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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

October 26, 2010 at 2:26 PM

Mariners’ road out of AL West misery only getting tougher


(Ranger co-owners Chuck Greenberg, left, and Nolan Ryan, right, celebrate the AL championship with GM Jon Daniels, center. Photo by Associated Press).

Over the weekend, after the Texas Rangers had left the Mariners and Nationals as the only two teams in baseball yet to make the World Series, I pondered which of those teams would get there first.

Not surprisingly, the blog post became another venue for disgruntled Mariner fans to express their complete lack of confidence in the current regime.

What’s becoming increasingly clear to me is that while the Mariners keep sinking, the rest of the division is getting ever more formidable. And that’s going to make the Mariners’ recovery that much more difficult.

Let’s start with the Rangers. The American League champion Rangers, that is. It’s not difficult to imagine them at the start of a period of sustained dominance — particularly if they can retain Cliff Lee. And their trip to the World Series is the greatest selling job they can do. By all accounts, Lee loves his teammates, and he and his wife love the Dallas area and it’s accessibility to their Little Rock home. Lee is on record as saying that if the Rangers win it all, it will be difficult to leave. Not only that, the Rangers have a new ownership group eager to make a splash, and signing Lee would certainly do that. Lee’s wife, Kristen, had a bad experience with taunting fans while sitting in the family section at Yankee Stadium during the ALCS, so that could factor into their decision as well (though about $150 million in Steinbrenner dollars would go a long way toward easing any hard feelings).

The Rangers have had one of the top-ranked farm systems in baseball in recent years, and they continue to churn out prospects. They have an able GM in Jon Daniels, and an activist CEO/president in Nolan Ryan, who obviously has impeccable credibility in the clubhouse. Ron Washington overcame personal issues to become the likely AL Manager of the Year. Six of their nine regulars are age 30 or younger, including likely MVP Josh Hamilton. Here’s what new owner Chuck Greenberg had to say about it all in a recent article in ESPNDallas:

“Something really special is happening now, and we’re going to take full advantage of that. I’ve said many times over the year and a half when we were trying to acquire the team that I was confident that in 2-4 years, you’d look back and be unimaginable that the Rangers franchise had ever operated at the lower level that it had and that’s going to happen. I actually think it’s going to happen even more quickly than we thought and this franchise will be ready to take its place as one of the real dynamos in baseball. We’re going to give Jon the resources to try and compete like this year in and year out.”

Suffice it to say, the Rangers are no longer the pushovers they used to be. Now, on to the Angels, who dominated the division for much of this decade but slid to third place this year with an 80-82 record. In a recent column in the Los Angeles Times by BIll Plaschke, Angels owner Arte Moreno vowed to do something about it. Immediately. Namely, to spend whatever it took to get the Angels back to the playoffs.

“Yes,” Moreno told Plaschke. “That’s how I feel. That’s what I’ll do.”

He also said, “If you want to continue to perform at the highest level, you have to keep building the business. And that’s what I intend to do.”

And also: “We know what our weaknesses are, we know where we are thin, we know where we have to go to market. It’s going to cost money, but our fans need to know that we’re committed to winning.”

So on top of the burgeoning Rangers, you have a cranky Arte Moreno ready to open his wallet to augment a team that had one mediocre year after winning five of the previous six division titles. (And their mediocre year produced 19 more victories than the Mariners had). That could mean anyone from Carl Crawford to Jayson Werth to, heck, Cliff Lee coming to Anaheim. The Angels clearly have the tools to remain strong into the foreseeable future.

Then you have the A’s, who sneaked into second place behind Texas with a .500 record, and just happen to have a young starting rotation in place that’s the envy of most teams in baseball: Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez and perhaps Vin Mazarro. Billy Beane tore apart the A’s to rebuild them, and they’ve had some rough years recently after winning more than 90 games in six out of seven seasons from 2000-2006 (over 100 wins in two of those years). But now they, too, appear on the brink of contending again, especially if some of their minor-league hitting prospects develop into major-league threats. It’s hard to bet against Beane with his track record, even with Oakland’s built-in revenue challenges until they can get a new stadium built.

Team success in any sport tends to be cyclical, though teams can help sustain those cycles with astute management and player development. Right now, the Mariners are stuck in what seems like a perpetual down cycle. And their most immediate foes all seem headed up.



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