BY Art Thiel 07:53PM 10/03/2012

Thiel: Fixing fences is lame patch for Mariners

The Mariners finished 75-87, last in AL West. The Oakland A’s, with baseball’s smallest payroll, finished first, 94-68. At least the Rangers and Angels can share the shame.

Safeco Field is a great place to watch a game. Crappy old Oakland Coliseum will be a great place to watch playoff baseball. / Wiki Commons

Best news for the Mariners this week: The Oakland A’s won the American League West.

That means the Mariners do not stand naked and alone on the national stage of baseball humiliation. They are naked with the Angels and Rangers, who also were stripped by the same rag-tag, low-rent, no-money, crappy-stadium, fan-forsaken outfit that is so mud-fencepost ugly that successful motion pictures are made about the A’s.

Perhaps the mere sharing of humiliation doesn’t sound like good news to you. Perhaps you thought the best news of the week was moving the fences in so Mariners hitters no longer need the Hubble Telescope to see the advertising signs.

But given the multitude of other issues facing the Mariners, altering the fences is a little like putting whipped cream on Spam.

The shrunken dimensions will make no Mariner a better hitter, even if, as with whipped cream, it seems better. Nor will outcomes necessarily improve. Whatever power numbers that might go up can be nearly offset by the decline in Seattle pitching effectiveness.

The park has been an extreme pitcher’s park by design. What has changed is baseball, and what hasn’t changed is the club’s top management.

Safeco was designed in 1997 at the height of the steroid era when Ken Griffey Jr. was winning the MVP award in the Kingdome. That year, baseball averaged 4.77 runs a game, compared to 4.33 in 2012. The average batting average was .267, today .255. While some immeasurable part is due to more regulation of PEDs, it’s also true that pitchers today are simply bigger, stronger, more informed and better trained than 15 years ago.

The Mariners bosses designed Safeco to be more fair than the Kingdome’s bandbox dimensions, but didn’t apparently calculate for climate, improvement in pitching and failure in their ability to turn the additional revenues into sustained baseball success.

Since we’re talking about 1997, despite the small sample size, it is amusing to make a quick comparison in power production, in light of the murmur of approval that greeted third baseman Kyle Seager’s unexpected arrival at 20 homers this season.

Griffey hit 56, Jay Buhner 40, Paul Sorrento 31, Edgar Martinez 28, Alex Rodriguez 23 and Russ Davis 20. Together the Mariners hit 264 home runs, which was, and remains, the single-season MLB record, to hell with the Bronx Bombers.

That team won one playoff game.

The Mariners knew they were short of pitching heading into the new park. So they began remake the roster. Only they didn’t do it fast enough or well enough, on multiple levels.

Heading into Wednesday’s final game, the pitching-healthy Mariners had 148 homers and scored 607 runs compared to the 264 and 925 of 1997. And the Mariners are happy the the 2012 numbers are a couple ticks up from the previous years’ anemia.

Despite the season’s modest improvements, the Mariners remain last in the American League in batting average, runs, hits, total bases, RBI, slugging and on-base percentages. The only improvement, ironically, was in home runs, from 109 to 149.

Which brings us back to Oakland. The A’s are 13th in average, 12th in hits and 12th in on base percentage, yet won six of their last seven against Texas, including a 12-5 victory Wednesday after trailing 5-1, to take the AL West with 94 wins. Seattle again finished last, with 75 wins, for the seventh time in nine years.

The A’s did it with baseball’s lowest payroll, with a manager, Bob Melvin, the Mariners fired, while turning over nearly half the roster, and came from 13 games back of the division in June. At that date, the Mariners were 16.5 back of the Rangers and regressed to 19 behind the A’s.

What the A’s accomplished is the best team story in baseball this year. What they did to the Mariners, relative to resources, is shopping-bag-over-the-head embarrassing.

The Mariners response was to jump into the season-ending excitement with word that they were going to make over part of the ballpark. Not the franchise, the management or even the roster. The fences.

As expensive as 2x4s have become, they’re a lot cheaper than hiring Prince Fielder.

