That Was Fast

Jeff Sullivan · December 19, 2013 at 6:53 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

Using the same kind of method, the last two years the Mariners had Opening Day payrolls right around $84 – 85 million. Here’s Howard Lincoln from the end of November:

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:

  1. the Mariners are already right around last year’s payroll
  2. the Mariners intend to increase payroll, by an unknown amount
  3. the Mariners still need a couple role players, who will probably be veterans
  4. 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.

Comments

27 Responses to “That Was Fast”

  1. coreyjro on December 19th, 2013 6:59 pm

    I like the revelation between yesterday and today on the Taijuan Walker front. Yesterday he was becoming more available, this evening he’s unavailable.

  2. killeverything on December 19th, 2013 7:15 pm

    Echoing both Mr. Z and Westside I’m not as disappointed as I thought I would be with Zduriencik at this point in time. Remember I’ve been calling for his head since the Pineda trade, but as it stands there are still some pieces to be added and Nelson Cruz so far hasn’t been one of them.

    I don’t want to believe because I know better, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting excited for pitchers and catchers to report.

  3. GarForever on December 19th, 2013 8:58 pm

    I’m not surprised to see Rosenthal try to make a bigger deal out of this than it is, since he tried to construct a narrative before the Cano signing that it was “dumb” for both the player and the team. I typically like and respect Rosenthal, but he really seems to dislike the fact that the M’s didn’t capitulate and ship Felix to the Yankees like he advocated for years. The fact that he and Cano will be playing together for the M’s and not the Yankees must have created a real blind spot for him.

  4. Typical Idiot Fan on December 19th, 2013 10:14 pm

    In a nutshell, since Rosenthal is Boras’ media voice box:

    -Fuck off Choo
    -Fuck off Drew
    -Fuck off Perez
    -Fuck off Morales

  5. dantheman on December 19th, 2013 11:00 pm

    You might want to reserve judgment because you won’t have to wait very long to see whether it’s true that the Mariners are going to “try to make things work with what we have.” Not a good omen.

  6. LongDistance on December 19th, 2013 11:06 pm

    Not to be obsessive about it, but I see nothing really in the outfield to make me happy. If an improvement is made by negation, then Raul’s absence is an improvement. And if unknown unknowns can be a way of assigning a positive expectation, then Guti’s our man. For me, that’s zero sum

    At this point, I don’t feel the Cano signing has been buttressed in any way that makes the team look, globally, much better. Or in any way fulfills, or at the very least protects, whatever promise or rational Cano’s signing brings to the team.

    I agree, they’re not finished. But regardless of what happens, I can see another experimental year coming.

  7. mossi on December 19th, 2013 11:48 pm

    So when is Endy Chavez due in town?

  8. ABP52380 on December 20th, 2013 2:12 am

    Concur with fore mentioned opinions. Rosenthal was the biannual author of “Mariners must trade Felix to Yankees” articles for as long as I can remember. His opinion, while educated from an insider perspective, means very little to me at this point. “Trade Felix, don’t sign Cano, what are you doing south Alaska don’t you know that you’re suppose to be irrelevant?” It’s so easy to be pessimistic about this franchise. It’s so easy to criticize their every decision. I know, I’ve been doing it all along. That said, at least their finally making moves — 10 year albatross’s or not. Screw Rosenthal.

  9. maqman on December 20th, 2013 2:27 am

    Endy is the Player To Be Signed Later for the fifth OF backup roll when Guti is on the DL.

    According to my calculations they have even more left to use than Jeff points out. That doesn’t even take into account the $26M in new national media contracts money they will receive next year.

  10. eponymous coward on December 20th, 2013 7:00 am

    So, basically, this becomes the 2013 Mariners + Cano, if you figure Hart+Morrison replace Raul+Morales, and we’ve swapped Ryan for Princess Willie.

    I don’t see how this makes a bunch of sense unless you REALLY think that all the young pitching + Brad Miller + Guti are about to explode all over the AL. This still feels like a front office that ihasn’t learned a lot when it comes to adding talent- their decisions about how to add dinger-first players are better, but they are still about 2 OFers short of a decent team, let alone a good team. Great, you signed the best player on the market and went for it. Try surrounding Cano and Felix with better talent.

