I've always been more of a "It's not my money!" and "after inflation and cable contracts, it'll look alright" kind of guy, but I'm among the many individuals fine with the Mariners not spending as much money on Masahiro Tanaka as they just did on Felix Hernandez.
The question that's loomed out there, however, is what the Mariners would do after the Tanaka sweepstakes. Was Tanaka a special player for whom the organization would be willing to spend additional resources on and, if it wasn't him, the Mariners would stand pat with some approximation of what they have—or can the M's parlay some non-insignificant portion of the funds going unspent on Tanaka into other players?
The one piece of information looming out there that may contradict the latter possibility here, presented only by a single reporter (but multiple times), is this:
Sources: #Mariners weighing a number of options - Tanaka, Price, N. Cruz, etc. - but need to persuade ownership to keep pressing forward.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 6, 2014
If that's truly the case, it may be cause for concern. Checking in with ownership is something I'd assume all teams do when it comes to significant deals, not just ones of the "mega" variety either, but the Mariners are in a somewhat precarious position as it's likely no MLB owner has had as rough an offseason as that of the Mariners.
Bloomberg, late last Friday, ran an extensive report on Nintendo's troubles:
Nintendo Co. (7974) President Satoru Iwata said the maker of video-game machines is considering a new business model after forecasting a surprise 25 billion-yen ($240 million) annual loss because of tepid demand for the Wii U.
Nintendo fell the most in more than 12 years in the U.S. yesterday. The company had previously projected profit of 55 billion yen for the year ending March as it counted on Christmas shoppers to revive sales of the Wii U console featuring games with iconic characters Mario and Zelda.
If you're a multi-billion dollar company and are now considering altering your business model, things are serious.
What does this mean for the Mariners? That's hard to say. Could it mean they are truly done spending as Nintendo tightens the pursestrings? Possibly. Could the budget have been set before and the Mariners have room to operate beneath that? Certainly. And it very well could fall somewhere between those two possibilities.
In his sit-down with Ryan Divish at the end of the season, Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln shed some light on how the Mariners set payroll year-to-year, something Jack Zduriencik independently confirmed in other interviews: that the front office determines what its needs are and the payroll is set so as to best accommodate those needs. Lincoln also said in the aforementioned interview that payroll would increase in 2014, up from the $95 million it was at last year, though not completely spent (more of Divish's reporting work).
Assuming this is how the organization operates, and I can't see why it wouldn't, it's hard to envision a scenario in which Zduriencik doesn't have a middle-of-the-rotation starter as one of his needs heading into the offseason. On the other hand, signing Robinson Cano may change plans—but the Mariners were bound to go after a superstar this offseason, and the difference between Ellsbury and Cano in 2014 is just $2 million.
But while I've seen many people fear the Mariners will stand pat, and want to call this offseason a failure because they didn't land both of the offseason's top free agents, it's worth noting that it's January 22nd and the biggest mistake the team made, if you can even call it one, was overpaying a utility player by $1-2 million. Have they filled all their needs? Certainly not—but, of the ones they've addressed, they've done very well and utilized good process.
While the focus now is on the short term, and that makes sense as we're bound to see a flurry of free agent activity before rolling right into spring training, it's going to be fascinating to see what impact Nintendo's fortunes have on the organization long-term.
Following the death of Mariners figurehead Hiroshi Yamauchi, Lincoln said that Nintendo had no plans to sell. But plans can change quickly—and it's hard not to notice that the difference between Nintendo's previous projected annual profit and new projected annual loss, an astonishing $766 million difference, is in the neighborhood of what Nintendo of America's 55 percent ownership stake in the Mariners would sell for.
For a company that's bound to do a significant amount of self-reflection in the months ahead, you'd expect them to seriously evaluate how owning a baseball team fits into the picture and if it's the right time to cash in on an asset that's never been more valuable.
There are so many questions and potential issues here that it's impossible to address all of them. We don't know what impact this will have in the short- or long-term, and it's possible it won't have any at all. But during a time in which the organization is transitioning on so many fronts, this is a story to watch.