The Great Mariners Con Job

Originally published March 28th, 2014

It was an offseason filled with promise, and promises.  After the 3rd 90-loss season in four years, the Seattle Mariners were committed to bringing a new energy, focus, and attitude to the city and their fans.  Things would change with a new President at the helm and a fierce focus on Free Agents.  On the surface, the Mariners were saying the right things and even doing the right things, signing Robinson Cano to a long term contract just weeks before the Seahawks entered the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl Championship.   For one day, the Seattle Mariners were front page news again.

But then it stopped.

Sure, the Seattle Mariners made moves.   They signed Corey Hart, an outfielder from Milwaukee, fresh off micro-fracture surgery on both knees.   They brought in Logan Morrison, the comic-relief (attention hogging) outfielder out of Miami, who, like Hart, is coming off of two consecutive seasons of knee problems and surgeries.   The team signed Willie “Boom-Boom” Bloomquist as a utility player after playing in a career-low 48 games with Arizona, and brought in two power house pitchers in Scott Baker and Randy Wolf, both of whom were so past their prime that they signed Minor League contracts with the team.   Signing Fernando Rodney was a potential bright-spot too, until you realize that the few fans that do show up for Rays games in Tampa were booing him off the field when I was there last May.

The signings the Mariners didn’t make are almost as telling as the ones they did.  Fans were upset the team didn’t pursue Shin Soo Choo, but Choo would have been another left handed bat on a team in desperate need of right handed power.   But what about an aging, but effective Carlos Beltran?   Do you take a risk on an “all natural” Nelson Cruz?   Either would have been a bargain when you look at what Marlon Byrd was paid in the offseason.  And even more importantly, where is the pitching help?  The Seattle Mariners were 2nd in the American League for Home Runs last year, but still lost over 90 games.   Pitching and defense win championships – So where’s the help? Ubaldo Jiminez, Ervin Santana, and Matt Garza were all available, but Jack Zduriencik chose to go with retreads in Baker and Wolf, the same way he went after players like Joe Saunders, Aaron Harang, and the at-the-time retired Jeremy Bonderman in 2013.  But it’s all part of the plan, right?  Those Minor League arms waiting in the wings?  Right, just like our young hitters.

Do you think I like feeling this way about the Seattle Mariners?  I’ve defended this team at lengths over the years.   I even picked the Mariners to make the playoffs last year.  But at some point, you just have to step back and realize that we are being conned.

The Mariners aren’t doing a damned thing different.  They hire a “new” President that was promoted from within the organization.  How is that going to change anything in the culture?   They sign their General Manager to a one year extension, providing absolutely zero reassurance to the front office or their players.  And then during the offseason they commit to spending money to build a winner, but in reality have a payroll on par with last year, and a team that on paper may be worse than the team lost 90 games in 2013.

Food For Thought:

  • The Seattle Mariners are 24th in MLB Payroll at a little over $73 million.   That’s with Felix making $20 million, Cano making $15 mill, and Hart making $10 mill.  We have 9 players making close to $500,000 and less.  There are 14 MLB teams with payrolls over $100 million.   The Seattle Mariners have spent more on payroll every year since 2001, but one.  Yep, last year, when the Mariners were coincidently also 24th in MLB Payroll.
  • The Mariners replaced roughly 40% of their offensive production from last year.  On paper, our Home Runs/Hits/RBI should about even out, if not slightly increase, based on stats for Cano/Hart/Lomo/Bloomquist/Buck compared to Morales/Ibanez/Morse/Guti/Bay.  The downside is that the stats are based off of Hart’s 2012 season, since he didn’t play last year.   Hart and Lomo are also NL guys, so production could change there too.
  • Felix Hernandez is our only guarantee to start the year.   Iwakuma and Walker, the team’s projected #2 and #3 starters won’t start the year with the team.   Randy Wolf was told he’d made the team before the M’s had a change of heart and tried to have him sign a modified contract.  That leaves the Mariners with Felix, Ramirez, Paxton, Beavan, and as of this morning Chris Young (another pitching retread – seeing a pattern here, fans?).   That’s not exactly Kershaw/Greinke/Ryu or Verlander/Scherzer/Sanchez is it?

How is this team any better than last year?

Still hungry?   I think the thing that frustrates me most as a fan is that the potential is there.  The Seattle Mariners have talent, just not enough.   Did I like the Robinson Cano signing?   I loved it!  It felt like a true promise of things to come.  But now I’m starting to wonder if all we did was sign “Alex Rodgriguez” like Texas did in 2001.   A-Rod signed with Texas under the promise of the team doing more to improve the roster around him – The thing that concerns me the most is whether we made the same promises to Cano.

“I’m not going to lie.  We need an extra bat, especially a right handed bat,“ Cano said. “If it was up to me, we’d have (Ervin) Santana, (Nelson) Cruz, and Ubaldo (Jimenez) too.”

That’s a comforting start…  When Jack Z met with Cano and his people, they laid out a plan for what improving the team was going to look like, but I’m sorry, that couldn’t have included Randy Wolf or Scott Baker, right?

“We’re asking Robinson Cano to be the player he was in New York.”

Robinson Cano was a terrific player in New York, and he’ll be a fantastic addition here.   He’s going to hit .300, 25+ HR, and 100+ RBIs.  But he’s just one man.  The things he’s doing for the team are already apparent.   But will it last?   It took A-Rod 3 seasons before he got out of Texas.   How long will Cano last before he forces a similar move?

“It’d be great if Corey Hart has a really nice year, and it would be great if Mike Zunino had a really good year,” Jack Z said early in the spring. And on Ackley, Smoak, Miller and Paxton? Jack Z really hopes they “become the players they should become.” 

Sound familiar?  It’s the same line we’ve heard going on three years!

And the Mariners wonder why there’s fan apathy?

Am I still a Mariner fan?  YES!  But at some point it’s fair to expect more, and this year I expected more!   This was the year everything was supposed to change.  The Mariners need to realize that piggy-backing on the Seahawks won’t sell tickets (unless it’s the inevitable Seahawks championship bobblehead).  What’s going to sell tickets is success on the field, and the Mariners haven’t done enough in the offseason to make that happen, and that frustrates me to no end as a fan.  Do I want to be wrong?  Desperately.  But am I?

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