Episode 24 – The Griffey Spectacular

Jerry van di Poto has a plan. He just needs some money…

Since the last time the we podcasted the Mariners have:

Fallen out of the playoffs

Fired/let go most of their coaching staff below Scott Servais

Been accused of racism and misogyny by an employee after less than a year of her working there

LOUDLY refuted those accusations on social media in a manner that one could even describe as PRESIDENTIAL

Traded Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Juan Nicasio, James Pazos, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, and Jean Segura

So, yeah, there’s a few things to talk about. Also we took your questions for a good 45 minutes, because we love you. Please rate and subscribe, so you don’t miss even a second of this white hot, indispensable content.

All it took was maybe the most completely disastrous three months in the history of the Mariners’ franchise to summon us from our blissful slumber! Here are the things discussed in this episode

-The Mariners, now hear us out, are bad

-Jerry Dipoto is Dutch van der Linde

-The rebuild is good but also not good because it’s only good if you do it good, so do it good

-Definitive scarf takes

-Something called a “Tie Bar”?

-YOUR Q&A

-The Mariners are bad

What are the Mariners rebuilding?

They’re finally doing what we wanted right? Right!?

Since the signing of Robinson Cano in 2014 the Mariners have been caught in the middle. Their roster has been fun and competitive, but not elite. As the organization has entered season after season forever content to be as far from greatness as they were from failure, the clock kept ticking. As the the team’s core aged, the catastrophic state of the farm system only furthered the horror at the big league team’s inability to make the postseason, and ownership’s refusal to loosen the purse strings to help them do so. It has been a stressful, combative, and largely unenjoyable era.

So I’m happy to offer a belated congratulations to all Mariner fans: We did it! The Mariners are rebuilding. It took a season-long case of whiplash worthy of an immense court settlement, but Jerry Dipoto and friends have finally acquiesced to the inevitable. While Dipoto’s silicon valley thesaurus calls it a “step back” or “re-prioritizing” the decision to trade James Paxton and Mike Zunino for younger players signals, at long last, the Mariners’ acknowledgement that a change in course was necessary. We can quibble over whether Dipoto is the right man to lead a rebuild, or whether the talent returns thus far are sufficient. We can (and definitely should) point out that the necessity of a rebuild could be entirely avoided by an obscenely wealthy ownership group sinking consistent investment into on field talent, and committing fully to winning, but those are conversations for another day.

With Paxton and Zunino in New York and Tampa, respectively, Seattle finds itself already near the bottom of its barrel of valuable major league assets. This dearth is both why a rebuild is so necessary, and at least part of why the team has been so hesitant to get it underway. Outside of Mitch Haniger, who is the one current big leaguer with value I can see a clear case for retaining, the team is down to Jean Segura, Edwin Diaz, and Marco Gonzales.

That state of things is what has made the past 48 hours so distressing as a Mariner fan. While Segura rumors are indeed out there, the past two news cycles have been dominated not by the young talent the Mariners can acquire, but by the persistent and multiply-sourced rumors that the team is “desperate” to move Robinson Cano. Most concerning of all, is the thought that this desperation is sufficient for the team to package Diaz or a comparable talent with him. It is here, friends, we find ourselves with a booming “SAME OLD MARINERS” echoing from the back, and with good cause.

The idea of trading Robinson Cano is difficult to stomach. He is one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise. His acquisition in 2014 could have, and should have, heralded a new era, with the Mariners joining the game’s upper crust, as ownership continued to invest in the product on the field. Watching him play daily has been a constant joy. Outside of last year’s regrettable (and overly hand wrung over) PED suspension, he has been consistently great since the moment he arrived. He has been great, he is still great, and I imagine he’ll be great for a few more years. Still, with the course of the franchise’s next 2-3 years seemingly set and destined to continue the team’s comically long playoff absence, it is understandable why all parties might be ready to move on. Cano wants to win, and the Mariners have no urgent competitive need to spend $24 million a year for the last productive seasons of a player’s career. I get it. I hate it, but I get it.

