Mariners Look For Offense While Weighing Cost

The Mariners desperately need an infusion of offense this Winter, and they reportedly have payroll room to spare. But with an unprotected 1st round draft pick in 2013, does signing one of the top available Free Agents make sense for the club?

It is no secret that the Seattle Mariners need and covet players who can be impact players -- leaders even -- on offense. This year's crop of Free Agent hitters includes several potential matches for the Mariners' offensive needs and positional fits, but does signing one of the five that qualify as the new compensation free agents -- Michael Bourn, Josh Hamilton, Adam LaRoche, Nick Swisher and B.J. Upton -- and surrendering their first round selection make sense for the Mariners?

That is correct; for the first time in three years and only the second time in the Jack Zduriencik era, the Mariners have an unprotected first round pick, ending the 2012 season 12th in the pecking order. The Mariners need upgrades in a lot of places, but logical fits seem to be in the outfield and possibly at first base. With Franklin Gutierrez a health disaster and Justin Smoak too often a complete disaster over the past few seasons, the Mariners would be wise to move forward not counting on those two to be major contributors to their offense. While it's possible (though not probable) that both could regain their health and promise and be among the better players in the organization in 2013, it is clear that the above group of five free agents would be immediate, significant upgrades of the more likely reality.

Bourn and Upton could fit on the Mariners as center fielders while LaRoche is a first baseman. Bourn, 30, is a true leadoff hitter -- something the Mariners have lacked since Ichiro was dealt to the Yankees (and many would argue for much, much longer than that) -- while Upton, 28, has great speed but also offers right-handed power. LaRoche, who recently turned 33 and is coming off of a career-best season with the Nationals, has hit 181 home runs in his seven full, healthy MLB seasons, including a career high 33 last year. If the club were to move toward one of these players as a free agent answer, it would in all likelihood mean moving away from Gutierrez or Smoak, too. Hamilton -- this year's top talent but also the top question mark -- and Swisher offer a little bit more positional flexibility, but it would still mean moving away from some of the current young Mariners to get them in the lineup. And, again, it would mean losing the 12th pick in the 2013 MLB Draft's 1st round.

Some of the players that have been taken at number 12 overall in the past few decades include Yasmani Grandal, Jemile Weeks, Jay Bruce, Jered Weaver, Brett Myers, Nomar Garciaparra and Billy Wagner. There have been misses in there too, from Jeff Juden to Bobby Seay to Joe Borchard (who had a 9 at bat career with the Mariners along the way) and Lastings Milledge. But the point is that if the Mariners decide to go after one of these big name compensation free agents, they will be spending a lot of money -- most likely upwards of $15 million per season on each of them, and maybe up to $25 million per if they opt for Hamilton -- and losing one of the commodities that the club has had its most success with; a draft pick.

It is true that Zduriencik and Tom McNamara have done very well restocking the Mariners' organization in their time leading Seattle's amateur efforts through the draft, but the fact that they have had the opportunity to draft early in the first round -- tabbing Dustin Ackley, Danny Hultzen and Mike Zunino within the first three selections of the 2009, 2011 and 2012 drafts, respectfully -- has been a huge aid in that regard. Sacrificing the 12th pick, and ultimately not having a pick at all until the low to mid 40s overall, may be a risky endeavor, regardless of what the assumed strength of the 2013 draft class is.

Could it work out that the Mariners sign one of these players and still get a top talent with their 2nd round selection? Absolutely. The last time that the club surrendered it's first round selection -- in 2010 when it signed Type-A Free Agent Chone Figgins. Sorry for the reminder -- the Mariners grabbed ultra-athletic California high school right-hander Taijuan Walker 43rd overall with their first selection. Just a few short seasons later, Walker is not only among the Mariners top prospects but among the top right-handed pitching prospects in the game.

But the Mariners have more to consider when courting potential newcomers than just the annual salary of these players. They also have to consider the cost of losing a draft pick -- an increasingly precious commodity in these times in baseball. Could a big signing be worth the loss? Absolutely. Could they hold onto the pick and have it turn into their next Ryan Christianson or another draft bust? You bet. But it still must be considered.

Of course with an increasingly dwindling and disenchanted fan base, the cost of standing pat could be far, far more costly in the grand scheme of things.

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