This year at the Winter Meetings, one team seems interested in every hitter on the market: the Seattle Mariners. They've apparently talked about (and this is not an inclusive list) Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Billy Butler, Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez…you get the picture. Every and any hitter with a pulse has been mentioned in the same breath as the offensively challenged Mariners, along with talks that the team is looking to give Felix Hernandez a contract extension to make him a Mariner for life.
Of course, the only things that the Mariners have actually gotten done this winter are swapping Trayvon Robinson for Robert Andino, giving Hisashi Iwakuma a two-year extension, and re-signing Oliver Perez to a one-year contract. Seattle hasn't actually made that big free agent splash they've wanted to, and I'm wondering if they even will be able to.
Futhermore, given the players that the Mariners are apparently interested in, I'm wondering what their goal for the future is. With their interest in Butler, who the Royals would likely only deal for one of Seattle's top pitching prospects, the Mariners are essentially admitting that they have no long-term faith in Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero. Smoak has been an offensive disappointment since coming to Seattle from the Rangers in 2010, and at age 26, the Mariners are getting close to the punting point on him. As for Montero, he's only 23, and raked for his entire minor league career. Maybe moving in the fences at Safeco Field will help him out a lot, maybe not. But to essentially give up on someone as young as him with such an extensive minor league track record seems a little silly, especially when the potential upgrade is going to cost the team a decent bit in terms of prospects.
The Hamilton rumors make a lot of sense, though. Seattle's outfield was a horror show in 2012, with just two of Seattle's nine outfield regulars posting an OPS above .700 for the season. Someone like Hamilton would immediately provide a boost to the team, even if Hamilton has struggled over his career in Safeco Field. An outfield of Hamilton, Michael Saunders, and Franklin Gutierrez wouldn't be elite by any stretch of the imagination, but it would be a substantial improvemen over last year's primary outfield of Saunders and a rotating cast of platoon players.
Gutierrez is another issue for the team. The four year extension he signed prior to the 2010 season looked like a great market value deal at the time, but his offensive performance has tanked since then, and his health has also taken a huge hit as well. Even his defense, Gutierrez's strong suit for years, has taken a hit as his health has suffered. By looking at Bourn, the Mariners clearly don't see Gutierrez as part of their future past 2013. Looking at Bourn, whose market has actually been rather stagnant this winter and is running out of possible landing spots, makes a lot of sense. However, I have a feeling that this could end up like the Chone Figgins contract: an overpay for a player on the wrong side of 30 whose strengths are his defense and speed.
However, when I hear the rumors of Ibanez and Bay, I wonder just what in the hell is going on in the minds of Seattle's brass. Bay can't stay healthy, and Ibanez is a platoon DH at this point in his career. Both have a much higher potential at having a disastrous season than Hamilton or Bourn, and neither player would really help the franchise long-term. Bay is 34 and Ibanez is 40, and both players are in the tail end of their careers. Remember the Ken Griffey Jr retirement tour in 2009 and 2010? Junior's 2009 season, when he hit 19 homers with a .735 OPS, is probably the best case scenario for either player this season. Bay or Ibanez also wouldn't create goodwill or sell merchandise/tickets like Griffey's return did, so why even bother? Signing either player would be the Mariners making a move for the sake of making a move, and that's not something that your franchise should be doing if you're looking for long-term success.
Seattle is in a tough spot right now. They've got a young core of players, albeit a core that lacks much star potential outside of Hernandez. Playing in the tough AL West, the Mariners' best efforts might not be good enough when you take the firepower in the division into account. While making a move for Hamilton, Butler, or Bourn might seem like a bit of a stretch for Seattle, it might be a necessary evil if the Mariners want to contend at any point over the rest of King Felix's career in Seattle.