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Updated Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 11:16 PM

Mariners should have done whatever it took to sign Josh Hamilton

By Steve Kelley
Times staff columnist

Certainly it's understandable why the Mariners couldn't sign Josh Hamilton. We all know how hard it is to multitask.

For instance, I've discovered that I can't balance my checkbook and watch Jim Caviezel on "Person of Interest" at the same time. And I can't make trades for my fantasy-league team while I'm listening to "Elise in the Afternoon."

Surely we know by now that we can't expect the Mariners, who still seem to be putting most of their efforts into squashing the proposed SoDo arena project, to also have the time and concentration to go after expensive free agents.

Look, you can't have everything. You should be happy about the new center-field scoreboard that has a TV screen the size of a Mount Kilimanjaro glacier. You were also expecting the Mariners to sign Josh Hamilton to play in the outfield, underneath that scoreboard?

Don't you know by now that in Seattle, when it comes to the Mariners, it's either/or? You can't have Hamilton and a new scoreboard.

So Josh Hamilton is going to the Los Angeles Angels after agreeing Thursday to a five-year, $125 million deal.

Yes, baseball fans, Christmas is fast approaching, and after teasing you with thoughts of Hamilton dancing in your outfield, all the Mariners have given you is the cynical signing of the unproductive, injury-prone Jason Bay.

That's like asking for an 80-inch, LED TV for Christmas and getting your grandfather's old transistor radio instead.

It's true, spring training still is a long way away. The Mariners still could dip into the mediocrity pool and sign Nick Swisher or, heaven forbid, Delmon Young.

Or they could make a move for Arizona's talented-but-temperamental outfielder Justin Upton. If they got Upton, maybe they could be forgiven for letting Hamilton get away.

More likely, the M's will give up the pursuit of power, sign speedy center fielder Michael Bourn and ask him to become an imitation of Ichiro. Or they might dip into the bottom of the free-agent barrel and sign Cody Ross or Raul Ibanez.

But the Mariners could have had Josh Hamilton. They could have had his 40-plus home runs. Finally they could have had a serious anchor in the middle of the order, and they could have given fans a serious reason to come to Safeco Field.

I don't want to hear that familiar Mariners mumbo-jumbo that Hamilton didn't want to come to Seattle, didn't like the geography or the climate or the new Ferris wheel. Good front offices find ways to make these deals. Good front offices know how to recruit as well as John Calipari.

But hey, it's hard to negotiate seriously with a superstar free agent when you're spending so much time fretting over potential traffic problems around your ballpark. Come to think of it, not signing Hamilton should help ease the potential problem of gridlock on First Avenue.

"Tonight's official paid attendance is 6,472."

Josh Hamilton is the guy who could have given Northwest baseball fans a real reason to live again. He would have been the perfect reward for Felix Hernandez after another wondrous season that included a perfect game.

Sure, we all know about Hamilton's drug addiction and we know about the Mariners' longstanding reluctance to take a chance on a player with a past.

They traded Carlos Guillen to Detroit because they worried that Guillen's party habits were rubbing off on pitching ace Freddy Garcia. And they got rid of Garcia when they started to believe he was becoming a bad influence on Hernandez.

There are a lot of things the Mariners don't do well. But they are very good at just saying no.

It's bad enough they didn't sign Hamilton. It's even worse that he signed in their division.

The Angels still have holes. The depth of their rotation is an issue. But they can trot out a lineup that includes Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Howie Kendrick. Next season they should lead the majors in runs.

The Mariners needed to do something dramatic this winter. So far, they haven't. Thank goodness for the Houston Astros. At least if the M's finish fourth in the AL West next season, they won't be in the basement anymore.

Some winter the Mariners will have to spend money, won't they? You can't run a baseball team like any other business and expect to win. Sometimes you have to swing for the fences.

And occasionally you have to connect.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Disappearing free agents

With Josh Hamilton signing with the Angels, the pool of top free-agent hitters is drying up.

Who's gone

Player/New team

OF Josh Hamilton/Angels

OF B.J. Upton/Atlanta

C-DH Mike Napoli/Boston

3B-1B Kevin Youkilis/Yankees

C Russell Martin/Pittsburgh

OF Ryan Ludwick/Cincinnati

OF Torii Hunter/Detroit

1B-3B Mark Reynolds/Cleveland

OF Shane Victorino/Boston

OF Melky Cabrera/Toronto

Who's available

Player/Former team

OF Nick Swisher/Yankees

OF Michael Bourn/Atlanta

OF-DH Delmon Young/Detroit

OF Cody Ross/Boston

C A.J. Pierzynski/White Sox

1B Adam LaRoche/Washington

OF Grady Sizemore/Cleveland

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Disappearing free agents

With Josh Hamilton signing with the Angels, the pool of top free-agent hitters is drying up.

Who's gone

Josh Hamilton, OF, Angels

B.J. Upton, OF, Atlanta

Mike Napoli, C-DH, Boston

Kevin Youkilis, 3B-1B, Yankees

Russell Martin, C, Pittsburgh

Ryan Ludwick, OF, Cincinnati

Torii Hunter, OF, Detroit

Mark Reynolds, 1B-3B, Cleveland

Shane Victorino, OF, Boston

Melky Cabrera, OF, Toronto

Who's available

Nick Swisher, OF, Yankees

Michael Bourn, OF, Atlanta

Delmon Young, OF-D, Detroit

Cody Ross, OF, /Boston

A.J. Pierzynski, C, White Sox

Adam LaRoche, 1B, Washington

Grady Sizemore, OF, Cleveland


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