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.

 

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)

The Mariners CEO Settled a Sexual Harassment Claim

Let’s talk about some terrible stuff we really don’t want to have to talk about

There are many things about this I think merit some words, and here they are in no particular order or rank:

1) It’s important to note that, while baseball and society itself are slowly, painfully, exhaustively lurching towards a place where women do not have to lift twice as much as men and be told it’s half as much to be seen as equal, women do not go work in baseball for the money or benefits. NO ONE goes into baseball for these things,  particularly the women who by the nature of their very gender are guaranteed to make less than their male counterparts.

There are many, many jobs a woman could do outside of work in a baseball office, and make as much or more, and have a standard of living as good, or higher. They all come to it for the same reason as men: They really like baseball, and they want to be around it. Because they really like baseball, they endure an awful lot of bullshit from guys at work, online, at the ballpark, and do it all for, again, far less than their skills are generally worth in the marketplace.

2) Think, for one goddamn minute, about this lady forced to work on Bob Aylward’s computer. That first, Aylward used his computer at work to relentlessly watch porn, and then felt no compunction or hesitancy to ask/request/order a female employee to fix his frozen computer, at least in part because, again, of the porn that Aylward watched at work. That the EMPLOYEE was the person overcome with shock and embarrassment at the way this played out reveals the comic imbalance of workplace dynamics, not only with the Mariners at that time, but in huge swaths of the American workplace.

It also says that Bob Aylward is a bumbling asshole.

3) It’s about power, and it’s always been about power, and it will always be about power. Power’s very nature requires a subjugated, a lesser, a dominated. It demands castes and roles, greaters and lessers, mores and betters. It confuses obedience for peace, quiet for calm, and compliance with contentedness. It forces a structure in which a man can demand a lady who has brought him alcohol not only kiss him, but feel special, honored even, by the “request.”

Bob Aylward, Chuck Armstrong, and Kevin Mather (the latter of whom is currently, right now, the Mariners Chief Executive Officer), like so many before them, were able to settle their way out of any serious repercussions for their idiocy, through company-wide policy updates and sensitivity training. The team took the punishment for their actions, and diluted it into the company water supply, so that everyone can share it together. Call it “always striving to improve,” which is exactly what they did.

They are able to do this because they are men, and they are rich. Much of the horrors that surround our current times, when traced back to their root cause, stop at the Bugatti-crashing, mortgage stock company-shorting, horndog-obsessed dudes that comprise the vast portion of our society’s check writing and decision making class. Make no mistake, these are the men that run your beloved baseball team. They are largely inseparable from the smug asshole that owns whatever team(s) you hate the most. This is the truth, and anyone who says otherwise is a dangerous combination of stupid and/or on the company dollar.

4) “Winning cures all,” they say. The Mariners, through a combination of good play and good fortune are 61-41. The fans have noticed. In twelve home games this month attendance has fallen below thirty-thousand only once, and never below twenty-five. The buzz around the team and franchise is unlike anything seen in at least a decade, and in all honesty probably much longer.

This story, both because Geoff Baker’s name is vaguely repellent to the fanbase, and due to its timing, is going to be swept largely under the rug. If the Mariners were, say, 49-53, or if this story broke about the leadership of, say, the Rangers, many of the voices telling you this is all water under the bridge wouldn’t be able to speak because they’d have their mouths so full of fresh meat.

The team’s public responses to this story have been, largely, dismissive and unconcerned. They know the team’s record, and they know its accompanying reality. No one cares when you win baseball games.

Winning obscures all, and does nothing more.

5) When and how three Mariner executives sexually harassed women is very important, and also largely irrelevant. I hate this story, and reading the Times’ account of the events that took place is extremely difficult to take in. This difficulty is the important part. The pain of exacting detail should, perhaps must be experienced to render something even approaching proper response. For many, many, many people, they won’t necessarily need that, because the story these women have to tell is all too familiar to their own.

