That Was Fast
As recently as, I don’t know, a month ago, the Mariners were a bad team, but they were a bad team with like no financial commitments aside from Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, who are very good. Therefore, the Mariners looked like a team that might be able to spend and improve itself in a hurry, and then the Mariners poured nine figures into Robinson Cano and they did some other things and now this is on the Internet:
What the heck are the Mariners doing?
Club officials are signaling to certain agents and others in the industry that the team is near its payroll limit, though certain exceptions may be made for the right player.
Added Jack Zduriencik:
“I think that if we go for another large deal, that obviously is going to have to go above my head. And at this moment we are where we are, and we’re trying to make things work with what we have.”
Right in that first blockquote, it’s made evident that the Mariners aren’t just about out of room. If exceptions can be made for the right player, then there’s room left for the right player, and if you want the Mariners to be able to acquire a good player, they can do that. What they won’t do is just spend to spend, if they don’t like what they’d be spending on, and the main general message is that there’s just not that much flexibility left. Which is what happens when a free agent takes up twenty-four million dollars.
Ignoring any kind of commentary or narrative, where do the Mariners stand today? I’m not going to bother walking you through the tables and math, because it’s simple and it takes up too much space. Also, it’s ugly-looking. I constructed a best-guess 25-man roster and inputted a bunch of salaries, including arbitration projections and Danny Hultzen. I was left with a figure right around $81 million. So that’s the Mariners’ approximate payroll today. If you max out the performance bonuses, the figure moves up to something more like $91 million. I don’t know how the team accounts for those things, and I’m sure every team is different. Some bonuses, also, are more likely than others.
Lincoln said the payroll budget for the upcoming season will be higher than what the team budgeted last season. The team budgeted close to $95 million for payroll last season, but only used about $84 million.
“It’s certainly going to be above what we budgeted last year,” Lincoln said. “How much? For competitive purposes, I’m not prepared to say. But it certainly is not going to go down.”
It’s on record, then, that the Mariners will be increasing their payroll budget, and this time they’ll probably spend right up to it. We don’t know where the ceiling is, but it’s probably soft and it’s probably modest. This team presumably isn’t going to increase payroll by 30%. Based on the roster now, the Mariners shouldn’t be out of room, but they do appear to be drawing reasonably close, especially if you account for some achievable bonuses. I wouldn’t say, for example, the Mariners could accommodate a second Robinson Cano. The first one ate up a lot of room, which is what elite players do.
Ignore the bonuses for a moment. The Mariners will drop a few million on a veteran backup catcher, probably. They’ll drop a few million on a veteran relief pitcher or two, probably. Right there, that would take them up at least into the mid-80s, and if the relief pitcher is a closer, it could be something like 90. Again, the big question is by how much ownership is willing to increase payroll, but you can see how Zduriencik was simultaneously bluffing and telling the truth. The Mariners aren’t out of room, but they are at the point where they need to be careful and maybe a little creative. There would be no reason for Zduriencik and the front office to be completely honest with agents about how much space is left, but agents can figure things out for themselves. I just did in ten minutes.
Here are the takeaways:
- the Mariners are already right around last year’s payroll
- the Mariners intend to increase payroll, by an unknown amount
- the Mariners still need a couple role players, who will probably be veterans
- the Mariners can probably afford one more pretty big contract, if an opportunity presents itself
I’m sure the Mariners would love, for example, to squeeze in Masahiro Tanaka. He would probably be an “exceptional player”, but the Mariners might not be willing to go as high as somebody else. David Price would cost less than Tanaka, in salary. The Mariners might as well keep checking in with the free-agent starters, to see how their markets are going. One hopes that Nelson Cruz wouldn’t count as an exceptional player himself, but as long as he’s out there there is that possibility. I guess the real takeaway is the Mariners have an amount of money to spend that is unknown to us, and that’s it. They are about maxed out, when it comes to adding little pieces. They can probably fit in one more big piece. If they do that, hopefully it’s smart and the player is good.
It might feel like the Mariners’ offseason is slowing down. This offseason already has included Robinson Cano and Corey Hart in it, and some others, and Zduriencik is busy trying to do things right now people haven’t heard anything about yet. The roster’s not finished, but it is close, and the biggest splash has certainly already been splashed. Of course the money’s getting tight. But improvements from here will be considered on a case-by-case basis. There’s talent still out there, and this team could use some.