Before the game on getaway day, Wedge held court in his office with reporters, fielding bigger-picture questions. Naturally, he was more optimistic than his 75-87 record would warrant. Asked if he imparted a final theme to his players, he said, “I want them to understand how good they’re going to be in the future. I don’t say that without reason. People who don’t see that, don’t choose to see it.

“We’re a better team. That’s a fact. We’re going to continue to get better. You can see they’re on that path. Championships don’t come easy.”

Having never seen one in the Mariners’ 35-year history, that last statement rings true. But the contention that skeptical fans “don’t choose to see it” rings a little hollow simply because they’ve watched teams like the A’s, Orioles and Nationals rise up while the Mariners flatline.

So I asked Wedge whether what the bosses were ready to commit resources to make his rhetoric a reality.

“That’s a slippery slope,” he said, drawing laughs, “but a good question.”

Squirming, he dodged any substantive answer.

“The first thing to come to mind is to get better offensively,” he said. “That is ideal. Without looking at free agent possibilities or the trade market, you can’t dive into it. A veteran presence in the middle of the lineup would be great. Easier said than done.”

Baseball fans knew that three years ago. Still hasn’t happened. The point wasn’t to be specific about a need as much as to offer Wedge an opening to a simple declarative statement of intent, like:

“Whatever it takes, we’ll do. Including fixing the fences.”

Instead, the bet is here that it will be merely fixing the fences.

The park may change, the game may change, but the constant over the last decade has been the franchise’s ability to finish last. Asked after Wednesday’s 12-0 win whether Oakland’s success gives hope to the Mariners, Wedge was dismissive.

“Oakland is a completely different club and situation,” he said. “We’re building to the point where we can sustain it. We want to get there and stay there.”

So that’s why the the fences are being changed.

Yes, bringing the fences has the practical virtue of getting closer to a balance between pitching and hitting. But it doesn’t bring Seattle closer to Florida, Texas, Arizona and Southern California, where veteran players with options prefer to live with their families in the off-season, and doesn’t make seasonal travel easier with a second divisional team in the Central time zone starting in 2013.

Much must be overcome in Seattle for baseball to succeed. Just as was the case in Oakland, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.  Takes more than managerial optimism.

Wedge knows it as well as anyone. But to say so, well, as he said, it’s a slippery slope.

MARINERS FINALE GRAND — The Mariners saved one of the biggest for the last Wednesday, grinding up the listless Angels 12-0 behind Blake Beavan’s seven-hit shutout over eight innings in which he struck out one and walked none. The teams were the only ones out of contention in the AL West, but the Mariners have had more experience in meaninglessness. . . . It was the largest margin of victory over the Angels since 1987 . . .  Casper Wells had a three-run homer as part of a six-run seventh inning. He, Kyle Seager, Trayvon Robinson and Jesus Montero each had a pair of hits . . . Cy Young candidate Jared Weaver gave up two runs in the first inning and was pulled for reasons of fatigue, dropping his record to 20-5, with three losses to the Mariners . . . The final crowd of 15,614 gave the Mariners a season-crowd total of 1,723,286, a drop of 173,650 from last season’s Safeco-record low.


YourThoughts

  • Michael Kaiser

    “Oakland is a completely different club and situation,” [Wedge] said. “We’re building to the point where we can sustain it. We want to get there and stay there.”
    Oakland has a winning mentality. More or less always has. “Sustain it?” The Mariners think they are in position to teach, or show, Oakland something? And Oakland plays in the worst park in the league–kind of like a poorer, outdoor version of the Kingdome for those who have not been there. And you want to talk about cold, marine (or whatever) air? In fact, I would not be surprised if San Francisco (where the park can feel in late July like Seattle in late November) plays Oakland in the World Series.
    Wedge also says, “We’re a better team. That’s a fact. We’re going to continue to get better. You can see they’re on that path. Championships don’t come easy.” I did not even have to read your next statement to start laughing my head off when I read this part of Wedge’s soliloquy. “You can see they’re on that path?” Who can see it? Someone with vision quite beyond mine.