The particulars do not matter in the sense that, when we step back we can see what this is: Three empowered, wealthy men preyed on vulnerable women, and while these women reached monetary compensation and the Mariners did respond, through seminars and workshops, these three men largely escaped any personal punishment. Aylward continues to serve on the board of ROOT, Armstrong was allowed to maintain his position for years until retirement, and Mather has been promoted, occupying what is probably the most powerful position in the organization. At the time of this article’s publication, there appears no serious movement towards changing Mather’s role with the team.

6) I don’t know what the proper justice is for this. I don’t know, yet, how turning on a news conference and seeing Kevin Mather speak in front of a compass rose is going to effect my Mariner fandom. The mere thought of worrying about how this news changes how I feel about a baseball team seems appallingly small and trite in context. It has always been those things though, and the decision to push them aside and indulge in the silly theater and drama of the game always a conscious one.

I have loved the Mariners, and baseball, all my life. I don’t know the breaking point. Maybe it’s this, maybe it’s a long ways past this. I just can’t stop thinking about the first day these women came to Safeco Field, the thrill of starting a new position in a highly competitive field, and how that was ruined by the libido of men who have never thought about these women, probably before or since. That struggle is mine. Each fan will have their own. All of them are trivial in comparison to what these three women had to endure.

7) The Mariners as an organization have been largely defined by failure. To their credit, the vast majority of that failure has been kept on the field, which at the end of the day is the most trivial part of this whole operation. This story is a failure not of the scoreboard, but of their people, and their process. That’s the important part, and that makes this story an important failure.

These women deserved better. It’s on us to demand better, and to be skeptical of what people in power say, even those on our beloved baseball team. Do better, Mariners.  

Mariners trade Moore for More Fun

CROOKED HAT BACK!?!?

With the Mariners off to a 29-20 start, and putting out the fire started by Robinson Cano’s suspension only to find twelve million dollars stashed in a safe behind a false wall, the team had to act. While the win/loss record is exactly what the most optimistic projections called for, the method and roster talent were that of the middling, .500-ish teams that SOME assholes (me) pegged them to be all year.

With half the American League existing in 2018 primarily as a feeding ground for any team that can stomach the thought of spending even one (1) American Dollar, the Mariners’ new financial flexibility gave them a chance to strike, and strike earlier in the season than is typically feasible. They have now done so.

From an objective baseball fan standpoint, this trade kind of stinks. It stinks that the Rays are such an abysmal franchise that saving even a couple million bucks by selling off a useful outfielder and above average to good closer for nothing more than Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero, baseball equivalents of a scratch ticket and a megamillions ticket, respectively, is something they are willing to do. Baseball is at its best when as many teams as possible are trying to win as many games as possible, and it’s a shame in 2018 that is not even close to a reality.

For Mariner fans desperate to watch their team in the playoffs this year, many for the very first time of their fandom? Hell, y’all, it’s hard to imagine a sweeter deal than the one they just turned. Colomé is about as consistent as an above average but non-elite relief arm can get, with three consecutive seasons between 1-2 fWAR. He’s off to another solid start this year too, and with Juan Nicasio’s struggles immediately becomes this team’s setup man, and second best reliever.

Denard Span’s skills actually profile as a left-handed version of the player I hope Guillermo Heredia becomes/is becoming. A patient hitter with the capability to play quality corner defense, he’s almost certainly an upgrade to Ben Gamel, who will become this team’s fourth outfielder (probably his most likely role in the major leagues)

Overall, the Mariners had obvious needs at both outfield and relief, and they have addressed both, before June, with zero cost to the team’s few real prospects, for only minor financial cost. Their biggest need was and still is starting pitching, but that is a scarce commodity that frankly I doubt they will be able to find without some sort of major sacrifice in either prospects (ha) or finances (double ha).

