It’s been a week now since the Mariners fell two wins short in their bid to end what is now a 13-year postseason drought.
The offseason promises to be interesting.
General manager Jack Zduriencik is on record as saying payroll will increase, which club president Kevin Mather subsequently confirmed, and identified the need to add a run-production bat (or two) as the top priority.
“We will explore every opportunity out there,” Zduriencik said. “I think we’ll be reasonably aggressive in trying to do something to try to add an offensive piece or two.”
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When Zduriencik says “reasonably aggressive,” he means “try like the blazes.” Let’s face it: The emphasis on acquiring run-production pop is hardly surprising.
The Mariners executed a 16-game improvement this season, in finishing 87-75, because they led the American League in earned-run average and fielding percentage.
They were 11th among the league’s 15 clubs in scoring.
Manager Lloyd McClendon contends the Mariners need “at least two (new) bats” to present a lineup that matches other contenders in possessing four weapons from the third-through-sixth spots in the lineup.
Currently, the Mariners have two: All-Stars Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, whom McClendon would prefer to bat third and fifth in the lineup.
The club’s overriding goal — which Zduriencik sought to address in July by reacquiring switch-hitter Kendrys Morales — is to obtain an impact right-handed bat to place between Cano and Seager.
The secondary priority is to acquire another legitimate threat — again, preferably a right-handed hitter — to bat sixth behind Seager.
“I think one thing that’s really interesting about our club is we’re built for the playoffs,” McClendon said. “Now, we’ve got to get ourselves to the point where we’re built for the regular season.
“I don’t think there was a team in baseball that wanted to face the Seattle Mariners in the playoffs because our pitching is so good. But offensively, we’ve got to get better because you’ve got to be good over 162 games.
“We’ve still got our work cut out a little bit.”
Zduriencik points to the roster’s makeup in confirming the obvious: the desired additions would fit best at first base, right field or designated hitter.
Fine. Who’s available?
The list of pending free agents seemingly offers a perfect fit in Victor Martinez, a former catcher who now serves primarily as a DH for the Detroit Tigers with some occasional time at first base.
McClendon knows Martinez, 35, from their time together in Detroit, where McClendon served eight years as a coach prior to becoming the Mariners’ manager.
That connection is probably sufficient to get Martinez to listen to the Mariners’ pitch, but he figures to draw attention from several clubs. There’s also no reason to believe the Tigers won’t make every effort to keep him.
Two other players are already linked to the Mariners: Kansas City DH Billy Butler, a long-time Zduriencik target, and Colorado outfielder/first baseman Michael Cuddyer.
Butler, 28, figures to be a free agent because the Royals aren’t expected to pick up his $12.5 million option. He seems a reasonable fit because the Mariners are one of the few clubs willing to accommodate a true DH.
While Butler’s production dipped the last two seasons, that could make him a buy-low opportunity. Scouts say his bat speed hasn’t slowed, and many suggest he just needs a change of scenery.
Cuddyer, 35, is possibly more intriguing, although he is coming off a season in which he played just 49 games because of hamstring and shoulder injuries. (He did bat .332 in those 49 games with 10 homers and 31 RBIs.)
For years at Minnesota, Cuddyer was the right-handed batter who occupied the lineup slot between two lefty-hitting stars: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau ... i.e., the role he would fill between Cano and Seager.
Cuddyer can also play right field and first base.
If those possibilities fall through, Zduriencik believes the Mariners are now reasonably well stocked at some positions to swing a trade for an impact bat without creating a major hole as a consequence.
Possible partners include the Dodgers and Pirates, who each have a surplus of outfielders and have indicated a desire to shed some of the payroll associated with those overloads.
The Mariners were linked in trade rumors with both clubs prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, when they instead acquired Austin Jackson from Detroit and Chris Denorfia from San Diego.
THE MONEY MATTERS
The key in any major acquisition, whether by signing a free agent or executing a trade, will likely hinge on the size of the Mariners’ promised hike in payroll.
Unlike recent years, the Mariners don’t have any major salaries coming off the books, and they are also looking at sizable arbitration increases for Seager and Jackson.
Further, the Mariners are exploring a long-term extension for Seager, who made just $540,100 this season in his final year before gaining arbitration eligibility.
Club officials also show interest in an extension for right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma in addition to picking up his $7 million option for 2015.
Those items figure to goose what, in 2014, was a $106.7 million payroll even before club officials debate the cost of making impact additions.
But the Mariners, at least at this point, are talking (and acting, rivals say) like a club committed to underwriting the cost of an improved roster.
Further, everything suggests there should be additional money available to pursue those coveted additions.
The heightened revenue streams from the new TV deals, which took effect this season, are now kicking in. That’s estimated at adding $25 million each year to each club, through 2021, over the contracts in place through 2013.
(In short, that increase alone pays Cano’s massive salary.)
The cash infusion from the national TV deals is, of course, a tide that raises all boats, but the Mariners have other increased revenue streams that separate them from other clubs.
The April 2013 move to acquire controlling interest in Root Sports is expected to generate, according to Forbes magazine, an average of $103 million each year in rights fees through 2030.
If so, that’s a jump of $58 million a year.
Industry reports contend the Mariners received about $45 million a year in local TV rights fees before they bought controlling interest in Root Sports.
Club officials tend to dispute these numbers, which are industry estimates, but it’s hard to see how the Mariners won’t have significantly more money available than just a year or two ago.
Now add this: The Mariners, in their turnaround season, just boosted attendance by 17 percent over 2013. That pushed them past two million for the first time since 2010 and led all clubs in percentage increase.
That not only means a significant jump in revenue over the just-completed season; such attendance spikes historically generate greater season-ticket sales for the following season.
The overlay for all of this is what happened a week ago: The Mariners were two wins short of the postseason.
“We’ve been trying to get to this point for the last five years,” Zduriencik said. “Trying to build it and get a group of players who are going to be with you. Trying to get young kids to mature.
“I think where (we’re) at is (we) know how close (we) were. Were we disappointed at the end? We were very disappointed. Were we satisfied with some things? Sure.
“But I can tell you if anybody thinks we walked away saying, ‘Hey, we accomplished something.’ No. I guarantee you, the wind was out of (our) sails when (we) walked out of there (after the season’s final game).”
Yep ... it promises to be an interesting offseason.