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Originally published December 8, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified December 9, 2011 at 2:51 PM

Steve Kelley

Mariners must step up to the plate and sign Prince Fielder

It's time for the Mariners to make a bold statement about their future. It's time to sign Prince Fielder.

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Steve.... a history lesson, for a refresher. It's the year 2001, the Mariners have the... Read more
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quotes I'm not saying signing Prince makes us a contender but we can't sit idly by while the... Read more

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When Jack Zduriencik went to sleep Wednesday night, after another long day at baseball's winter meetings in Dallas, there still was order in his world.

It looked as if Albert Pujols would re-sign with the St. Louis Cardinals and stay safely away from the American League.

The Texas Rangers still were the team to beat in the AL West. And the Mariners, well, the Mariners still were the Mariners, taking small, conservative, systemic steps toward improvement.

The Mariners general manager's world made sense on Wednesday night, but by Thursday morning, baseball had a new world order and Zduriencik had a brand new problem.

By Thursday morning, the American League West had changed forever, or at least for the next 10 years. By Thursday morning, the Los Angeles Angels looked like the most dangerous players in baseball.

They stunned the game and rocked Zduriencik's world by signing Pujols, the biggest star of his generation, to a 10-year, quarter-of-a-billion dollar deal. And if that weren't enough, the Angels also signed Texas' former ace, lefty C.J. Wilson, to a five-year contract worth $77.5 million.

"Good morning, Mr. Zduriencik, this is your OMG what-just-happened wake-up call. The time is passing quickly. The temperature is 58 degrees. But it just got a whole lot hotter in the American League West. Have a nice day."

"It just makes it that much more difficult for everybody in our division," Zduriencik classically understated later on Thursday.

The Angels have been declared winners of the winter meetings. This is what serious teams do. This is how the game is played in 2011.

Sure, you start by strengthening your organization. You build, as the Mariners are trying to build, through your farm system. You stockpile young arms Michael Pineda, Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker.

You develop promising hitters like Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Nick Franklin, Vinnie Catricala, Chih-Hsien Chiang.

But that's not enough.

At some point in the building process, you have to have some guts. You have to separate yourself, the way Angels owner Arte Moreno did this week. You have to stop playing it safe. You have to make expensive, game-changing moves.

In the Mariners' case, you have to go after the next-best-thing — Prince Fielder. This is their Albert Pujols moment.

The city is looking for a sign from this franchise that it isn't going to surrender to the Angels' boldness. It isn't going to concede the division, year after year, to Texas or Los Angeles.

The Mariners have to change the way they are perceived in Seattle and throughout baseball.

They need a booming bat like Fielder's that can alter the way pitchers approach their batting order. Fielder, 27, is the 38 home runs and 120 RBI in the middle of the order the Mariners haven't had since Alex Rodriguez left.

He is as dependable as the tide charts, missing only one game in the past three seasons. He can take the heat off Justin Smoak. He can make Ackley even better.

The Mariners, losers of 95 games last season, have greatly improved, relative to where the organization was when Zduriencik replaced Bill Bavasi in the winter of 2008.

But they have lost ground in relation to the rest of the West. While the Mariners have taken baby steps to improve, the Rangers and Angels have dynamited the division.

The M's will remain stuck at the bottom of the West until they start playing the same game their division rivals are playing. They need to be as serious as Moreno.

And signing Fielder isn't enough. The Mariners should use some of their young pitching to go after Miami's Hanley Ramirez, who suddenly is an unhappy man, without a position, after the Marlins signed Jose Reyes.

Look around baseball. There are teams that are serious, and then there are the Kansas City Royals. There are teams that have courage, and then there are the Houston Astros.

Jack Zduriencik woke up Thursday with a decision to make. Do the Mariners want to play the game? Or are they the Astros?

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

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