This is going to seem counter intuitive, but the reason is attendance. The Mariners keep setting new record lows for people coming out to Safeco. Losing drives fans away, winning brings them to ballpark, so at first glance the M’s would seem to want to capture the opportunity and try as hard as they can to compete for a playoff spot this year, right?
Not so fast. While making a couple of big moves, like acquiring Prince Fielder and other big bat, would lead to an increase in attendance this season, it will actually hurt the team in the long run. This isn’t a problem that fixed by one flash in the pan run of success. The Mariners need at least 3 straight years of contending to undo the damage of the last 8 seasons of losings, and you don’t do that by giving away your best prospects for half season rentals.
Do that, and next year the M’s are right back where they are right now, just on the outside looking in in terms of contending, with increasing player costs and very little young cheap help coming up from Tacoma.
This isn’t to say that the M’s should just completely stand pat and do nothing. Trading away AAAA players like Mike Wilson or Mike Carp or Blake Bleaven or Luke French or Michael Saunders wont hurt the organization. Package a couple of them for a bullpen arm so Jamey Wright isn’t used in the 8th inning anymore, and package a couple others for much needed bat (similar to the Giants getting Jose Guillen from the Royals last season). Those moves should give them 3-4 more wins and provide the fans with some excitement without setting back the rebuilding effort.
The Mariners simply can’t afford to be so short sided as to trade away top prospects like Nick Franklin or Taijuan Walker for a rental player. They just can’t. You don’t rebuild your fan support by having a half season of contending followed by 2-3 more years of losing. Look at Cleveland, who suffered through a long rebuilding, and poor attendance, just to get a couple of decent years. They they were rebuilding again and attendance stayed way down. Even this season, with them jumping out to a fast start didn’t put butts in the seats. It takes time. They need to maintain it over a few seasons before the fans will come back.
There is one caveat to this, and that is getting young players that would be under team control for a multiple years. Players like Justin Upton from Arizona, or Matt Kemp from LA. These types of players would benefit the team immediately, and over the long term. If the Mariners can engineer a playoff run with a couple of these types of players, then I believe they really could go for it.