M’s wise to resist splurging

Maybe our hunger for instant gratification is easing. Perhaps the slow and steady approach, so favored by responsible generations past, is coming back into favor.

Some of this self-discipline isn’t by choice, to be sure. After you’ve spent your home equity on cars, trips or other goodies, a collapse in house values forces more of a pay-as-you-go approach. State government’s free-spending ways ground to a halt when overflowing revenue streams slowed to a trickle.

With general agreement among economists that the “new normal” won’t come close to resembling our pre-recession revelry, it seems prudent to start emulating the tortoise more than the hare.

As a metaphor for this emerging ethos, we commend the Seattle Mariners for not signing Prince Fielder, the top remaining prize in this year’s baseball free-agent pool. The slugging first baseman reportedly has agreed to a nine-year contract with the Detroit Tigers worth a guaranteed $214 million. That’s an average of $23.8 million per season, or more than $146,000 per game.

The pressure for the Mariners to break the bank on Fielder was considerable. The last-place team’s offense has been pathetic recently. Many believe Fielder’s home-run prowess, and relatively young age (27), could have propelled the Mariners into contention instantly, and for years to come. His signing would have created the kind of buzz that sells season tickets.

One division rival, the Los Angeles Angels, had just signed the off-season’s most prominent free agent, slugger Albert Pujols, to a 10-year, $240 million deal. Another, the Texas Rangers, have won the last two American League pennants. The Mariners may have felt compelled to make a splash of their own.

But devoting a quarter or more of the total team payroll to this player would have been a massive risk. As talented a hitter as he is, Fielder is also significantly overweight (275 pounds), adding to the long-term risk of injury. And if he got hurt and couldn’t play, the team would still be on the hook for the entire contract — just like the homeowner with an under-water mortgage.

We don’t know how hard the Mariners actually pursued Fielder, though reports a month ago had them as a leading contender. Regardless, they’ve put their hopes in the hands of a young team (18 rookies spent time on last year’s roster) dotted with potential stars and one of the game’s top pitchers, Felix Hernandez.

Mariners fans won’t get the instant gratification an established slugger would have brought, but the long-term payoff may be greater: a foundation of young talent and the financial flexibility to fill needs and seize opportunities as they arise.

That sounds like a pretty smart approach — in baseball or any other enterprise.