For the last two or three days, I've been representing the Seattle Mariners in SB Nation's annual Winter Meetings Simulation. It hasn't officially begun yet, but I've been heavily engaged in trade talks with several of the other GMs, and through that process I've learned a lot of interesting things. First and foremost: good lord, is it ever easy to turn a semi-contender into a win-now juggernaut, as long as you don't care at all about the future.
I get it, now! I finally see the light. I used to be blown away, regularly, by how hard it seemed to get a team over the hump and into contention. None of the avenues made sense: trading for long-term assets cost just as much as the return, free agency required outbidding 29 other teams, drafting required waiting four years...but I realize now that I had blinders on. With the Mariners so far away from the playoffs, I never even considered the possibility of trading for a rental player. Now that they're close, not only is it a viable option - it looks like the best option.
Don't get me wrong: rentals have their pros and cons, like any other method of acquiring talent. (The pros are "before the rental player leaves". The cons are "after the rental player leaves".) But for clubs in the right place on the win curve, that tradeoff can absolutely be worth it. By paying with talent instead of cash, contenders can almost double the effective size of the free agent market, allowing themselves to draw from a broader pool of win-now target players. And boy, if there was ever a team that needed a broader pool of win-now target players...
Here. Most people agree that the Mariners need an outfielder, right? Especially if they stupidly dump Michael Saunders? These are the 2014 outfield free agent crop's best seven players, next to their age at free agency and their 2014 WAR.
These are the 2015 outfield free agent crop's best seven players, next to their age at free agency and their 2014 WAR.
This year's outfield FA class is garbage. Next year's is incredible. And yeah, sure, free agent crops dwindle with time, but which of these guys to you expect to get extended? Gordon says he'll pick up his player option to stay in KC, so sure, that's one. But the Braves can't afford to extend Heyward or Upton, especially given that the two young free agents are in for enormous paydays if they leave. The Rays can't pay to keep Zobrist around. Cespedes just switched to Roc Nation, and Jackson's a Boras client, so we know neither of them are looking to extend. Fowler plays for the goddamn Astros.
So the Mariners need an outfielder. They'd presumably like to make a run at the top of next year's outfield free agent class (remember, Jackson'll be gone, so they'll need a long-term center fielder), so they don't want to make a huge long-term investment in a crappy FA class, but they need to win now. I mean, c'mon. The answer's obvious. The answer's that list right up there.
There are a whole bunch of one-year rental outfielders that should be available on the trade market. Shane Victorino plays in an overstuffed Boston outfield and is coming off of an injury. Yoenis Cespedes doesn't get along well with his coaches. Hell, maybe the new Rays FO decides to sell, and Zobrist is available. Fowler plays for the goddamn Astros. There are so many opportunities! So many more opportunities than there are in free agency!
I know, I know, I'm getting carried away. I'm sorry for all the exclamation points. I'm just excited - excited because, for the first time since Cliff Lee, the rental-player door is open to my favorite team. Are you ready to see some good goddamn players on the Mariners? Because I sure am.
Make it happen, Jack Z.