So far this offseason, most baseball people have been having to pick their jaws up off the floor when they see the contracts some players have signed. Whether its because the free agent market is very weak and teams are overpaying or if this is just the trend, nobody really knows. It's a good bet that, given the TV money being handed out, this ends up being a trend.
No matter how you slice it, people's perception of player's ability and the money they command is going to have to change. Not only that, but the specific situation with the current big name free agent the Mariners are involved with could get ugly. I don't mean ugly in a back biting sort of way. I mean ugly in the sense that the prices are climbing and the Mariners may have to go above and beyond to sign him.
With Greinke signing with the Dodgers, the Rangers may make a push to sign Josh Hamilton. We don't really know what's going on with negotiations until it happens, so speculating is pretty much a fruitless endeavor and I've done enough of it. He might, he might not. There are other free agent possibilities on a lower tier and we as fans are going to have to come to grips with that.
The Mariners have money to spend from clearing payroll and are looking to spend most of it on offense. With the exception of Hamilton and maybe Swisher, there's not much out there this year. If the Mariners don't land either of those guys, there are other possibilities that are, admittedly, not as splashy. Hopefully most of us fans can see it for what it is. A weak class save for one or two players being the exception.
Also posing a slight problem for the Mariners is that Hamilton has stated previously that he'd give the Rangers every opportunity to match or exceed any deal from another team that's on the table. IF he signs with Texas, there won't be any blame to be had. Maybe the Rangers if you want to be cynical, but its something to keep in the back of your mind as the offseason progresses.
Wait, what happened to the whole contract and TV thing from earlier? Here's where we get to it. Almost everybody agrees that the market was waiting on Greinke to see where he would go. The Dodgers seemed to be out of it for about 5 minutes, then came roaring back to grab him out of the clutches of the Rangers.
With the dominos beginning to topple, we see the Dodgers spending like the Yankees of old, spending their new found wealth in the form of a $6 billion TV deal. The Mariners' current TV deal ends after 2015 and they're not going to be able to keep up. As these contracts expire and newer ones are signed, teams will slowly get pushed to the back of the class as the market for players increases with the income of other teams.
That's not to say every team is going to get multi-billion dollar deals. There are a few teams that don't have the same breadth of a market as other teams and won't be swimming in Olympic pools filled with $100 bills. It's absolutely possible the Mariners' payroll could climb with a new contract, but right now, they're competing with clubs (namely the Dodgers and Rangers) that have signed sweet deals and can match or exceed anything the Mariners can put out there.
It's not exactly a thrilling prospect for the next 3 or 4 offseasons, but that's the reality. This offseason may be a make or break type for the offense. The Mariners chances of making a big splash by signing Hamilton just got much worse in a very short amount of time. Given our thirst for offense, it puts them in a very difficult position.
Here are the possibilities for Seattle as of right now:
1) They overpay for Hamilton and give us fans what we want and possibly anger a few over the contract they gave him.
2) They refuse to overpay and Hamilton signs with the Rangers with the Mariners ending up with, I don't know, Cody Ross.
3) They miss out on Hamilton, but swing a trade for a big bat, while giving up a top prospect or two, like Franklin and Walker. Us as fans would be enamored with the player (probably) but angry Jack Z gave up so much.
4) Nothing happens and they wait until next year, angering everybody.
The only way for the Mariners to come out of this unscathed is to sign Hamilton to a reasonable deal, which will most definitely not happen with the Rangers still involved. With their shiny new TV deal, the Rangers can match almost anything within reason the Mariners put on the table.
The Mariners have the payroll flexibility, but the market can't dictate their payroll. It's just not possible at this point. They have a number they can reach, but if the bidding on a player exceeds that level, the Mariners are out of play. It may happen in the future to a certain extent, but not only is Seattle down Hamilton's list compared to the Rangers right now, they also can't get into a bidding war where money is concerned.
One caveat to this is that the Rangers are still trying to swing a deal for Justin Upton. Acquiring him may dissuade the Rangers from inking Hamilton to the $20-25 million a year he's looking for. That trade is still, for all intents and purposes, in limbo and could very easily fall apart. It's something to keep an eye on as the offseason progresses, but keep in mind even if they get Upton, it doesn't necessarily mean they're out on Hamilton. Just something to keep in mind.
It's becoming a bull market for the players and the Mariners are almost in a lose-lose situation. With the only winning option pretty much out the window, there will be a section of fans outraged over the amount of money and years, perceived inaction from the front office or ineptitude for dealing away top prospects. The only real possible way to "outbid" the Rangers would be to offer more years for the same amount of annual money. That could mean offering a 5 or 6 year deal to Hamilton. That is not a deal I would like, but knowing the situation, it may be their best bet to sign a key piece for the offense.
I don't know what direction any of this will go, but prepare yourself. Something will happen that you may not like. All I ask is that you keep in mind what the situation is and the dilemma that puts the front office in. There are still more dominoes to fall before we see what the end result will be. The next few days/weeks are going to be very interesting indeed.