BY Art Thiel 07:00AM 09/26/2013

Thiel: The point of Mariners’ season: More inertia

Mariners signed vets to win games, brought up youngsters to help the future, and ended up doing little of either. And they’re as far away from playoffs as they’ve been in a decade.

What was “the plan” for 2013 — develop young players, win 85 games, both or neither?  And who pays the price for whatever it was? / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

Bashing CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong passed the point of futility years ago. Not that it wasn’t deserved; it simply wasn’t new, nor useful other than venting the rage that Mariners fans feel in the face of remorseless failure. So, for the benefit of Nintendo of America’s board of directors, let’s frame the discussion a different way, by asking this question:

What was the point of the 2013 season?

If the season was part of “the plan,” now in its fifth year under general manager Jack Zduriencik, what were the Mariners doing hiring veterans Mike Morse, Raul Ibanez, Endy Chavez, Jeremy Bonderman, Aaron Harang, Joe Saunders and Oliver Perez? I exclude Henry Blanco and Humberto Quintero because they were emergency hires filling an astounding void in the organization that had no adequate major league catcher between the failing Jesus Montero and the nearly-fresh-out-of-college Mike Zunino.

The veteran hires all had their moments, but the chief collective virtue seems to be that they were on one-year contracts as placeholders for youngsters in the pipeline.

If that was the case — and the strategy has seen general, albeit more limited, use throughout MLB — what were the Mariners doing the past winter attempting to hire for huge money slugger Josh Hamilton? His potential hire looks foolish now, but as I and others wrote last winter, it was foolish then. All it took was a Google search of Hamilton to find more red flags than the May Day parade in Beijing.

But as we know, the Mariners aren’t fond of search engines, otherwise they wouldn’t have been surprised when they traded for pitcher Josh Lueke in 2010, only to discover the pitcher had been convicted of sexual assault.  The evidence was all public domain.

Back to the hires they did make. If the purpose of hiring one-year vets was to hold places, why didn’t they keep them in their places? Instead, the Mariners called up Zunino, Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and pitcher Brandon Maurer to share the Dustin Ackley/Justin Smoak experience of being asked to do too much too soon.

They all had big games and big weeks. But not long ago in Mariners history, so did the pride of South Kitsap High, Willie Bloomquist. With the apparent exception of third baseman Kyle Seager, the Mariners’ young position-player hopefuls are in varying degrees of danger of becoming Bloomquist: Good enough to have a 12-year major league career with four teams, but never good enough to get 500 plate appearances a season even once.

The rushing of players tends to happen when the GM and manager need to prove progress to save their jobs. How is that part of “the plan”?

The roster mish-mash was not Astros-terrible (although the Mariners barely won the season series, 10-9 against the worst team in baseball). It was just good enough to lose more games in the opponent’s last at-bat than any in club history.

The immediate upshot was the eighth losing season in the past 10, which put the franchise in rare company. After the Pittsburgh Pirates this week clinched their return to the postseason for the first time since 1992, only two teams have been out of the postseason longer than the Mariners’ last appearance in 2001  — the Kansas City Royals (1985) and the the Toronto Blue Jays (1993).

The chart below shows that competitive parity has proved elusive for the Mariners.

Seasons Team Last appearance
27 Kansas City Royals 1985 World Series
20 Pittsburgh Pirates 1992 NLCS
19 Toronto Blue Jays 1993 World Series
11 Seattle Mariners 2001 ALCS
9 Miami Marlins 2003 World Series
7 Houston Astros 2005 World Series
6 San Diego Padres 2006 NLDS
6 New York Mets 2006 NLCS
5 Cleveland Indians 2007 ALCS
4 Chicago White Sox 2008 ALDS
4 Chicago Cubs 2008 NLDS
3 Boston Red Sox 2009 ALDS
3 Colorado Rockies 2009 NLDS
3 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 2009 ALCS
3 Los Angeles Dodgers 2009 NLCS
2 Minnesota Twins 2010 ALDS
1 Tampa Bay Rays 2011 ALDS
1 Arizona Diamondbacks 2011 NLDS
1 Philadelphia Phillies 2011 NLDS
1 Milwaukee Brewers 2011 NLCS
0 Texas Rangers 2012 AL Wild Card
0 Atlanta Braves 2012 NL Wild Card
0 Baltimore Orioles 2012 ALDS
0 Oakland Athletics 2012 ALDS
0 Cincinnati Reds 2012 NLDS
0 Washington Nationals 2012 NLDS
0 New York Yankees 2012 ALCS
0 St. Louis Cardinals 2012 NLCS
0 Detroit Tigers 2012 World Series
0 San Francisco Giants 2012 World Series

