It's not easy to be a Mariners fan, especially over the past decade. The team has time and again failed to perform on the field, leading many to stay away in droves year after year, yet did you ever wonder how the team's dwindling fanbase compared to other professional franchises?
For those of you who did, take comfort in knowing that someone has answered your question. Unfortunately the results, as we've so often come to expect, are once again disappointing.
According to a study by the financial website 24/7 Wall St. posted via seattlepi.com, your Seattle Mariners are losing fans better than any other major professional sports franchise in all of America:
That’s a bad No. 1, not a good No. 1.
Over the past 10 years, attendance to M’s home games has dropped 51.4 percent, the AOL-affiliated finance website noted. That ranked the Mariners worse than such underperforming teams as the Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Dallas Stars, New York Mets, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Wizards.
Meanwhile, on a somewhat related topic, Ichiro, the man who was the team's star attraction for the better part of the past decade seems to be staying with the Yankees for significantly less than what the Mariners paid him last year.
At times like this it's tempting just to give up and write off the Mariners completely, but for the loyal few who hold out hope for something better, perhaps the only thing we can do right now is dream.
Dream in the sense of taking a "money is no object" approach to free agency and rebuild with players that at some time or other have shown they can play at the major league level.
For fun, I've pieced together a list of a dozen free agents I'd love to see the Mariners acquire in a parallel universe where the franchise can do whatever it pleases.
Some players on this list will be obvious choices, others may be a bit baffling at first glance and some would probably sooner retire than come to Seattle.
You may ask, "Do the Mariners need all of these players?"
No, but each of them could certainly make next season interesting, especially if a few of them in the real world were willing to come to Seattle on the right terms.
So sit back for a moment and try to separate yourself from the painful reality this team has provided all of us for the past decade by reviewing one dreamer's mix of prime time players, fading stars, one year wonders and intriguing imports who would and possibly could make 2013 a year to remember.
I know what you're thinking, "Didn't you say the M's should avoid Hamilton?"
Yes, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because a seven-year deal following a four-year deal for Chone Figgins seems like a bad idea, not to mention all of the other red flags that come with him.
I'd be a liar though if I left Hamilton off my wishlist as one of the potentially fading stars I'm going to start my list with.
While you can certainly argue that Hamilton is still very much in his prime at age 32, I'm inclined to believe whatever team signs him will be getting maybe 2-3 quality years from him before the wheels fall off.
Therefore I'd love to see M's in my dream scenario sign him to a three-year deal at a reasonable price.
Will that ever happen?
Of course not, but it sure would be nice to have him hit cleanup for a few years.
Ok, now that we've moved past Josh Hamilton, how about an option that is perhaps a little more realistic?
A few weeks ago when I included Napoli on a list of players the Mariners should consider within their potential budget, I did it assuming very little would come of it.
Go figure that the M's would bring him in for an actual meet and greet; however the local expert's thoughts on Napoli are split for the moment.
Seattle Times writer Geoff Baker sees the potential rationale in signing Napoli as follows:
Locking in Napoli over multiple years would give Zduriencik at least some of that comfort level he can't possibly have with his in-house prospects who have yet to prove themselves as successful big leaguers.
That's it. There is no two ways about it. If you're Zduriencik, you either believe what you've been telling people for 30 years or you don't.
And if he does, then he knows there is a world of difference between having Napoli in-hand and rolling the dice on Montero and Smoak again.
Now, acquiring Napoli doesn't mean you have to wave goodbye to Smoak and Montero. At least, not right away.
Meanwhile Dave Cameron at USS Mariner sees a few issues:
Given the Mariners already have a bunch of C/1B/DH types, I don’t think I’m all that interested in Napoli beyond a one year deal. Texas saw him up close and personal the last two years and wouldn’t even extend him a qualifying offer for 2013. There are too many red flags here for me to be that excited about a three or four year deal for Napoli. One with a vesting option and a bunch of incentives? Okay. Maybe even two guaranteed if the price is cheap enough. But once we start talking about the age 33 or 34 season of a catcher with old player skills, I’m not real interested in paying a high price for those years.
