Some people think it will be either impossible or silly for the Mariners to make a push for Prince Fielder in free agency. I want to know, what would be the downside?
-- James W., Puyallup, Wash.
I don't think there is a downside in making contact with Fielder and finding out what his interest might be. Any team would love having him in the middle of its lineup. To me the question is more, what are the chances Fielder and his agent, Scott Boras, ultimately want him to sign with Seattle? Remember, free agency is a two-way street.
Fielder lives in Florida. He turned down a five-year, $100 million extension from Milwaukee in 2010. He's going to look for a monster contract with a team with the strongest chance to win immediately in a location that suits him best.
Could Seattle be that place? The fact that the big-money Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies already have high-priced first basemen at least leaves the door ajar. And certainly the Mariners need offense, which is why Seattle is being prominently mentioned in some of the early Fielder speculation.
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But to even attract Fielder's interest to a rebuilding situation in a tough hitter's park on the opposite side of the country, the Mariners would no doubt have to blow his socks off with an over-the-market bid. Given Boras' market already is likely in the Mark Teixeira range (eight years, $180 million), would it be wise for Seattle to extend a longer-term and higher-annual offer than that in order to outbid teams like the Marlins, Cubs, Nationals, Rangers or Angels? What would it take for Seattle to win that war? Ten years, $250 million?
That is where a potential downside arises. If the only way to lure Fielder is by overpaying to that extreme, you risk future financial flexibility for nearly a decade by putting all your eggs in one basket. And very few mega-deals like that work out in the long run. Think Alex Rodriguez, Joe Mauer, Barry Zito, Vernon Wells, etc.
If you're a team looking for one player to put you over the top right now, you might roll that dice. But in my mind, the Mariners aren't in that situation yet. They're still building the foundation. And I would guess Fielder and Boras know that as well.
Even though Fielder is the name most commonly thrown around right now, who else might the Mariners target in the free-agent market?
-- Marcus M., Marysville, Wash.
It's really just the feeling-out stage right now between teams and most free agents. But two possible fits, in my mind, are outfielder Grady Sizemore and starting pitcher Chris Capuano. Sizemore is a high-risk, high potential upside guy given his injury past. But if healthy, he's a quality left-handed bat who could play left, center or DH. And as an Everett, Wash., native, he might love a chance to play in Seattle for his old Indians skipper, Eric Wedge. If he'd take an incentive-laden, short-term offer with a chance to prove himself, he'd be a perfect addition.
Capuano, 33, didn't have a great year with the Mets (11-12, 4.55 ERA), but he was just back to full health from Tommy John surgery and is a lefty who could benefit from Safeco Field and fit in nicely in the middle of the Mariners' rotation. I know fans are screaming, "Why pitching when offense is such a need?" But it feels to me like the trade market might be more productive for adding offense, and a guy like Capuano would help bridge the gap until Seattle's young pitching prospects are ready.
Who did the Mariners receive from Atlanta as the player to be named later in the Jack Wilson trade?
-- David B., Spokane, Wash.
That turned out to be Luis Caballero, a 19-year-old shortstop who hit .195 in 133 at-bats last year in the Dominican Summer League. Caballero is a 6-foot-2, 165-pounder from Bocas del Toro, Panama. He would be the definition of a low-level prospect, which goes to show how little market there was for Wilson at that point. Wilson wound up hitting .220 with no home runs and no RBIs in 17 games for the Braves and is now a free agent.
I loved what Alex Liddi showed in September for the Mariners. What are his chances of being the starting third baseman next season?
-- Lisa G., Bellevue, Wash.
The Mariners are intrigued by Liddi's power potential, and I'm sure he'll be given a long look in Spring Training, along with Kyle Seager and Chone Figgins, if he's still in the picture. Or that is a position where general manager Jack Zduriencik might look to upgrade if the right scenario presents itself.
Liddi did not do well in the Venezuelan Winter League and was sent home after hitting just .136 in 13 games. However, I've heard now that he might get a second shot at winter ball in the Dominican League, so stay tuned.
I keep hearing rumors that the Mariners are bringing back their teal-billed caps for 2012. Can this be either confirmed or denied at this point?
-- Spenser S., Walla Walla, Wash.
Ahh, this is the sort of rumor I actually can put a definitive answer to during the Hot Stove season! The Mariners prefer to call them "Northwest Green" caps, but those hats are indeed making a comeback to go with the Northwest Green alternate jerseys that were worn on Monday and Friday home games last season. And, yes, they are available now at Mariners Team Stores.
You mentioned Ichiro Suzuki possibly coming back at a lower contract after 2012. Doesn't the players union forbid salary reduction for star players?
-- Ben J., Seattle
You're confusing arbitration-eligible players with free agents. Players who are arbitration-eligible (in their fourth, fifth and sixth years) can't be offered more than a 20-percent reduction from their previous season. That is why the Mariners let David Aardsma go, rather than be forced to offer $3.6 million in arbitration coming off Tommy John surgery (he made $4.5 million last year). But if Ichiro doesn't sign an extension in the coming year, he will become a free agent, which means at that point he could accept -- or decline -- any contract offer from any team at any price.