The Mariners operate in defiance of the effort toward parity, via revenue sharing, that has given more chances to more teams to reach the postseason than at any time since the expansion era began in 1961. Since Safeco Field came online in mid-1999 and the Mariners won 116 games in 2001 in their last postseason, the Astros, Marlins, Padres, Indians, Rockies, Twins, Rays, Brewers, Rangers and A’s — perennial non-powers — all made the playoffs at least once.

Safeco Field’s revenues should have made the Mariners a consistent contender throughout the early 21st century. Instead they produced results that were a strong echo of the pre-Yamauchi Kingdome days of epic grimness.

And yet, Mariners fans are asked to indulge a sixth year of “the plan,” at least if you believe the news this week from Armstrong that general manager Jack Zduriencik will be around to fulfill what has been reported to be a one-year extension.

What the hell is a one-year extension for a GM? Is it like a one-year contract for a player as a placeholder? Does it mean they already have a young guy in the pipeline? Or are they going to learn something about Zduriencik in the next year that they don’t already know? Or are they keeping him around to fire manager Eric Wedge, then can him? Or worse, canning Wedge and letting Zduriencik, after going 0-for-2 with managers, swing away again on a successor? And what proven manager would want to attempt a relationship with a GM that in 2014 will be walking on ball bearings?

Before the game against the Kansas City Royals Wednesday night, Wedge sounded off about his tenuous status.

“It’s tough. I feel like I’m hanging out there, that’s the reality of it,” Wedge said. “But I’m coming here and doing my job . . . We’ve done a lot of developing with a lot of young players over three years. I’d like to be here to lead them and turn the corner.

“I’m here to help these kids become good solid big league players and hopefully solid citizens in Seattle. So if that is not enough for them, then so be it.”

Presumably Wedge’s fate is up to Zduriencik, but it’s hard to know whether ownership believes in Zduriencik. A one-year extension solves nothing and actually makes matters worse. Even if next week Lincoln says the club is in for three more years with Zduriencik, why did they wait to announce it until after the club fell to a season-worst 21 games under .500? Why don’t they just light Zduriencik’s cigarette at a gas station?

The roster goofiness and the clumsiness with the club’s top management indicate yet another season lost to dithering.

To top it off, Lincoln told Puget Sound Business Journal that Redmond’s Nintendo of America, the owner of the club after the death of NOA’s former chairman, Hiroshi Yamauchi, “has no plans to sell” the franchise and Nintendo plans to continue its commitment.

Commitment? To what? A loss of half the team’s fan base since its 2002 peak? To being one of two Major League Baseball teams to never have played in the World Series? To be no closer to success than five years ago, or 10 years ago?

The season of 2013 was a commitment to inertia. Inertia will continue as long as the same people keep making the same mistakes, remaining as oblivious as they are unaccountable.

A real commitment from Nintendo would be to sell, take a handsome profit and turn over the franchise to people with a commitment to succeed.


YourThoughts

  • Marcus

    Woo hoo! AMEN!

  • Giorgio

    “Whatever Corporate wants, Corporate gets and little fan Corporate wants you”…

  • Jamo57

    Art, if Howard Lincoln sends you an angry email blasting you for being another negative media member, you can respond by saying you didn’t even point out the Ms are one of only two teams never to appear in the World Series. I applaud your restraint!

    On a different note, I am taking Howard’s statement about NOA not having any plans for selling their interest with a huge grain of salt. Didn’t he tell you they had no plans to start a regional sports network? Technically correct as it turns out but still misleading.