Both make a fair argument, hence a three-year deal makes sense to me.
I understand that Napoli isn't going to make the Mariners a winner by himself, but he should be able to push the team in the right direction while they figure out what to do with the likes of Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, John Jaso, and eventually Mike Zunino.
Speaking of Dave Cameron at USS Mariner, I figured I would tip my cap to him here and grant his wish this holiday season in giving him Nick Swisher.
To be honest I'm not a huge fan of Swisher, but a few weeks ago Cameron posted an interesting article comparing Swisher to Prince Fielder that certainly made me think with this being his conclusion:
Given the reports about the kinds of offers Swisher is getting, he’s shaping up to be a freaking steal, and he’s exactly the kind of player that the Mariners need. Don’t let the labels that have been affixed to him and Fielder distract you from the truth. Just like Fielder, he’s a really good player. And at the reported price tag, getting him this winter would be a far better result for the franchise than signing Fielder last winter would have been.
If the price is indeed right and the contract isn't too lengthy, perhaps the M's should give Swisher a call?
The Mariners could certainly use veteran help in the outfield, not to mention someone who can either play first base or fill at the designated hitter spot.
Edwin Jackson? Hasn't he played on 11 teams in the past five years?
Sure seems like it, but it's actually seven teams across the past 10 years for anyone counting.
Jackson is perhaps one of the most vexing players you will find on this entire list given his track record.
One minute he's electric, the next he's atrocious, but generally he's a .500 pitcher with an ERA over four runs a game.
Still at age 29 you have to wonder whether Jackson could at some point in the right place under the right circumstances become a consistent force to be reckoned with as he enters his thirties.
Do the Mariners need Jackson?
You could probably argue both ways here, but a two-year deal at a nice price would be tempting if you could slot him towards the back half of the rotation with Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, and Hisashi Iwakuma.
Either way, I've always liked Jackson, and in this dream I would be curious to see if playing at Safeco Field (where he happens to have a solid record, albeit across a really small sample size) would be the kind of push he needs to find some level of consistency.
Grady Sizemore is someone I've made mention of before as a potential reclamation project for the Mariners.
Sizemore, a once talented player with the Indians, looks like a man who could use a change of scenery after struggling to stay healthy the past few seasons in Cleveland.
Odds are Sizemore is probably done as a productive everyday player, but for a low low homecoming discount on a one-year deal, it might be worth it to see whether he has anything left in the tank.
Continuing with our potential one-year wonder candidates, I give you outfielder Nate McLouth.
While I'm well aware that McLouth has been a disappointment since his breakout All-Star year performance with the Pirates a few years back, I actually think he has a better chance of playing next year when compared to the oft-injured Grady Sizemore.
Perhaps what impressed me most was how well McLouth played last year during the season's second half while in Baltimore.
Granted it was a short stint with the Orioles, but he seemed to make the most of it and at age 31, perhaps McLouth still has a few years left to play?
In an ideal world, he would be given a one-year deal or an invitation to spring training with a shot to make the M's roster initially as a spare outfielder with a chance to play regularly based on performance.
Poor Brandon McCarthy. One minute you're trying to help your team in the middle of a heated divisional playoff race, the next you're fighting for your life after taking a line drive to the head.
Before that frightening incident back in early September, McCarthy for the second year in a row looked like a solid starter within Oakland's rotation. In some ways he reminds me of Edwin Jackson as a well traveled .500 pitcher with a career ERA around four runs a game that is nearly the age of 30.
At the same time, what I like most about him is that he's improved over time as a pitcher by continually working on the finer points of his game.
Assuming that McCarthy is healthy and ready to go, I'd be willing to sign him to a two-year deal and put him, just like Jackson, towards the back of the rotation with the hopes that he can help round out the starting staff.
Am I kidding?
