Mariners Building Through Free Agency: Come As You Are

I know it, you know it, the baseball world knows it. The Seattle Mariners are an undesirable and very limited offensive team in their current state. As the 2011 season comes to a halt, arguably the two best Mariner hitters were not on this team to start the season. That’s both sad and uplifting in a way.

Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp saved this franchise from complete “record book bad”. Yes, the team will still finish last in many key stats such as batting average, runs scored and on-base percentage, but if you removed them, I don’t know what I would have done… cried?

The season started with free agents Jack Cust and Miguel Olivo in the Opening Day lineup. Jack Cust was a complete bust, never playing anything but designated hitter and failing at that job title. Miguel Olivo? Well, I don’t think any of us wanted this, but he will be the team’s leader in HR and RBI. No offense to Miguel and I applaud his efforts, but this franchise cannot (and will not) be successful anytime soon if Olivo is the #4 hitter.

Looking back on the past we’ve had, we as Mariners fans were spoiled on offense. The Kingdome was full of crooked numbers on the scoreboard (usually for the opponent in the early years) and Safeco Field opened with less boom but still a lot of runs scored. Okay, maybe not “a lot”, but when compared to the current setup… it feels like a fair analysis. (And yes, the quality of ballplayers on the roster was better back then)

I cannot hypnotize Seattleites into believing they are seeing a great product offensively. This is probably the worst possible time in franchise history to attempt to convert somebody to be a Mariners fan. In the 80’s, ticket prices didn’t cost an arm and a leg, 150+ games were not on TV, and the internet didn’t exist. Now that all three of those things are part of our culture, it becomes a much more difficult selling point when the team is bad.

So what is one constant in sports to spark interest in a fledgling franchise? Bring in some new blood! Free agency is the way (or is it? – foreshadowing!). By removing bad players, disgruntled fans find renewed excitement in a new face, new hope, a new team.

Unfortunately for this style of thinking within the economics of baseball, greed does not always mean good. When you misfire on a free agent signing, it’s a double-whammy of non-awesomeness.  The GM instantly becomes an “idiot”, the owner(s) get labeled as “idiot(s)” and the fans feel slighted and duped by believing “the powers that be” were educated enough to sign a quality ballplayer.  It’s a lose-lose and when it happens repeatedly, heads will roll.

Sadly, the team I love more than anything else, has failed time and time again when trying to address their flaws and weaknesses through free agency. More often than not, signings have been designed 1-3 year stopgaps, but many have failed to give at least one good season.  One may argue “who would want to play in Seattle?”.  Through the dark years of the franchise, yes, I can understand that way of thinking but once Junior arrived, I asked “Who wouldn’t want to play next to that guy!?”

I asked around, I looked through some media guides, I went to my favorite website and I didn’t come across many “happy totals” (shoutout to Rick Rizzs). Below is a list of the greatest Mariners of all-time.  They have an interesting connection…

The Best (no particular order):

Edgar Martinez (Mariner Years: 1987-2004) = International Free Agent

Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariner Years: 1989-1999, 2009-10) = Mariners#1 pick in 1987 draft

Randy Johnson (Mariner Years: 1989-1998) = 5/25/1989: Traded by Montreal Expos

Ichiro Suzuki (Mariner Years: 2001-present) = International Free Agent

Jay Buhner (Mariner Years: 1988-2001) = 7/21/1988: Traded by New York Yankees

Jamie Moyer (Mariner Years: 1996-2006) = 7/30/1996: Traded by Boston Red Sox

Alex Rodriguez (Mariner Years: 1994-2000) = Mariners #1 pick in 1993 draft

Felix Hernandez (Mariner Years: 2005-present) = International Free Agent

Alvin Davis (Mariners Years: 1984-1991) = Mariners 6th round pick in 1982 draft

Mark Langston (Mariners Years: 1984-1989) = Mariners 2nd round pick in 1981 draft

(Too Soon Addition To The List?) Dustin Ackley (Mariners Years: Present) = Mariners 1st round pick in 2009 draft

What is the connection? None of them were ever free agent signings from another MLB team.  Teams need to have a great farm system, which Jack Zduriencik is stockpiling by the month. Teams also need to sniff out other abandoned players from around the league and turn them into gold. Sadly, the M’s have failed to ever really do that.

Outside of an amazing week in 1999 by Pat Gillick, it’s slim pickings when it comes to the “All-Time Best Free Agent Mariners Signing”.

You want Prince Fielder?  Jack Z. drafted him, he’ll cost over $150 million to sign and he’s represented by “El Diablo” himself, Scott Boras.  Yankees and Red Sox don’t need a 1B.  Where does he go?  San Francisco.

You want Albert Pujols?  “The Machine” is going to go to a team with a chance to win now.  I’m almost certain he goes back to St. Louis.  The M’s can’t match this so I’m squashing any true “hope” with him coming to the Emerald City.  It just makes too much sense for him not to.

Yeah, as much as I want somebody who can knock in 100 RBI, I’m terrified on what a big money bat would do in Seattle. The track record is terrible.  You hear the rumors Joey Votto might be obtainable? Maybe since they’d be trading for him, he’d work out (jinxes are annoying… but damn).

Will the law of averages ever turn for the Seattle Mariners? Gosh, I hope so…


The Best of the “We Were Mariners and Came Back” Free Agents:

Bret Boone (Mariner Years: 1992-93, 01-05) = Originally drafted by Mariners in 5th round of 1990 draft. Signed as a FREE AGENT after 2000 season.

Raul Ibanez (Mariner Years: 1996-2000, 04-08) = Originally drafted by Mariners in 36th round of 1992 draft.

Jeff Nelson (Mariner Years: 1992-95, 2001-03, 05) = Was not drafted by Mariners in 1984, but was acquired 12/9/1986 from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1986 minor league draft


The Best of the “We Were Never Mariners and This is Our First Time” Free Agents:

John Olerud (Mariners Years: 2000-04) = 12/15/1999: Signed as a Free Agent

Mark McLemore (Mariner Years: 2000-03) = 12/20/1999: Signed as a Free Agent

Arthur Rhodes (Mariner Years: 2000-03, 08) = 12/21, 1999: Signed as a Free Agent

Note: Pat Gillick was on a roll in December of 1999! In a span of 6 days he acquired these three players. All key cogs for the next couple seasons.


One comment on “Mariners Building Through Free Agency: Come As You Are

  1. Couple things.

    I would argue that Jeff Nelson was a valuable Free Agent pick up…in ’01
    Also, Id throw Norm Charlton’s hat in the ring. A lot of guys in the 01 bullpen were free agents. Rhodes,Norm,Nelson and Kaz.

    Also….NO WAY Prince goes to SF. Just cant happen. They aren’t trading Zito. Rowand still gets a paycheck next year And to suggest Huff becomes a platoon player at 11 million… theres just NO WAY. They have set a budget of about $90 million for next year… and If they signed Prince (Before signing him) $43 million would practically be dead money, Via Rowand, Zito and Huff.

    I love this article Chris. really….

    Awesome Job.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s