A couple months ago, I tried to piece together the scheme Jack Zduriencik was marketing as "The Plan" to the Seattle Mariners' fanbase. While it's difficult and often pointless to divine what's going on behind the doors of a front office, the Mariners' choices this offseason may give us a little glimpse into their plans for the future.
To recap, the 12-step plan I pieced together was as follows:
Step 1. Draft well at amateur and international levels.
Step 2. Replenish the farm system.
Step 3. Establish a young, talented core of players.
Steps 4-11. Do something that will eventually lead to Step 12.
Step 12. Enjoy everlasting success.
As several LL readers pointed out, it's a bit of a leap to call the Mariners' young cast "talented" right now. Despite mixed results, however, I think the potential is there. If we can't check Step 3 off the list, we can at least deem it "in progress."
With a third of the offseason behind us and 100 very long, tedious days until Opening Day, let's hone in on Steps 4-11 of The Plan and see if Zduriencik is still on the road to everlasting success.
Step 4. Attract big-name free agents.
Every offseason brings its fair share of false rumors and, as has often been the case, false hope for M's fans. In 2011, it was Prince Fielder (and, may I remind you, Logan Morrison's ill-timed jokes); in 2012, it was Josh Hamilton. This year, we finally received the flashy deal we've been pining for in the form of Yankee great Robinson Cano.
Even with a hefty contract, the benefits to this signing are numerous. Cano will provide an upgrade to the lineup, toting a batting average of .300+ and over 4.5 bWAR in each of his last five seasons. His reputation and talent will, hopefully, be a draw for other free agents in the future, especially if he can prove that Safeco Field is good for more than swallowing flyballs in center field. His signing lends credibility to Zduriencik's vision for the team and signals to the rest of the league that maybe, just maybe, the Mariners could be serious about improving their standing in the AL West without relying completely on grizzled veterans and unpolished kids. As a bonus, Cano's presence will draw fans to the ballpark, if only to see a previously-pinstriped icon don "Northwest Green" for a change.
Step 4? Check.
Step 5. Supplement big signings with cost-effective depth in the outfield and in the lineup.
Of course, a few shiny free agents aren't enough to secure a division title, just like relying on a core of young players isn't enough, just like any one factor isn't enough to make a championship team. These are the minor moves Zduriencik has made so far this offseason:
If it seems like there should be more names on that list, it's because the Mariners have been linked to nearly everyone this offseason. Both Hart and Gutierrez have been plagued -- Franklin, almost to a Biblical degree -- by injuries, and Morrison may as well be Justin Smoak 2.0. These aren't exactly earth-shattering moves, but they're affordable and, what's more important, short-term signings. Despite Zduriencik's protests that payroll is topping out after taking on Cano's contract, there seems to be enough room for a few more additions by spring.
Step 5? I can't call this one complete yet, but it's getting there.
The real question may be this: If Jack stopped tweaking the roster today, would the Mariners have a legitimate shot at the division title? While undeniable progress has been made this winter, I'm not sure that Jack has enough pieces in place to propel this young team to the postseason just yet. Lloyd McClendon, Robinson Cano, and this young band of players will have a lot to prove come March 31.
What further steps do you think the Mariners should take to contend in the AL West next year? Is Jack Zduriencik on the right path, or is there still a lot of work to be done?
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