ALL THAT BEING SAID, if the franchise is willing to neuter the substantial value in desperately needed young talent a player like Edwin Diaz can return by attaching him to a contract they no longer wish to pay, a contract that has zero negative impact on this team’s ability to win games now or in the future, then it says the Mariners are, at least in part, using this rebuild as a smokescreen to justify simply culling payroll to cull payroll. I want to be careful not to act as though this is something the team has actually done at this point. Rumors are rumors. But they do not spring out magically from the ground. Someone somewhere is leaking the idea. While it may not be someone connected to the Mariners, the team could easily enough squash the idea with public statement. They have not done so, and as such I feel comfortable believing it is a concept they are at least considering. This, to be blunt, is unacceptable, and should be loudly decried from every corner of the fanbase. I am pleased to see in some ways it already has been.

To newer fans it may seem rash to leap so readily to the call for torches and barricades, but consider the track record the organization has offered us over the present era. They have not made the playoffs. They have not committed the financial resources necessary to make not making the playoffs a statistical unlikelihood. They have bad mouthed and vilified Felix Hernandez, the most loyal player in team history, and one of its most beloved stars. It has come out that the team’s president and other members of the organization settled sexual harassment cases while with the org. The front office is in the midst of a scandal involving accusations of misogyny and racism that, at best, makes them look wholly incompetent. As the team looks to shed payroll they stand on the brink of a new naming rights deal for the taxpayer-funded stadium we built for them, a deal that will bring them many times more revenue than the previous deal with Safeco ever did. For anyone who has followed this team closely for any amount of time, the Mariners have offered us little rational choice but to assume the worst case scenario is also probably the most likely one.

It was three and a half years ago, the day Jack Zduriencik was fired, that I wrote about how tired the team had made me, and how concerning Kevin Mather’s spoken priorities were. As Jerry Dipoto’s era lurches onward, everything about the team speaks to an organization that places vastly more emphasis on process-oriented life hacks and trumpeted announcements of same, rather than simply trusting, believing in, and paying the talented men who produce the phenomenal level of baseball that made us all fans in the first place. The team is rebuilding at long last, but our experience with the Mariners tells us that we must watch carefully, and speak out quickly. Do they intend to rebuild their talent, or their profits?

 

The Mariners Have Been Accused of Discrimination

The term you are searching your brain for right now is: Bad

Well here is this then:

Lorena whoooooo boy.JPG

I want to be very, very careful here, because accusations like this are both extremely incendiary, and extremely important to consider seriously. Nothing I write here will impact how this ends up playing out, but still, this is news that has just broken, and we do not have #AllTheFacts.

Let us start with what we know:

We know that the Mariners clubhouse is one, both in volume, experience, and personality, dominated by players from Latin America. Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez, Leonys Martin, Ketel Marte, Edwin Diaz, Franklin Gutierrez, etc. These players have been the hub of the Mariners locker room in Jerry Dipoto’s time here. It is their voices, their music, their ideas of right and wrong, their culture that has led this team. This is the team that we follow, and make no mistake, it is these men, more than any analyst, executive, marketer, or other, that we have decided to cheer for.

We know that the front office has been extremely displeased with the state of the clubhouse since September, when Jerry Dipoto said this

In times of struggle you find out a lot about character, how people will answer in times of adversity, and frankly that was one of the highlights of this team in the first half of the season and it’s been one of the lowlights in the second half of the season. We have not responded to that adversity in the same way. … When teams pull apart when they no longer bind together and they don’t fight through the adversity.”

We know (as of about an hour ago) that Lorena Martin was deeply, deeply displeased with her role in the organization, and her experience with the Mariners over all. She was so displeased that she has taken the extraordinary step of making herself, at least in many professional sports circles, a radioactive hire by very publicly and specifically denouncing the people in charge of the Mariners by name.

We know that this not the first time the upper reaches of the Mariners organization has been credibly accused of being deeply harmful and dysfunctional. It is not the first time this decade or, hell, even the first time this calendar year.

