The Seattle Mariners haven't played very well in September (nor have they played well for most of the season), compiling a 3-7 record going into Wednesday night's game versus the Houston Astros. That leaves the M's currently tied for the seventh-worst record in MLB and they probably want to keep it that way.
As you may already know from last season's offseason transactions, the bottom 10 clubs in baseball will not lose their first-round draft pick if they sign a free agent who's received a qualifying offer from his previous team. Fear of losing that first-round pick is why players like Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse didn't receive any contract offers through the winter, waiting until the spring before agreeing to deals.
For a rebuilding team like the Mariners, keeping their first-round pick in addition to having the ability to sign top free agents is crucial to adding talent to a lacking roster. One player whom general manager Jack Zduriencik is reportedly interested in bringing to Seattle next season is native son Tim Lincecum.
According to CSN Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly, the Mariners were among several teams that had scouts watching Tuesday night's Giants-Rockies game. (Though the M's could have been looking at other prospective free agents, such as Hunter Pence.) Lincecum pitched well, allowing two runs over eight innings. He's described himself as a "homebody" who enjoys returning to Seattle, where his family still lives, in the offseason.
Baggarly points out that Lincecum was disappointed when the Mariners passed on him in the 2006 draft, opting instead for pitcher Brandon Morrow. (Seattle fans surely lament that decision as well.) That mistake was exacerbated by trading Morrow to the Blue Jays in 2009 for Brandon League and a minor leaguer. Free agency could present the M's with an opportunity to make up for that choice.
(The Mariners also passed on Clayton Kershaw in that draft. They probably won't get a chance at him. Besides, Kershaw's not a Seattle native.)
Yet as much as the Mariners might want to win a few more games in September and give Seattle fans (along with team ownership, presumably) some hope for next season, being too successful might prevent the team from getting a player who would certainly be hugely popular in the Emerald City.
Signing Lincecum would draw notice throughout baseball, as he's been one of the best pitchers of the past decade (though not during the past two years) and closely identified with the San Francisco Giants, the only MLB team he's played for in his seven MLB seasons.
But if the Mariners don't finish with one of the 10 worst records in baseball and the Giants extend Lincecum a qualifying offer as expected — which he'll likely turn down in favor of a bigger free agent contract — they almost surely wouldn't pursue him during the offseason. Not if it costs the team its first-round pick.
Zduriencik just better make sure he doesn't pass on the 2014 equivalent of Lincecum in next year's draft.