SEATTLE – Even for those who don’t have to front the money, there are no perfect free agents, it seems. The potential warts are always lurking, fueling the debate: Prince Fielder is too hefty to age well, Albert Pujols too old for a 10-year deal, Jose Reyes too injury-prone, Albert Belle too flighty.
Heck, even when a player hits the market with seemingly nothing but upside – think A-Rod in 2001 – you have to worry about him commanding too much of the team’s payroll, or letting the huge windfall take away his competitive edge, or it all going to his head.
In that spirit, you could find plenty of reasons for the Mariners, and their fans, to fret about the fact that they seem perfectly positioned, as the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., ended on Thursday, for a run at the top three remaining non-pitching free agents on the market.
One is Josh Hamilton, who has more red flags than a pennant factory. There’s Nick Swisher, whose credentials strike some as underwhelming, at least when a $15 million annual contract is at stake. And there’s Michael Bourn, whose offensive stats last year with Atlanta are frighteningly comparable to Chone Figgins’ in his final season with the Angels.
But here’s another way to look at it: The Mariners have floundered for far too long with an offense that is as boring as it is ineffectual. They have finished in last place in seven of the past nine years in MLB’s only four-team division (growing to five in 2013 with the addition of Houston). Attendance is plummeting, fan cynicism is peaking.
All three players, even with their various and sundry perceived drawbacks, would represent a significant upgrade. And cost none of their touted prospects (though Seattle would have to give up its first-round draft pick in 2013, No. 12 overall, to sign any of the three).
Yes, manager Eric Wedge was still talking in Nashville of building “the right way” and not becoming impatient to the point you “push a deal.” There is merit to that viewpoint. The last thing any Mariners fan wants to see is the next Adam Jones, Asdrubal Cabrera or Shin-Soo Choo flourishing elsewhere, or the next Figgins free-agent washout.
But you also can’t live in fear of a bold move. There is a limit to the patience for a rebuild to take off – a process that is in the third year for Wedge, but has gone on much longer for the team’s fans.
This would not be a case of making a deal to just make a deal, nor would it be a case of general manager Jack Zduriencik acting merely out of desperation. That’s always a dangerous proposition, leading to such monumental blunders as the Erik Bedard trade of 2008 (or the Carlos Silva signing of 2008, if that’s how you roll).