The Mariners are targeting free agent outfielders Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz, Buster Olney of ESPN reports, and also looking to land first baseman Mike Napoli, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. All three free agents might excite the Mariners' front office but both Olney and Rosenthal see Seattle as a tough sell for free agent position players.
Rosenthal sums up the challenge for the Mariners succinctly-
Hitters look at Seattle and see the following: Bad team. Pitcher-friendly ballpark. Undesirable geography, particularly for players from Latin America who want to be close to home.
Given those negatives, it may be necessary for the Mariners to pay top dollar to attract free agents position players this winter. Fortunately, the team can do they choose. Seattle has around $36 million committed to payroll for the 2014 season and Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors projects just an additional $4.8 million in arbitration salaries, totaling less than $40 million in payroll on the books right now. As recently as 2008, Seattle's payroll topped $100 million, so a return to that level of spending is definitely a possibility.The team has also shown signs of improvement. Solid rookie seasons from pitcher Taijuan Walker, shortstop Brad Miller and second baseman Nick Franklin in 2013 give the club hope for the future and a reason to be aggressive this off-season.
The other challenges are more problematic, however. Geography is significant disadvantage. Seattle is 680 miles (by air) from their closest opponent in Oakland, which gives them the largest travel times of any team and there is little they can do to change that. Seattle has tried to address the park factor issue by moving fences in for 2013 and the early results show some movement towards a more neutral environment. Baseball-reference lists the one-year park factor for 2013 at 97 for offense, up from the 92 multi-year average (100 is a neutral environment). However, those numbers are not considered reliable until there is at least a three-year sample. Even if the park plays better for offense in the future, its reputation might take a long time to change.
Rosenthal points out some of the past failures the team has had, pointing to misses on Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder. Additionally, the Mariners were able to make deal with the Diamondbacks to trade for Justin Upton last season, but the right fielder used his no trade clause to block the trade and was eventually dealt to Atlanta. Seattle also pursued Mike Napoli prior to the 2013 season, but lost out to the Red Sox.
Cruz, Beltran and Napoli all have other suitors this off-season and many of those clubs offer a better environment for hitters and less demanding travel schedules. Napoli has already received at least one offer to return to Boston, where he prefers to sign and he is expected to draw interest from the Rangers, Orioles and Rockies as well. Beltran is also on the Red Sox radar and the Yankees, Phillies, and Orioles have been connected to the former-Cardinal. Cruz has gotten the least attention of the three, but at least one other team, the Mets, are in on him, according to to Rosenthal. If Seattle wants to land any of these three, paying a premium for them might be their only option.