The Seattle Mariners are faced with another dilemma.
Do they commit a large amount of money to a free agent when the choices are limited and the red flags are abundant?
Conventional wisdom suggests that in the modern sports landscape, franchises must be aggressive if they are going to create a competitive team. This is particularly true in Major League Baseball where there is no salary cap and large-market teams can essentially spend unlimited funds.
It used to just be about the spending of the Yankees, but now that the Dodgers are negotiating a huge cable package with Fox (via LA Times), LA will soon be the "Yankees of the West." Assuming they aren't already.
Unfortunately, a team like the Mariners faces great risk when they wade into the murky waters of the free-agent market. The recent "departure" of Chone Figgins is a reminder that a seemingly solid free-agent investment can quickly turn into a fiscal nightmare.
When it comes to the Mariners and free agency, there is little room for error.
Therefore, there is wisdom in staying out of the free-agent market for two reasons.
One reason has been well documented. The available talent is either inconsistent or has too many red flags. There are few, if any, truly "coveted" free agents in this class that the Mariners could reasonably afford.
If the Mariners could get Josh Hamilton for three years and build a lot of incentives into the contract, I would be fine with that. However, I do not think three years will get it done.
The second reason is current potential in the existing lineup. I am willing to give the youngsters one more year to mature and gel as a team. Sure, this rebuilding strategy may yield a bunch of weak hitting 25-year-olds that routinely hit .230 with 10 home runs.
Then again, perhaps 2013 will be the year when the likes of Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero, Mike Carp, Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders finally put it all together.
Perhaps a prospect like Nick Franklin will give the Mariners a boost out of spring training. Perhaps one or more of the top pitching prospects will make the big club and help create a dominant staff of starters.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
I know what some people may think. Some will suggest that this is why the Mariners have struggled to build relevancy. In other words, some might argue that the fanbase is way too patient, and that the Pacific Northwest should have rebelled long ago.
There may be wisdom in that sentiment, but I am still willing to wait one more year to see if this experiment will come together.
Granted, there is not a lot of evidence of drastic statistical growth in terms of team batting average. Over the last three seasons, the numbers have looked like this:
There has been positive growth in home runs, though this has not translated to a better batting average :
I assume the hope is that the shorter fences and the maturing lineup will cause a spike in offensive productivity. Again, perhaps.
There is the possibility that the Mariners could go all in on Josh Hamilton and attempt to jump-start the franchise. Sometimes sports is about taking risks. However, if Hamilton gets signed up for seven years and he experiences the inevitable decline, it could handcuff the franchise for years.
Seattle should not buy for the sake of buying. They should give the youngsters one more year.