BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 01/24/2020

Thiel: After a step back, Mariners step sideways

The early injury absence of OF Mitch Haniger casts a shadow on the Mariners, who know something about shade. But Jerry’s Kids are about to spring some sunshine, he says.

Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto cautioned Thursday that 2020 might look a little like 2019 before they get to 2021. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

Distractions will be few in 2020.

No international games. No overwrought farewells for one-time heroes. The ways to celebrate Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame induction will dwindle to maybe half a dozen. There won’t even be the bearded-lady novelty of a real All-Star such as big-bucks Edwin Encarnacion passing through town for a few games until a good team panics during the season and trades for him.

General manager Jerry Dipoto said Tuesday that the Mariners will be paying $40 million in salaries to players playing elsewhere. Dunno if that leads MLB. But it’s something over which to marvel. Sorta.

At least in 2020, there’s the distraction of Houston Asstros. Or Asterisks, if you are polite.

The genuine-article villains will play the Mariners 19 times, nine at T-ball Park, including four starting April 30. Fans will have the opportunity to heckle, mock, condemn, provoke, insult and agitate the defending American League champions for cheating the game. A sort of Alex Rodriguez Times Nine hate-fest, and what longtime Seattle baseball fan can’t get into that?

The Asstros were 18-1 against the Mariners last year, an outcome that would have been almost completely reversed had the Texas devils refrained from stealing the signs of Mariners catchers.

Hey, you gotta believe in . . . something.

Maybe fans can believe in this from Dipoto, speaking Thursday at the club’s annual pre-spring training media lunch.

“We don’t do it (cheat),” he said, answering the inevitable question the Asstros have inspired for every MLB team this month. “I feel very confident that we’ve stayed above reproach. We will continue to do that. And that’s about all I have to say on that.”

The Mariners are so true to the blue that not only don’t they cheat, they dole out $40 million to help other teams. Why doesn’t MLB have a Lady Byng Trophy like the NHL does, honoring sportsmanship? The Mariners could have won several by now.

For a franchise that is closing in on the 20th anniversary of its most recent playoff win, one would think its meritorious work in other ways would inspire something more than the annual participation ribbon.

Alas, no. Even fans failed to appreciate the more subtle virtues. The Mariners lost from the previous year about 500,000 in attendance to about 1.8 million, 20th in MLB, down from 14th.

For a 68-94 team that led this portion of the galaxy in errors, strikeouts, misplays and exploding cigars, which ended up with only 13 players left from the 30 that opened the season in Tokyo, 1.8 million is a decent count.

But, absent the shiny objects of 2019, how many fan will show to watch the Mariners not contend again, as Dipoto all but promised Thursday?

According to gambling site betonline.ag, the Mariners are predicted to win 67½ games, a total fewer than all but five teams (Kansas City, Miami, Detroit, Baltimore and . . . Houston, because they don’t have a manager, ran out of honor and don’t get a betting line — yet). So the Mariners are forecasted for a two-year flat-line.

And that was before the Mariners learned Tuesday they will start without one of the few quality holdovers from a season in which the Mariners set an MLB record by using 67 players.

OF Mitch Haniger is having surgery that will cost him six to eight weeks following an injury Monday in a workout. The core injury is related to the testicle he ruptured June 6 when struck by a foul ball.

“Mitch was in the midst of what I think was perhaps his best off-season, certainly since he’s been with the Mariners,” Dipoto said. “All of his metrics, the test scores, the athletic explosiveness were off the charts.”

He was an All-Star in 2018, had a slower start in 2019 before the injury, and now this. At 29, he’s still in his prime, but the lingering consequences of the injury casts a pall even before spring training begins.

Dipoto said the Mariners are likely to scrounge about for veteran help alongside CF Mallex Smith, the only sure thing in the outfield.

Other than that, the Mariners might look for a starter to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation behind returnees Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Justus Sheffield and newcomer Kendall Graveman, 29, signed as a free agent Nov. 26. He was 23-29 with 4.38 ERA in four years with the Oakland A’s.

Relative to his hurricanes of past off-seasons, Dipoto’s winter was more like a tropical zephyr.

“There are couple of opportunities in front of us that could down in the next 48-72 hours or it could be next week,” he said. “We’ve been —  what has (seemed) to most people — shockingly patient in waiting for the right person on the right contract at the right time for the Mariners.”

