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At a philosophical crossroads, the Mariners stay the course

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The Mariners left San Diego without making a move of any significance. For most of us, that isn’t the end of the world. For others, it isn’t either, but they make it sounds like it’s close.

Now, I get it. Making a splash at the Winter Meetings is sexy. Back in 2008, Jack Zduriencik launched onto the scene with a signature three-way deal that landed Franklin Gutierrez and Jason Vargas. Though, it doesn’t always go like that. Your reigning American League Champions, for example, walk away from the meetings with old friend Kendrys Morales signed to a multi-year deal.

While the Royals feared their target’s price would, somehow, go up—the Mariners  stand waiting for the market to come back to them. Though, it isn't as if they didn't have their opportunities.

Of course, as Scott mentioned yesterday, the Mariners were approached with a deal from the Nationals that would include sending Ian Desmond to the Pacific Northwest. As Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times would later share, there was a little more to it than the initial tweet from Ken Rosenthal:

So this is something I heard bits and pieces on a second-hand basis on the first day of the meetings. I didn’t go crazy about it because it was supposedly a non-starter for the M’s. It was rumored to be the Nats, in an effort to get younger and dump some payroll of two pending free agents, floating the idea of Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond for Taijuan Walker and Brad Miller and possibly a prospect.

Now, I don't think it's worth it to deeply evaluate the merits of this, nor any trade that didn't actually happen. We don't know what the final pieces would've been, and we don't know for sure the level to which talks actually progressed.

But if you're going to take a look at hypothetical trades I think it's fair to examine what they might represent from a priorities and philosophy standpoint. And if you're looking at this one—along with the Mariners' refusal to include Taijuan Walker or James Paxton in any deal for Matt Kemp—the message is clear that the organization's philosophy has not changed.

Jack Zduriencik and this front office, as they did going as far back as when they were introduced, has made its goal clear: build consistent, sustained year-over-year winning. You could hear back in the beginning, when Zduriencik introduced the first of his three managers, as Don Wakamatsu said at his first press conference that throughout the interview process he and Zduriencik had discussed the desire to "build an organization that will sustain winning."

Then, there was last season, when the Mariners refused to put blue chip prospects in play in trades with the best-case scenario for the season being everything on the line in a one-game playoff. Instead, the organization swung a relatively conservative deal for Austin Jackson, with Zduriencik proclaiming thereafter "We’re going to be here a long time, and we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with."

Still, you see Mariners fans today wanting more—some of them, at least. As the narrative goes, Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez's primes don't last much longer, and the Nelson Cruz deal only exacerbates the need to win now. The Mariners' window will be open for two, maybe three years, and the organization needs to do everything it can to win within that window because their opportunity to do so will surely fade thereafter.

The Mariners, it seems, have a different approach. Instead of maximizing the window they have now, they're intent on widening it. Instead of focusing exclusively on capitalizing on their aging core's production now, the intent is on negating the future lost production with cheap, young talent. Now, I understand the possibility exists that a team can strike a balance between winning now while preserving the opportunity to do so in the future, but Mariners fans should know as well as anyone what happens when that balance is thrown out of sorts.

Is everyone fully aware, for example, that Adam Jones, Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo could've been Mariners all the way through the season before last?

Obviously, this represents a worst-case scenario—and the trade for Jones is on a different level compared to the ones that shipped Choo and Cabrera to Cleveland for a DH platoon—but it gives a quick sense for how haunting these can be. Between the time they were traded and reached or would've reached free agency, the trio produced a staggering 54.8 wins above replacement.

Of course, Zduriencik famously would go on to trade a bucket of gum, used fungo bats and a clearance rack of Jeremy Reed jerseys for Cliff Lee—but let's pretend for a moment that the Believe Big season of 2010 went as planned, and the Mariners were buyers at the deadline instead of swapping Lee for Justin Smoak. Isn't entirely feasible to imagine more than a few people saying something along the lines of "Whatever they do, just don't trade Dustin Ackley. You can move a guy like Kyle Seager because he plays the same position, but just don't trade Ackley."?

My point on this, and I want to be clear, isn't that prospects are more valuable than people give them credit for. I don't think they're all going to be stars—it's actually just the opposite. In the grand scheme of things, there are very few franchise cornerstone in any given farm, and it takes a very long time to find out who they are—often times it can take years into their playing career.

Take, for example, Brad Miller. The source of much derision for what projections say he will become, questions now cloud his future. But, just for fun, have you seen the first two-plus years of the player a first-class organization is looking to trade for him? Through Ian Desmond's first 1,302 plate appearances—a cup of coffee and two full seasons—he notched a .262/.304/.387 slash line and 85 wRC+. Looks awfully familiar to Miller's career .241/.302/.389—and then there's the higher 95 wRC+ because of the park and league environment.

I don't intend to imply Miller will certainly become Desmond, but you can see why the Mariners don't want to swap the next five years of the former for one year of the latter.

Now, does all of this mean the Mariners need to be totally risk averse? No, there are moves that can be made to strike that balance between maximizing both the present and the future. It's the reason why I'm a proponent of any reasonable(ish) deal for Melky Cabrera. Right now, he's what they need, and if his production slides in the future it can be recouped with the value the team didn't trade away.

I've said this a lot, but it remains to be true: the Mariners are exceptionally well-positioned, and they have been since they locked up Felix Hernandez and inked their new cable deal.

They have money, and they have young talent—and with that has come the opportunity to accomplish what they've set out to do all along. There's no use switching things up now, and it doesn't appear there's any intention to do so.