Could the Seattle Mariners really get both Robinson Cano and David Price this offseason? Is landing the best free agent and top trade target available actually a possibility for general manager Jack Zduriencik?
That appears to be the story that the Mariners are selling to their fans and the general baseball industry. Rumors are building that Seattle is looking to make a run at Cano, perhaps as the only club willing to meet the second baseman's demands for a blockbuster $200 million contract. Speculation is that the Mariners' bid would include an eighth year. Both the length and value of that package would exceed the reported seven-year deal in the $170 million range that the Yankees are said to be offering.
As if that weren't bold enough, there are also rumblings of Seattle pursuing Price, whom the Rays are looking to trade with two years of arbitration eligiblity remaining and the escalating salaries that would come with that. Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan reports that seven clubs have shown interest and have the resources to put together the kind of package that would compel Tampa Bay to trade their Cy Young Award winner.
Over the past couple of offseasons, the Mariners have been more notable for what they weren't able to do, rather than the moves the team actually made. Zduriencik could have been the star of a reality TV show titled, "Why Won't Anyone Take Our Money?" Two years ago, Seattle went after Prince Fielder, who had no interest in playing in the Pacific Northwest, let alone in a ballpark that would adversely affect his power numbers. Last year, the Mariners chased Josh Hamilton, who was seeking a long-term, megabucks deal that only Seattle was presumably willing to offer.
Also spurning the Mariners was Justin Upton, who invoked his no-trade clause by turning down a deal that would have sent him to Seattle in exchange for four players including infielder Nick Franklin and one of their top pitching prospects such as Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen or James Paxton. That setback had to have hurt Zduriencik. He had a trade in place. The deal was done, but Upton — like just about every star player available in recent years — didn't want to play in MLB's remotest outpost for a club that looked unlikely to contend.
Considering what he would've surrendered in the trade, however, Upton probably did Zduriencik and the Mariners a favor by vetoing the transaction. But that's the position the Mariners are in right now. The team has to overpay to attract top talent to Seattle until demonstrating that it's capable of building a playoff contender. That means proposing an eight-year deal worth $200 million or more to Cano. That means taking a similar package of young talent that would've been traded for Upton and offering it to the Rays for Price.
However, the New York Post's George King says that the Mariners aren't really interested in paying any one player that much money. MLB.com's Greg Johns questions why Seattle would give up young players under multiple years of club (and cost) control for two expensive seasons from a player that could bolt for free agency after 2015. That would seem to confirm the skeptical view that Seattle doesn't want to sign Cano or trade for Price, but want the team's fans — along with other MLB teams and future free agents — to think that this is a genuine effort.
Hey people, we tried — again — and none of those guys wanted to come here. But we re-signed Kendry Morales and this is going to be the year that Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley emerge as the stars we've been telling you they would become. Really. Season tickets are now on sale!
But let's say that the Mariners are indeed serious about making the two flashiest moves of the offseason. Cano would provide Seattle's everyday lineup with a middle-of-the-order run producer that it doesn't currently have. Though Cano isn't a slugger who's going to blast 35-40 home runs. If he didn't put up those sorts of numbers playing at Yankee Stadium, he's not going to do so at Safeco Field. Home run totals aside, Cano will be more productive across the board than anyone currently on the Mariners' roster.
Price would team with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma to give Seattle the best top three starters in MLB. (The Tigers, Nationals and Dodgers would likely argue with that, but the Mariners' threesome — with two of the best pitchers in baseball — would be right up there with those other trios.) That strong top three would also allow the M's to break in whatever young pitching remains after trading for Price slowly, without putting top-of-the-rotation pressure on those arms right away.
However, would Cano and Price on the roster immediately make the Mariners into contenders? Seattle finished 25 games behind the A's in the AL West this season, 19.5 back of the Rangers, who almost won the second AL wild-card playoff spot. That's a tremendous amount of ground to make up, seemingly more than two players — even superstar talents — can manage. So if that's the case, would these moves be worth the expense?
For Zduriencik, the pressure to field a playoff contender continues to build. His contract extension was one of the most surprising developments of the past season. But it was only a one-year extension, which makes Jack Z's motivation here plainly evident. The Mariners have one year to show significant improvement on his watch. If his team gets into the playoff race — along with him showing he can bring top players to Seattle — Zduriencik can probably count on being in the general manager's office at Safeco Field for a few more years.
Yet maybe expecting a one-year jump for the Mariners is looking at this the wrong way, and perhaps that's what Zduriencik would be trying to sell to team ownership. Signing Cano and acquiring Price would certainly increase the roster's talent and provide two cornerstone-type players to sell as faces of the franchise. Boosting the team into playoff contention would hopefully follow. However, getting the top free agent and trading for the best player available on the open market would also signal to the greater baseball world that the Mariners should be taken seriously.
These moves would be similar to the Tigers getting Pudge Rodriguez in 2004 and the Nationals inking Jayson Werth in 2010. Each of those transactions seemed crazy for those respective teams and players. But in both cases, those flashy signings put MLB teams and players on notice. The Tigers and Nats were serious about spending the necessary money to build championship teams. Future free agents viewed Detroit and Washington as destinations for big money and possible World Series rings.
Obviously, the Rodriguez and Werth signings weren't the sole reasons the Tigers and Nationals are among the best teams in MLB. Each team had good young talent on hand and made several trades to build up those rosters. But perhaps those bold moves helped ignite the fuse toward championship contention. Is it wishful thinking for Zduriencik to view signing Cano and trading for Price as having a similar effect on the Mariners? If so, that's going to be an extremely expensive wish.