    Oh, and on those homer totals from the 1997 Mariners. Always have found Buhner’s numbers highly suspect. Wonder if he will ever come clean. Or maybe I am wrong. Maybe.
    And so you don’t think William Holland Caudill or Chris Bosio were in as good a shape as many of today’s pitchers? Shame on you.
    You know, I do love the Mariners, regardless of my ripping on them. In fact, that is probably why I do rip on them. It is so much fun. And justified.

    • art thiel

      Your last line is restorative, Michael. A lot (less than before, but a lot) of people care about the Mariners. That’s why you, and they, write. They’re disappointed as if the club were a wayward child that should know better.

      But Sorrento with 31 Hrs? Still don’t believe it.

  • Michael Kaiser

    “Oakland is a completely different club and situation,” [Wedge] said. “We’re building to the point where we can sustain it. We want to get there and stay there.”
    Oakland has a winning mentality. More or less always has. “Sustain it?” The Mariners think they are in position to teach, or show, Oakland something? And Oakland plays in the worst park in the league–kind of like a poorer, outdoor version of the Kingdome for those who have not been there. And you want to talk about cold, marine (or whatever) air? In fact, I would not be surprised if San Francisco (where the park can feel in late July like Seattle in late November) plays Oakland in the World Series.
    Wedge also says, “We’re a better team. That’s a fact. We’re going to continue to get better. You can see they’re on that path. Championships don’t come easy.” I did not even have to read your next statement to start laughing my head off when I read this part of Wedge’s soliloquy. “You can see they’re on that path?” Who can see it? Someone with vision quite beyond mine.

    Oh, and on those homer totals from the 1997 Mariners. Always have found Buhner’s numbers highly suspect. Wonder if he will ever come clean. Or maybe I am wrong. Maybe.
    And so you don’t think William Holland Caudill or Chris Bosio were in as good a shape as many of today’s pitchers? Shame on you.
    You know, I do love the Mariners, regardless of my ripping on them. In fact, that is probably why I do rip on them. It is so much fun. And justified.

    • art thiel

      Your last line is restorative, Michael. A lot (less than before, but a lot) of people care about the Mariners. That’s why you, and they, write. They’re disappointed as if the club were a wayward child that should know better.

      But Sorrento with 31 Hrs? Still don’t believe it.

  • Will

    So, if they tear down Safeco and rebuild the Kingdome, are you saying there might be a slim chance for the Mariners to win something?

    • art thiel

      What a great idea! I’ve done enough remodeling projects to know that once you start one, you might as well do the whole house. Home Depot I’m sure would love it and be the title sponsor. Home DepoDome

      • art thiel

        Even better is the nickname: HoDeDo

        • Will

          HoDeDo – Catch the fever! Love it.

    • art thiel

      Of course. Same applies to the Second Mercer Mess. Please bring back the first.

  • Will

    So, if they tear down Safeco and rebuild the Kingdome, are you saying there might be a slim chance for the Mariners to win something?

    • art thiel

      What a great idea! I’ve done enough remodeling projects to know that once you start one, you might as well do the whole house. Home Depot I’m sure would love it and be the title sponsor. Home DepoDome

      • art thiel

        Even better is the nickname: HoDeDo

        • Will

          HoDeDo – Catch the fever! Love it.

    • art thiel

      Of course. Same applies to the Second Mercer Mess. Please bring back the first.

  • dinglenuts

    Mmmm. Spam and whipped cream. Back up the truck.
    You’re right though, Art. They’re painting the front door of a house that needs to be torn down and rebuilt.

    • art thiel

      Pardon me if I prefer whipped cream and Spam to the term “rebuild.”

  • dinglenuts

    Mmmm. Spam and whipped cream. Back up the truck.
    You’re right though, Art. They’re painting the front door of a house that needs to be torn down and rebuilt.

    • art thiel

      Pardon me if I prefer whipped cream and Spam to the term “rebuild.”

  • Tian Biao

    The timing of the fences announcement is curious; it’s like Ms brass is trying to upstage the As or something. The As win the pennant, the Tigers produce a triple crown winner, and the Mariners? they fuss with the fences. But it is typical Ms: a cheap, phony feel-good move that will do nothing whatsoever to help the team win.