I’m going to transition now very quickly to things that I know, because they are slightly apart from what’s listed above.

I know, from sources connected to the organization, that Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais are, and have been for some times, very annoyed with, among others, Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and Jean Segura. I know that on some basic level, be it for performance or contract, they have been in some way blamed for the franchise’s continued stagnation.

I know Dr. Lorena Martin had developed a reputation in her time in Seattle for being difficult to work with, to the point of being viewed as needlessly confrontational.

I know if that’s the case, then creating a role for her, specifically seeking her out and building an entire “High Performance System” for her to oversee was a catastrophic error in judgment and character assessment by Jerry Dipoto. The alternative is that she’s telling the truth. You choose which is worse nevermind you don’t get to and they’re both terrible anyway, just in different way. It’s all bad. Everything, as they say, is bad.

I know that blaming your employees, whose success is literally your job, for your own failure is poor management, and whether whatever was said (if it was indeed said, and it’s a big if at this point I want to stress) was simply blowing off frustration or otherwise, to do so in any capacity within earshot of any employee is not only poor leadership, but inexcusably stupid.

I know the timing of these revelations, from a pure roster construction standpoint, can be catastrophic, as the Mariners are now the one team no one wants to touch with a fifty-foot pole. Hell, THE MARLINS probably look at this and think “whoo boy, that’s not a great look now is it?” and move on to the next organization.

I know any prospective free agent, particularly one of latin decent, is going to be extra super duper skeptical about the idea of choosing to come here as long as the current leadership is in place.

Now, at last, what I and we don’t know.

I don’t know to what level Martin’s accusations are fueled by a workplace disagreement and/or personal grudge.

I don’t know to what extent these explosive allegations are issues that are globally systemic to baseball as a whole (hello, baseball as an institution is historically and still very much struggles with racism), and how much of it is specifically pointed to the Seattle Mariners organization possessing them to a degree that somehow sets them apart from the rest of the game. For the record, I am confident assuming, as it is his her first (and after today almost certainly last) job in baseball, neither does Dr. Lorena Martin.

I don’t know where this goes, if anyone loses a job, or what it all means in the grand meta-drama that seemingly forever surrounds this organization. It is as though they are Sideshow Bob, and for them the world is naught but rakes. An endless, horizon-less sea of rakes.

I wrote when news about Kevin Mather’s sexual harassment broke that I wasn’t sure where the line is for myself or others; the moment when we simply throw our hands up and worry ourselves with something, anything else. I still don’t know. All I know is, regardless of who said what about who to who, after today that line is getting closer.

 

The Only Mariners Question Worth Asking

Let us set a stage

Heading into free agency the Mariners find themselves, yet again, at an organizational crossroads. Last offseason I wrote many words about the team’s options,to buy, sell, or stay the course. Already this offseason my good friend, excellent baseball mind, and substantially better writer Brendan Gawlowski has penned a similar series for The Athletic (subscription required). I highly recommend reading it, as it lays an excellent framework to talk around.

There are substantial, in depth things to consider where this organization is at, where it is headed, whether its current leadership is the one to take it there, and on and on. For the common fan however, and for anyone who has been around long enough to endure a sizable portion of this historically long playoff absence, the primary concern is doing what is needed to get the 2019 Mariners to a Game 163, at long last.

In his time here Jerry Dipoto has proven a certain level of competency as it pertains to finding undervalued assets. His identification, pursuit, and acquisition of Marco Gonzales, Mitch Haniger, and to a lesser extent Wade LeBlanc among others are commendable, quality moves.  These are moves that help a franchise be more “sustainable” (more on that later). However, given the landscape of the American League as a whole, and the AL West in particular, it’s hard to argue that the Mariners are a clever move or two away from building a team that seriously contends, even in a best case scenario, for anything but the Second Wild Card. If you choose to disagree with that statement after watching the level of unsustainable good fortune it took for the team to finish ten games out of a playoff spot last year, you’ve made up your mind in a way that my words and math won’t change. Being an irrational, blind optimist in sports fandom is largely harmless, and I hope you enjoy that.