In large part, the relative calm is because the flush of veterans contracts in 2018-19 has left room to play numerous heralded kids, among whom Dipoto has staked his Seattle career.

Besides Sheffield, 23, fellow starter Justin Dunn, 24, showed enough in 2019 to compete for the No. 5 spot.

Among position players, youngsters dominate.

J.P. Crawford, 25, is established at shortstop. Shed Long, 24, will be locked into second base. Evan White, 23, who played at AA Arkansas all last season, was given a six-year deal for up to $55 million and is a virtual guarantee at first base. OF Kyle Lewis, 24, who had six homers and 13 RBI in 17 games in September, is a candidate at one outfield spot. Jake Fraley, 24, and Braden Bishop, 26, will compete for the other spot around Smith, 26. DH Daniel Vogelbach is 27 and C Tom Murphy is 28.

That leaves 3B Kyle Seager, 32, and INF/OF Dee Gordon, 31, as team codgers.

The top two youngsters in the organization, outfielders Julio Rodriguez, 19, and Jarred Kelenic, 20, rated eighth and 11th, respectively, in Baseball America’s latest MLB top 100 prospects, will stay in the minors this season — unless they go “in a very Ken Griffey Jr. 1989 sort of way,” Dipoto said, referring to The Kid’s breakout spring training.

“I don’t want to do anything that will harm their progress,” he said. “We think a lot of both players. We want to do the right thing for their development. If the Mariners have an April that’s tougher to watch, because we were taking our time to do the right thing for Julio and Jarred, that’s what we will do.”

Dipoto pridefully claimed the Mariners were going from the AL’s oldest lineup three years ago to what may be its youngest. That’s yet another plaudit, youth employment, to add to the list of playing with honor and giving their money to others.

Gee whiz and gosh darn, these are swell chaps. Now let’s see how dirty they’re willing to get putting out an 18-year tire fire.

 


YourThoughts

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    Jerry has sold and the current executive committee has bought it lock stock and barrel and has gone all in on the new kids on the block strategy. This may work out, but one would have to believe that it’s gonna take more than just a couple years to come to fruition if it ever does.

    My question is how much rope does Dipoto have before the noose becomes too tight to sustain life? If that happens and the floor drops out beneath Jerry, then what? This current ownership regime, or as Howard Lincoln stated, it’s just a reorganization and nothing much will change is indeed disheartening to say the least. Stanton and his new posse need to produce results not just more promises. As a fan that has followed the M’s since their birth it just seems like it’s perpetual at best mediocrity every year with no viable end in sight. Hope springs eternal, again….

    • Effzee

      What if the M’s really are just kind of a feeder franchise for the legacy MLB teams? What if that’s just an unofficial role they play, with a wink and a nod. Kind of like a major league minor league team, who always gets a slap on the back and an “‘Atta boy, you go get ’em, tiger.” Aren’t they just a pity replacement from when Selig stole the Pilots anyways? The two really good runs this team had just magically coincided with the need to “save baseball” in Seattle, and the opening of the new stadium, with corresponding arrival of Ichiro, who played so freakishly different, and so well in that unique style, that even Howard Lincoln couldn’t screw it up right away. It took him a few years to drive off Ichiro, the way he drove off Randy, Griffey, Jr., Hargrove and Wedge. More than one of them literally hung up their baseball uniforms forever and drove off alone into the night. I’d love to read an expose someday on just what it was that ChuckenHowie were doing that was actively making hall of fame level personas flee this place like it was the world’s largest tire fire.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        Dude?

        • Effzee

          Dude!

        • Effzee

          Dude! Duuuuude.

      • art thiel

        I do think Stanton’s baseball knowledge and passion are a significant uptick from any previous Mariners ownership, and eventually will pay off. But Dipoto’s plan, however rational, takes a long time to produce success, particularly in view to the franchise’s historic ineptitude. It is better than paying bloated contracts to mid-career vets to get to 89 wins.

        • Husky73

          I agreed with you (past tense) about Stanton. Now, I feel that he is as lost and hopeless as his predecessors. Dipoto is a card shuffler. He has shuffled the deck, and the results are not there. As much as I wish to be the Mariner Optimist, my passion is fading faster than a Democratic debate.

          • art thiel

            Stanton isn’t lost, and Dipoto isn’t a dope. But I agree that after 43 years of waiting ’til next year, many longtimers don’t want to wait ’til two years.