  11. The Ancient Mariner on December 20th, 2013 7:31 am

    I suspect this is really very simple. The Mariners aren’t going to sign another big-money player unless they do, just like Taijuan Walker won’t be traded unless he is.

  12. Eastside Suds on December 20th, 2013 8:03 am

    Only way Endy is coming back is in Tacoma. Sucre/backup catcher, Bloomquist, Guti (if he doesn’t start)/probably Morrison if he does and Almonte are the 4 bench players. There is no room for anyone else.

  13. MrZDevotee on December 20th, 2013 8:49 am

    Jason Churchill is reporting that we’re not actually done spending, pretty much taking aim at Rosenthal and directly refuting him. He does the math, that puts us in the low $80 million range, quotes Lincoln’s old quote about we’re definitely not reducing payroll this season, from last year’s budge of 95 million, and doesn’t take into account the extra $26 million from the new TV deal all the teams are getting… (Although who knows how much of that will go to player payroll).

    He breaks it down in pretty good detail– we’re actually only in the mid $60 million range at the moment, but he’s guessing with arbitration cases we’ll be around 80 millions.

    So by his estimates he sees us having roughly $15-20 million left to spend– more if the right situation arises. His guess is that Z’s quote is more a matter of letting the Choo’s and Cruz’s out there know we’re not interested at their asking prices.

    If he’s right, then: my apologies to FrozenRopers for doubting his same thoughts yesterday.

    And it’s actually GOOD news in that light.

  14. eddie on December 20th, 2013 8:52 am

    I get really tired of these media “analysts” who think they know exactly what’s going on. Ken Rosenthal is probably a little ticked off that the Mariners didn’t do what he said they would do when he said they never in a million years would sign Cano. Plus, he thought of a good line — the M’s are M’barrassing. Good one, Ken. On top of that why not kick a man when he’s down? Jack Z is an easy target these days and guys like Ken are jumping off the bandwagon onto his chest.

    And if it’s true he’s Boras’ media mouthpiece, and you think that Boras is going to let his ex-client Cano and Jay-Z off easy you can forgedda bout it, Ken is on the case.

  15. ChrisFB on December 20th, 2013 9:01 am

    So, basically, this becomes the 2013 Mariners + Cano, if you figure Hart+Morrison replace Raul+Morales, and we’ve swapped Ryan for Princess Willie.

    Yep. If I knew how to do it simply without blowing an afternoon creating a report manually, I’d be curious to look up in fangraphs or b-ref how many teams in the last few years made up their offseason acquisitions primarily through players coming off of injury. I know this isn’t objective but it just feels like the M’s do a hell of a lot more blue light special shopping than other teams. And every offseason seems to go the same by about mid-winter: “It’s early”, “They can’t be done yet”, “They have the payroll room”, “If everyone gets back to pre-injury performance levels”, and so on. Same ol same ol. A few years ago it was Figgins and then some padding. Then it was Cliff Lee, and then some padding. Then it was re-signing Felix, and some padding. This year it’s Cano, 2 guys coming off knee issues and a CFer who is apparently allergic to life.

  16. kinickers77 on December 20th, 2013 10:18 am

    MrZDevotee – that is encouraging news.

    I honestly don’t see much to be had out there in FA.

    Unless we can sign both Choo and at least Santana or Garza (but hopefully Tanaka), and add the smaller pieces, I don’t see us as competitive.

    But then again, I have no idea what’s really out there in the trade market either, other than Price which is not worth Walker to me.

  17. Longgeorge1 on December 20th, 2013 10:26 am

    How long before Guti, LoMo and Hart are all in the same hospital ward? We’ve bought an extremely good 2nd baseman and added zero to the pitching. It is not unreasonable to pencil in Walker and Paxton. In fact I hope that they are there. Franklin (or Miller) has to be moved. I can see it now, an outfield of Saunders, Ackley and Franklin. It’s Ground Hog Day again!

