Could Josh Hamilton end up with the Mariners?
How far might the Mariners be willing to go to get Hamilton? Well, we know it will probably take a four-year deal and likely $25 million per season.
But Seattle might want Hamilton so badly that it's willing to help the Texas Rangers make a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks (and possibly two other clubs) for Justin Upton, and thus have no need for the 2010 AL MVP. That's according to a tweet by ESPN's Jim Bowden.
At first glance, that seems crazy. Why would a team help a division rival get better and contend for yet another first-place finish?
However, this probably indicates where Mariners general manager, Jack Zduriencik, views his team in the AL West pecking order. Also, it demonstrates just how badly Seattle wants and needs a middle-of-the-order slugger.
The Mariners haven't had a player hit 30 home runs since Russell Branyan launched 31 in 2009. Prior to that, Richie Sexson hit 34 homers and Raul Ibanez slugged 33 in 2006.
This is a team and fanbase that has seen Ken Griffey, Jr. hit 50 home runs in consecutive seasons. Alex Rodriguez and Frank Costanza's favorite player, Jay Buhner, also regularly hit 40 or more homers.
Some of those 40-homer seasons have even occurred since the Mariners moved into Safeco Field in 1999.
Last year, Seattle chased Prince Fielder only to see him eventually spurn the Mariners for the Tigers. This year, Zduriencik has lost out on Mike Napoli, who signed a three-year deal with the Boston Red Sox on Monday (Dec. 3).
But Hamilton and Nick Swisher are still on the open market, giving the Mariners two big big sticks to pursue in the hopes that one of them can hit some baseballs over the newly shortened outfield fences at Safeco.
This time, the market may work out in the Mariners' favor.
If the Rangers end up making a trade for Upton, Texas would presumably be out of the running for Hamilton, focusing its resources instead on signing free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke. Greinke would give the Rangers the No. 1 starter missing from their rotation this year.
That would explain the Mariners' reported willingness to include prospects in a proposed multi-team trade.
According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the deal would result in Upton going to Texas, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera shipped to the Arizona Diamondbacks and prospects such as the D-Backs' Trevor Bauer and Rangers' Mike Olt traded to Cleveland.
Who would the Mariners contribute to this monster deal? Either of Seattle's top pitching prospects Taijuan Walker or Danny Hultzen would conceivably be a part of the trade. Perhaps shortstop Nick Franklin, who could possibly replace Cabrera as the Indians' shortstop.
Seattle could also end up with left-hander Derek Holland in its rotation, depending on how the trade eventually works out and which teams are involved. So participating in the deal could help the Mariners in other ways.
But this would be all about signing Hamilton. He could still try to sign somewhere else, but where would that be if Texas gets Upton and spends its free-agent cash on Greinke?
The Philadelphia Phillies got a centerfielder on Thursday, acquiring Ben Revere from the Minnesota Twins, as first reported by MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. Hamilton could fill a corner outfield spot, but the Phillies also have to get a third baseman and setup reliever for next season.
Boston still has payroll flexibility, but will probably concentrate on getting a starting pitcher now. The Baltimore Orioles apparently don't want to meet Hamilton's price. The Milwaukee Brewers don't really need him, nor do the Los Angeles Dodgers. The New York Yankees are looking for platoon players they can sign to one-year contracts.
That leaves the Mariners, who would make Hamilton their cornerstone player and try to build a team around him. His presence in the lineup would take pressure off hitters like Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero, neither of whom appear ready to be a top run producer.
With Hamilton in the outfield along with Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle can also get away with a subpar glove like Jason Bay in left field, if that's how it shakes out in spring training.
As far as helping the Rangers get Upton, Texas is going to be better than the Mariners in the AL West anyway.
Even without Seattle's help in potential four-team trades, the Rangers could still get Greinke and perhaps another free agent like Swisher or Michael Bourn to restock their roster. Texas still has to be considered the favorites to win the division over the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics.
For the Mariners, it's not about helping out the Rangers. It's about getting better by the best possible means. And according to The Seattle Times' Geoff Baker, it's closer to happening than we may have believed.
Once Seattle does get better and is in position to compete for wild-card playoff spots and AL West titles, they can use more conventional means to add key pieces to their roster and no longer have to resort to faciltating trades for division rivals.
Until then, some creativity is necessary. And this would certainly be creative for Zduriencik and the Mariners.
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