Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week (or enjoying the real world without obsessing over free agent transactions in an ultimately meaningless game), you're probably sick and tired of hearing about a) Masahiro Tanaka and b) the somewhat ageless narrative that Mariners ownership, while in possession of financial flexibility, refuses to make any additional structural changes to what is still thought of as a bad baseball team.
We've been back and forth with the Ken Rosenthal stuff (They are done spending! They don't have the money! They have the money but don't want to spend it, what are they doing?!), as well as actual calculations based on the proposed $90-something million payroll they still haven't quite hit. New Mariners president Kevin Mather has even suggested there are additional resources available for adding to the somewhat self-imposed salary cap. But it can still feel a bit frustrating watching the Mariners now offering minor-league contracts to low-risk bullpen arms after the explosion that was the Robinson Cano deal. Not that it means anything, but it's at least easy to see how Rosenthal's narrative gives itself the fuel to keep its engine running. All they have to do is drop another $50 million contract and prove us all wrong!
Today at Fan Fest, Jack Zduriencik offered a little perspective on the recent hush-hush coming from the Mariners' FO. You can read the whole thing from MLB.com's Greg Johns here, but there is a pretty important quote I was hoping to draw attention to, oddly specific from a guy whose public comments hardly ever seem to stray from the realm of abstraction:
"We're reaching out and are going to bring some players to Spring Training that aren't big investments, but are veteran players that might have a chance to fill a role and take some pressure off these younger kids," Zduriencik said. "I don't think we're going to jump in and invest where some of these dollars are going. It just doesn't make sense when you take a 30-, 31-, 32-year old pitcher that wants five or six years and there is some history there of injury or inconsistencies. That's a pretty big risk, and I think we have to look at this in the big picture."
Johns is quick to point out that Zduriencik didn't name any names here, but it's pretty obvious he's talking about Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, and specifically how much they are going to cost now after this whole Tanaka business. While I wouldn't mind seeing Jimenez in a Mariners uniform next year, this seems to give credence to the portrait of Zduriencik as a drafter, a development guy, someone with his eyes more fixed on the minors than whatever the hell was responsible for designing the Yankees' fossilized and expensive starting nine. And I'm not sure that needs to be a bad thing.
I'm going to stop before affixing moneyball sentimentality to a guy who was lambasted a month ago for criticizing font-sizes when given statistical information, but this quote does something pretty significant, I think. We can grow annoyed at their reluctance to sign a pitcher who would almost unequivocally make the Mariners better next year, or lambast an ideology that trades John Jaso for a discounted and broken one-tool player.
But what we can't do is feel despair with an albatross contract for an Alex Rodriguez (yet). While nihilism can often feel like a familiar sweater, we didn't watch our team give half of New Guinea's GDP to two aging hitters who struck the team out to obsolescence and the thinnest farm system in the game. And even though it irrationally and drunkenly might sound like a good idea sometimes, we didn't have to see the entire crop of youth shipped away for two years of crossed-fingers and hope for the postseason because someone's job was on the line. No, that phase only lost us Jaso and Casper Wells.
For all their faults and head-scratching decisions, the Mariners are being careful (Cano aside), preserving some of the most attractive specimens from their deep system (so far), and have, possibly unintentionally, let other teams spend themselves into corners so they didn't have to, ensuring Pujols and Fielder would never wear Mariners caps, nor Tanaka. Yes, perhaps they need to keep opening the pockets, yes, this team isn't ready for the postseason today. But the one thing the Mariners have that other teams seem to wish they had is a slowly built system, financial flexibility, a great TV deal (and enormous market), and two commitments past 2017. As much as changing ship and splurging on Ervin Santana might be the kind of move to make 2014 better, it won't make 2017 better, and the Mariners know it.
Is this a great thing? I'm not sure. Is this a bad thing? I don't think it has to be. For now we can take Zduriencik's comments for what they are--and I'll take a little more depth from the guy any day. It seems their reluctance towards signing Jimenez and Santana is that they know the market is going to turn them into unwise investments. And I'm not saying the Mariners won't--or shouldn't--drop the money it will take to get one of these two. I think it's quite possible they do.
But even if they don't, just remember that Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are probably, as we speak, playing videogames in condos they don't owe million-dollar mortgages on. And that they have Mariners hats in their closets.