    • art thiel

      It’s going to help a little, players are always the answer.

  • Tian Biao

    The timing of the fences announcement is curious; it’s like Ms brass is trying to upstage the As or something. The As win the pennant, the Tigers produce a triple crown winner, and the Mariners? they fuss with the fences. But it is typical Ms: a cheap, phony feel-good move that will do nothing whatsoever to help the team win.

    • art thiel

      It’s going to help a little, players are always the answer.

  • RadioGuy

    I’m still trying to reconcile how artificially altering the dimensions of Safeco Field is going to equate with better (i.e., “winning”) baseball. Is losing a 6-5 games better than losing 2-1 games? How is bringing the fences in going to help Jason Vargas put his pet gopher on a Nutrisystem diet?

    I don’t mind seeing the fences brought in, but the team is only addressing the symptom, not the cause.

  • RadioGuy

    I’m still trying to reconcile how artificially altering the dimensions of Safeco Field is going to equate with better (i.e., “winning”) baseball. Is losing a 6-5 games better than losing 2-1 games? How is bringing the fences in going to help Jason Vargas put his pet gopher on a Nutrisystem diet?

    I don’t mind seeing the fences brought in, but the team is only addressing the symptom, not the cause.

  • jafabian

    Since Pat Gillick left the club the M’s have been going after the wrong kind of players to succeed at Safeco Field. I thought Jack Z. had the right idea by saying he believes in Sabermetrics but his work hasn’t translated into that kind of success. Still think as a GM he’s a great scout. Just like Dick Balderson.

    Also, IMO ownership keeps thinking they can duplicate 2001′s success and find another Bret Boone for cheap or get a John Olerund or Aaron Sele to take their offer over other teams. They need to realize those were exceptions and not the norm.

    A lot of the current club should follow Michael Saunders example. He figured out how to use the field to his strengths. The power will come later as pitchers pitch to you more honestly. Still see players swinging for the fences when they have no business doing so. A lot of times just moving the runner over is just as good.

  • jafabian

    Since Pat Gillick left the club the M’s have been going after the wrong kind of players to succeed at Safeco Field. I thought Jack Z. had the right idea by saying he believes in Sabermetrics but his work hasn’t translated into that kind of success. Still think as a GM he’s a great scout. Just like Dick Balderson.

    Also, IMO ownership keeps thinking they can duplicate 2001′s success and find another Bret Boone for cheap or get a John Olerund or Aaron Sele to take their offer over other teams. They need to realize those were exceptions and not the norm.

    A lot of the current club should follow Michael Saunders example. He figured out how to use the field to his strengths. The power will come later as pitchers pitch to you more honestly. Still see players swinging for the fences when they have no business doing so. A lot of times just moving the runner over is just as good.

  • Big

    We all know what the problem is the Mariners don’t have a hammer. A good one cost money. Mariner’s get a hammer.

    I love the A’s and how they succeed in the Bay Area with a dump of a ball park, low attendance, and a thin wallet.

    • art thiel

      The A’s have become the anti-M’s.

      • RadioGuy

        Except for the “low attendance” part. We’re right down there with Oakland in that category. The Mariners drew less than 18,000 for each of their final nine games (and only once since September 3). For the year, Seattle averaged maybe 500 more fans per opening than the A’s did.

        Why stop at bringing in the fences? Let’s get faster hydros on the scoreboards (but with piston engines, not turbines…they make more noise), give the Moose a bigger ATV to ride around the warning track and bring in Twyla Tharp to work with the groundskeepers on their dance moves. Who needs better baseball when you can just add more bells and whistles?

  • Big

    We all know what the problem is the Mariners don’t have a hammer. A good one cost money. Mariner’s get a hammer.

    I love the A’s and how they succeed in the Bay Area with a dump of a ball park, low attendance, and a thin wallet.

    • art thiel

      The A’s have become the anti-M’s.

