The big rumor on Twitter on Wednesday night came courtesy of Yahoo's Jeff Passan, who wrote that the Mariners are breathing heavy for David Price and may be willing to include top prospect Taijuan Walker in a trade. This on top of the rumors that the Mariners may be willing to spend the necessary dollars to lure Robinson Cano to Seattle.
It's all speculation, of course -- fun speculation. I asked Mariners fans on Twitter what they thought and the consensus seemed to be "yes" on Cano but "no" on trading Walker for Price.
If you read this blog regularly you know I'm a Mariners fan. The Mariners have been brutal to watch in recent years, a bad and boring team when Felix Hernandez isn't pitching (or, in 2013, Hisashi Iwakuma). Prospects have failed to deliver, free agents have busted, trades didn't work out, the front office has gone through various "plans" in trying to build a winner, and Mariners fans have completely lost interest. Attendance, tops in the majors in 2001 and 2002, dropped to 25th in 2013. Can't blame them.
So when you hear names like Price and Cano, it at least diverts your attention away from Russell Wilson for a few moments. Of course, the Mariners were 71-91 last season, with a Pythagorean record of 67-94. I think that suggests they're more than two players -- even two great players -- away from contention.
Let's get this out of the way first. I would not advocate trading Taijuan Walker for David Price, not even straight up. It's probably going to cost even more than Walker, and it might be Nick Franklin. David Price is a fantastic pitcher who projects very well for the next two years. His peripherals are excellent, he's been relatively healthy, and he's firmly in his prime. I don't balk at the deal because I believe Walker is a lock to become an ace, a #2, or even a #3 type pitcher. Pitching prospects are a gigantic question mark, and Walker is no exception. It's that the Mariners simply are not in a position to make this kind of a splash, this many games out of a playoff spot. Especially when two other teams in their division are much stronger, and are also fortifying their clubs with moves that help them win now.
A couple of days after Doug Fister -- who is far closer in value to Price than their reputations would suggest -- was traded for a non-elite pitching prospect and a couple of throw-ins, there are now rumblings that the Mariners are looking to make a trade not too dissimilar from the the one the Royals made with the Rays last year, when they sent an elite prospect and stuff to the Rays for James Shields. I've compared the Mariners to the Royals more than once, and this kind of rumor only makes it more clear that the team is headed down a very similar path as the one Kansas City traveled a year ago. ...
There are plenty of scenarios where trading Walker now is actually selling at the peak of his value, and a totally justifiable decision.
But if you're going to move a piece like Walker, you have to make sure that it's absolutely the right move and the right time to make that kind of trade. And I'm not convinced that David Price is the right guy, nor am I convinced that the 2014 Mariners are the right team, for this kind of trade to be worth doing.
Price is an excellent pitcher, one of the very best in baseball. Over the last three years, he's 8th in WAR (whether you use FIP or RA9) among pitchers, and at his best in 2012, he was as good as Felix Hernandez. He's worthy of the title of an ace. You absolutely want David Price on your team.
The hardest thing to do when you're a bad team is to be patient, whether you're the front office or sitting in the bleachers. Ask the Pirates and Royals how waiting for prospects to develop can work out. It only took those teams 20 wins to get back into playoff contention. The Mariners have one elite player right now -- King Felix. Iwakuma was maybe even better than Hernandez in 2013; he's for real but he's also due for some regression. But after that, what do you have? Kyle Seager is a nice player. Nick Franklin and Brad Miller have potential but also big holes in their games (strikeouts for Franklin, defense for Miller). Dustin Ackley had a nice second half. Michael Saunders isn't horrible. Maybe Mike Zunino turns into Buster Posey lite. That's not much of a base of talent to build a winner around.
On the other hand ... the Mariners have money and with free agent talent becoming thinner and thinner each year as more players sign long-term deals before reaching free agency there isn't always players to spend it on. Maybe signing Cano and acquiring Price is a way to spend some that cash to acquire elite talent, make the team better and make it more interesting. If you win more games, maybe it becomes a more attractive place for free agents. If you win more, maybe the fans return and with increased revenue you have even more money to spend.
Part of the problem is that if you make one move you have to make the other. You can't trade Walker for Price and then not sign Cano. But that's no guarantee. You could trade for Price tomorrow and then see Cano sign with another team in January. And how good would they make the Mariners? Maybe Price pushes this team to 75 wins. Maybe Cano pushes it to 80. Maybe the young guys play a little better and you win 85.
Then there's the risk that Price won't be as good away from pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field, with Jose Molina expertly framing his pitches and the Rays' shifting on defense. There's the risk that once Cano gets his money and is playing in front of 14,000 fans on a cold, wet night in April instead of in New York that his focus dissipates and his numbers decline. Then there's the risk that Taijuan Walker is every bit as good as the scouts believe and becomes a Cy Young contender with the Rays.
Good luck, Mariners. Whatever happens, you'll need it.