        • Effzee

          I had hope when I first heard Stanton speak after taking over. I understand this process takes time, now just want to see some of the guys begin to emerge who they plan on being here awhile and building around. Agree that most things are better than over-paying bloated mid-career vets to win 89 games.

          • art thiel

            According to Dipoto, this is the emergence season. There could be times when Seager will be the only starter is over 30.

          • Husky73

            They will find a way to move Seager and Gordon.

    • art thiel

      Dipoto has to get 2020 and 2021 in order to prove positive direction. To end it sooner, except for malfeasance, is to keep churning to no clear goal. There’s no doubt about improved prospect talent, but whether they amount to MLB average is why they play, and fans must endure. Obviously, 500,000 last year said no thanks.

      • Guy K. Browne

        Perhaps it’s not possible in this day and age, but management/ownership should have been more up-front with the fans from day one; “we paid over a Billion dollars for a box of rocks wearing teal uniforms, it’s going to take a minimum of 5 years to improve our team and our situation on the field”, and then they should have lowered ticket prices to AAA ticket pricing since that’s what the fans are in fact getting (with the unique privilege of dropping a Jackson for a beer and a pretzel).

        • art thiel

          They have opened some bleacher seats this season for $5. See you there?

          I’m actually surprised they were honest enough to call it a step back.

          • Guy K. Browne

            Any time I’m back in town, I still like to go to the ballpark, $5 is about the right price for now and the distance from home plate afforded by the bleachers perhaps makes the strikeouts less painful. I’ll drop you a note and buy the first cup o suds (might have to get there early to fill out the credit app at the beer counter).
            Dipoto did display a rare degree of honesty when he called it what it was, but that should have happened on day one and not several years in. Surely given his experience in baseball, he knew exactly what he had, and more importantly, what he didn’t. Kicking the can down the road for 2 years wasted time and fans $$.

  • Brig Boring

    ‘Houston, because they don’t have a manager, ran out of honor and don’t get a betting line”

    They could play without a centerfielder and better than the Mariners

    • art thiel

      Maybe that should be MLB’s punishment for 2020.

  • coug73

    Mariner Baseball Club is the Chuck E Cheese of MLB. The kids can run wild while the parents pound those Buds.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      “go pound that Budweiser, boys . . . .”
      A frequent reference from Jim Bouton’s manager in Ball Four. Joe Schultz, I think.

      • art thiel

        Full quote: “Drop some mud and pound some Bud.” And MLB didn’t like Ball Four, Huh.

    • art thiel

      Not bad. Hecklers are in rare form here.

  • Chris Alexander

    Is there a breakdown available on who’s collecting the $40M from the Mariners while playing elsewhere this season? (I don’t follow the M’s super closely, but I’m dying of curiosity.)

    • Husky73

      According to Sportrac— They owe Robinson Cano $3.75 million a year through 2023. They owe Mike Leake $M, Carlos Santana (who never played for them) $4.0M and Jay Bruce $12,250,000 all in 2020.

      • art thiel

        Good effort, Husky. Here’s the link if Chris wants to do his own research:

        https://www.spotrac.com/Mlb

        • Husky73

          For some time Baseball-Reference had the Mariners paying King Felix $1 million in 2020. It is no longer posted.

  • Will Ganschow

    Growing up in Chicago rooting for the Cubs helps me understand what all here are going through with the Mariners. At least we didn’t have to have a team like the Senators. Hey, maybe we should try a College of Coaches. Box lunches. Triplemint Gum? Who is the Mariners next Lou Brock? If Dipoto is smart, he’ll break 500 and jump to the next real baseball job he can. The Asterics have an opening.

    • art thiel

      Dipoto has to see this through. Can’t quit now with the large stone rolled halfway up the hill.

    • Brig Boring

      Maybe hiring Dipoto should be part of their punishment.

      • art thiel

        I’d like to advance to Oct. 1 to see this year’s results with the kids. Then you can do your worst with Dipoto.

