The Mariners really dropped the ball at the 2 trade deadlines this year. They failed to add any impactful players at the July 31st deadline and didn’t add anybody before the August 31 deadline.
To be fair to Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, he did add 4 players to the 25 man roster before August 1. Unfortunately, Cameron Maybin, Zach Duke, Adam Warren, and Sam Tuivailala have all disappointed for one reason or another.
Duke and Maybin have just been bad since donning the navy blue and teal. Tuivailala was okay before injuring his Achilles tendon, ending his 2018 and putting the start of 2019 in jeopardy. While Warren hasn’t been as terrible as most assume, he certainly hasn’t solidified the back end of the bullpen like most had hoped.
But hey, at least the Mariners tried. I mean, in August, they didn’t do a dang thing. Okay, that is a bit of an over exaggeration. I’m sure Dipoto tried to add players. In fact, he acknowledged that they won claims on players, but couldn’t work out the deal.
This is of little comfort to a fan base that will miss watching their team in the postseason for the 17th consecutive year. Unfortunately, when your process is a secret, all that we have to judge them on is the results. And Dipoto and the Mariners epically failed in 2018.
However, is it possible that the Mariners intentionally held back from adding significant pieces in July and August? Think about the trades that actually did go down in July. Aside from Brad Hand and Chris Archer, the Mariners COULD have afforded anybody else who was dealt.
Remember the “Cano Fund”? The $12 million in extra cash netted after Robinson Cano‘s suspension? Well, the Mariners didn’t use it all. Odd that a team in the thick of contention didn’t take full advantage of these funds. By my estimation, with the additions of Denard Span and Alex Colome, plus the other 4 players acquired in late July, the Mariners spent about $8 million. So why hang on to the other $4 million?
Well, I suppose you could point to the buyout of Denard Span’s contract, which happens to be $4 million. But remember, Span has been incredible in Seattle, and his $12 million salary in 2019 is perfectly reasonable.
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We believe Span wants to head back east, but that doesn’t mean the Mariners have to decline his option. They could easily pick up his option, and then find a trade partner in the eastern time zone.
So, if they aren’t spending the money in July, and don’t need it for Span’s buyout, why save it? Remember, the Mariners will lose about $20 million in payroll when their pending free agents come off the books. In 2019, that total will be close to $40 million when Felix Hernandez and Juan Nicasio come off the books.
It is also important to note, that the Mariners reportedly told teams they were willing to add significant payroll in-season for the right player. Seattle still had $30 million before they were in any danger of pushing the luxury tax threshold.
So we have the Mariners telling teams they are willing to add significant dollars to their payroll for the right player. We know they have a lot of cash freeing up after the 2019 season. They also scrimped and saved every dime they could in 2018.
Am I crazy, or does this all point to a massive clue for the Mariners future? I mean, why be willing to add significant dollars to the payroll, only to almost religiously not spend what you have? When I look at all these small hints, it leads me to produce this fantastical fan theory:
The Seattle Mariners didn’t spend big in 2018, because they didn’t see it as their last or even best chance. Instead, they have plans to make a massive play in free agency in 2019.
Think about it. The Mariners were trending in the wrong direction in July. The players they could afford to add to their payroll in-season weren’t that great. The roster you had constructed had proven they could get hot for a sustained period of time. So, if they flip the switch, small tweaks could be enough. If they didn’t you were almost certainly going to lose no matter who they added.
Why waste your one true asset, money, on a season and players that probably won’t make any difference in 2018 one way or the other? Instead, save your money, and go big game hunting in a stacked free agent class, knowing a ton of money will become available to you after the 2019 season.
There are a handful of players who could help the Mariners this off-season. And by non-tendering guys like Nick Vincent and Erasmo Ramirez, they could save another $8-$10 million. Seattle has a lot of cash to spend, and holes with obvious upgrades set to sit on the open market this winter.
Remember, the Mariners still have to convince players to sign here. They can go out and offer Bryce Harper a fat contract, but if you can’t sell him on Seattle, it won’t matter. But there really is no denying that the Mariners have money to spend, the ability to create more payroll flexibility fairly easily, and no massive extensions coming down the turnpike.
Maybe, just maybe, all the signs are pointing towards Mariners being something they have rarely, if ever, been. Maybe, the Seattle Mariners are about to shock the baseball world.