Now definitely time for M’s to be reasonably aggressive
Although he might command $20 million per season, Seattle should pursue Detroit free-agent designated hitter Victor Martinez.
Seattle Times columnist
Victor Martinez, by the numbers
A few reasons the Mariners should consider going hard after free-agent designated hitter Victor Martinez:
.306 Career batting average, after hitting .335 this season
.974 Martinez’s 2014 on-base plus slugging percentage, best in baseball
5 100-RBI seasons
32 Home runs this season, a career best
42 Strikeouts this season for Martinez, in 641 plate appearances. By comparison, Dustin Ackley struck out 90 times this year.
At Tuesday’s 2014 post-mortem news conference, Jack Zduriencik said the Mariners would be “reasonably aggressive” this winter in pursuing the offensive help they so obviously need.
Perhaps unwittingly, it was the perfect phrase. In the past, the Mariners have been unreasonably aggressive, exemplified by the trade for Erik Bedard and signing of Carlos Silva — with equally disastrous outcomes — after an 88-win season in 2007.
And they’ve been reasonably unaggressive, in steadfastly refusing these past few years to mortgage the farm by trading any of their arsenal of young pitchers for a quick-fix bat. Budding slugger D.J. Peterson has been a conversation-stopper as well.
But now, after a Mariners season marked by both progress and frustration, it’s most definitely reasonable to be aggressive — as long as it’s done with wisdom and foresight, of course.
The good news is that a player who fits the profile of their greatest need just happens to be available on the free-agent market. His name is Victor Martinez, and luring him to Seattle should be a top priority for Zduriencik.
Martinez, a free agent, won’t be cheap, after a season in which he hit .335 with a major-league-leading .974 OPS for the Tigers, with a career-high 32 home runs.
But Robinson Cano wasn’t cheap either, and I don’t believe the Mariners have any complaints about that investment — reasonable aggressiveness at its finest.
They improved by 16 wins in 2014, and increased attendance by 300,000 fans, dual outcomes in which Cano’s presence unquestionably played a large role. If you figure each of those extra fans spent an average of $50 — which might be conservative — that’s a $15 million increase in revenue from having a better team.
Martinez would make them vastly better, sliding into the cleanup spot for a vitally needed nexus between Cano and Kyle Seager. Mariners cleanup hitters had a .218 average and .647 OPS in 2014. Their designated hitters tallied .190/.567. All those totals were the worst in the American League, and a large reason Seattle’s offense sputtered to a crippling extent.
Martinez, a switch-hitter who had 133 games at DH and 33 at first base this past season, will be heavily pursued, of course, and could wind up being a $20 million-a-year player.
But the commensurate improvement of the ballclub would logically increase attendance and revenue even more. Encouragingly, Zduriencik said Tuesday that payroll will go up next year. Though he wasn’t ready to say by how much, let’s hope ownership understands that turning this year’s near-miss into next year’s playoff-worthy ballclub would be good business.
That doesn’t mean they should stop with Martinez, mind you. The Mariners made that mistake last year, hoping that a broken-down Corey Hart could resurrect his career; he couldn’t. They also took a flyer on Logan Morrison, who needed half a season before showing he could be a contributor.
With Cano and Felix Hernandez nearing the end of their primes, there should be an urgency to hasten the building process. On that subject, Zduriencik said Tuesday that the hardest thing in baseball is patience.
“You have to say to yourself, I can do an instant fix, but boy, we’re going to pay for it in the long run,’’ he said.
That helps explain why the Mariners still have James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Peterson (and the converse explains why they don’t have Adam Jones or Chris Tillman). They’ll be better for it.
But after 13 years away from the playoffs, patience is running out. The Mariners haven’t coped well during that span with their rare bouts of success. The 88 wins in 2007 were followed by 101 losses in 2008. And the 85 wins in 2009 were followed by another 101-loss collapse in 2010.
The latter was under Zduriencik’s watch, and came despite the winter acquisition of Chone Figgins and Cliff Lee. Figgins was an unexpected disaster, Lee was hurt for the first month, then traded in July in a deal that has not reaped the hoped-for dividends.
“I think we’re in a better position now, because our core group is different,’’ Zduriencik said. “It’s an upside core group.”
Martinez, with his blend of patience and power, his experience in providing protection for a slugger like Miguel Cabrera, and his comfort in pennant races, would help put that group over the top.
The Tigers, and their title-hungry but aging (85 years old) owner, Mike Ilitch, won’t let Martinez leave without a fight. The White Sox are among the teams reportedly poised to make a hard run at him. To sign him would cost a first-round draft pick, because Martinez is certain to get a qualifying offer. And at age 36 (which Martinez turns in December), there is obvious concern about a drop-off.
But Martinez is coming off his best season. He reveres Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, who was his hitting coach with the Tigers. The presence of Cano and especially Hernandez will be a lure to the Venezuelan-born Martinez.
All that is no guarantee that Martinez will sign with Seattle, of course. There are no certainties in free agency. But staying in the pennant race until the final day this year will make it a much easier sell to stars like Martinez that Seattle isn’t the wasteland it used to be.
The Mariners’ prime need for next year couldn’t be more clear — middle-of-the order power in either of the corner outfield spots, first base and/or DH. In a fairly skimpy free-agent market, Martinez leaps out. The Mariners should leap for him, aggressively.
It’s the reasonable thing to do.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives his take on the local and national sports scene.