The waiting, in the end, will pay off. The reality is that the Mariners cannot compete with teams like the Angels and the Rangers in the open market right now anyway without paying way, way more than them. The fiscally responsible move is to wait the market out. The only risk with that approach is losing out on everyone. That's unlikely to happen for the Mariners though. It's a simple process of elimination.
Let's recap the movement of outfielders in all of baseball for the entire off-season:
Teams that have signed a projected starting outfielder - Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, Braves, Giants, Tigers, Blue Jays
Teams that have traded for a projected starting outfielder - Rays, Indians, Reds, Phillies, Nationals, Athletics
That's 13 of the 30 MLB clubs right there. Maybe some of these teams want another outfielder, but outfield likely is a lower priority for any of them than a team that hasn't made a move yet. The remaining 17 ballclubs are the: Mariners, Rangers, Astros, Twins, Royals, White Sox, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rockies, Padres, Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Brewers, Mets, and Marlins.
Some teams have sent clear signals they aren't looking to acquire outfielders. The Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Cubs have all been shopping outfielders on their roster. None of them presumably want another outfielder, unless they trade away one of their current ones. The Twins traded away two cheap outfielders, suggesting they had an outfield surplus and also that they haven't freed up much money to sign a pricey free agent. The Marlins traded anyone making money on their roster, so they presumably won't pursue one of the better free agent outfielders still available.
Other teams face budget constraints. The Mets are close to trading R.A. Dickey in part because they can't seem to afford him. That suggests they don't have a ton of money to play with. The White Sox also don't appear to have the money to sign an outfielder. The Pirates just made Russell Martin their highest paid free agent ever, and he will make half of what the remaining outfielder free agents likely get.
Still other teams aren't likely to pursue any of the remaining outfielders aggressively. The Dodgers already have the highest payroll in MLB history, and three outfielders slated to make over $10 million a year, so outfield can't be a high priority for them (can it?) The Brewers might be willing to trade OF/1B Corey Hart, suggesting they would be more willing to spend money other places than the outfield. The Royals just traded the farm for James Shields. Pitching was clearly their priority, and their offseason appears to be about complete. The Cardinals seem happy with Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, and Jon Jay as their starting outfield, plus they already have $95 million in commitments (although their payroll was around $110 million last season).
So, after all is said and done, here are the reasonable landing spots for the remaining free agent outfielders: Mariners, Rangers, Astros, Orioles, and Padres. Here is the pecking order that I think they go in:
- Rangers - Just lost Josh Hamilton, have money to spend, and have won lots of games in recent years. All the ingredients to be a very attractive destination.
- Orioles - Might be in the neighborhood of $15-$20 million below their payroll from last year, suggesting there is some money to spend. Nate McLouth is the projected starting left fielder right now, and I'd say on many teams he is a fourth outfielder. The Orioles might be a bit more attractive with their surprising success last year too.
- Mariners - They have money to spend and gaping holes on offense.
- Astros - Money to spend and holes aplenty, but years away from contention.
- Padres - Probably have a low enough payroll to go after one of the outfielders, but of the 8 players on their roster with multi-year deals, 3 are outfielders. I don't see San Diego pursuing a free agent outfielder with any sort of aggression.
There are three good/decent free agent outfielders remaining (Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Cody Ross). The Mariners, in my estimation, are the third best fit for a free agent outfielder right now. This doesn't even consider the handful of outfielders still available in trades.
It is possible for the Mariners to get shutout this offseason, but highly unlikely. They don't need to convince somebody to come to Safeco Field as much as they have to throw their pile of cash in the center of the ring and wait for someone to come to it. I think the M's front office has a pretty good idea this is where the market is at too. Waiting is the right course of action at this point.