|Jack Z: Baseball Man|
It may not be the news you want to hear before the Winter Meetings take place at the beginning of December, but knowing where the Mariners stand in the Josh Hamilton Sweepstakes is better than twiddling our thumbs waiting for news that will never come. So why would Jack Z decide to bow out of the Hamilton bidding and what does this mean for the search for offense? We take a look and try to answer those questions after the jump.
As Jack Zduriencik says in the article, you can't sit around waiting for one guy to make a decision when you have to keep pushing forward. If the Mariners wait on Hamilton to make a decision, guys like Nick Swisher, B.J. Upton, Mike Napoli and Adam LaRoche will get swept up by other needy teams. If that happens and Hamilton says no, what then? Mariner fans out there may very well get fed up enough to jump off the wagon entirely.
It's not an enviable position to be in. Fans want an offensive upgrade, Jack Z knows they need one, but the major hitter that's on the market is asking for 7 years at $175 million. That's a lot of years you guys. Even for a guy like Hamilton, the contract would end in his age 39 season. As I mentioned in an earlier post, his numbers last year compared to years past declined by a not inconsiderable margin. 7 years at $25m a year is a massive commitment to a guy that may not even be in the game in 5 years. That's a stretch, but not entirely implausible.
Between waiting until what I'm sure would be sometime in January and fighting other teams to sign him, it's a respectable move by Jack Z in a time where offense is almost everything to this fan base. A 2 or 3 year contract would be outstanding, but Hamilton is asking for 7 in a market that's incredibly thin on offense. Getting into a bidding war with the other teams and end up giving him 5 years at $130m or something would not be ideal. It's not completely off the table, but it's looking much less likely that, come April, Josh Hamilton will be in a Mariners uniform.
What it comes down to is whether or not a team would be willing to risk everything, by which I mean not signing anybody, to wait for one guy. Granted, that guy would be a game changer for the foreseeable future, but at what cost? If he says no, game over thanks for playing. Not chasing after Josh Hamilton will not be a popular choice, but considering the free agent market, it may be the right one.
What does that leave for current free agents still on the market? LaRoche is coming off a great year, but with Smoak entrenched at first base (for now), it's not likely he ends up going 2,700 miles across the country to play for them.
Nick Swisher is the one guy that's been mentioned most often as a candidate for the Mariners. He can play the outfield and also plays first base, in the likely event that Smoak turns back into a pumpkin at the start of next season. If Swisher signs, it would end up being a crowded outfield, with Saunders, Guti (if he can stay healthy), Thames, Wells and Robinson on the team. I'm fairly certain, but I could be very wrong, that Trayvon Robinson has another option left and could be sent to AAA at the outset of the season. If he doesn't, I'm sure Gutierrez will be hurt during the physical in spring training, so there shouldn't be too much worry.
Another option would be BJ Upton. Upton isn't so much a middle of the order type hitter, but he can actually give a damn and do what he did last year, it may be worth it. He would be a tough one to sign however, since there's been speculation that the Phillies, Braves and Nationals are interested in the outfielder. Like Hamilton, Upton would also come with some not so flattering character flaws, but I can't really speak to that. We've all heard/read about it at some point in the past and it would be a little disconcerting with regard to on-field performance.
Napoli would be an interesting candidate in that he can play catcher and first base. He's no longer a full time catcher, but neither is Jesus Montero, so there's that. Again, if Smoak is still here to begin the 2013 season, he'll be given every opportunity to prove he's worthy of staying in the lineup every day and first base would be a no-go for Napoli. Still, he's a guy that can hit .260-.270 with 20+ home runs in that park and give the offense a needed boost from the middle of the lineup. Hopefully Wedge would put a guy like him towards the middle and not in the 8th hole like Ron Washington did.
There are other free agents out there that might be a useful piece for the Mariners offense to plug in to their lineup, but those guys are the top 4 position players still available according to the 2012 Ultimate Free Agent Tracker on Yahoo. The two exceptions being Hamilton, for obvious reasons, and Michael Bourn. Bourn is a player who relies on speed and while a speedy leadoff hitter would be a nice thing to have, the Mariners suffer more from a lack of run producers rather than table setters. The problem hasn't been setting the table, it's been what to do with the pieces after they've been set up.
I should mention, I didn't use DH as a possibility for these guys because of the situation at catcher. Montero isn't going to catch every day and when John Jaso starts behind the plate, Montero will DH. I would think it very likely he would anyway, but I'm not inside Wedge's mind. What a place that would be..... It gives me the chills just thinking about it. If Mike Zunino makes a case in spring training and the Mariners carry him into the regular season, DH would be used for one of the two catchers not starting behind the plate. It's highly unlikely Zunino ends up making the club right out of the gate, but stranger things have happened.
There are also trade possibilities to add to the offense, but that's not something I'm going to get into because for one, Jack Z never talks about it so nobody knows anything. Second, there's a lot of potential trades to be made and analyzing each and every one of them would be a task nobody would enjoy undertaking. Unless you're a little crazy, then by all means go for it. I haven't reached that point yet and will keep it that way.