Look, I'm well aware that Dice-K has had his ups and downs, including an atrocious 1-7 record with an 8.28 ERA this past season across 11 starts.
Oddly enough I don't think he's completely done and a one-year "prove it" contract with all sorts of fun and exciting incentive clauses to me sounds really entertaining.
Will this ever happen?
Not in a million years as I doubt that either party would be game at this point.
Kyuji Fujikawa, the former Hanshin Tigers closer, has an explosive fastball and could either help close or serve as a valuable setup man to help round out the M's bullpen.
But what about current M's Tom Wilhelmsen?
Believe me, I like Wilhelmsen a lot, but let's remember this time last year he was Brandon League's understudy. In other words, a lot can happen in a short time with pitchers, especially closers.
Having Fujikawa would be a nice luxury within a bullpen that wasn't all that bad at the end of the day by year's end after starting the 2012 season a major question mark.
Perhaps what makes Fujikawa even more appealing than most NPB players looking to sign in the MLB is that he's a true free agent capable of signing anywhere he chooses. This also benefits the team signing him given they don't have to pay Hanshin for negotiating rights.
Meanwhile, when it comes to players from Japan, shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima is my favorite choice this season.
A few weeks back I made my case for Nakajima, and while I understand that Brendan Ryan is a fan favorite in Seattle, I still can't shake his poor performance at the plate this past season.
Nakajima may not be able to match Ryan's glove work, but he should be able to outhit him and by a healthy margin.
Speaking of health, Ryan hasn't always had a great track record since coming to Seattle, and similar to Kyuji Fujikawa I consider Nakajima as a solid insurance option with potential for growth if the opportunity makes sense.
Understand that both Fujikawa and Nakajima will play in the major leagues next, the question is which team(s) will be bold enough to give them the chance. I believe that the NPB under the right circumstances is a solid pipeline for talent, especially for a team looking to find established talent for reasonable prices like the Mariners.
It's funny, but I'm not even sure if B.J. is my favorite Upton brother?
Not to mention that signing him would cost the team their first-round draft pick.
Still, like so many other players on this list, he intrigues me simply based on his potential.
That word can be a double-edged sword in baseball, but it's not often a player with his skill set is available for the back half of his prime years.
For a reasonable price, I'd be tempted to see if a change of scenery in Seattle's outfield could be the perfect tonic to help him reach the level of play that Tampa Bay fans waited in vain to see for the better part of a decade.
Unfortunately, I can't see either Upton or the M's getting serious unless a trade for his brother Justin intrigued both sides to set up a family reunion.
Finally, to finish off this dream team, pitcher Zack Greinke.
Unlike the other starting pitchers on this list, Greinke is a legitimate ace, and the idea of pairing him with Felix Hernandez as the No. 1 and No. 2 starters sure would be fun.
In some ways it's similar to when the M's made a deal for Cliff Lee during what would soon turn out to be the disastrous 2010 campaign; nevertheless having two aces is an idea that's hard to abandon.
Of course in the real world Greinke and the majority of the players on this list are either too expensive, have suffered too many injuries, come attached with too many question marks or in some cases all of the above.
Whether the Mariners even commit themselves to one of these players or any other free agents remains to be seen this winter, but the clock is ticking.
So instead we wait and dream. Dream of what it could be like to toss money around with reckless abandon. Pick up players from all corners of the globe to fill every position on the diamond while never worrying who is writing the checks to pay for it all.
For the moment it's hard to tell if the organization is committed to making significant moves to improve the team or whether they're simply keeping up appearances by moving in the fences and putting up a new and improved scoreboard.
Honestly, I would be satisfied with a few small, yet meaningful steps to help this team inch back towards respectability. So while re-signing Hisashi Iwakuma along with Oliver Perez were both solid moves, I'm hoping general manager Jack Zduriencik can do more than claim Scott Cousins off waivers, trade for Robert Andino, and release Chone Figgins.
Time will tell, but I feel like we've been left waiting in vain before.