    Maybe finding some unemployed ‘Kremlin watchers’ who have had nothing to do since the Soviet Union fell to read the tea leaves of ‘official party statements’ might be in order.

    • jafabian

      I hope NOA doesn’t sell. They’ve been good to Seattle. What needs to be done is to have people in place among the M’s who can convince them to really invest in the club. More than the currently do. Those people aren’t there and the lackluster seasons don’t help either.

      • oldcrimson

        But NOA=Lincoln, at least functionally. I can’t imagine a scenario where NOA keeps the club but relieves Lincoln. Armstrong, maybe. But not Lincoln. Blech.

        • jafabian

          Definitely Howard. Chuck at least was team prez when the club was doing well. Heck, he was the UW’s AD when the football team won the National Championship. The downward spiral started under Howard.

          I’ll give Howard credit that he’s fostered a sense of family within the organization. Witness Junior’s recent induction into their HOF for example. But some pride is needed/wanted as well. Hard to cultivate that with 60 win seasons and continuous rebuilding plans.

          • Effzee

            No. Chuck only served as interim athletic director for the University of Washington Huskies during 1991. He had NOTHING to do with UW’s success. In fact, I could argue that, given that he’s presided over 27 out of 31 for the M’s, his mere presence at the UW is what began the downfall of the program. As we know all too well, he has zero baseball knowledge. He got LUCKY to be with the M’s when they drafted KGJr, Arod, etc. He has had absolutely NO impact on winning anywhere that he has ever been.

          • Marcus

            Yeah, you lost cred there Jafabian with the UW stretch. NOA has enabled both Lincoln and Armstrong. For that reason alone they need to go and new blood needs to be handed the reins. NOA is ultimately responsible for the current fiasco. Thanks for keeping the team NOA, but we want an owner that wants to win a World Series and will do EVERYTHING possible to make that happen.

          • art thiel

            NOA a a steward doesn’t deserve to be stoned. They just need to recognize that baseball isn’t a core company value, and sell it to people who call recognize baseball as a civic asset.

          • Trygvesture

            Civic asset. Exactly. To be treated as such, respectfully and even with a measure of boosterism, rah rah pride and etc.
            Especially with a community funded facility leased from the community to be used for the benefit of the community.
            Good ship Mariner missed the boat on that one — they never bought the ticket.

          • art thiel

            Chuck’s involvement in UW’s success or failure was minimal. He was the interim guy between Mike Lude, who was all football, and Barbara Hedges, who was everything but football. The contrast was the design of ex-president Bill Gerberding, and a serious bit of mismanagement.

          • art thiel

            Chuck’s explosive emotions make him ill-suited to run an organization. And it was Lincoln who helped orchestrate Griffey’s original departure.

        • art thiel

          Because of his relationship with Yamauchi, NOA will always give Lincoln deference.

      • art thiel

        NOA as a company has not demonstrated that the Mariners are a valued asset to their core business. It’s a one-off that has nothing to do with video games.

    • RadioGuy

      Actually, Jamo57, he DID mention the “two teams never to appear in the World Series” near the end of the column, and even that might come with an asterisk because at least the old Senators played three World Series in the 20′s and 30′s so Washington technically has hosted some postseason ball. Just not in our lifetime.
      The way the Mariners operate is similar to Beacon Plumbing’s response to the attention their poor service brought them by spending more money on advertising to drown out the negative publicity: Lose 90 games? Just build a bigger, louder scoreboard.

      • art thiel

        You’re right about the old Senators, but they are now the Rangers. But they did play in D.C., so Seattle is only only city that is WS-free.

  • Tian Biao

    once again, Art hits the nail on the head. It’s bad . . . real bad. As the hopeless seasons pile up, it gets harder and harder to be optimistic. I can’t give up the Ms, just because I can’t, but I sure wish Nintendo would give them up. But why would they? These oblivious old dudes still manage to squeeze a tiny profit out of the machine every year, and the equity value is soaring, and they don’t give a damn about winning, so where is their motivation to sell? Oh, and one more thing: there is nothing more dangerous than a desperate GM. Buckle your seat belts, oh ye dwindling Mariner fans, because a bonehead move is just around the corner . . .