The true facts were, are, and will continue to be these: The Mariners as currently constructed are not good enough to realistically expect a contending year in 2019. At minimum they have needs at catcher, first base, center field, left field, and starting pitching. They cannot trade for that needed talent from a surplus of depth at the big league roster, because no such surplus exists. Similarly, the state of the farm limits the talent that can be acquired through trade, and offers scant hope of any graduating prospects able to move the needle to a degree that it matters.

With the departure of Nick Vincent, Chris Herrmann, and Denard Span, Cots estimates the Mariners 2019 payroll at ~$152 milion. Last year the team’s payroll was ~$158 million. The luxury tax for next year is going to be $206 million. If the Mariners see next year as a serious year of contention the question, the only question, is whether the team’s ownership will authorize Dipoto to increase payroll significantly. As the organization stands today, November 5th, 2018 there is no other way to acquire the talent necessary to make statements of World Series aspirations anything other than more of the same empty lip service.

There are other, significant questions that would follow should ownership pursue this course: Which players should be targeted? What do the contract structures look like? Is Jerry Dipoto a good enough GM to pull off a spending spree makeover in a single offseason, or will the thrill of a multi-year reliever contract prove too tantalizing to ignore? These and many other issues would need to be faced and overcome in order to build a championship-caliber roster out of the current Good Ship .500. Without the first, foundational commitment from ownership, however, they are just empty, offseason-filling, content-quota-meeting hypotheticals.

The Mariners current leadership is many things, and chief among them is they are excellent, excellent salespeople. I have heard Jerry Dipoto and other front office employees speak, and spoken to them, enough to know this. Hearing them talk I want to believe in the gospel they continue to proselytize, because it always sounds so damn good and believable. But we have been here before, and we have seen that while the team may be fractionally healthier overall than it was when the Dipoto regime started its work, there is no sensational, overnight rebirth on the horizon. If the Mariners are “building a sustainable winner” as they often say is their intent, then they aren’t planning on doing so prior to the next presidential election at the very earliest.

If the Mariners are serious about winning; not getting close to winning, or Maybe Winning If It All Breaks Right By the Way We Have the Fifth Best AL Record Since 2016, but real, honest to god, cry my tears out rooting for this team in late October winning, the discussion starts with one question, and one question only:

Are they willing to pay the price?

 

9/24/17

I took my son to his first Mariners game on Sunday, September 24th, 2017, the final home game of the 2017 season. He won’t remember any of it, but that’s ok. It wasn’t really for him anyway.

When he was about two hours old, sleeping under the amber glow of a heat lamp, and his mother, exhausted from the effort needed to bring him into this world, was resting, I signed him up for the Mariners Kids Club. It was, at its core, an incredibly selfish gesture. Here I was, as one of my first acts of parenthood, assigning a fandom for a team known mostly for failure to my son. It was picking a college major and choosing a favorite color all rolled up into one. Except he had no choice in the matter, and I gave him a dud.

The day started as I would imagine most first games start. We made all the requisite stops: Section 128 for his First Game Certificate. The Kids Club for his backpack, complete with three wiffle balls. We said hi to Dave and got our picture with him. We spent most of the game in our seats, watching the game. And I do mean watching the game. I was convinced my 8-month old child would be distracted by the people, noises, and smells that give Safeco Field a large part of it’s charm. But like the die-hard old couple we’ve all sat next to that attends every game and insists on living the optimistic life until the siren’s call of the Fat Lady’s voice, he spent the vast majority of the game transfixed by the action on the field.

The Mariners, playing a game hundreds of feet away from the rarefied air of our seats in the 300 level, had my son enthralled. All the players, so tiny in our eyes, loomed larger in our minds. In the 5th inning, Ben Gamel drilled a first pitch fastball just over the fence for a home run to tie the game at two. Rather than get frightened at the sudden eruption of sound from what had been, up to that point, a rather reserved crowd, my son found the festivities amusing. He insisted on standing on my legs, dancing back and forth, a smile as wide as the gap in left-center field across his face.

