This item came out over the weekend while I wasn’t here, but the Mariners have reported a profit of $5.86 million for the 2012 season, despite an 87-loss campaign and plummeting attendance.
The team is required to report annual profits and losses to the Public Facilities District board as part of its Safeco Field lease agreement, which runs through 2018. A big reason the team was able to turn the profit trick despite all the losing?
Well, that would be its continued lowering of annual payroll. As we wrote back in January, the Mariners ended 2012 with a 40-man roster payroll of $84.4 million — as first reported by the Associated Press — compared to $98 million in 2011. When you lop more than $13 million off payroll from one year to the next, it can help you withstand pretty significant attendance declines.
The team was at $102.3 million at the end of Jack Zduriencik’s first year as GM in 2009. The year prior, in 2008, they spent just over $120 million.
The Mariners have actually turned profits just about every year since moving in to Safeco Field — with the exception of that big spending year in 2008, when they lost 101 games. Since declaring a $4.53 million loss in 2008, the team has not operated at a deficit since. Even last year’s declared $7.3 million operating loss for 2011 was a bit misleading, as we wrote a year ago as spring training ended.
The fact is, the team spent $9 million on stadium upgrades that helped create the operating deficit. Even though the upgrades should — in theory — help improve the value of the franchise long-term. It was a onetime special expense and without it, the Mariners would have continued to operate at a profit despite losing 95 games in 2011.
Sounds like a pretty good plan. Except, of course, for all the losing.
Yeah, if you ignore all the losses on the field, the Mariners have a darned good business plan that continues to enable them to make money at the worst of times while long-term franchise value grows exponentially in the face of a pending ownership transfer of some sort and/or the chance at a lucrative new local television deal no later than 2015.
And that’s kind of why, to me, the team’s decision to bring in at least some experienced bats this winter in a bid to upgrade the offense is a good thing. Heck, I think the team should have done more a year ago to better the last place squad.
Even if the Mariners finish no better than fourth, they should at least be competitive to a degree and not already out of any semblance of a race come June. There is no law that says a team has to rebuild and be absolutely terrible for years at a time. Teams are allowed to rebuild and look halfway decent at the same time.
The team’s off-season moves this winter have at least created some competition for jobs this spring and assured that players won’t be handed starting positions simply by showing up for camp. No, it’s not the total answer. As of right now, the decision to trade for the contracts of Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse could take payroll back over $90 million while making the team better. I said could take payroll that high because there is no guarantee Morse and Morales will still be here at season’s end.
After all, the team generated last year’s profit, in part, by trading Ichiro and Brandon League at the all-star break for low cost minor leaguers. Those two players alone made $23 million between them and the Mariners have not replaced those salaries by bringing in players of equivalent monetary valiue. Next winter, the $9 million still being paid to Chone Figgins comes off the books as well, which will leave the Mariners positioned to again field a team wih a sub-$100 million payroll in a division where the Angels and Rangers spend well above that nine-figure amount.
Which, as I said, would be great if the Mariners were actually contending for something like the Oakland A’s or Baltimore Orioles last year. Problem is, the Mariners have not contended. They have lost 87 games or more for three years running. Perhaps this year will be different. But even a .500 season, which I think is doable and preferable to the sad squads of the past, will still leave the question of how much more competitive the team would have been if some of the profits had been used towards a higher payroll and even stronger squad.
As improved as the Mariners could be on offense, they are still lacking in some key areas like rotation and bullpen depth.
Anyhow, it is what it is for now. And what the sport of baseball continues to be in Seattle, despite all the attendance drops, is a lucrative and profitable venture for all owners involved.