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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

March 3, 2007 at 7:41 AM

Mariners awash in cash

Great news for Mariners fans as the weekend rolls in. No, the team didn’t just sign a top-of-the-rotation arm, or get itself a better bench. It also didn’t lock up Felix Hernandez to a longer deal to avoid getting dinged in his arbitration years. Turns out, the club might not have to worry about getting burned a little on a few arbitration payouts to Hernandez starting in 2009, to Jose Lopez starting next spring, or to anyone else for quite some time.
Documents filed with Washington State’s MLB Stadium Public Facilities District (PFD) showed the club turned a $23.3 million profit last season. Say what? Yes, you heard right, $23.3 million. Now, that’s a chunk of change. Maybe not New York Yankees change, but enough for team CEO Howard Lincoln to fill up a bathtub, get out his scrub brush and roll around happily in for quite some time to come.
Truth is, Lincoln deserves credit for helping keep the team’s coffers this full. And there’s nothing wrong with a baseball team having money. This is, after all, a business and if a team’s finances are in order, it can only make fans happier in the long run.
Now, make sure you read this right. Nobody is saying Lincoln is a shrewd baseball executive. He’s no George Steinbrenner, as witnessed by the Yankees’ playoff participation every year since Lincoln and company allowed Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez to leave town. But a team having money is always good news for fans.
At the very least, it has allowed the Mariners to enter 2007 with a payroll of $111 million. Believe me, even if some of that money is tied up in payouts to past players, that’s a huge payroll. I spent years in Toronto watching a billionaire owner nickel and dime his way on a $50 million payroll just so he could win a war of attrition to assume full control over that city’s baseball stadium and make even more money than he already was.
At the very least, Mariners fans now know that if everything goes wrong in 2007, the team’s ownership has no excuse for slashing payroll in half and going with only low-cost prospects in a five-year rebuilding plan. There is money here, folks. The Mariners just have to figure out how to spend it. But to their credit, they do keep spending it. No, they didn’t spend it on a posting fee for Daisuke Matsuzaka. And no, they didn’t try to trump the San Francisco Giants for Barry Zito. Were those the right moves? We’ll know soon enough.
As I said before, this franchise is far from perfect. But it’s a wealthy far from perfect and that allows it to cover up some mistakes. It buys the team some time as it tries to figure out how to stop the exodus of fans from Safeco Field.
Winning would help. And when you spend $111 million, there really is no excuse for a team to win fewer games than it loses. If that winning doesn’t start this season, it really is time to start changing the people in charge of dispensing the change. And if the winning does begin in 2007, there is no longer any reason not to open the piggy bank for a mid-season player addition.
Yes, much of this money is coming from MLB’s sale of the Washington Nationals and lucrative television deals. The payouts to teams might not be — in fact, they likely won’t be — this big every year.
And yes, the team still does have about $68 million left over in operating losses incurred over the latter part of the 1990s. But don’t ever buy that as a sob-story. Think of it as being like the mortgage on a house. A very low mortgage. This ownership could sell the team tomorrow and recover all of that money several times over.
In closing, there is no bad news here. Perhaps only for GM Bill Bavasi, who really does have to start generating a far better return on all of this money. If not, there are plenty of other stockbrokers…er, general-managers-in-waiting out there who would love to take a crack at this portfolio.
Off to the clubhouse. No manager interviews this morning. Seems Mike Hargrove is out at a softball game being held for the team’s owners. You can bet, with this week’s news, he won’t be the one buying the hot dogs and lemonade.



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