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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 2, 2012 at 1:20 PM

Revising dimensions at Safeco was a move Mariners had to make

Do you agree with the Mariners’ decision to move in Safeco Field’s fences?

By now, you’ve probably heard that the fences are coming in at Safeco Field. Geoff has the details.

That’s not a surprise. I’ve considered that decision to be an inevitability since the talk started early in the season about the lack of carry, and production, at Safeco Field, which has seemed to hit epidemic proportions in recent years.

I fully endorse this move, which I called for in June. Yes, I realize that if the Mariners had better hitters, it wouldn’t be such a glaring problem. I realize that the fences are going to be moved in for the opponents, too. I realize that the Mariners pitching could suffer, particularly for guys like Jason Vargas, who has used the ballpark to maximum benefit.

But I believe this was an absolute necessity for two reasons. One, there is no question whatsoever that the ballpark is in the heads of Mariners hitters, who have gotten sick and tired of crushing the ball, absolutely certain they had hit it out, only to have the outfielder run it down on the track. That’s annoying for an opponent who is in town for a three-game series. It’s soul-crushing for a player who has 81 games in the facility, and begins to believe that he simply doesn’t stand a chance in his home ballpark.

Secondly, Safeo has developed such a pervasive reputation as a hitters’ graveyard that the Mariners’ chances of attracting a quality free-agent offensive player had dwindled to almost non-existent. And that’s even if the Mariners were willing to overpay, as they had to do to attract the likes of Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre. No player, even a handsomely compensated one, is going to want to go to a place where (the baseball world is convinced) his statistics would shrivel up. And trust me: Every hitter in baseball knew about the offensive problems at Safeco. Now, the Mariners stand a fighting chance of convincing players — particularly right-handed hitters — that they can come to Seattle and not wither away.

That’s a huge deal. And if some of their existing hitters with such extreme home-road splits, like Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero, can now actually thrive in Seattle, it will further reinforce to opposing players that Safeco can be a prosperous place to hit (as it was in the early 2000s, if I could anticipate the reaction from fans who oppose moving in the fences — but that was a different era, folks).

Mostly, I look forward to a more exciting brand of baseball. I’m all for pitchers duels, but what we’ve seen from the Mariners, particularly at Safeco Field, in recent years, has been mind-numbingly boring. They are hitting .218 in 79 home games this year, and scoring 3.02 runs per game (opponents are not much better: .229 average, and 3.4 runs per game). The year before that, it was .222, and 3.15 runs per game at home for the Mariners. In 2010, it was .235, and 2.95 runs per game.

That’s just not enough action, even for a baseball purist. These dimension changes — which upon first glance are well-considered, not too drastic but enough to make a difference, both tangibly and mentally — will shake things up. And that’s good. One thing we can all agree upon is that whatever the Mariners have been doing, it’s not working.

On Sunday, I wrote that the Mariners needed to find a way to make themselves relevant again. This is a necessary first step.

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