    • Effzee

      Fixed. ;-)

      “Buckle your seat belts, oh ye dwindling Mariner fans, because another bonehead move is just around the corner . . .”

    • art thiel

      Tian, the point about a desperate GM is a good one. The Mariners’ perpetual slide periodically puts GMs on a win-now footing, which tends to throw away prospects/draft picks for established vets. It’s what happened to Bavasi and Z. Gillick got out when he saw the track wreck coming, as he did in TOR and BALT.

    • tedsfrozenhead

      taking the Mariners from a 100 million dollar investment to a 650 million dollar asset is not a “tiny” profit. Why they don’t invest it back into putting a winning team bewilders me. With this apathetic ownership the Mariners will never win.

  • jafabian

    Jack Z. Is a glorified Director of Player Personnel, hands down. He hasn’t shown that he has the ability to become a GM along the lines of Cashman, Epstein or (wait for it) Pat Gillick. He’s lucky the Sonics aren’t here because if they were then Sam Presti in addition to John Schneider and Adrian Hanauer would make him look bad among Seattle sport executives. Heck, even the Storm had a better season than the M’s.

    Based on the moves done this season and where the younger players are in their development it’ll be three years before the club contends. Fans deserve better and from a business perspective not the best approach when the other sport teams in the area are taking business away from them, including UW. Having WSU play 1 football game a year in Seattle can have the same effect as well. The Seattle sport dollar can only go so far. And with the NBA and NHL on the horizon rebuilding plans can be a death knell for the M’s if they aren’t careful. I’m not sure if ownership realizes the gravity of their situation in that regard.

    Maybe Eric and Jack turn it around next season. Winning solves everything in sports. But the M’s have had so much turnover in their positions since Lou and Pat left history has shown that the club is due for another 3 to 5 year rebuilding plan in 3 to 5 years. At least fans can count on improved concessions at the ballpark though, right?

  • Matt712

    The youth and talent on this team is genuinely something to be excited about. Given the right leadership (e.g. Scneider/Caroll/Allen @ Seahawks), the ceiling can indeed be really high. Instead, this organization has become so dysfunctional and downright loveless, it resembles a Foster family that slips through the cracks of a welfare state year after year – its children ‘processed’ rather than nurtured, forced to grow up too soon, potential stifled until the goal becomes to get out while you’re young. And the house mothers (Wedge & Z) are so abused themselves, that it becomes apparent to all the kids that there is no real authority who interacts with them that they can truly trust or respect to the extent they can pride themselves as part of the organization – AKA be ‘all in’ a la the Seahawks.

    With the Hawks, Scneider and Caroll are perceived as the ultimate authority. Not so with Wedge & Z of the Mariners. Want proof? Just listen closely to the recent Wedge interview and note how many times he used the word “they” when referring to the organization as opposed to the word “we.” Now, contrast with a Pete Caroll press conference.

    The disconnect at the Mariners is tragically institutionalized.

  • SUDS

    I’m voting with my dollars, of which the Mariners will get none

    • art thiel

      Your party is growing, Suds.

  • Effzee

    “Bashing CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong passed the point of futility years ago. Not that it wasn’t deserved; it simply wasn’t new, nor useful other than venting the rage that Mariners fans feel in the face of remorseless failure.”
    True. Yet…
    “The season of 2013 was a commitment to inertia. Inertia will continue as long as the same people keep making the same mistakes, remaining as oblivious as they are unaccountable.”
    So, if its not useful to bash them, but they are the oblivious, unaccountable ones who keep making the same mistakes… Then who do we bash? Criticizing JZ or Wedgie seems futile, as they are only playing with the gangrenous hands they were dealt. Just as BoMel, Hargrove, Bavasi, et al, were.

