The Unrecognizable Mariners Franchise

It's hard to forget the Pat Gillick free-agent era. Even as the Mariners enjoyed so much on-field success, the off-season stood in stark contrast, as the Mariners targeted one or two key Free Agents and watched as they slipped through their fingers.

More often than not, the M's were used as negotiating tools for agents, as it was no mystery where their salary threshold was set. Agents used the Mariners to drive up the price of their clients setting the price based on a competitive but not quite compelling offer, which could be used as a baseline for negotiating with other teams. For agents like Bob Shapiro and Scott Boras, it worked swimmingly time after time (see Miguel Tejada and Alex Rodriguez negotiations) working not only in the their favor, but also competing GM's around the league who knew just how far the Mariners brass would go before negotiations ever began.

What a difference a year makes.

As is the case every year, most major sports news publications listed their free agency predictions, and, as is the case almost every year, the Mariners weren't a player for any of the top Free Agents.

Maybe they didn't get the memo.

The Mariners have a new Sheriff in town, and as they say, you don't bring a knife to a gun fight. Bavasi came armed with a loaded gun and a big bag of spare bullets in the shape of dollar signs.

It's never easy to predict where a free agent will end up. Check that, it's nigh impossible, but there are certain assets that can shift the process in a GM's favor. One is to have money, and lots of it. The Mariners went into this off-season with a big wad of cash to spend. If rumors are to believed, then the Mariners had anywhere from 13-25 million to spend, heading into the winter. That's a pretty big delta there, and something Bavasi has managed to keep under his hat. More encouragingly, the second-year GM may not even be working under a limit, within reason, given free reign to spend what is needed to turn the team around in a big hurry.

It also helps to not directly compete against the Yankees, or to a lesser extent, the Red Sox, Angels or Mets. The Mariners are taking a totally separate path from the Yankees in free agency. Remember Carlpalooza? Do you really blame Bavasi for letting Carl Pavano sign with the Yankees without blowing the Bombers four-year $40-million offer out of the water? The Yankees don't need a third baseman nor will they sign a high profile first baseman unless they can get out of Giambi's contract which isn't going to happen. As much as Bavasi would have loved to land Carlos Beltran, a gloves off battle against George Steinbrenner, with uber-agent Scott Boras pulling the strings, probably wasn't in the Mariners best interest, but going nine rounds with the Dodgers for the hard- hitting but lightly pursued Adrian Beltre was well worth the efforts.

Is Seattle a more appealing franchise to join than the Tigers and Orioles? Don't kid yourself, of course it is, but in years past the Mariners have found themselves on the losing end of the stick against these teams. Not because the players didn't want to sign here, but because Mariners brass wouldn't go the extra mile to get the deal done.

This year, Bavasi hit the ground running, making offers to most of the premier free agents on the market, and the offers weren't the standard short-term, low-ball offers, but real, long-term, big-money offers.

Is there a reason the Mariners let Corey Koskie sign with the Blue Jays without bettering Toronto's offer of less than $6 million per season?. Koskie typifies a safe Mariner free- agent signing, so why didn't Bavasi make a run at him? The answer is clear today but a week ago, one might have wondered. With Adrian Beltre in his sights, Bavasi and crew had no intention paying Koskie that much money and knew the club needed a bigger splash at third base.

Why all this noise about signing Richie Sexson and Carlos Delgado when they play the same position? Because even though Bucky might be able to get the job done at DH, Delgado and Sexson are proven commodities. Jacobsen is not.

So what is the message in all of this? Why are we glued to all the media outlets for up to the minute updates on free-agent signings when there are so many other ways to win?

Free agency means something different for every franchise. For Yankees fans these days, it's the only way they can compete after depleting their farm system like not other franchise in baseball history. For Red Sox fans, a free-agent pick-up might be the final piece of the puzzle for a title run, and for Twins fans it could mean watching another prized prospect leaving for greener pastures and waiting to see who emerges next.

For Mariners fans in years prior, free agency has meant a push over the hump to win us a championship that never came and proof of ownerships willingness to win. Needless to say, the expectations went unrealized and Mariner faithful have been disappointed, winter after winter.

Today, for Mariner fans, free agency embodies the same things, but more importantly it also signals a complete shift in how the Mariners will conduct business for the next decade. When this offseason is complete, Bavasi won't have just rattled the proverbial cage, but released an earthquake fierce enough to shake the Mariners organizations and their fans to their core.

In case you missed it, your Seattle Mariners handed out $114.25 million in contracts to two impact offensive players in a 48-hour time-period. Yeah, that's right. The M's landed two of the top dozen free agents on the market.

As amazing as that is, the most unbelievable concept might be another surprise altogether; the M's aren't done yet.

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