My name is Rick and I’m a prospect-aholic.
Admitting it is the first step to being cured, right?
But, like many who have made their admission of addiction in front of a roomful of strangers, I’m not sure that I want to be cured of what ills me. Regardless, I do recognize that my "sickness" can lead me to making unreasonable choices, even crazy statements about what it is that prospects do for me, about how they make me feel.
I have an emotional tie to prospects.
So when I hear that the Mariners are in talks to acquire some much needed help in the form of established MLB-veterans – All-Stars and award winners, even – my initial reaction is to scoff at the offers and flat dismiss them outright. "HMPH! That [pitcher/position player] isn’t good enough to land ONLY [Mariners’ prospect], much less [Mariners’ prospect] AND [Mariners’ prospect]! [Team] can just forget about that and keep their crummy All-Star!"
But the truth of the matter is that the value of many of the prospects and young big leaguers for the Mariners may never be higher than it is right now.
Taijuan Walker is just 21 years of age and he pitched three pretty strong starts at the end of last season, becoming the youngest M’s starter to win his starting debut – at 21 years and 17 days – in the club’s history. But while the young right-hander is extremely talented, uncommonly poised and a pleasure to speak with – where his drive and commitment to the game are obvious and refreshing – it is very possible that he could be on the precipice of a disappointing short, uneventful, up-and-down career in the big leagues.
Again, I am not reasonable when it comes to these matters, so I certainly wouldn’t bet on it. I’ve seen him with my own eyes and spoken with a number of trusted scouts, front office personnel and other baseball people who I trust to think that this kid truly has what it takes to be different, to be special. But it could happen. Many players who had enormous talent, impeccable work ethic and unwavering dedication have failed to become what their scouting reports have said they would in this game. It’s the nature of the beast that is professional baseball.
The only reason I reference Walker specifically here is because he – as I covered for subscribers on SeattleClubhouse last week – is the elite prospect in the system for Seattle. The same potential for "failure" can be said for James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, Dustin Ackley, et al. In fact, odds are that some on that list will fail (some may argue that at least one of them already has). Baseball is hard. Performing on the game’s highest level – playing against the best, having to be your best – is not an easy thing to do, even for the most talented players on the planet. Some get injured, some have outside issues affect their focus, some fall victim to the pressure, some fail to perform in their initial audition and never see another chance.
But even being cognizant of this, many people – myself included – are willing to bank on their favorite prospect(s) bucking the trend; of being the guy that can break through all the barriers and become a future Hall of Fame-performer. As fans of an organization, we naturally get tied to the players who are in it. And we examine the finite details of player’s performance and profiles to make sure that we know everything that we can know about a player, to get the complete understanding of what the players could possibly be if all goes right. We talk about future value, about ‘what-ifs’ as if they are absolutes.
We elate and cringe with their successes and failures. We get emotionally tied to them. And when we get invested in such a way, sometimes thinking clearly goes out the window.
The Seattle Mariners are a team that hasn’t played a meaningful game in well over a decade. They’ve been turned down by many of the top free agents available over the last few years, becoming somewhat of a punch line to the narrative of the imbalance in baseball. But then they went out and made an almost unfathomable acquisition earlier this month by signing one of the best players in the game to one of the biggest contracts in baseball history. They added a few more pieces to back that move up this week, but the club still very much resembles an incomplete puzzle. They need more talent; players who have a reasonable track record of success that they can count on.
The club reportedly has been in trade talks for Tampa Bay left-hander David Price, but those talks cooled when the Rays asked for Walker to headline any potential package for the former Cy Young winner. And when someone opined that the price for Price (see what I did there?) could actually be Walker AND another very valuable young piece, who I also happen to be emotionally tied to, I said this:
Love David Price and think that he could be an awesome piece for #Mariners but no part of me thinks about doing a Walker + Miller + deal.— Rick Randall (@randallball) December 8, 2013
And I’m not the only one. Scott wrote here about the potential value lost in dealing six years of a talent like Walker for two years of Price, "even straight up". The comments here at Lookout Landing and in the forums on my own site are filled with, "whatever they do, don’t trade Walker" voices. And they could all very well be right that holding onto him is the best case for the long term for the organization. But dealing Walker, and/or other prospects, could also represent the best shot for the Mariners to make some noise in the playoffs in the next two years. And while I clearly love the prospects, I think I’d trade a handful of my favorites for a World Series in Seattle. We can talk about projections, cost control, fWAR of Walker’s six years vs. that of Price’s two, but in the end, the whole reason they play this game is to find out who the champion is that year, not to see who has the best collection of prospects.
I certainly don’t advocate Seattle doing a Bedard 2.0 deal, but if a pitcher that can help the club capitalize on this current roster can be brought in at a reasonable cost, I think that I – and a number of other fans – need to find a way to emotionally disconnect from the promise of a brighter future and think about how beautiful of a present the present could be if it included a sparkling World Series trophy.
Rick Randall regularly contributes on Mariners prospects here at Lookout Landing. You can catch his more frequent and more detailed takes on those prospects, and the entire Mariners system, at his website SeattleClubhouse. He can also be found on Twitter, where he loves to answer questions, at @randallball.