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Signing Ford a Minor Deal

photo via Aunt Juli on Flickr
The Mariners made a small move, signing OF Darren Ford to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Geoff Baker sees this as a precursor to some major deals, and he may be right. The Mariners are in on Prince Fielder, and that would be a major deal.

Well, I take that back. Geoff Baker isn't right. The Mariners might be on the cusp of a major deal, but signing Darren Ford has little to do with it.

First of all, Ford is the most interesting guy the M's have signed to a minor league deal to date (and he does have a little bit of competition). Ford is a first-rate thief on the bases, thanks to blazing speed. That makes him a nice pinch-running option, and based on limited fielding data, a rangy player in center as well.

The biggest downfall in Ford's game is his struggle to make contact. His strikeout rates have been high throughout the minors, and he struck out in nearly a third of his plate appearances in limited time with San Franisco last year. I doubt Ford will ever hit much, which is why he's available for only a minor league deal.

Still, tremendous speed, and potentially awesome defense are two great traits to have. It's good to see Darren Ford in the M's organization, and he could make a real nice outfielder coming off the bench. At first glance, his skillset reminds me of Charles Gipson, who for whatever reason is still one of my favorite Mariners ever. I just loved the way he played the game, and I wanted him to develop into enough of a hitter so badly. He never did, but he was still awesome.

Anyway, back to my main point. The reason the Mariners signed Darren Ford is because they wanted to sign Darren Ford. This is not connected to some bigger move.

To start with, a minor league deal is a small investment. It's not much money, and does not take up any space on the 25 or 40-man roster. This is the way a baseball team can take risk-free shots at acquiring talent, which is why I'm a strong proponent of signing tons of minor league FAs. Most of them won't amount to much, but the downside is non-existent. Every now and then, someone will emerge. Guys like Darren Ford are worth signing no matter a team's circumstances.

Jack Zduriencik's history with Ford is a factor as well. Ford was originally signed by the Brewers when Z was the head of Milwaukee's farm system. There's a relationship and familiarity there. Baseball is like any other business - relationships matter. There are reasons Ford was in Zduriencik's farm system in the first place, and those reasons are likely still there. Connections are built in farm systems, and they last, even as people move to different organizations.

Lastly, a team's priorities are messed up if it refrains from pursuing a great player until a role player is in place. Teams make room for great players. Those are the ones built around! The role players, such as Darren Ford, are the ones that round out a roster. A guy like Prince Fielder would be a quantum leap forward for the offense. He might create some payroll issues, and displace a guy like Justin Smoak or Mike Carp, but those are issues a team deals with once they are there. If the Mariners actually think to themselves, "We can't get a guy like Prince Fielder until we have Darren Ford signed to a minor league deal," then they are in trouble.

I see how signing Darren Ford might make Franklin Gutierrez a little more expendable, which in turn would free up more money for Prince Fielder. Maybe there ends up being a connection there. However, that's only one way things could turn out. There are many other scenarios where Darren Ford makes sense. Ford simply makes sense, no matter what happens. This is no harbinger of greater things to come. It's simply a move that improved the talent pool the 2012 Mariners will pick from, no more, no less.