A case for hope
Even after a deeply relieving win like today’s, it’s hard to look at the standings and have happy thoughts about the fortunes of the team. But as I constantly try to repeat over and over, while I’m not at all optimistic about this season, I have faith in the long-term future. Since so many of the recent comments here have focused on the futility of the team, I thought it might be worthwhile to talk again about why in the current circumstances I still hold to that.
First, the front office. Right now, they’re not the worst in baseball, but the gap between the Mariners and the growing number of smart, well-run franchises is growing. But front offices aren’t like franchise locations: you can hire a new front office. The owners, if they decided to make a change after this season (and please, it won’t be mid-season ahead of the draft, there’s just no way), could in one hiring change the fortunes of the team entirely. Having a bad front office is not an indefinite punishment. It can end.
Now, what triggers that is outside the scope of this, and often times changes there have little to do with any defined criteria. But as long as you know that the front office can be changed without the team leaving town, there’s hope for improvement. I’ll talk more about that in a bit, though.
Moreover (and feel free to mock me for this) I have not entirely given up hope in the current front office. I know, it’s like I’m screaming “Learn, dammit, learn!” at Joshua hoping that he figures it out before it’s too late to recall the B-52s, but there I am. The people in charge of the M’s are not dumb. They understand more about player development than I ever will, and they grasp some concepts, like sunk costs, that other front offices don’t. At the same time, if you’ve been here for a while, you’ve seen us make the case repeatedly that they’re too stuck on roles, on intangibles, that they’re not particularly good at talent evaluation or figuring out how to build a roster, and so on.
I was listening to Joe Morgan once, and he was talking intelligently about how to measure a player based on his individual contributions, and then he veered off onto pitchers, where — you know the drill. And I yelled at the TV “No! No! You were so close!” Eventually I gave up on Joe. I’m not there with the M’s, and maybe that’s just because I can’t tune them out so easily.
Bavasi’s a smart guy. He is. If you’ve been to the events, you know that. But he’s burning his brain power on problems like trying to figure out how to acquire a Bloomquist clone, and not processes that get the team a real right fielder to start the season. He goes looking for a (adjective)(adjective)(noun) to fill a perceived hole — he shops for an established middle-of-the-lineup presence because he really believes that you can’t stick an unproven player in the #4/#5 slots and expect to win, and doesn’t step back and look at whether or not that’s valid.
I can’t imagine that he doesn’t look even within his own division and see GMs taking much different approaches and not think that there are lessons to be learned.
I hold out hope that one of these failures is going to be the one that makes everyone get together and start talking about what’s not working, and what the fundamental assumptions they’re working under are wrong.
I’m realistic, though — there’s really one GM in baseball who has made that kind of change, and he’s running the Padres. Everyone else refuses to change and the dinosaurs get beaten by the furry little mammals. I know the chances are slim. And yet still I hope.
It’s likely it’ll come to a purge. The ownership team – the Baseball Club of Seattle which is, operationally, Howard Lincoln for Nintendo of America, and yes, I know it’s more complicated than just “Nintendo” – has an enormous incentive to right the ship. No matter what the front office says, there is only so much failure can be tolerated. Even if you think that’s a lot of failure, there is somewhere a limit.
And once they’ve decided to make a change, we’re a good interview away from a turnaround. Say there are four retread candidates and Chris Antonetti in the queue, and they ask them each the same opening question: “How quickly do you think the Mariners could compete for a championship, and what would it cost?”
Their answers would be more or less:
1-4: “Next year, with the core we have, if we make the right moves, sign some front-line starters, keep moving forward with the general strategy you already have in place…”
Chris: “It’s hard to say without more information, but if you’re willing to keep spending at the same level, we can find some short-term solutions that will put a .500 team out there while I spend to sign Felix to a long-term extension. Then I’d be looking to work younger, cheaper players into the lineup while making better free agent signings as we go – you’ve been burning your money, but you know that, we should talk about how we can do better – and every year we’d improve the core, try and pick up a couple of wins. We might get into the playoffs while we’re working on the team, but building a championship team will require us to build a young core of home-grown talent to build around, and that won’t come next year or even the year after.”
The conversation starts.
As set in their ways as they may be, as much as Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln may think Bloomquist is the true way to winning baseball, the next time they try and hire a GM, they’re going to be faced (if only in picking candidates to interview) with more of what’s gotten them into trouble and true change in the form of Antonetti or another dramatically different viewpoint.
I hope that if they face that choice, they’ll make the smart business decision and pick the different approach.
Say they don’t, though, and they pick a retread old-school candidate, they muddle around while attendance drops, their next media deals take a hit. How low can the franchise go? With their sweetheart lease, they’re guaranteed to be able to milk profits out of it.
Then there’s another set of criteria to consider: when does the team’s majority owner realize they’re getting an extremely poor return on their investment? What happens then? Do some of the extremely smart, long-neglected, don’t-even-get-a-desk minority owners step in? Or does the Baseball Club sell entirely to someone who thinks they can do better than squeak by? If the team’s making very little money, it’ll be a hugely attractive turnaround buy for someone — get the franchise winning, butts in seats, new media deals and they’ll be climbing the Forbes rankings soon.
We’re of course right to fear the kind of endless Royals/Pirates style purgatory. But the M’s aren’t saddled with parsimonious or micromanaging owners in the same way those have been. And it’s possible they could still do that – beautiful stadium, barely-attended games – but it’s unlikely. That’s a different post, though — this is about hope.
The current owners don’t have to change their minds, or decide to sell the team for financial reasons. Perhaps the owners decide they’d like to get out of owning a pain-in-the-ass franchise. It happens.
Either way, we’d get a change in management.
And there you have it, change and a new shot at success:
– Front office changes, either through person ell or enlightenment
– Ownership changes, in whatever form, resulting in front office changes
Once I started to think rationally about when and why changes would be made, I realized that changes were inevitable. They might not come as quickly as we’d like, but they’ll come. I have faith.