  18. MrZDevotee on December 20th, 2013 10:47 am

    For folks who wanna read it– here’s the Jason Churchill “rebuttal” of Rosenthal…

    http://seattle.cbslocal.com/2013/12/19/the-seattle-mariners-are-not-out-of-money/

  19. miscreant on December 20th, 2013 10:57 am

    Everyone’s waiting on Tanaka. After Tanaka’s signed SPs will be signing left and right. The Mariners will sign a SP then probably trade Franky.

    As for Rosenthal, never trust a guy that wears a bow tie.

    That Churchill piece is a good read.

  20. Westside guy on December 20th, 2013 11:52 am

    IF we could count on Guti, I wouldn’t actually be unhappy with an outfield of Guti in center, Saunders in right and Ackley in left. Even at the offensive production they had last year, that would be a significant improvement in overall value from last year. As far as the infield goes, other than Smoak I don’t think it’s that bad.

    However counting on Guti is unrealistic, and moving Saunders to center gives back a chunk of his value. It’d be nice if Z could figure out how to spin Smoak into something of benefit to the outfield – even a decent glove-only CF that could rotate in when Guti can’t play. I really don’t want to see LoMo or Hart in the outfield – we saw enough bad outfield play last year to last a lifetime. Same goes with WFB, who really shouldn’t be handed a huge amount of playing time.

    A lot will depend on McLendon and how he manages the pieces Z gives him, obviously. With Wedge, it seemed like he had a knack for taking all the bad pieces he was given and using them in a manner that maximized their badness. :-P

  21. Eastside Suds on December 20th, 2013 12:50 pm

    “The Twins and catcher Kurt Suzuki agreed to a $2.75 million, one-year contract on Friday”

    Why didn’t we get this done a week ago? Crap!!!!

  22. TumwaterMike on December 20th, 2013 12:57 pm

    There is still Yorvit Torrealba, John Buck, Taylor Teagarten, Humberto Quintero as possible backups to Zunino.

  23. MrZDevotee on December 20th, 2013 1:02 pm

    I, for one, am glad we didn’t sign Suzuki… He threw out 12% of runners last year and was last in the league in pitch framing. So nothing to see there, really. He’s well into a typical catcher decline defensively.

    Just sayin’.

    Sure, he was 2nd best at blocking bad pitches, but as a Mariner fan, I’m not even sure what “blocking pitches in the dirt” means, so it’s hard to gauge if that’s a useful skill? (ba-dum *cymbal crash*)

  24. Eastside Suds on December 20th, 2013 1:48 pm

    Suzuki was the best defensive catcher of that bunch left. He has been 24% lifetime, but had an off year last year. My sister hits better than Taylor Teagarden. Quintero and Buck strike out 25% of the time and neither has an OBA higher than 30%. Buck has more power than all of the catchers available, but he is not a solid backstop by any measure.

    We let the good one get away. Buck is really the only viable option now. I would rather see Sucre stay on than Quintero or Torrealba. Teagarden is a disaster.

  25. sawsatch on December 20th, 2013 2:11 pm

    We need about three more first basemen.

  26. Typical Idiot Fan on December 20th, 2013 2:40 pm

    So, basically, this becomes the 2013 Mariners + Cano, if you figure Hart+Morrison replace Raul+Morales, and we’ve swapped Ryan for Princess Willie.

    Basically, no.

    Morales was worth 1.2 wins last season, Raul an even 0.0. Hart alone projects to be worth more than both of them. Oddly enough, those same projection systems have Logan Morrison as a league average player. On paper, this is an improvement. Now add as many wins as you figure Cano should be over Franklin playing a full season at second base, and the team is already significantly improved from 2013.

    Lastly, replace the replacement level rotation spots with Walker and Paxton, and even if none of Miller, Ackley, Smoak, Zunino, or Franklin improve at all, the team is still better than it was in 2013. Contender? I don’t know, but it is still better.

  27. mossi on December 20th, 2013 2:46 pm

    …Now that Raul is elsewhere, Miguel Olivo to join Willie B. and Franklin on M’s roster for fan comfort/familiarity.

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