M’s serious about adding starting pitching

 Saturday, ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney tweeted that the Seattle Mariners are “bound” to end up signing one of three free-agent starting pitchers in Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. This was not a report of anything imminent or even one suggesting a deal is near, but it does make sense. The Mariners need a No. 2 or 3 starter to support the efforts of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.

When I see reports of interest or even suggestive tweets such as Olney’s — which is certainly more than just a common-sense statement — I check in with a few of my own sources to see if I can find out anything additional. What I asked was this: “Anything more than speculation to Buster’s tweet about Garza, Santana and Jimenez and the M’s?”

The text responses I received:

“For sure.”
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“When we checked on Matt (Garza) we heard Seattle, (Red) Sox, Twins, Yankees. Too rich for our blood.”
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“We like Garza and Jimenez; Maybe they (Seattle) like them more, because we’re not getting very far.”

The dollars and years are likely be upwards of Ricky Nolasco‘s 4-year, $49 million deal, rather than in the neighborhood of Jason Vargas‘ 4-years and $32 million or Phil Hughes‘ 3-year, $24 million contract reported Saturday.

Each of the three, I’d guess, will cost $15 million or more for five or more seasons. The Mariners may have to be even more aggressive to convince any of them to agree to come to a club that doesn’t presently appear to be a contender in 2014. To get any of the three, Seattle may have to be willing to go six years and $75-85 million.

None of the three, in my opinion, are that valuable, but sometimes it takes what it takes and for the Mariners it might be well worth a gross overpay or two to not only improve the team but show other players that they mean business. Of course, an “overpay,” even if it’s truly market value, will send many of you running and screaming down the halls.

Exercise this: If you, as a Mariners fan, went into hibernation for the next six weeks, woke up in mid-January and learned that your team had added Garza, Grant Balfour, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Dioner Navarro, Clint Barmes and Rajai Davis, you’d be at least somewhat excited that the 25-man roster could be competitive, if not a contender in 2014.

[In no way am I suggesting the above will happen, or anything like it. Just making a point.]

I’d assume the first thing you searched for on the internet after learning about such acquisitions would not be about the players’ salaries. World Series odds? Analysis from the pundits? How to get tickets? Not the player salaries. And once you did finally see them, you wouldn’t flip out and curse the moves. Why? Because the roster was improved greatly.

The problems with spending big money on free agents is 100 percent subjective. There is no salary cap and the luxury tax is not something the Mariners are anywhere near. They could give a free agent like Garza $30 million per season and that doesn’t mean they cannot, and won’t, still add other necessary players. Individual player salaries are only damaging when the club decides it will not continue to invest financially because it’s hit its self-imposed limits.

At any rate, don’t let the starting pitching interest fool you. The Mariners are hot after offense at several positions.

Timing
A lot of you have expressed your frustration with the fact that the Seattle Mariners have not signed a free agent or made a trade for a prominent player. I get the urgency, but it’s early. Not having done anything up to now does not suggest they won’t, can’t, or have lost out on players they want, or should want.

If Christmas approaches and nothing significant has occurred, it may or may not be time to assume nothing major will. That really depends on what’s left in free agency, and how many trade-available types remain. But yes, in 3-4 weeks, I, too, will want to have seen something big go down. Doesn’t have to be the blockbuster of the offseason, doesn’t have to be the perfect transaction or set of transactions, but something substantial, yes.

Until about that time, however, I don’t see any reason to worry, complain, freak out or even be frustrated.

This may be a good time to reiterate what I said two months back: I don’t believe it’s possible that the Seattle Mariners go from where they are now — a 70-75 win team — to contender status. In my opinion, it would be asking too much for any general manager to accomplish such a task. That isn’t an excuse for Jack Zduriencik. That’s just the truth, as I see it.

A lot of things would need to break the Mariners’ way for 85-plus wins to be possible in 2014, and free agent deals and impact trades are only part of that. They’d also need some of their young players to step up and be very good next season, including a few bullpen arms.

The Trade Front
I shared all the free-agent names I’d heard linked to the Mariners here, and I even included some trade scenarios that have been bandied about since the end of the World Series.

Another name that is out there is Chase Headley — though his potential availability has never gone away since the San Diego Padres have yet to get his name on the dotted line of a contract extension. The Mariners like Headley, and would play him in left field, but it does not appear the Padres’ asking price is even in the neighborhood of what the Mariners may be willing to offer.

From what I can gather, the Mariners are trying very hard not to include James Paxton in trade packages, while all but refusing to discuss Taijuan Walker. Zduriencik told me earlier this offseason that Hernandez, Iwakuma and Seager were untouchable, so it appears they are trying to rob someone in a bulk deal. Ultimately, Paxton, Franklin or Miller will have to be involved in a trade, if Walker is truly off limits in almost all instances — perhaps for Giancarlo Stanton he’s available — or the M’s aren’t going to be able to acquire impact talent via trade, in my opinion.

Brandon Maurer, Michael Saunders, Erasmo Ramirez and Carter Capps, even all in the same package, isn’t going to net the Mariners Matt Kemp, Stanton or any of the ilk.

I imagine their stance — if that truly is a stance and not just a distant appearance — will change, if it hasn’t already.

Most likely Mariners (40-man Roster) to be traded
1. Justin Smoak, 1B
2. Michael Saunders, OF
3. Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP
4. Brandon Maurer, RHP
5. Hector Noesi, RHP
6. Nick Franklin, 2B/SS
7. Yoervis Medina, RHP
8. Erasmo Ramirez, RHP
9. James Jones, RF
10. Blake Beavan, RHP

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Jason A. Churchill

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