        • Brig Boring

          Given that, I guess Jack Zduriencik should suffice, with Maury Wills as manager

  • Husky73

    It’s getting harder and harder to be a baseball fan. The game itself has gone from leisurely to lethargic. Sabermetrics have sucked the soul out of the game, and playing for all (home runs) or nothing (swings and misses and strikeouts) make for a game in regression. But, it’s even more excruciating TRYING to be a Mariners fan. Can you imagine if the GM of the Dodgers, Cardinals or Yankees held a January gathering and said, “Well, we were lousy last year, and this year we’re going to be about the same?……..in part because we’re paying a ton of money for players who are no longer on the roster….but, hey, we’re younger!

    • gregoryjames

      “Leisurely to lethargic.” Good one!

      • art thiel

        I may steal it from Husky73.

        • BB46

          Borrow is a better word.

          • Husky73

            I probably stole it from someone else.

    • art thiel

      The home run or strikeout offense is equivalent to basketball’s dependence on the 3-pointer. Analytics can justify each approach, but rob the games of virtues that made watching compelling.

  • Tman

    T ball park Is going to look like a Joe Biden rally with 300 people in the stands.

    • art thiel

      For some fans who are into early career development, this team will intrigue. That’s not many, but 1.8M showed up last year to endure obvious short-timers like Bruce, Encarnacion and Hernandez.

  • gregoryjames

    I will accept a losing season as long as Rick Rizz does not mention the ’95 season or the 2001 season. But he will mention one or the other by the end of spring season.

    • Husky73

      We can expect Mike Blowers to say “barrel it up” and “miles an hour” several hundred times.

      • art thiel

        I thought you liked tradition.

        • Husky73

          I like it in Fiddler On The Roof.

          • BB46

            Oh yes,,,, If I were a Rich man.

          • art thiel

            Or in another Zero Mostel tune: Something appealing, something appalling . . .

      • Brig Boring

        I figured I was the only one annoyed by Blowers’ repetitive ‘barrels up” thing. Sims screaming ‘Look out’ on every foul ball is right up there also.

    • art thiel

      I’m guessing first mention will be the first spring training game.

    • Brig Boring

      It will be the highlight of the pregame broadcast of the first spring game

    • jafabian

      That’s because FSN keeps playing highlights of those seasons.

  • Will

    How about the team’s owners doing us all a favor, admit the truth, then re-label the Mariners to what they’ve always have been, a triple A feeder team to MLB. Instead of a continually anguished fan base, as a 3-A team, every inning would be a party. Just imagine all the between inning fun-filled skits and give-aways. Fun at the park, something rare in Marnierland.

    PS: The Piniella years were a fantasy, some sort of smoke & mirrors mass hallucination.

    • art thiel

      You just want to win a drawing to run around the bases between innings.

  • Guy K. Browne

    I’m eagerly awaiting the mini bat/mini trash can giveaway night (likely May 1st or 2nd). Fans will get the chance to participate in “signal the off-speed pitch” bang-along when the Astros are at bat.

    • art thiel

      It’s too bad the Mariners don’t get the opening series with the Astros. By the time they get to Seattle, it will have been done by fans at every road game.

      • Guy K. Browne

        For sure, but a season long public shaming is probably appropriate under the circumstances.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        The fans banging on cans will get lots of mileage at many stadiums for sure. But what I’ll always have fond memories of are when Alex Rodriguez came back to Seattle after signing at that time mega deal with the Rangers. There was at least one fan on the 1st base line with a fishing pole that was casting his line with money tied to the end towards Alex. It was priceless in my opinion, if I remember correctly even Alex got a chuckle out of that stunt. That was good stuff.

  • woofer

    Surprised that nobody mentioned the M’s biggest achievement of the past year — they have absolutely locked down the number one slot for Most Inept Franchise in Baseball History. We all remember how the Cubs a few years ago sadly relinquished their ancient historic claim, leaving the more juvenile M’s and Expo/Nats franchises to duke it out. Some naysayers even thought that the Nats had the edge. But guess what? It’s over. The Nats blinked. They improbably went out and won the NL pennant and the World Series to boot. The M’s in their majesty stand alone atop the mountain of futility.

    Next season look for the team to offer some appropriately tasteful family-fun celebrations to observe its newly achieved ascendancy. Personally, I’m holding out for the Mario Mendoza Bobblehead Night. Pretty soon the first golden shoots of skunk cabbage will be pushing up through the muck, heralding the arrival of spring. You can almost feel the excitement building.

    • art thiel

      Good reminder that they were abandoned by their partners in futility, the Expos/Nats. I believe there will be opportunities to remind folks this season.