      • RadioGuy

        Except for the “low attendance” part. We’re right down there with Oakland in that category. The Mariners drew less than 18,000 for each of their final nine games (and only once since September 3). For the year, Seattle averaged maybe 500 more fans per opening than the A’s did.

        Why stop at bringing in the fences? Let’s get faster hydros on the scoreboards (but with piston engines, not turbines…they make more noise), give the Moose a bigger ATV to ride around the warning track and bring in Twyla Tharp to work with the groundskeepers on their dance moves. Who needs better baseball when you can just add more bells and whistles?

  • effzee

    I think its funny that some people think this will make them more willing to go sign a bat. Did they increase payroll or get rid of Howie and Chuckles or something? No, moving in the fences is going to provide them with the perfect excuse to NOT sign a big bat for the middle of the lineup. Can’t you just hear it now? “We didn’t feel the need to make any major off-season moves this year because we feel that the changes to the dimensions at Safeco Field are going to help the fans have a more entertaining exper…. Oops… Errr… Was I speaking into a mic again? Really? What I meant, of course, was that we strongly believe the changes to the dimensions at Safeco Field are going to help the players we are committed to reach their full potential. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”

  • effzee

    I think its funny that some people think this will make them more willing to go sign a bat. Did they increase payroll or get rid of Howie and Chuckles or something? No, moving in the fences is going to provide them with the perfect excuse to NOT sign a big bat for the middle of the lineup. Can’t you just hear it now? “We didn’t feel the need to make any major off-season moves this year because we feel that the changes to the dimensions at Safeco Field are going to help the fans have a more entertaining exper…. Oops… Errr… Was I speaking into a mic again? Really? What I meant, of course, was that we strongly believe the changes to the dimensions at Safeco Field are going to help the players we are committed to reach their full potential. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”

  • Bayview Herb

    The fences will be closer for the visiting teams as well.

  • Bayview Herb

    The fences will be closer for the visiting teams as well.

  • 1174

    Art, I think you might be giving Billy Beane and the A’s a little too much credit, at least this year. Going into their last 10 games, 6 of them against each other, the A’s as a team were batting about .235 and the Rangers about .275. For those 6 games the A’s hit .278 and the Rangers hit .238. I refuse to believe that was due to a bunch of A’s rookie and has been pitchers crushing the Rangers batters. The A’s were confident and the Rangers just plain choked. If you want to say that Beane’s genius is in building confident teams, OK, but they are certainly not this bunch of bargain basement players melded into a perfectly crafted team. Their offense stinks. Except when they need it. For the Rangers the problem is in crafting a team around a power hitter who swings at any low and outside pitch thrown to him, and suffers a massive loss of confidence when he strikes out. What monsters Hamilton and the Rangers would be if he could lay off that pitch. As to the sad sack M’s, well they are simply doomed until the Chuck and Howie show ends. And even then, the damage could last for decades. The problem is not one of A’s excellence so much as the incompetence and stupidity of their division opponents. Watch out for the Angels next year. Unless the A’s again play way over their heads, the Angels should walk away with it.

  • 1174

    Art, I think you might be giving Billy Beane and the A’s a little too much credit, at least this year. Going into their last 10 games, 6 of them against each other, the A’s as a team were batting about .235 and the Rangers about .275. For those 6 games the A’s hit .278 and the Rangers hit .238. I refuse to believe that was due to a bunch of A’s rookie and has been pitchers crushing the Rangers batters. The A’s were confident and the Rangers just plain choked. If you want to say that Beane’s genius is in building confident teams, OK, but they are certainly not this bunch of bargain basement players melded into a perfectly crafted team. Their offense stinks. Except when they need it. For the Rangers the problem is in crafting a team around a power hitter who swings at any low and outside pitch thrown to him, and suffers a massive loss of confidence when he strikes out. What monsters Hamilton and the Rangers would be if he could lay off that pitch. As to the sad sack M’s, well they are simply doomed until the Chuck and Howie show ends. And even then, the damage could last for decades. The problem is not one of A’s excellence so much as the incompetence and stupidity of their division opponents. Watch out for the Angels next year. Unless the A’s again play way over their heads, the Angels should walk away with it.