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

June 28, 2011 at 10:33 AM

Please, let’s not start with the payroll excuses already for why Mariners won’t take their shot

On Geoff Baker Live! last night (seen in the video below), I sort of took issue with the whole idea the M’s can’t “afford” any mid-season add-ons. Sounds like excuse-making for doing nothing. Eric Wedge discussed, again, the fact that his team hasn’t been stringing together hits in multiple innings. We saw it again last night. Mike Carp came through with two hits tonight, including a needed double. We talked about Carp on the show and how he needs to make the most of this limited playing time. A viewer asked me why Ichiro is “never held accountable.” I tried to answer as best I could. Somebody asked whether there’s a chance Erik Bedard might re-sign here. Another viewer asked me about the differences between Eric Wedge and the success Don Wakamatsu had as manager in 2009.
On to the post…
The Mariners PR department has started incorporating stats into their nightly packages showing this year’s group of Seattle starting pitchers is on-pace to shatter a 21-year-old franchise record for ERA and also post the eighth best strikeout total in MLB history.
Well, that’s great. Baseball folk like to talk about how pitching and defense is the most important element of a team to get right.
Looks like the M’s have it right. But now, with the offense in need of a fix, we get a report yesterday from Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle stating that the Mariners are not prepared to add to payroll to bolster this team’s offense for a playoff push. Now, don’t shoot the messenger. Drayer was merely reporting what she’d been told by her sources.
But if that’s the case — that the Mariners don’t want to spend more than the $93.5 million or so they’ve allocated to the team ($5.5 million of that going to the salaries of since-departed Carlos Silva and Yuniesky Betancourt), then let’s call it for what it is. A baseball team not wanting to spend more. Let’s please not disguise it as some type of fiscal prudence designed to continue the fragile “rebuilding plan” that would be threatened by, you know, winning a World Series right now.
And yeah, if these M’s ever won this pathetic AL West, they’d have a very good shot at a World Series because of their pitching.
So, those are the stakes here. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. This is not the same as in 2009 when the Mariners refused to bolster another anemic offense, but had a pitching staff primarily carried by Felix Hernandez and Jarrod Washburn. This year’s staff is being carried by all five guys in the rotation. I’m not the one putting out booster stats in my nightly packages about how historically good this starting rotation is. The Mariners themselves are doing it.
So, why won’t this team boost payroll if needed? At least, according to Drayer. No team official has come out and directly said this.
But I’ll take her word for it. Because it’s true, the team will have to spend more than $1 million on Erik Bedard this year. He’s been that good and his contract does contain roughly $6 million in incentives. But that’s good news. You don’t sign players in order to bet against yourself and hope they fail so you can save money. That’s nuts.
And now that Bedard is succeeding, the team has to do all it can to help the rest of the club succeed. That won’t happen with the run or two per game this team has been scoring the past few weeks with a few exceptions sprinkled in.
As we wrote yesterday, this offense doesn’t need to be great. Doesn’t need to score even a pretty good 800 runs in a season like the 2002 Oakland A’s. It just needs to score a below average four runs per game. Needs a boost from somebody — either in-house or beyond — in left field, at third base and at DH. In at least two of those three spots, if not all three.
But this is what contending teams do. They go out and get fixes. What would a “fix” be right now? Well, to start, anyone hitting better than .220.
If the M’s want to tie one hand behind GM Jack Zduriencik’s back by trotting out the old payroll line, hey, it’s their team. It’s their money. But I’m not going to sit here, laugh it off and tell you, heck, it’s really OK. Not going to try to convince you that “going for it” now would scuttle the rebuilding effort and the best thing is to “stay the course” and try to contend in 2012 or 2013 instead of doing it right now when you have the chance.
I’ll let others in the media tell you that. Or, the Mariners themselves.
Because if you ask me the question, I’ll tell you this is a team that cut payroll after 2008 and hasn’t gone back to the same levels since. A team that continues to turn a yearly profit in an industry where yearly profits and winning don’t always go hand-in-hand. (The real money-making in pro sports is long-term, by cashing out on the team and stadium’s overall value accrual as well as the tax writeoffs associated with any other business interests of a team owner).
I’ll tell you that, no matter how well this long-term rebuilding goes, this team may never have a rotation that produces results this good again (the Mariners themselves are telling us that in their aforementioned PR packaging). That any rebuilding plan where even secondary farm prospects are off-limits is probably not all that great to begin with.
Let’s be real. If the Mariners stand-pat and do nothing between now and the deadline, or settle for some mediocre salary-for-salary deal, it will be to save money. Yeah, the deal might help the team — which is still better than nothing. But will it be the best deal out there?
And again, yes, I know we’re going through hard economic times. I realize that millionaire and billionaire owners all over the sports landscape are cutting costs. And if the Mariners hold firm on payroll, they won’t be the only ones doing it.
Just don’t package it up with a neat little ribbon and bow and try to sell it as “prudent rebuilding” long-term.
Because I would be remiss if I didn’t point out once again what we wrote in this newspaper and blog space 10 months ago about why the Mariners find themselves tied in knots to begin with.
Photo Credit: Jim Bates/Seattle Times

