Pick a Plan
I noted tonight on Twitter that if the Mariners have $240 million (or $225 million, whatever the offer ends up being) for Robinson Cano, that there are better ways to spend it than throwing it all at one player on the wrong side of 30. That brought about a natural question: what else could the Mariners actually do, since “you have to overpay” to get someone to sign in Seattle? To be honest, a bunch of the guys I would have liked to see the Mariners pursue have already been acquired by other teams (at more than reasonable prices, I will note), so I can’t suggest the team retroactively go trade crap for Dexter Fowler or sign Dan Haren or Scott Kazmir to a low-risk, short-term contract. But even with many of the better bargains already off the board, I still think there are viable plans that could help the team just as much as the rumored go-for-broke plan without doing the same kind of long term damage to the franchise.
For instance, let’s just say that the Mariners current plan involves something like signing Robinson Cano (9/$225M), trading Taijuan Walker, Dustin Ackley, and some live arms for David Price (2/$30M), flipping Nick Franklin for Billy Butler (2/$20M), and then spending the rest of their budget on a veteran reliever (1/$5M?), some kind of Raul Ibanez-esque outfield depth piece (1/$2M), and a backup catcher (1/$2M). Assuming they backload Cano’s contract a little bit, that’s about $50 million in salary additions, and would give the team the starter, “two bats”, and bullpen help they’ve said is the goal, plus fill out the bench.
Replacing Franklin with Cano (+3 WAR), Walker with Price (+2 WAR), Montero with Butler (+2 WAR), and accounting for the depth pieces, you’re looking at probably a +8 WAR upgrade, or something in that range. For $50 million in salary (plus a crazy long commitment to Cano) and a bunch of good young talent going elsewhere, that’s not a lot of bang for the buck, and I don’t think it’s enough to make this team a contender. Which is why I’d rather see them pursue a more balanced approach that added pieces to the players already in place rather than paying a premium to land splashy big name guys. And I don’t think it’s really all that hard to do, even with what’s left on the market now.
For instance, let’s just say the team did this instead.
Traded Dustin Ackley to the Dodgers for Matt Kemp and $30 million, bringing total commitment to Kemp to 6/$100M.
Signed Matt Garza for 5 years, $70M.
Signed Mike Napoli for 4 years, $52M.
Traded Tom Wilhelmsen to Cleveland for Drew Stubbs, who is projected to get $4M in arbitration.
Kemp, Garza, and Napoli all project as roughly +3 WAR players, while Stubbs is forecast for +1 WAR in a half season’s worth of playing time.
In this instance, Kemp replaces Ackley (+2 WAR upgrade), Garza bumps Paxton or Ramirez to #6 starter (+2 WAR upgrade), Napoli replaces Montero (+2 WAR upgrade), and Stubbs joins Saunders and Almonte in a CF/RF rotation, replacing Xavier Avery or Carlos Peguero or whatever other scrub you have penciled in for OF time right now (+1 WAR upgrade). And then you still have a few million left to sign a catcher and a bullpen piece if you want.
That magnitude of the upgrade for those kinds of moves would be very similar to the Cano/Price/Butler plan, and would achieve many of the same goals. You’d get your “two bats”. You’d get a veteran starter to slot in between Felix/Iwakuma and the kids. You’d get some outfield depth. You’d get to have a bunch of press conferences to impress everyone with how aggressive you were in adding big name players.
And you’d still have Taijuan Walker. You wouldn’t be on the hook for a monster contract that pays nearly $30 million per year when a player is approaching 40. You’d have at least a reasonable rotation of Major League outfielders.
This isn’t even an ideal plan. I’d rather take a shot on Corey Hart for one year than try to lure Mike Napoli away with a four year deal, but I figure providing an alternative plan has to involve “go for it” type moves, not convince people of the wisdom of multiple good values instead. I think, in reality, you could get a decent approximation of what Garza would give you for a lot less by signing a buy-low pitcher like Chris Capuano or Roberto Hernandez instead, but no one seems interested in those kinds of pick-ups right now.
So, instead, here’s a separate path for spending a bunch of money that gets you to a pretty similar place, only doesn’t cost you your best young arm and a $225M contract in the process.
With a different approach from the start of the winter, the M’s could have done even better. But even after having sat out and watched a lot of the good buys sign elsewhere, there’s still other options for the Mariners. They don’t have to sign Robinson Cano or spend no money, and they don’t have to trade for David Price or not land a rotation upgrade. They can outbid everyone else for Garza and Napoli just as they can outbid everyone for Cano and Price. There are other options here.
Don’t ever let yourself belief that there’s only one path, one plan; that’s how you end up making mistakes. There are always options. In this case, they don’t even take that much creativity. If the Mariners want to overspend on free agents, there are other free agents to overspend on. If they want to make a trade for an expensive player, David Price isn’t the only expensive player on the market. Don’t punt the future just because you think it’s the only way forward.