Later on, between innings as the giveaways continued, Tom Hutyler’s familiar voice rang out with a sound I had never heard before. My section. My seat. We had won a signed Ben Gamel baseball. I’ve been attending baseball games for 30 years, having spent a large portion of my childhood inside the magical neon confines of the Kingdome, and referring to Safeco Field as my summer home for my entire adult life. I have not so much as whiffed the scent of a baseball. My son, in his first game, completely unaware of what was even happening, became the owner of not only a baseball, but a signed baseball by a player who had hit a home run that very day.

As the game wore on, and the group of dads I was with began to disperse, I wandered down with one of them and his son to the Kids Clubhouse. My son, being too young to independently play, quickly began to fuss. I assumed, perhaps naively, that because he had been awake for hours, he was tired, and that it was time to go home. When I was young, I rarely caught the end of games. We had a ferry to catch, and if you missed that 10 o’clock ferry, you were stuck in Seattle until nearly midnight. Things would be different when I got older, I vowed at a young age. I would never leave the game early. And for years, I kept my own ridiculous promise. But a child changes things. You no longer have jurisdiction over your schedule. When a child is ready to go home, it’s time to go home, even if that means missing the 9th inning.

But as we left the Kids Clubhouse to return to the car, I had to make a pitstop behind the right field foul pole to adjust a bag. As I stopped, my son’s attention turned back to the field, and his fussing eased up. It was the top of the ninth, and Emilio Pagan had just struck out Francisco Lindor on a 3-2 count. I couldn’t take him away from the game now, could I? Could he somehow survive another half inning of baseball? The most magical of innings – the bottom of the ninth. Where hope springs eternal and the home team can stave off the clock striking midnight for as long as the crowd believes.

The M’s were down 4-2 with the bottom of the order up. Of course it was the bottom of the order. Nothing is ever easy as a Mariners fan. But if just one man could reach base, it’s back to the top of the order and Hero of the Day Ben Gamel would have an opportunity to cement his legacy as the Gomez Family’s Favorite Mariner of All-Time. Facing Cleveland’s closer Cody Allen, Mike Zunino struck out, then Guillermo Heredia grounded out to second. With two outs, Daniel Vogelbach was brought in for only his fifth at bat of September to pinch hit and promptly struck out on three straight pitches. There was to be no miracle today, at least not in baseball terms. We made our way to the car, sat in traffic, and drove home. My son slept the whole way, exhausted from a day of new experiences he won’t remember, but will be one of the first scenes that plays on the highlight reel of my life.

I don’t know if my son is going to grow up to be a baseball fan. To be honest, it doesn’t matter. You don’t get to choose your kids’ interests. Ask any parent – you don’t choose their interests, they choose yours. Of course, I hope he becomes a baseball fan. I dream of him becoming the person I talk baseball with. Criticizing the team’s latest free agent signing, bemoaning the schedule, and endlessly repeating the mantra of every lifelong Mariners fan: “maybe next year.” Maybe he won’t like baseball. That’s OK, I’ll become a fan of whatever he’s interested in. But for one perfect, sunny, fall afternoon, we had each other, we had baseball, and all was right in the world.

FoulPole

The Denard Decision

D-Span has been a huge for the 2018 Mariners, which makes it sad to report he probably shouldn’t be retained

It’s September now, y’all, and the Mariners season is playing out one way or the other. Will they make the playoffs? Well heck, I dunno. Looking at all the smart math people’s numbers says it’s more than likely we’re all gonna spend October at the ol’ Adopt-A-Team Shelter again though. I’m a bad fan, but the A’s are looking mighty fine.

Anyway, with the end of the season looming it’s getting closer to TRANSACTION PLANNIN’, and here at Dome and Bedlam we believe in promptness! If you’re on time you’re late! If you’re early you’re on time! If you’re way early that means you’re super late for the last time! THAT’S FIVE LAPS SLACKERS HOP TO IT!