You’ll remember our paper’s Bottoming Out series , which looked at the state of Seattle’s major teams and how they all found themselves in various stages of mess-repair. The writers covering the Mariners, Seahawks and Huskies football team were asked to submit a list of five reasons why those clubs had bottomed out.
One of my reasons was the way the Mariners devoted nearly one-third of their on-field payroll to two leadoff-type hitters in Ichiro and Chone Figgins.
We compared the percentage of total payroll (including players already gone) those two hitters combined were taking up — 29 percent — to what the other highest-paid position players were bringing in on other teams. And the only guys taking up that much of the total payroll elsewhere were power-hitting types. The exact type of hitters these Mariners lack.
To quote from the story itself: Twins sluggers Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau take up 27 percent of payroll. Phillies stars (Ryan) Howard and Chase Utley take up 24 percent. Yankees hitters A-Rod and Mark Teixeira account for 25 percent.
And again, I’m not blaming Ichiro or Figgins for this. The Mariners gave them what they gave them and they wisely took the money. But as my accompanying blog post stated, the only way the Mariners were going to avoid a repeat of their offensive woes this season was to increase payroll to erase some of that disproportion.
Didn’t happen.
So, now, you have a team that can’t hit, with nearly a third of the (on-field) payroll taken up by two leadoff-hitting types positioned in spots (third base and right field) traditionally reserved for power hitters.
That puts you behind the eight ball right there.
And it’s not like no one ever saw this coming.
Marlins president David Samson ripped the Ichiro contract extension when the numbers first came out in 2007. Initial reports had it at $20 million per season instead of the $18 million per year it actually is, but that doesn’t really change the gist of Samson’s complaints.
“It’s a joke. It’s inexcusable. It’s complete mismanagement. It can’t be true,” Samson said. “I am speechless by that contract. I’m hoping that report is false, because there’s no chance a top-of-the-lineup guy — forget that, anybody — is worth that much. And Ichiro, who’s led his team to zero, nothing?”
Mariners GM Bill Bavasi for once endeared himself to M’s fans at the time by retorting:
“My mother always taught me that if the only thing you have to say is, ‘(Expletive) Dave Samson,’ then don’t say anything at all. So I’m not going to say anything at all. Is my mother the greatest or what?”
I’ve got to say, I loved Bavasi’s reply back then because, after what Samson and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria pulled in helping ruin MLB in my home city of Montreal. I was glad to see Samson take a shot to the chin. And some of Samson’s hyperbole about how the contract would ruin baseball was a bit over the top.
But who’s getting the last laugh now?
The Mariners can’t hit. They’re wasting the best starting pitching they’ve had in franchise history and now — through anonymous leaks to media members — they’re hinting that they can’t spend any more money because of Bedard’s contract, ignoring that a third of on-field payroll is tied up in two leadoff men.
Again, not Ichiro’s fault. I saw Carlos Delgado go through this exact same thing in Toronto a decade ago. After a monster 2000 season, the Blue Jays gave Delgado a four-year, $68 million contract on a team where the payroll was already up near $80 million and seemed on-track to go to $100 million.
Then, it all stopped.
Instead of rounding out the roster with a supporting cast for Delgado, the Blue Jays fired the GM, hired J.P. Ricciardi and cut payroll to around $50 million per season. They turned Delgado into an albatross overnight. They packaged the whole thing up with ribbon and bow, called it “Moneyball” and proclaimed that their cutting-edge stats-analysis and five-year plan would lead them to the promised land while spending a fraction of what their division competitors were.
Never happened.
The team kept finishing third — or last, as they did one year — while spending peanuts until Delgado left at the end of 2004, bitter at being portrayed as the financial scapegoat for the team’s woes. In the meantime, behind-the-scenes, the team was playing a years-long game of “chicken” with their ballpark landlord to see who would blink first. The landlord was losing money year after year on running the SkyDome because it didn’t own the team. And the team was losing money because it didn’t own the ballpark and have access to lucrative concessions, advertising and parking fees.
But the landlord had its stadium price and the team had theirs. Finally, after years of mediocre, inadequately-financed baseball in Toronto, by an ownership trying to spend as little as it could get away with while awaiting a resolution of its stadium stalemate, the landlord blinked first. It sold the SkyDome to the Blue Jays and their cable conglomerate ownership for pennies on the dollar.
The team responded by going out and spending more money. Bye, bye to Moneyball, hello A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan.
Now, the Blue Jays didn’t spend the new money all that well, but that’s another story. This is merely to show you that not all of the decision-making that gets passed off as “solid baseball reasoning” in this sport is really about what’s happening on the field.
Just something to consider the next time you hear that the reason the Mariners won’t “go for it” and try to bring in players to fix the offense is because it would disrupt the precious five-year (or whatever it is) rebuilding plan. You’ll hear talk about how Bavasi squandered Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera because he mistakenly believed he was close to contending in 2006. As if that team had pitching anywhere near as good as this current squad.
You’ll hear about how the 5-for-1 Bedard trade was a bust. As if that 2008 team had pitching this good. As if the Bedard deal, a pre-season move, was the same as an in-season trade designed to improve a team already contending. This is a completely different animal. And it would be orchestrated by a completely different GM.
But anyway, in the end, it is the team’s money and the team’s right to spend it any way it sees fit.
Just don’t ask me for the ribbon and bow to sell it with.
Don’t ask for my help in allowing this team to do nothing so the Mariners can fall out of the race and Bedard can be dealt for future prospects.
Others can do that bit of dirty work. And who knows, maybe come 2012 or 2013, the Mariners can still contend and those strategy-sellers can claim to have been “right” all along.
Still doesn’t change the fact this team has a chance to win in 2011. And that winning this year won’t prevent the team from doing it again in 2012 and 2013.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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