Here’s my latest advice for the Seattle Mariners, and for once, it does not involve trading Felix Hernandez.
That ship has passed, and now the M’s will be left to pay King Felix $150 million or whatever ungodly sum he will require in a contract extension.
Those are always such great investments, aren’t they?
Ah, enough — a mere two years remain on Felix’s contract. At this point, he would bring a diminishing return in a trade, so I’ll just let it be.
If the Mariners intend to get better, they will need to do something bold and imaginative, and I’m not talking about finding the next Richie Sexson.
Let their trade Wednesday — left-hander Jason Vargas to the Angels for designated hitter Kendrys Morales — be a springboard for even bigger moves.
I’m talking about asking the Yankees for center fielder Curtis Granderson, who — like second baseman Robinson Cano — is a free agent after the 2013 season and available in trade.
I’m talking about asking the Dodgers for right fielder Andre Ethier, who also is available, no matter whether the team is “shopping” him or just “listening.”
Finally, I’m talking about asking the Rockies for left fielder Carlos Gonzalez and the Marlins for right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, even if the chance of acquiring either player is slim.
If the Mariners won’t trade Felix, fine. Let’s see them do something big from the opposite perspective. Let’s see them build a monster package around Taijuan Walker, the most attractive of their big three pitching prospects, and land the big bat that they need.
One more slugger wouldn’t be enough, of course. But look at the Royals, the Blue Jays, even the Indians. None of those teams is inert. All are engaging in various flights of fancy, trying to improve, trying to win.
In fairness, the Mariners are trying, too, as evidenced by their trade for Morales. Still, their only other offseason acquisitions have been infielder Robert Andino and outfielder Jason Bay. And holding off the Astros for fourth place in the AL West hardly would qualify as an accomplishment.
The M’s, though, are not a hopeless case, even if sometimes they look like it offensively. Over the past three seasons, they’ve improved from 61 wins to 67 to 75. Playing in the intensely competitive AL West, though, adds to their degree of difficulty — and their need for creativity as well.
Signing free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, while not necessarily creative, would have been a start. But, true to form, the M’s didn’t push hard enough, and Hamilton went to the division rival Los Angeles Angels.
The M’s also flirted with Mike Napoli. They could pursue Michael Bourn. They’ve explored trades for the Royals’ Billy Butler, Diamondbacks’ Justin Upton and Nationals’ Mike Morse, among others.
So far, nothing.
One rival general manager told me he actually admires the Mariners’ Jack Zduriencik for staying the course, not panicking. Two years from now, the M’s could boast one of the game’s top rotations, and by then perhaps some of their young hitters will develop into solid regulars, if not stars.
But will Zduriencik still be the GM then? (He is entering his fifth full season.) And how much will the fan base further erode?
The Mariners’ average home attendance has declined five consecutive seasons, from 32,993 in 2007 to 21,258 in ’12. The latter figure ranked 26th in the majors — this from a team that ranked first in ‘02, averaging 43,709 per game.
The Royals, trying to end their streak of nine straight losing seasons, traded for right-hander James Shields. The Blue Jays, trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 1993, made a blockbuster with the Marlins and then acquired right-hander R.A. Dickey from the Mets.
Why should the Mariners sit still?
A one-year acquisition of Granderson would make little sense unless the Mariners could sign him to an extension — doubtful. Cano, who is represented by Scott Boras and virtually certain to hit the open market, would be almost pointless to pursue.
But Ethier, who is just starting a five-year, $85 million extension, is a salary dump waiting to happen. And while the Marlins show no willingness to move Stanton, according to rival executives, surely the Rockies would listen on Gonzalez.
The Rockies, in case you missed it, lost 98 games last season. They are in no position to ignore the Mariners, Rangers or any team that might want Gonzalez, who is owed $71 million over the next five years. But as one rival official put it, “They want the world for Michael Cuddyer. What do you think they would want for CarGo?”
Fair question — another rival official says the Rockies barely will even engage on Gonzalez. Well, the Mariners should make an offer that would snap the Rockies to attention, then figure out a way to close the deal.
Gonzalez, 27, would be an ideal fit at Safeco Field, which favored left-handed sluggers even before the team decided to move in the fences for the 2013 season. And trust me, if the Mariners added a hitter of Gonzalez’s caliber, they suddenly would find it easier to sign the free-agent hitters who keep eluding them.
The acquisition cost for Gonzalez would be painful, but if the Royals can trade outfielder Wil Myers and the Blue Jays can trade catcher Travis D’Arnaud, then the Mariners can trade Walker, Dwight Gooden comparisons and all.
Maybe Seattle isn’t in as strong a competitive position as the Royals and Blue Jays were before those deals. But tell me, when will it ever be the right time for the Mariners?
Their management should be tired of waiting. Their fans certainly are tired of waiting.