Ken Griffey Jr. and Lou Piniella usually would wait until the baseball season began before complaining that the Mariners needed another bat. But times have changed, and a new tradition has begun. Newcomer Robinson Cano is playing general manager right from spring training, lobbying specifically for the return of DH Kendrys Morales.
“I’m not going to lie. We need an extra bat, especially a right-handed bat,” Cano told CBSSports.com in an interview published Sunday morning. “We have many left-handed hitters. We need at least one more righty. You don’t want to face a lefty pitcher with a lineup of seven left-handed hitters.”
The void is not news to Mariners fans. Even GM Jack Zduriencik is hip.
“We are a little lefthanded, and we know it,” Zduriencik said. “There are still some pieces out there, so who knows? We’re open to talking about anything. We’ll see. You never know. I would never close the door to anything.”
What is news here is that Cano is publicly lobbying management to do something. Already.
Normal protocol requires that players shut up about personnel needs, because their jobs are to hit, throw and catch. But when a team commits $240 million to one player, Cano must figure the club needs a lot of help at all levels. Which is true.
Not only is Cano speaking up nationally nearly a month before the season begins, he is sufficiently emboldened to ask for a pitcher by name too: Free agent Ervin Santana.
“He’s great,” Cano said. “The guy’s always pitching; he never gets hurt.”
If there is one thing CEO Howard Lincoln most dislikes, it’s being told what to do. In that way, he is like the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch (I was eager to be the first writer to put the two in the same paragraph).
Lynch resented the NFL telling him he was contractually obligated to do media interviews; Lincoln resents the media telling him his job. When it’s a player or manager telling Lincoln his job, it’s a little more complicated. But Griffey and Piniella will tell you it shortens the Seattle career.
The reason Lincoln’s name is mentioned is because the CBSSports.com story implies that Zduriencik’s reticence to move on Morales or Santana is budget-related; that the Mariners, whose salary level right now is about $87 million, have maxed out for 2014.
That ceiling is, of course, Lincoln’s call. Which, if true, would be absurd. The Mariners’ acquisition 10 months ago of their own regional sports network has, in their own words, provided them revenues comparable to the big boys.
“The Mariners are in a better position than some of their rivals and competitive with their rivals in their division,” Steve Greenberg of Allen and Co., a New York investment bank who advised the Mariners on the majority purchase of Root, said in April.
Last season Texas had a payroll of $147 million and Anaheim had a payroll of $127 million. It’s highly unlikely the AL West will fall back in 2014 to the Mariners’ current level.
But in fairness, we don’t know if a salary ceiling exists. Zduriencik reasonably could be calling the bluffs of Morales and Santana to drive down the asking prices of the best two free agents remaining on the market. Nothing wrong with that — until, of course, a top hitter or pitcher elsewhere in MLB goes down with a season-ending injury.
Those clubs are more likely to be panicked into offers higher than the suggested retail price from Zduriencik — if he has even offered.
The waiting game has its risks. It was already clear that the Mariners need a right-handed bat, and in this case it belongs to a player they know and like who performed well at Safeco Field a year ago. And with the recent injury news regarding Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker, they need a veteran starter now more than ever.
It’s also possible the Mariners are contemplating one or more trades that could fill the voids in a better fashion than Morales and Santana, and are hoping to showcase talents in spring that will fetch a greater return. The problems are that trades cost the club assets beyond money, and Zduriencik’s record on trades is slightly worse than the Native Americans who sold Manhattan Island to white settlers for $24 in shiny objects.
Signing free agents costs only money, of which the Mariners, in their own estimation, have much. No one can testify to that better than Cano. So when, fresh to the Seattle ranch, he asks where his help is, he deserves an answer, sometime soon.
A shrug is not an answer. A “yes” will tell us something we didn’t know. A “no” tells us what we have known far too long.