paxton and Walker, nor would you want anybody decent to block one of their spots.

    But if you have Price and Paxton, then well, only one of those guys is a rookie. Only one of those guys has an innings limit.

    All I’ve heard is that of the Big Three, we’ll only get to enjoy one of ‘em. Well, maybe this is how. Let’s do it. KC was in the hunt the last week of the season.

  14. terryoftacoma on December 5th, 2013 8:51 am

    It’s reached a point where it doesn’t matter what Jack does, the online community will say he’s wrong. He lost the faithful and can never get it back. He’s damned no matter what he does.

    That said, like I said a couple of months ago. It’s looking like a repeat of the last two off seasons. Try for the big FA, go for a big trade and eventually end up with over the hill retreads.Probably with Jack is he can’t seem to operate on multiple levels. I’ve had managers like that.

    I would only caustion that all the rumors are coming from outside the organization.

  15. CCW on December 5th, 2013 9:23 am

    I basically agree with Jeff on this one, but as I pointed out in the comments under Dave’s post, it is worth noting that the *idea* of trading young talent for established talent is probably the right idea. Or at least it’s a better idea than trying to add a star (like Cano) through free agency. Yes, it is problematic when the young talent you are trading away is itself part of this year’s plan, but that is likely to be a more efficient way to get a true star onto the roster in one fell swoop than free agency, because there is no “premium” involved in a trade. Tampa Bay is going to trade Price to the highest bidder, regardless where Price wants to go.

  16. bookbook on December 5th, 2013 10:26 am

    Free agents will come to Seattle.

  17. Kazinski on December 5th, 2013 10:31 am

    I’d rather have them be A’s, Rangers or Rays than Royals or Angels.

    I’d love them to pick up a Yankee free agent, but Youklis not Cano, he’d be a great 1b/DH. I think the M’s should be looking to spend 45m or so on 3 or 4 players rather than 2 players trying to make a splash.

  18. Eastside Suds on December 5th, 2013 10:37 am

    CCW…..Then let Price go to say….the Braves or the Giants. The Rays are going to need a 1st baseman. Loneyt will likely sign somewhere else this off season. If they want that badly to dump Price’s contract, they can go after Freddie Freeman or Brandon Belt. Two guys that are still under team control and had fantastic years last season. I could definitely see a Price for Freeman trade happening in Atlanta with those “go for it now” Braves. They are close. A LOT closer than we are. We can’t afford to lose Freddie Freeman’s or Brandon Belts, or Taijuan Walker just to win 5 more games this coming season. I don’t say no. I say HELL NO!!

  19. msfanmike on December 5th, 2013 11:33 am

    I am not as familiar with “Andy Beane’s” work as I probably could be, but I have seen his name on a few different occasions in various threads. I think you meant to say “Billy Beane” and I agree -I would also prefer his approach over that of Brian Cashman.

    Regardless, a bean by any other name probably tastes just as sweet.

  20. bermanator on December 5th, 2013 12:06 pm

    This: “You want fans back? Win.” Exactly.
    ====

    And also, completely unhelpful. Does anyone think the Front Office isn’t trying to win when it considers this move?

    They do want fans back, and they are trying to win. They’re considering that getting Price may help make both happen quicker than hoping this latest round of young guys with potential pans out better than the last round did.

  21. Eastside Suds on December 5th, 2013 1:42 pm

    msfanmike, Yeah …..where did I get Andy from? I know it’s Billy. I think I was in that moment sorta like John Belushi in Animal House when he says, by my recollection…..

    “Over? Did you say (the Mariner’s are) “over”? Nothing is over until we say it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”

    Sorry, I was on a roll and you will just have to let me go with it when I’m typing at full speed. LMAO!!

  22. IdahoFan on December 5th, 2013 2:20 pm

    bermantor: I agreed with a true statement that Jeff wrote. I didn’t say whether the front office is trying to win or not.

    The more the Mariners win, the more interest I have in seeing them play. I don’t care whether it’s a team of no names or super stars. Like the man said, “Just win baby.”

    However, to your point about the front office–if the front office is trying to win, but hasn’t put together a winning team, why is that?

  23. Alex on December 5th, 2013 3:10 pm

    “And We’ll [Maybe] Be Royals”

    Maybe the Mariners should go sing “We’re on each other’s Team” to desirable free agents.

  24. bermanator on December 5th, 2013 3:10 pm

    “However, to your point about the front office–if the front office is trying to win, but hasn’t put together a winning team, why is that?”
    =================

    One could make the case that it’s because the young guys who they’ve counted on to play key roles (Smoak, Montero, Ackley) haven’t performed as promised.

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