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Mariners

Mariners’ Focus Shouldn’t ‘Change’

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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Ervin Santana (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Ervin Santana (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan Jason A. Churchill
Jason joined 1090 The Fan after 4 1/2 years at ESPN Insider, covering...
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In the wake of the news Wednesday that right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma had suffered a finger injury on his throwing hand, the tone of wonderment has changed from the general idea that the Seattle Mariners need another hitter and another starting pitcher to ‘will the Iwakuma injury push the M’s to extend themselves more for that starter?’

The short answer: no. The slightly longer answer: Absolutely not.

Why not? Because the club’s need for another proven, healthy starting pitcher has been there all along, and missing Iwakuma for what appears to be 2-5 starts doesn’t change that, or make the need any more pressing. Changing their stance on dollars and years for a free agent such as Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, or in terms of what they are willing to sacrifice to land a trade target such as Jeff Samardzija greatly decreases the chance GM Jack Zduriencik gets good value in any transaction.

I spoke to a player agent Wednesday and asked about this very scenario. His response:

“That’s negotiating 101, really. Show weakness or any sense of desperation and my bottom line is going to change. It’s a supply and demand business, but when one potential buyer has a tell, so to speak, nine times out of 10 it gets exploited.

“On the free agent market, two things happen more often than anything else in this situation; the team jumps at the first price the player and his reps will agree to, even if it is higher than the number from the week before, or a stalemate begins — or continues — and the team either bids against itself, bids against another team and pays more than they might have if they’d agreed to the original request or they lose out on the player no matter what the price ends up at. If that makes sense.”

Of course it makes sense. Teams have to keep their poker face on, even if their price has changed in the player’s favor. With the Mariners this offseason, however, there’s no reason for their price to change due to the Iwakuma injury. If they want to wait out the market and then take the best deal they can get on a starting pitcher — trade or free agent — there’s nothing wrong with that.

I’m on record as a proponent of any team signing Santana if the money is somewhere in the ballpark of what Matt Garza received from the Milwaukee Brewers — a reported four years and $52 million. Santana seems to be a great for the Mariners. Whether or not Santana has any desire to pitch in Seattle remains to be seen. Free agency is a two-way street.

A few weeks back I wrote that the Mariners should be focusing on pitching and defense, and they did sign closer Fernando Rodney to a two-year deal. A good move, but not one that makes a great impact on the win-loss column in the grand scheme of things. Not unless the club can improve the starting rotation and find a way to get better defensively, too.

As much I like Brad Miller, he’s not a plus defensive shortstop. Kyle Seager will hit, and is a solid glove at third, but he’s not Adrian Beltre or Evan Longoria. The left side of the M’s infield defense is about average. The outfield corners project to be about as gosh awful as it was a year ago, considering at times, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart will man the two positions. Adding Nelson Cruz makes that alignment worse, eliminating the number of innings a better outfielder — Dustin Ackley, Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Saunders and even Willie Bloomquist — will spend in the field.

By all accounts, using all advanced metrics and measures, the 2013 Seattle Mariners were a 66-74 win team. In actuality, the club won 71. Since the end of the season, they’ve added Robinson Cano and Hart to one of the worst offenses in all of baseball and still are counting on improvements from unproven players. In Hart and Gutierrez they’re hoping on health.

The level of improvement, on paper, between last season and the one that starts in seven weeks isn’t great, mostly based on the projected lineup and the most likely outcomes attached to each player. If the M’s are going to live that way at the plate — Cruz doesn’t change that much, if at all — their only chance to get better significantly is in run prevention. At this point in the offseason, that means more pitching.

Iwakuma injury or not.

- Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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