Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik came this close to trading for Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton before the 25-year-old slugger vetoed the deal.
Opinions have varied on whether the Mariners would have overpaid for Upton, as rumor has it that prospects Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, and Stephen Pryor were part of the package Arizona had agreed to with Seattle.
However, instead of sitting still, the Diamondbacks moved on and last week dealt Upton to Atlanta, reuniting him with his older brother B.J. who signed with the Braves as a free agent a few weeks earlier.
It was a bold move by Braves general manager Frank Wren, who will either look like a genius or a fool next season in acquiring both Upton brothers over the course of this winter.
Yet in light of what almost transpired, I believe kudos should be given to Jack Z for at least getting the Diamondbacks to the altar by offering up a serious package of prospects before being jilted by Upton.
At the same time, the trade for Michael Morse in response is hard get excited about and feels more like Plan F rather than B, C, or even D, given that one of the team's better hitters, John Jaso, was shipped off.
Yes, the Mariners need power and more offense, but was Upton's rejection really a blessing in disguise?
Right now, I believe that Jack Z is desperately trying to buy himself time rather than simply "win now."
Time for prospects like Walker, Franklin, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Mike Zunino to make it to Seattle by plugging up roster holes with players like Morse, Kendrys Morales, and Raul Ibanez, who may come back to life just long enough to bridge the gap.
The question is whether the bridge can hold at all with these aging players being given significant roles, while being surrounded by youngsters like Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak who all struggled last year.
Let's face it, the Mariners are going to be mediocre next year with the current roster they have in place, as they should win at least 70 games, but will probably lose at least 80 games as well.
Perhaps Felix Hernandez puts together a Cy-Young season and wins 20 games, but who is going to win the other 60+ plus needed to reach .500?
In fairness, Upton would not have made up that difference. But will Michael Morse and company mesh or mash well enough to keep fans interested and entertained until the Seahawks open camp next summer?
If they don't, the expectations placed on Taijuan Walker and other fellow prospects are going to be that much higher when they do arrive in Seattle.
A foolish part of me still thinks (more like hopes) that players like Walker and Zunino will form the nucleus of something truly special some day, and that we all need to remain patient long enough to ride out what seems like an endless wave of mediocrity.
It is maddening that we keep waiting for a tomorrow that never seems to come, while the braintrust continues to talk in circles, as USS Mariner's Dave Cameron posted last week:
We learned that the M’s are going to have fireworks after some games this year, they’re giving away a Dustin Ackley gnome, and that the list of talking points for Jack and Wedge haven’t changed. They checked off pretty much every box, saying all the same things they always say. No one’s on scholarship. Competition is great. Veteran leadership taking pressure off the kids. Excited about the future. Who knows what might happen. We’ll see. Special group of young pitchers. You know the drill by this point.
Does this mean we should give up?
Of course not, it just depends on how much stock you wish to put in this year's team.
Justin Upton cast his vote, and quite frankly, I'm glad he made his feelings clear now rather than six months down the road when Jack Z would be stuck trying to trade him for half the price he paid to get him.
Playing in Seattle as a right-handed power hitter is no picnic. If Upton didn't see himself as part of the solution, then I'm glad he opted out of becoming a potential problem.
Perhaps it also explains Jack Z's strategy behind the moves made in acquiring familiar faces like Morse and Ibanez, along with locals like Jason Bay and Jeremy Bonderman.
Rather than tinker with unknown entities, maybe Zduriencik figures he has a few veteran players who have had some success at the major league level, players who can speak from experience about the potential effects of the M's moving in the fences and players who have actually lived in and embraced the Pacific Northwest.
Last year's team at times seemed a bit lost on these points, as the younger players looked completely discombobulated during significant stretches; meanwhile, with veterans like Ichiro, Brendan Ryan, Miguel Olivo, and Chone Figgins struggling most of the season, and with manager Eric Wedge fighting to keep his job, there wasn't much of a safety net in place for anyone.
In speaking to The Tacoma News Tribune's John McGrath, Jack Z confirms this:
Asked if the 2012 Mariners suffered from an absence of veteran gravitas, Zduriencik was blunt.
“I don’t think there’s a doubt,” he said.
Which helps explain the Mariners’ pursuit of the 40-year-old Ibañez and fellow free-agents Jason Bay (34) and Kendrys Morales (29). A three-team trade with Oakland and Washington brought still another veteran, Michael Morse (30), into the mix.
Morales, Morse, perhaps Ibañez and maybe even Bay figure to provide a middle-of-the-lineup power presence that for years has been the team’s most pressing need. But there’s another, less quantifiable component about these veterans, and it’s best personified by Ibañez.
“You’ve got a young kid sitting in the on-deck circle,” Zduriencik said, “and someone like Raul Ibañez gets up and puts his arm around the kid and says, ‘I’ve been in this situation before.’ That’s a whole lot different than coming from the hitting coach, or the manager.”
Naturally it is hard to place a value on chemistry either statistically or financially, but for the moment, it is a small start that could pay off in the long term with a little luck.
If you can't sell Seattle and the Mariners to free agents such as Josh Hamilton or potentially traded players like Upton, perhaps the best option is to instill a sense of community and belonging within the players through veterans who hopefully have something good to say.
This year, at least during spring training, the Mariners should have a collection of veterans on hand to keep things positive, while helping to steer the younger players in the right direction.
It may not seem like much, and while it is hard to picture most of these veterans as part of the long-term plan, hopefully these moves will pay off soon.
Hopefully, they will enable the likes of Montero, Ackley and Smoak, along with prospects such as Walker, Franklin and Zunino, to form the foundation of something special.
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