ADDITIONAL NOTE: Just in case you missed it, above is a link to this morning’s Talkin’ Baseball segment with host Mitch Levy on Sports Radio KJR. Just FYI, I will be hosting another hour-long phone-in show on the Mariners tomorrow night at 7 p.m. PT on KJR.
Work in this business for any length of time, you quickly learn about the gap that exists between what is said for public consumption and what actually is being done behind the scenes.
We had a couple of examples of that yesterday that everybody is still buzzing about this morning.
The first involves M’s president Chuck Armstrong saying the team had approached Ichiro multiple times this season about a contract extension. Many fans are now wondering why Armstrong would be so foolish as to say that out loud and whether Ichiro is actually a hero for saving the team from itself.
And the second involves team CEO Howard Lincoln responding yesterday to a rather bold question from Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle about whether the team is about to be put up for sale. Lincoln replied that the team is absolutely not for sale, which is 100 percent honest because the team is not technically up for sale yet.
What does it all mean? More on that in a minute.
First, though, let’s look at Armstrong. Is he nuts? I don’t think so. But words at this point are rather meaningless. The fact is, the Mariners just traded Ichiro. So, it doesn’t matter what Armstrong says at this point. Actions speak louder than words. Armstrong could come out and say he was about to have a 200-foot poster of Ichiro draped across the biggest apartment complex in Seattle and it wouldn’t matter now.
Could Armstrong have picked up the phone and asked Ichiro’s agent: “Hey, I guess we have to talk about next year at some point and whether your client wants a longer deal?”
Sure, he could have. Did the Mariners ever put an offer sheet on the table? If they did, shame on them. And kudos to Ichiro for recognizing what a mistake that would have been — not from a money standpoint, but a legacy one.
Bottom line: it doesn’t matter what gets said now. What you hear coming out of people’s mouths right now is designed for everybody to save a little face. Ichiro still has legions of fans in Seattle and the Mariners do not want to leave the impression they were going to tell him to take a hike this winter. They want to go along with the storyline that this was all about Ichiro making the right call to do a selfless act for the team. And I have no problem with that. The Ken Griffey Jr. debacle was a disaster for this franchise and this particular course with Ichiro is a far preferable one.
Who knows whether majority owner Hiroshi Yamauchi would have brought Ichiro back for multiple years? Who knows whether the M’s approached Ichiro’s agent and told him the only way he could return is in a diminished role with fewer at-bats through which to take a run at 3,000 hits? Maybe this really does all boil down to Ichiro seeing the writing on the wall and doing what other onetime superstars have done before — the right thing.
All I know is, whatever Armstrong says now for public consumption doesn’t matter. The Mariners don’t want people to think they ran Ichiro out of town because that can come back to bite them later. That much I do know.
Still not convinced? Still think that what is being said carries any real weight?
OK, just nine days ago, GM Jack Zduriencik caused a fuss when he told Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports that he expects Ichiro to return next year.
Yesterday, we learned that when Zduriencik made that comment, he was busy negotiating Ichiro’s trade out of town.
Pay less attention to words, more to action.
Now, as for Lincoln’s rebuttal to Drayer about a sale, first, I’ll head off some criticisms I’ve heard that Drayer’s questioning was “planted” by the Mariners so they could do the verbal equivalent of hitting a golf ball off a tee.
I do not believe that is the case, namely because I heard Drayer go on her station and express her belief beforehand that she felt the Ichiro trade is a significant indication that “perhaps, the next shoe to fall is that this team, at some point in the near future, will be put up for sale.” That she went out and actually asked the question at the news conference is a sign she was doing her job. Not that she was being used. Her question wasn’t something out of the blue. It was an extension of what she had just been talking about over the air. So, good for her.
Lincoln’s response? Again, it’s accurate. The team is not for sale.
Baseball teams aren’t like boats. You don’t just open the classified section of your local newspaper and see the heading: “Baseball team for sale in Seattle. At $850 million it’s the steal of a lifetime! Get a new TV deal thrown in, fresh paint and scoreboards on the stadium, low overhead and a 20-year spring training lease extension and remodeled facilities to-boot. Compare to $800 million Padres sale price and this can’t be beat. But act fast, before federal regulators put a halt to the Regional Sports Network cash cow!”
No, folks, that’s not how the process works and to insist otherwise is naive to say the least. The process is far more formal than that. Much more private and limited to an exclusive buyer-list. Oh yeah, and it doesn’t hapen overnight, even when nasty divorces are involved as we saw with the Dodgers. To do it right can take years of planning.
But there is at least one comparison that can be made to the sale of a boat, or, better yet, a house. You wouldn’t put your house up for sale before getting it freshly painted and re-designed in a way to attract maximum value. You also wouldn’t sell it when you know the smaller house up the street is about to sell for more money than you possibly dreamed you could get.
The $800 million sale of the Padres has been agreed to and is in the process of being formalized. Once that is done, the market for baseball teams and comparables to the Mariners will have been set even further. The Mariners will be worth more than the Padres — according to industry analysts — when all is said and done. So, that has to happen first.
Then, the Mariners need to get their business ducks in order. They are still in the process of doing that. The Ichiro contract is the latest big one to come off the team’s books. Chone Figgins will be next after 2013. Franklin Gutierrez will join him as well unless he can show the team something special in the next 1 1/3 seasons of baseball. All that would leave is Felix Hernandez through 2014 and that’s nothing any owner is going to quibble about.
The team has been making some notable improvements to Safeco Field. The spring training lease extension with major facilities upgrades is already in-place.
All that’s really left is the TV deal. Technically, negotiations don’t have to begin until 2015 at the earliest, but if you’re the Mariners and ROOT Sports, you probably want something figured out soon. If you’re the Mariners and can make a ton of money more than you currently are, you certainly want that deal re-done.
And once that is done, then, if you want to sell the team, you will have a nice, tidy package to offer somebody and which can be appraised appropriately based on market conditions. Not based on guesswork.
That is how these things work.
So, while Lincoln’s words are accurate, they mean little in the context of what is likely to happen to this team within the next two years when it comes the the majority ownership of Hiroshi Yamauchi and Nintendo of America.
I had one industry analyst tell me yesterday that the team would be nuts not sell based on what is happening right now in baseball. But that’s up to the Mariners to decide. Maybe 85-year-old Yamauchi (or the Nintendo of America holders of his stake), Chris Larson and company really do feel they have what it takes to see this thing through another 10 years. Their call, not mine. I can only give you what I feel is likely to happen.
What can we stay focused on in the interim besides words?
Let’s see what the Mariners do with the Ichiro money that is off the books for 2013. Does that money get re-invested into player payroll? As of right now, the team has $2.25 million coming off its budget for this season alone based on what the Yankees picked up in Ichiro’s salary. That gives the Mariners at least some room to pick up pieces that could marginally help the current club stay afloat with its tide of struggling youngsters.
As for next season, will the payroll increase, or will it keep dropping? All things worth keeping an eye on.
What isn’t worth keeping an eye on are words trotted out for public consumption.
We all paid a ton of attention to Lincoln’s “Hot Seat” comments at the end of the 2006 season. He then put himself on his own “Hot Seat” at the end of 2008. Well, we’re approaching the end of 2012.
It’s time to pay attention to actions rather than words.