Can you believe it's almost time for Spring Training?
After months of waiting and wondering, baseball is just around the corner.
It's a time of year that no matter what happened the past year or over the winter, I still can't help but feel a sense of excitement for a whole new season. As a Seattle Mariners fan though, rediscovering that excitement can prove challenging after a decade of disappointment.
Following a winter of ups and downs, I pieced together my thoughts on the failed Justin Upton deal and explained last week the fact that he rejected the deal may end up being for the best given his unwillingness to play in Seattle.
Granted I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed in the deal falling through, but when asked over the weekend whether the Upton deal was the Mariners biggest missed opportunity this winter I figured it might be worth sharing a few thoughts on the topic by starting with Upton.
To me, the price was a little too high especially with Taijuan Walker included in the mix. The only player potentially up for grabs that would be worth that price is Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton.
While on some level it would be tempting to include Stanton here, I'm not entirely sure that is fair.
Is Stanton really up for sale?
If so I doubt the Upton package of Walker, Nick Franklin, and Stephen Pryor would get Miami to pick up the phone. Even if you threw in a few other spare parts and minor prospects I'd still be surprised to see if they would budge. No, I believe a deal for Stanton would need to include at least two of "The Big Three" and either Nick Franklin or Mike Zunino.
At that point I would hope that general manager Jack Zduriencik politely says, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Guys like Stanton don't grow on trees, but sacrificing the potential nucleus of your team for the next decade is a huge risk. There is no harm in keeping a line of dialogue open, but trading nearly all of your best prospects is a clear sign of desperation.
For the moment at least I can't fault the M's front office on a deal for Stanton.
Besides when it comes to sluggers, shouldn't we be upset in missing out on Josh Hamilton?
Back in mid-December Hamilton's signing with the Los Angeles Angels prompted a wave of fear and loathing in Seattle that quickly dissipated once Jack Z took advantage of the Angels surplus of hitters and traded for Kendrys Morales. While it hardly made fans forget about losing Hamilton, it did show that the M's would not remain idle this winter.
Yet when dealing with the Angels, should the M's have sweetened the pot a bit and traded for Mark Trumbo instead?
Morales in essence is a one year rental coming back from an injury who can either DH or play first base; meanwhile Trumbo is younger, projects better offensively and can play a number of positions in the field.
Perhaps Jack Z asked about Trumbo, but settled on Morales when he and Angels GM Jerry DiPoto found a simple fit with Jason Vargas straight-up. You could argue the same logic in the three way deal for Michael Morse with Washington and Oakland that cost the M's John Jaso.
The philosophy being along the lines of save the prospects and swap out veterans instead.
My issue with that is you end up playing a zero-sum game with the hopes that fortune favors you in these transactions; however I'm not so optimistic about these deals. It's not that I will miss either Vargas or Jaso, but the positives they brought to the Mariners goes beyond mere numbers and their absence only creates holes that are difficult to fill at the moment.
If the likes of catcher Mike Zunino and either left handed pitchers Danny Hultzen or James Paxton were capable of taking roster spots out of Spring Training, I might feel better about the situation, but I'm skeptical.
The Mariners in 2013 will certainly look different, but I'm not sold on them being noticeably better. Unless several pleasant surprises take place this season I struggle to see this team being any better than .500. And while that would be an improvement of six wins versus 2012, it really depends on how they go about doing it.
Do the Mariners have a mix of players capable of establishing and sustaining some sort of positive momentum this season?
Will this team get people excited on days when Felix Hernandez isn't scheduled to pitch?
That is the question I'm curious to find out, but I don't want to be fooled again.
So while it would be nice to see the Mariners record steadily improve for the third straight season following the disastrous 2010 campaign, I still want to see if this team has the right building blocks in place to contend for years to come.
For you see, back in 2009 the Mariners looked like they finally turned a corner under the new leadership of GM Jack Z and manager Don Wakamatsu following years of mediocrity with a mix of veterans, youngsters, and spare parts that somehow managed to win 85 games after losing 101 games the year prior. It was an entertaining season that gave hope the organization finally found leadership capable of making a difference. Of course it wasn't meant to be as the team's efforts to improve upon that success imploded in such dramatic fashion that the organization is still paying for their mistakes.
As a result of the good, bad, and ugly of those two seasons, you can't help but wonder if Jack Z painted himself into a corner he may never successfully escape which brings us back to where we started.
"What were the biggest misses this offseason?"
In determining where exactly the Mariners missed this offseason by the widest margin, I'll confess that I'm not so sure.
How can you blame Jack Z for Justin Upton vetoing a trade?
How can you blame Josh Hamilton taking a better deal with the Angels as Dave Cameron explained on USS Mariner last week?
How can you get upset for not mortgaging the farm system in a deal for Giancarlo Stanton?
How can you fault a push for power in trading for Morse and Morales while only having to give up a .500 pitcher and a backup catcher that can't hit lefties?
Yes, I'm oversimplifying things a bit here, but the point is Jack Z is trying to find the right catalysts to kick-start the kids on a path a little more impressive than simple mediocrity. I just don't think wins and losses are the right measure to judge this year's roster, but that is likely the bottom line especially when it comes to manager Eric Wedge's job in addition to Jack Z as GM.
If things don't improve on the field, expect new leadership off it at some point in the next year as both men have had a fair shot at changing the dynamic in Seattle.
Until then we watch and wait to see whether this roster has more to offer than King Felix and handful of pawns on the chessboard better known as the AL West.