This morning, Ken Rosenthal penned an article that launched off a storyline that the Seattle Mariners are out of money, maybe. His proof, which I'll get to in a second, was followed by a whole bunch of "what are the Mariners even doing?" questions and a strong dose of speculation that is solely based on the foundation that the Mariners off-season is effectively over on today, December 19th. It's chock full of key descriptors such as "embarrassing" and "botched big-money experiment."
Deadspin has picked this story up, and has taken it even further to fit the "LOLZ MARINERS" narrative, full of link baiting goodness and framed in a way that makes people snicker. This is what Deadspin does - they don't really bother to check things out (or read them) before they get them up if it can be framed in a certain light. It took them a good amount of time to correct the whole "Mariners outbid themselves for Cano" story too that was a joke from Evan P. Grant, and I doubt they were particularly interested in rushing to fix it.
A major component of Deadspin is incite chuckles at the misfortune of dysfunctional sports organizations. It's one of my favorite sites for that very reason, but it's also so very crucial to consider how certain intent can get lost along the way. Their report of the Mariners being done is based on the Rosenthal article, and it doesn't pass along Rosenthal's justification for his belief. If you were to read Deadspin, there's only a small portion who would click on Rosenthal's original story to see his sources and justifications. Why would you? It's Deadspin, and you're there to laugh. Then I get hammered with tweets, emails, and texts from my friends all day that say "are the Mariners really done spending? You must be pissed."
Nah. This isn't something to be pissed about. This is something to roll our eyes at. From Rosenthal:
What the heck are the Mariners doing?
Club officials are signaling to certain agents and others in the industry that the team is near its payroll limit, though certain exceptions may be made for the right player.
Perhaps that player is left-hander David Price, whom the Mariners continue to discuss in trade conversations with the Rays, according to major-league sources.
Perhaps that player is free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, who would be a more realistic choice than first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart to serve as the right-handed complement to Cano.
Whatever, it had better be somebody.
Oh. Wait, what?
So the Mariners are telling agents and other teams that they're low on money. Clearly, that must mean that they're actually done, right? There wouldn't be any possible motivations to signal to agents that they aren't rolling in cash, right? Why would the Mariners come out and tell agents they have plenty of money to spend, to continue to appear like they're the desperate organization that threw historic money at Robinson Cano? They wouldn't. This is a fairly obvious negotiating tactic to reduce expectations around the league, especially agents. The Mariners need Ervin Santana's agent to know that he can forget it with those $100 million demands, and that they won't be overbidding other teams by 35% like they did for Cano. With one insane money deal on the books, the Mariners can't afford to make another like it, and they're letting teams know they won't do it. Good.
It's just silly. I have no reason to doubt Rosenthal's sources here and he's just doing his job, but come on. This article is a stretch without much evidence to back it up, filling time while everyone sits around waiting for Rakuten to decide what they're going to do with Masahiro Tanaka.
The Mariners have no more money to spend unless they do, which is for the "right player." Whatever the original quote was, which has been paraphrased by Rosenthal, says nothing at all. Who is the right player, exactly? Are there multiple right players? If there are people that break this narrative, why is it being forced? The point he's trying to make in his article is almost immediately contradicted, and then it is subsequently ignored by Deadspin in their mockery.
We know that the Mariners are still heavily involved with David Price, who would be a significant increase to payroll himself. We know they've been in hard on Nelson Cruz, and that they're still very into Ervin Santana. They were in on Matt Kemp even after Cano was added. These are all players that represent major leaps in payroll. There are obvious signs that the Mariners are not done spending this off-season, and while I suppose supporters of the Rosenthal article can claim that those listed are "the right players" that the M's would increase payroll for, that's a lot of right player that they're still involved with.
Then of course there's the actual statement from Howard Lincoln in late November, where he said the Mariners budget would be higher this upcoming year than it was in 2013, where the budget was $95 million. Colin touched on this the other day in his Tanaka post, and it's worth revisiting.
What do you choose to believe? Paraphrased posturing that fits a battered narrative? Or a direct quote from the Mariners CEO? Perhaps you believe that Howard Lincoln was lying when he said that the Mariners were going to increase the budget, or that he's just setting expectations for fans. Maybe you don't trust this front office, and you would have every reason not to. But if you don't trust Lincoln's comments about increased spending, why would you trust what the team tells other teams about payroll expectations, especially when it seems to be a clear negotiating tactic? One answer. Pessimism.
It eats at all of us, especially when it comes to an organization that has mostly been a laughable failure for the past decade. It claws at fans, it's easy fodder for bloggers, and it's a tried and true storyline for national writers. While we want to believe the Mariners aren't done spending and improving this team, it's somehow more difficult to accept that it's actually the case than if they were not throwing money around. It's far more comfortable for us to sink back into a sense of wallowing despair about the Mariners, to instead take what Rosenthal has reported as definitive truth. This current generation of Mariner fans is full of kids who have never seen true success from this franchise, or were too young to appreciate it when it occurred. They don't know how to feel properly optimistic.
This has been a good off-season so far. It still hasn't been enough, and the Mariners need to add more pieces to surround Cano with in order to reasonably contend for the next several years. That we can all agree on. But there's enough evidence out there to suggest that the Mariners aren't done constructing this team, and an incomplete roster with a glaring surplus at second base that indicates at least one more improvement is on the way. If the Mariners roll into Spring Training and the payroll is under $80-85 million, I'll be on board with Rosenthal. I'll return to my recliner of despair. Until that happens, and until we get some real, non-agent posturing evidence that the checkbook is shut, this is just a reminder that the seat on that recliner of despair is still warm, waiting for us to return.