With unofficial word coming out Friday that the Seattle Mariners and free agent second baseman Robinson Cano have come to terms at 10 years and $240 million, the M’s have one job: Make it count.
Regardless of whether or not $240 million is a good investment in a 31-year-old, the Mariners now must make sure Cano doesn’t stand alone on the club’s acquisition list when spring training starts in nine weeks. Call it a responsibility to themselves, but this team has to keep adding talent this offseason and make sure they are capable and legitimate contenders in 2014.
Anything short of that and the Cano signing becomes a mess. Why? Because the latter portion of the contract is bound to be a time when Cano isn’t worth what the team will be paying him. That makes the first five or six years critical, and wasting even one season with Cano greatly reduces its value to the team.
General manager Jack Zduriencik and his staff have put their irons in nearly every fire in baseball. Even after the Cano commitment, the Mariners are expected to be major players for free agent outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Rajai Davis, starting pitchers Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, first basemen Corey Hart and Kevin Youkilis, and a number of relievers and part-time players.
They also were mentioned as an interested party in the trade availability of left-hander David Price earlier this week. Price is under club control for two more years, but will earn about $30 million over those two years. Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp have also been linked to Seattle. Butler’s availability seems to be tied to the Royals’ acquisition of another hitter.
The M’s have just over $33 million committed for 2014 before adding Cano to the ledger, plus whatever numbers arbitration-eligibles Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak settle at — if they aren’t included in trades — and the team-controlled contracts, which go for around $500,000 a pop. We don’t know for sure what the club’s payroll limits will be for next season, but it appears there is still plenty of money remaining.
Is Price worth Walker?
The cost for Price in terms of trade bait is going to be high. The expectation is that top prospect Taijuan Walker will have to be included. While this remains a possibility, there are indications that Zduriencik much prefers to keep Walker and add a significant No. 3-type starter via the free agent market.
There are mixed reviews on Walker’s future, however. There are those believe Walker is more of a No. 3 starter and more than a year from being a real value to a major league rotation. I believe he’s a future No. 2 starter, possibly a No. 1, and that he can help in the big leagues right away, perhaps right out of spring training next spring. Trading six years of club control of a talent of that caliber that is ready to contribute in exchange for two years of almost any player in baseball is not a sound decision, in my opinion.
The upgrade of Price over Walker for 2014 and 2015 may not be very large, either. Price’s best season was 2012 when he posted an fWAR of 4.8 and he’s totaled 13.5 fWAR over the past three seasons. Assuming the 28-year-old maintains similar performance, he’ll be worth somewhere between 8.5 and 9.0 wins above replacement during his final two seasons before he hits free agency. Price will do so earning about $13 million in 2014 and probably between $16 million and $18 million for 2015. It would not be out of the realm of expectations for Walker to surpass that production over the next 3-4 seasons, as 1.7-2.2 WAR per season is only slightly above league average for starting pitchers.
Walker is too much to sacrifice for Price, and on top of that it could cost more than just the 21-year-old right-hander to pry the former Cy Young winner away from the Rays, who will undoubtedly have other offers for their ace.
One possible exception: If the Rays are willing to give up more than just Price in a package deal — perhaps an outfielder such as Desmond Jennings — the equation changes. Until then, the wise decision is to pocket Walker, pass on Price and spend more money on a starting pitcher and perhaps another hitter or two.
Trades can still be part of the process, possibly including Kemp. Considering his contract and the risk with which he comes, the trade cost to acquire him must be fairly modest, unless the Dodgers send cash along with the outfielder, who would likely play right field in Seattle.
In October, I wrote about Milwaukee centerfielder Carlos Gomez being a potential target, and while the Brewers’ trading of Norichika Aoki to Kansas City may very well nix any chance of Gomez being available — if there was any shot in the first place — but right-hander Yovani Gallardo could be a fairly inexpensive alternative, provided he’s healthy.
Absolutely not done
The baseball world has every reason to believe the Mariners will do exactly what I’m suggesting and urging here — make the Cano deal count, and right away. The Mariners are not done, by a long shot.
The smart bet is that the club adds at least one significant starting pitcher, at least one more significant bat, and 1-2 other upgrades to the lineup — first base, outfield — that aren’t considered big names but are still deemed better than what the club finished with in 2013, and at least one veteran relief pitcher, possibly more.
That could mean Garza, Santana or Jimenez, for example, plus Hart, Youkilis, Butler, Nelson Cruz or Kendrys Morales, an outfielder such as Kemp, Gerardo Parra, a catcher such as Michael McKenry, Ramon Hernandez or even Kurt Suzuki, and a bullpen option such as Jose Veras or Joaquin Benoit.
Not bad, eh?
Adding Cano is a major coup for the Mariners. Their ownership, CEO Howard Lincoln as well as Zduriencik and his staff all deserve a lot of credit. Lincoln and the ownership for being bold and understanding the kind of financial commitment it takes to climb out of the hole they have been in for years, the GM and his group for properly identifying the one player in this year’s market worth overpaying for, and for communicating that properly to Chuck Armstrong and Lincoln.
Sure, we can blast them for not taking such necessary risks in the past, and we can sit on our couches and claim the only reason they are making such inroads now is because of the expected influx of revenues from the acquisition of the regional sports network — Root Sports — but it’s still a major financial risk and a potential sacrifice of future profits. Give credit where credit is due, and credit is due here, to everyone involved in these personnel transactions.
The above scenario post-Cano is a special offseason. It’s one that completely changes the culture and overall view of the franchise. A week ago, such an offseason was an absolute pipe dream. Today, it’s more than plausible. In fact, it’s closer to probable than it is anything else.
Last offseason, I started to write a piece on the M’s needing their ‘Bam Moment’ the way the Seahawks had theirs when they acquired Percy Harvin and a sent a message to the rest of the NFL.
Cano is it, M’s fans.
– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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