Welcome Back, Annoying Mariners
Well this is a hell of a lot more like it. The Mariners missed the playoffs by one game. The ALCS currently features the Orioles and the Royals, and I think it’s going to keep on featuring the Orioles and the Royals, and, man, it feels like the Mariners could’ve been there. Somehow, despite coming up just short, we all got to end the season feeling good. I felt good talking about the Mariners last night with Matthew on the podcast. Relative to the rest of the division, we get to feel great! The Mariners missed the playoffs, but they finished all right. The Rangers sucked. The Astros sucked. The A’s lasted two more days and lost in devastating fashion. The Angels got swept by a worse baseball team. We got to feel the best about our favorite team, and now, not two weeks after the last day, well I hope you got to enjoy that little vacation from regular Mariners. Now we’re back to regular Mariners.
Probably, you already know what I’m getting at. We’ve got two separate things that make us all feel quite a bit worse. For one, Jack Zduriencik and Lloyd McClendon were openly critical of Michael Saunders’ preparation in their year-end media session. Which might’ve been okay, if Saunders knew anything about it beforehand, which he did not. So, he heard that stuff for the first time when we heard that stuff for the first time, and that says bad things about organizational communication.
And also, hello there! It’s Bob Dutton! Wrote Dutton:
The Mariners had a deal in place last winter with Cruz, then a free agent, for roughly $7.5 million in 2014 with a club option of about $9 million for 2015…before ownership backed away.
Many of us spent all offseason dreading the inevitable big contract the Mariners would give Cruz. When Cruz finally signed for his modest terms in Baltimore, the consensus reaction was, actually, that’s not bad at all. The Mariners had Cruz for similar terms, despite all the rumors that Cruz didn’t want to play in Seattle, and then nevermind what Cruz actually went on to do in 2014 as an Oriole — the Mariners’ baseball people made a roster decision, and they were overruled on that decision by the Mariners’ non-baseball people. That happens sometimes, but you don’t expect to see it happen on a seven-figure, one-year contract for the exact kind of player the Mariners were in the market for.
So we get to be frustrated with the front office, and we get to be frustrated with the people above the front office. Everything that happened last season happened last season, and everything that made us feel pretty great about the Mariners is still perfectly valid, but it’s a little like eating a doughnut and then researching the nutritional content of a doughnut. In the end, you still enjoyed the doughnut, but you feel worse about the experience in the aftermath because the doughnut is basically trying to kill you.
It’s totally reasonable for the Mariners to be frustrated with Saunders’ fragility. Saunders is more frustrated than anyone with his own injury record. I mean, he wants to be playing all the time, and McClendon said some good things about his talent level. But the problem with what happened is obvious — you express these concerns via private communication. The Mariners employ Saunders, and they have every right to tell him what they think he should do in order to remain on the field, but as much as the media is a part of the business, it’s not a part of that side of the business. Feelings now are hurt for no reason. Don’t give me any of that motivational bullshit. Saunders isn’t Jesus Montero. Having this aired to the press serves nobody’s benefit but the media’s, where people now get to write about a minor organizational scandal that came out of nowhere.
Maybe the Mariners just didn’t realize what they were saying. Maybe they spoke without thinking, or maybe they thought Saunders wouldn’t be hurt by the comments. But given how guarded Zduriencik has always been with his thoughts, it’s odd that he might just blurt something out, and if he simply didn’t realize the effect this would have on Saunders, then I’m not sure Zduriencik is much of a people person. Which would go along with a lot of what we’ve heard previously. Saunders should be able to put this behind him, and if he’s a starter for the Mariners in 2015 that would be super, but I’m not a fan of where this could be heading. I don’t want to lose Saunders for nothing, and I don’t want a front office that doesn’t understand how human emotions work. This is one of those situations where the process behind what happened is of greater significance than what actually happened.
And the Cruz thing is bothersome, because it’s another indicator of ownership meddling. The actual contract terms would’ve been neither great nor terrible — that was a fair deal for the player in question. The Mariners would’ve lost a draft pick that wasn’t their first. For a while, Ken Rosenthal was reporting that, after the Robinson Cano contract, the Mariners were short on cash. He said they’d need to persuade the owners to spend more on the roster. Pretty much anything and everything of significance gets crossed with team ownership, but you usually don’t see them nix short, small deals. And keep in mind the owners still OK’d the Fernando Rodney deal. That happened in February. I assume that happened after the Cruz deal was agreed to and backed off of. So it wasn’t that the Mariners were out of space.
It seems the Mariners backed off because of steroid concerns. Absolutely, that was a valid question, and every team had it, and Cruz paid the price in the contract he ultimately received. But the Mariners’ supposed baseball experts, the people hired to fill the roles of baseball experts, determined Cruz was worth the gamble. The owners were like, nah, he’s not. The owners don’t know more about baseball than the Mariners’ front office does. And if the owners were wary of bringing a suspended PED user to Seattle, they should understand that fans don’t actually care about steroid users, in that despite all the outrage previously suspended players are supported and fans haven’t been driven away from the game. Cruz made a baseball mistake a lot of players make. The Mariners have paid money to worse people than that. Whatever number of fans would stay away because of the PED user, at least that many people would show up to the park to see some dingers. Nothing drives popularity like winning. Winning means revenue! The baseball people thought Cruz would help the team win. The owners turned them down.
I’d get it if we were talking about something for four or five years, or even like $20 million. But a year and $7.5 million, with a club option? For a player many thought was an obvious fit? In a season that needed to be successful, after the whole Cano splash? Forget Cruz’s 40 home runs. Maybe as a Mariner he hits 20 home runs. Who the hell knows? What I don’t like is this evidence of incomplete trust. You either trust your general manager or you don’t. If you don’t, you get rid of him. Members of ownership are very smart people, because they’ve made a lot of money and that’s hard unless you find it, but not a single one of them is a baseball expert. That’s why, thankfully, there are baseball experts to whom you give jobs. Owners should worry about making money. Front-office people should be in charge of building a roster. They have to have communication, but if there are disagreements, what does that tell you about organizational health?
The Cruz thing, I guess, was a year ago. Maybe that’ll never happen again. And the Saunders thing is stupid, but it seems somewhat less problematic, since sometimes people just say stupid things. If the Mariners keep Saunders and commit to him, this’ll all blow over. It’s not like the Mariners are a massive volcano about to erupt, collapsing then in on themselves and leaving a scar on the earth. But we just got readouts from some of the monitoring equipment, and the plumbing is active. There are rumblings underneath, and most of the time rumblings are nothing, and some of the time they’re not nothing at all.
There’s a certain way we’ve often felt about the Mariners, that we didn’t get to feel for a number of weeks. That feeling is back, in all its itchy warmth. We love this old blanket. It’s ratty as all hell, but we’ve had it forever.