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Did I say "big players"?
This is perhaps the most pressing question on the minds of Seattle Mariners fans: can the M's sign Prince Fielder?
First, consider that the team has roughly $26 million coming off the books (with more on the way next year).
What could the Mariners possibly fit into a $26 million-sized hole in their payroll? Well, that happens to be about what Fielder stands to earn per annum. Granted, the Mariners will have to account for salary increases to Felix Hernandez, Franklin Gutierrez, Brendan Ryan and Miguel Olivo—about $11 million in all—while Jason Vargas and Brandon League also stand to benefit handsomely in salary arbitration.
However, it is reasonable to expect that Jack Zduriencik will try to move up to three of these players if the deal is right. Vargas, Gutierrez and League all have trade value, and while the Mainers would love to keep the trio, expect at least one, if not all of them, to be dealt for cheap talent.
The M's have shown the ability to be a top five payroll team before (the first half of the 2000's), and plummeting attendance in a stadium that averaged over three million fans for nearly a decade could be enough to catalyze management into action. They've already softened on their attendance-relative payroll structure for next year's team—maintaining in the mid $90 million range.
Zduriencik would have to be fairly sure of Fielder, still only 28, in order to hitch his wagon—and fate—to the young slugger. But if there was anyone in baseball Zduriencik has done his homework on, it's certainly Fielder. Zduriencik was the Director of Scouting for the Milwaukee Brewers when they drafted him seventh overall in 2002.
As it turns out, that was a pretty good move.
Perhaps the most provocative of twists to consider is that the Mariners' rebuilding plan must show signs of contention by 2013 if the Mariners are to continue with this model.
After that time, Felix Hernandez will have only two years remaining on his contract, meaning that his trade value will begin to depreciate the longer the M's continue to sit on him—potentially the most valuable commodity on all of baseball given his age, contract, and ability.
If the Mariners are forced to part with him, it would mean essentially rebooting the current rebuilding plan—already in it's third year.
Having Fielder's power-lefty presence in the Mariner lineup would go a long way to ensure that Hernandez plays the end of his contract in Seattle.