    • Trygvesture

      Well, Z hasn’t proven to be average nor exceptional, neither has Wedge. Contrast with the Pirates or the As. Plus, I find Z tends to speak with the authenticity of an ARod type. While Art calls calling-out the clownship twins futile, he nonetheless calls out the clownship twins– “remorseless failure,” “as oblivious as they are unacountable” and, of course, nailing Hot Seat Howard on his idiotic comment about a commitment to Seattle.
      Point is, calling them out points out the interita and the trajectory it sustains: operating profit and equity appreciation. Period. Calling them out also has to grate at their sense of grandiosity, their sense of community-endowed entitlement. Nobody wants to be a laughingstock, less so a pariah. Let their deserved reputation grow; let em stew in their juices; let em feel maligned and unappreciated; let em get angry at what the ‘media” has done to point out the emperor’s clothes– let em leave in self-righteous disgust. Fine with me, as long as they go.
      Riling up the fans is working– you can see the awareness of the way they’ve duped by duplicitous malarky from the mouths of Hot Seat and Ed MacMahon by the narrowing focus and locus of blame one finds in the blogs. People are seeing past the emporer’s clothes to the reality of a public funded HQ and ballpark Gem being used not for the public benefit as the lease demands, but for the personal enrichment of the owners. Public benefit would mean, almost exclusively, putting an average product on the fiield with average results. They’re far from that outcome, and it’s not bad luck to blame.
      I hope loud and frequent deserved derision and ballpark boycotts take their toll. They’ve sure extracted a toll from us.

  • Guy K. Browne

    From Pat Gillick’s Wikipedia page:

    “Like the Blue Jays, the Mariners have also not reached the playoffs since his departure as GM”

    • art thiel

      Point well played, Guy. Gillick’s 2001 magic came at a high cost, as it did in Toronto and Baltimore.

      • Guy K. Browne

        True, but at least Gillick gutted the farm and got some results. The leadership (and I use that term loosely) over the past 10 years has repeatedly gutted the farm with no tangible gain and until the Mariners stop installing Marionette GMs/Managers, nothing will change especially if the puppeteers pulling the strings remain the same.
        What I find especially bothersome (aside from the losing and the pathetic product on the field) is that management always says the right thing “we’re going to stop trading away our top young players and prospects and do this the right way, buliding a solid foundation and move forward” (paraphrasing of course), and then they do just the opposite….. how’s that Adam Jones trade working out?
        The other problem, and it’s a big one, UFAs absolutely don’t want to play for the Mariners. If they have a choice, and obviously they do, they will not come here unless they are ridiculously overpaid, and even then it’s no guarantee.
        The USS Mariner is stuck in Charybdis, waiting for the belch that doesn’t appear to be coming any time soon.

      • Trygvesture

        Yeah– Gillick played to win. It was fun. It was exciting. The joy lasted for years– long enough to rebuild and do it again in a baseball universe of normal aspirations and competence.

  • Will

    Art, you need to update your photo … just watched your op-ed on Crosscut.

    Back in the day, when steroids were winked at, inside pitches were OK and the M’s won 116 games, it seemed there was a bright baseball future in Seattle. Unfortunately, when futility follows expectation, especially in the instant gratification era we’re living in, it doesn’t take much to amplify failure.

    I really don’t know if Jack Z or Wedge are victims or pathetic… maybe, with a competent organization they would shine, but I agree with you concerning Z’s one year deal … are we simply experiencing a version of the movie, Groundhog Day?

  • outdoorlifer

    Art why dont the fans do some drastic measures? Why doesnt the Media step up. By stepping up I mean why even publish anything in the media about the Mariners. Why dont all the local media outlets collude like the MLB owners do and plain refuse to publish any artilces about that team. Why dont the writers put an all out attack on the ownership group. You have the power to beat them down with daily negative articles. Why dont the fed up fans set up and picket the stadium? I know there are too many dumb arse fans that are just happy happy happy they have a piece of …..worthless team just to be there. I dont know but there needs to be serious pressure on the ownership group

  • Hammtime

    Swung on and belted! Art crushes it!
    I can’t remember the last time I went to an M’s game.

  • Hammtime

    …..Al Martin