The Mariners have already placed a big bet on winning soon. Their greatest mistake now would be not to push the remainder of their chips into the center of the table.
Seattle's two biggest winter acquisitions, Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse, can become free agents after the season. Morse was acquired at the expense of John Jaso, who is under team control for three more years. Even superstar Felix Hernandez, whom Seattle hopes to sign to an extension, is only guaranteed to be around through 2014. The window for the current group of Mariners to win is narrow.
To go as far as they have, then stop, would be failing to execute the plan. If Seattle wants to win now, there's one more step it should take: sign free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn. Pay the price it takes to sign him. Sacrifice the Draft pick and pool money that goes with the signing. It will be painful, but not committing fully to the plan would be a worse decision.
Bourn is the perfect fit for what the Mariners still need. He is a legitimate leadoff man, able to help to shore up what remains a major on-base percentage problem in the Seattle lineup. Bourn posted a .348 OBP in 2012 and has the same mark over the past four seasons. That isn't elite, but it would be a major upgrade -- it's 27 points higher than any likely 2013 Mariners player posted in the Majors last year.
That's right. Of all current Mariners who had more than 20 at-bats last season, the highest OBP was Morse's .321. Seattle was dead last in the Majors in getting on base. It was also last in slugging, but that issue has been addressed by the additions of Morse and Morales. The OBP hole has not, and unless it is, Morse and Morales will be hitting a lot of solo home runs.
The speedy Bourn also offers top-notch defense in the outfield, another area that has trended the wrong way for Seattle. Morse is not an especially adept defender, and he'll be playing pretty much every day in left. Franklin Gutierrez, once one of the game's top gloves in center field, has had injuries and has put up lesser defensive numbers over the past three years.
The addition of Bourn would allow Gutierrez to play part-time, hopefully maintaining his health and allowing him to be used as a defensive replacement at the corners and a right-handed bat to platoon against southpaws.
There's no denying, any team signing Bourn would be taking on a great deal of risk and paying a hefty cost in terms of money and talent. Even this late in the winter, he's highly unlikely to come cheap. Seattle would have to give up the No. 12 pick in the upcoming First-Year Player Draft, as well as taking a big hit to the amount of money it would be allowed to spend on the players it drafts.
Meanwhile, Bourn is entering his age-30 season. If his speed fades even somewhat in his early 30s, it will take a large toll on his game. Both his offense and his defense are heavily predicated on his speed. A slower Bourn would be a much lesser player, since he doesn't walk much or hit for much power, and since speed is pretty much essential to playing center field.
But in the next two years, the Mariners are going to face a great deal of reckoning. They'll have to replace significant chunks of their offense next winter. They'll have to sign Hernandez or risk losing him. A big contract for Bourn, as well as a lost Draft pick, would certainly complicate that reckoning, but it's coming regardless. The club might as well do all it can to win before it happens.
Every action that the Mariners have taken this winter points in one direction: maximizing short-term success. Safeco Field hasn't hosted a playoff game since 2001. The Mariners have had seven losing seasons in the past nine. The pressure is growing to put a winning team on the field, now, and the front office has taken steps in that direction.
Whether it's the right plan, it's the plan that is in place. The imperative, then, is to finish carrying it out. Sign Bourn, deal with the consequences later.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less