It's been an unsettling afternoon for Mariners fans, but things are about to get completely unnerving. Not long after news about Robinson Cano's dance with Seattle continued to expand, Jason Churchill tweeted out the following.
Just got a text from asst GM who thinks Seattle is about to make a "panic" move ...— Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) December 4, 2013
I held off writing about it, because it was without any names, but Dave Cameron tweeted that he received a similar text. Churchill later said that he heard the desperation was over money, and not a trade, and that led to ridiculously wild hour on Twitter, where my entire timeline was full of speculation and self-deprecating humor. What could the Mariners possibly do that would be a panic move? I lamented that anything other than Nelson Cruz would probably be ok with me, and after a while it just seemed like the Mariners were going to toss something like $275 million at Cano.
That was until this evening, and now we have an idea of what the panic move might be referring to. Jeff Passan broke a story that the Mariners are among several teams looking at Rays ace David Price, who is controlled for two more seasons at some cost around $30 million, through 2015. It's been known for a while that Tampa Bay was going to trade him, and that's a terrifying trade partner. The Rays have often killed on their expiring assets, and last year netted one of the best prospects in baseball for two years of James Shields. David Price is better than James Shields, and the current Mariners equivalent of Wil Myers is Taijuan Walker, except he carries more risk and has a higher ceiling. It's understandable why Tampa Bay wants a serious bounty for Price, and they'll probably get it.
Of course, Passan then indicated that Seattle was willing to give up Walker for Price.
One team that has the stuff to get Price: Seattle. And sources said they may be inclined to include Taijuan Walker: http://t.co/RLcwaw5t2n— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 5, 2013
Let's get this out of the way first. I would not advocate trading Taijuan Walker for David Price, not even straight up. It's probably going to cost even more than Walker, and it might be Nick Franklin. David Price is a fantastic pitcher who projects very well for the next two years. His peripherals are excellent, he's been relatively healthy, and he's firmly in his prime. I don't balk at the deal because I believe Walker is a lock to become an ace, a #2, or even a #3 type pitcher. Pitching prospects are a gigantic question mark, and Walker is no exception. It's that the Mariners simply are not in a position to make this kind of a splash, this many games out of a playoff spot. Especially when two other teams in their division are much stronger, and are also fortifying their clubs with moves that help them win now. Look at what the Rangers and A's are doing this offseason - even if you don't agree with the decisions they've made, they are decidedly moves that help them win for the next two years, the same years that the Mariners would control David Price. Oakland just traded for a proven closer, and an expensive one at that. Oakland. The Mariners would have to do a ton more work this offseason to compete, overpay for several major free agents, and pray for the continued development of their youth that they don't trade away to acquire extra assets.
After a theoretical trade, an extension for Price seems less likely from a financial standpoint than it does from an agent standpoint. Price's agent is Bo McKinnis, who also represents R.A. Dickey, who signed a fairly team-friendly extension with the Mets, only to be traded to Toronto. Assuming he keeps along his same career path, Price is in line for a major payday, and I'm very skeptical that the Mariners would financially be able to keep both him and Felix Hernandez in the rotation together. With the price of pitcher contracts rising (and inevitably blown up by Clayton Kershaw), David Price is going to cash in big after 2015, if not before. For the sake of evaluation, it has to be assumed that the Mariners wouldn't be able to keep him past two years, so this is essentially a rental.
It's a terrifyingly familiar scenario. The last time the Mariners had an unsuccessful general manager who knew his days were numbered without instant improvement, he traded for Erik Bedard and gave away Adam Jones in order to do so. Bedard was controlled for two seasons, just like Price. That deal blew up in the Mariners face, and it sent the Mariners into a frustrating five year rebuild in which they amassed a significant amount of young talent, but were unable to show positive results at the major league level. Now, the Mariners could be poised to do something similar by trading away the most talented prospect they've acquired in Z's regime.
This was the quote that says it all, courtesy of Bob Dutton.
More Zduriencik: "...always have felt there would be a time where we have to augment this club. I think we’re at that time."— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) December 4, 2013
There's nothing wrong with making big splashes to make the team better. The Mariners are low on talent, and desperately need to add some. That's without question. The problem is adding talent that isn't going to be around for the long haul, and that's where you start to think about the Royals, making their push before they were ready. If the Mariners want to go crazy, trade for David Price, sign Robinson Cano, Corey Hart, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Curtis Granderson, fine. If they want to bring the payroll to $110-120 million permanently and establish themselves as a powerhouse, then it's going to be entertaining as hell. But free agents don't particularly want to sign with Seattle, and that's why making a trade like this as the first move is completely irresponsible. If you trade for David Price and can't land the free agents necessary to complement him, you've wasted two years trying to stay above .500, not competing for a division title. This is your only chance, too. The 2015 free agent class is a ghost town, and the Mariners have to position themselves to legitimately compete in the next two years. I understand going for risky guys like Matt Kemp, who may be expensive and declining after two years, but at least you'll still be able to cling on to whatever value they have left in a long-term contract.
Putting all your eggs in one basket is rash, and if they trade for David Price before they find out if they can get some more baskets, it's stupid. This deal looks a whole lot different if it occurs after the Mariners land several big free agents, but will they? Probably not. The Mariners can't afford to make this move before they make the other moves that justify it, and if Churchill and Cameron's sources are legit, there's legitimate reason to believe that they might do it anyways. If the Mariners go all in for Price, they absolutely cannot strike out on everyone else, or history just might repeat itself again. This deal has the potential to set this franchise back another five years.