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Mariners miss out on Melky: coming to grips with it, and whatever might be next

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Signing Melky Cabrera would have been the easy thing to do. It obviously wasn't easy to actually sign him, as we see now, but it seemed like the path of least resistance to a successful off-season. Just plunk down enough money and Jack Zduriencik walks out of what seemed like quite the gauntlet of a winter with his biggest needs appropriately filled and the entirety of the young talent cache still with the organization.

So when news came down the Mariners were not the team Cabrera would be playing for next season, many individuals' thoughts and opinions came back to that "just plunk down enough money" concept. To be honest, I couldn't have written this post Saturday night. Well, I could have, but I'm glad I didn't.

I wanted the Mariners to plunk down enough money, and was upset they did not. Conversations around this topic often devolve into something akin to #notmymoney—a fallacy trumped by the fact that every team has a budget and money can't be spent twice. Still, unlike some, I won't fault people for wanting the Mariners to spend more, as long as they're being reasonable with their requests.

This sets up to be the best Mariners team in a decade, and it isn't wrong to hope available capital wasn't the deciding factor in whether or not the team could add the final piece to what will be one of the best rosters in baseball heading into 2015. Some teams can afford to spend big on risky high-upside guys, and when they don't work out, the teams spend more to cover-up their mistakes—some unsuccessfully. The Mariners aren't there yet, but it's entirely possible they (and we) don't want that anyway.

Though, we don't even know if money was the issue here. It sounds like there was a good chance it wasn't.

The Mariners may have been the team offering four years after all. I will say though, if you're one of those people who had hoped Cabrera would land in Seattle, this doesn't completely absolve the M's. It seems clear the Mariners did not offer Cabrera a four-year deal before the weekend, and no other team had yet gone to three, as the Enrique Rojas report(which in all likelihood came out through Cabrera's camp) wouldn't have been about a single three-year offer from the Mariners.

Had the Mariners pushed hard with a four-year deal from the get-go, could they have netted Cabrera before other teams got heavily involved? It's hard to say, but you have to wonder—that, of course depending on if this is how it all played out.

Adding another layer, this may well have come down to money, but in a perfectly reasonable way. As Shannon Drayer noted recently, the Mariners' payroll starts to stack up in a rather steep way once you get to the fourth year Cabrera may or may not have wanted. In 2018, Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager stand to make a combined $82.5 million—with only one player in the bunch having a good chance at being better than he is now. Is Melky Cabrera the player worth taking that that total to the point the Mariners have five players, four in their decline, account for nearly $100 million in payroll?

It's impossible to say, really. But as thoughts now shift to whatever the Mariners do next, with Alex Rios—who will be the same age in 2015 as Cabrera will be in 2018—coming up frequently in various dialogues, my mind goes back to an October quote from Mariners president Kevin Mather (emphasis added):

"We need to be 85 to 95 wins every year, which means we need to draft well, we have to get our draft picks signed, we have to be strategic with our free agent signings, but we need to be competitive year-in, year-out. And you don’t do that by signing broken-down, middle-of-the-road free agents and hoping."

Then again, is Cabrera himself a "middle-of-the-road" free agent? He certainly isn't in the top tier, nor the lowest—so maybe this is the type of guy Mather was referring to. There are reasons to be hopeful for Cabrera's future, and reasons not to be. He isn't entirely dissimilar to Rios, who in his past six seasons has three years at 3 fWAR or above and three at around replacement level or below.

Given the cost, and this mentality, you can understand why the Mariners didn't want to spend the amount required to overcome Cabrera's preference to not play out west. While I previously touted Cabrera as potentially being the solution to the problem that is appropriately balancing winning now against winning for longer, you can see how an extended deal might hinder the latter.

Money not spent now can (and hopefully will) be spent on a better, improving player later—with most of us having visions of the Mariners landing one of the high-profile free agent outfielders poised to hit the market next off-season. Still, where does that leave the Mariners as they head into 2015, with nary a single player capable of manning right field for a contending team?

Going back to Drayer, she shared this quote and offered further insight based on Zduriencik's appearance on Friday night's Hot Stove League show:

"We have dialogue going now," he told Rick Rizzs, Mike Blowers and me. "I think we have some pretty interesting discussions going. It may not be the splash that everyone is hoping for or waiting for but I do think it will be pieces that help the club. We could put a couple together, we could do something via trade, we could do maybe one or two pieces on the free agent market that kind of give you a little different flavor."

While Zduriencik is willing to make a deal it sounds less likely that he will deal a starting pitcher to fill the need in the outfield and while he said he "might have to get a little bit creative" in coming up with an outfielder, he also said that he was confident they would get something done. Then added the kicker, "I think we will probably do more than one thing."

Zduriencik sounds confident something is brewing, speaking with a tone that sounds familiar to the lead-up to last year's trade deadline, when the team snagged Austin Jackson almost out of nowhere. It was a name we'd put out there in our 2014 Off-Season Plan, but nary a mention was made of the Tigers center fielder when speaking of mid-season trade targets.

So, the lesson on that—while Jake does an excellent job laying out the potential targets, is not to forget the Mariners are equally likely, if not more-so, to land someone from the field. And if you were to ask me, it's the route I'd rather them go.

Either way, the Mariners will do something—that much is clear. And I'd gamble on it being more than them signing Alex Rios and calling it a winter. The Mariners, like most teams, have done a lot of work already—but what might be their biggest task still lies in front of them. All we can do now is wait.