*****

The late May trade with Tampa Bay to acquire Alex Colome & Denard Span was one of Jerry Dipoto’s best moves of the past twelve months. That was true regardless of how both players performed as Mariners, but it has been nice that for once here in Seattle, good process produced good results. Colome has teamed up with The Divine Edwin Diaz to form one of baseball’s most lethal 8th/9th inning combinations, and Denard Span has hit better than anyone expected. Coming off 2016 and 2017, in which he checked in with a wRC+ of 94 and 100, respectively, Span’s offense is at a career high 123 wRC+ in 2018, and 129 since arriving in Seattle.

Late career offensive boosts, particularly ones that come from an increase in power (Dad strength is real y’all), are not unheard of. Hell, Nelson Cruz is the model of this very idea. However, they are not common, and counting on Span offsetting his clear and noticeable loss in defensive range by continuing to thwack dingers is a gamble, and not at the odds you want to take.

The merit to retaining Span on his $12 million mutual option is, in my view, further diminished given a few contextual factors. First is the 2018 rebound of Ben Gamel. Now I’ve notably been wrong about the Mariners young outfielders in the past, but after a Zunino-esque (Zuninian? Please help, linguists) second half in 2017, Gamel has rebounded nicely. He’s improved his walk rate, continued to be “fine” with the glove, and hit for just enough pop to keep pitchers honest. Overall, he’s played about like a two win outfielder. At 26, there’s the possibility of a little further development (cough SWINGPLANEDINGERZ cough), but if not, he still projects as a serviceable left fielder, a comparable level of production to Span projects at next year, at a fraction of the cost.

The second factor is the looming roster decisions facing this organization. Regardless of what you think the right direction is for this franchise, it would be a shock if they do anything after 2018 but attempt to take another run at the playoffs for 2019. Given that assumption, the team is in desperate need of a real centerfielder, at least one top of the rotation pitcher, and probably a catcher.

With our past experience both of the Jerry Dipoto Era, and the Mariners’ organizational practices at large, I think it’s fair to assume they won’t be throwing any huge free agent contracts to players this offseason. As such, every single dollar saved off potential luxuries, such as two major league left fielders, is needed to fill these very real and pressing holes in the big league roster. It’d be cool if there was some minor league depth in AA or AAA to help cheaply fill in those gaps. Guess what, pal, this is the Jerry Dipoto Mariners. Unless you want to see a tumbleweed in center field next year, the talent has to come from outside the organization.

Overall, the Denard Span acquisition has worked out beautifully both for the team and the player. Span is having his best season in years, and the Mariners and Jerry Dipoto have gotten a great return in a contending season, for giving up a few minor leaguers. There is a danger, though, of falling in love with the short-lived greatness of a player after trading for them. The Mariners have pressing needs elsewhere, and with D-Span unlikely to ever be this good again, it’s probably in the best interest of the team to let him get closer to his home in Florida, and spend that money on someone like, say, early career Denard Span.

Go M’s.

 

Episode 23 – The Jordan

In memoriam of the 2018 Seattle Mariners

Hi and/or hello you to, dear reader and listener! Dome and Bedlam has returned from a (for us) brief hiatus to pronounce the death of the 2018 Seattle Mariners. Now, wait, hear us out, we swear this isn’t more mindless complaining. In fact one of us wasn’t even drinking during this recording (see if you can spot which one!).

Scott, David, and Nathan talk about how the Mariners got here, the challenge of the future, and the frustrating mediocrity at the very core of this franchise’s DNA. For long time fans, for people who have spent years of our lives following, covering, and documenting this team’s moves, 2018 has felt like a lost year. The Mariners are, essentially exactly where they were two years ago, plus Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura. Things feel directionless, again. It’s hard to not feel some very real feelings about that.

Fortunately, we have each other. Thanks as always for listening.

Go Mariners.

(Music credits: Kanye West, Ryan Adams)