While this move doesn’t suddenly vault the Mariners from fringe Wild Card contender into territory with the league’s elite, it expands options and margin for error. If the team falters through their brutal June and finds itself out of playoff position come mid-July, I see it as unlikely they cannot, at minimum, recoup their talent investment by trading both players to another team. There appears, and as soon as I say this something will go disastrously wrong because I am me and the Mariners are them, to be very little downside potential to this transaction. Tommy Romero could become a real prospect and mid-rotation fixture in Tampa or wherever MLB blessedly releases the Rays to eventually, and Andrew Moore could become a number five starter. Either reaching anything close to that is a longshot, however.

If you’re a person who is sick and tired of the Mariners ceaselessly churning through any low minors player who shows a lick of promise in exchange for an extra 0.5-1 win in the present, well, I hear ya. For whatever reason the Mariners have never shown a serious, longterm approach to building a great farm, the one obvious way baseball gives for teams to build a winner outside of running a top-5 payroll every year. It’s a bit like watching an ostrich run away from a predator. “Wow that bird can run”, you might think, “But why doesn’t the dumb thing just use its wings and fly? That would be so much easier.” Well, reader, you are correct. But the ostrich is never going to fly, and you need to come to peace with that, and with the Mariners having the very, very worst farm system in the game. These are the unchangeable, immutable laws of being.

It’s a great day to be a Mariner fan in 2018. A fun start to the year got a boost which should help the team need less luck to keep from collapsing, and the talent cost was minimal, and likely deferred many years down the road. At some point the bill will come due for the Mariners’ lack of talent development, but it was never going to be a concern to this year’s team, or their general manager, who conspicuously doesn’t have a job after this year. This is a win now move, and the timing, price, and fit were damn near perfect. Good job Jerry.

Go M’s.

Episode 18 – Ichiro? ICHIRO! Ichiro….

In which the Mariners fulfill their role and purpose

THE MARINERS ARE SIGNING ICHIRO! Yeah, uh, well that’s not a great idea. Nathan, David, and Scott convene for an emergency broadcast to collectively roll eyes, talk about what this could portend for Jerry Dipoto, reminisce a bit, and come up with a few #fun #facts.

Want to feel great about Ichiro coming back? Awesome, by all means do so and have a great time. To a certain extent, that’s our plan too. But bringing back a 44-year old outfielder when Jon Jay gets 1 year 3 million dollars makes it pretty clear where the scales are balanced for Mariner ownership. What a pity.

(Music credits: Ben Gibbard, and some random guy I found on YouTube who I think does this as a joke. Sir if you read this and these tracks are indeed your passion/vocational aspiration, please accept my apologies)

As always, you can rate and subscribe to this here fine podcast on iTunes here. For you SoundCloud mavens, find us here. Follow the blog on Twitter @DomeandBedlam, David at @SkibaScubaShop, and Scott at @ScottyWeebs.  We are grateful for you.

Ryon Healy Out 4-6 Weeks, Which Probably Doesn’t Matter

I don’t know what I expected

Happy Pitchers and Catchers! The verse/verse/chorus of the early baseball season revolves around the core tenants of Arizona: Men stretching in sunshine OH MY GOD SUNSHINE AND WARMTH WINTER IS NOT ETERNAL, crappy cell phone pictures of men stretching in sunshine, and anxiety over players showing up to camp hurt.

The Mariners, of course the Mariners, started out 2018 with bad news on that final front, as erstwhile starting first baseman and shave ice YouTube sensation Ryon Healy popped into Peoria with the news that his hand had a bone spur.

The surgery to remove that bone spur is expected to keep Healy from doing baseball-y things for 4-6 weeks, which puts the well-coiffed lad back in game action right around if not shortly after Opening Day.

It’s a frustrating start to Spring, after a frustrating offseason, but in and of itself it doesn’t look to have much an impact on the Mariners’ season. Missing Spring Training can and will require Healy to ramp up to speed quicker than normal, and he will indeed go a long period of time without swinging a baseball bat. That’s concerning, particularly for a player who gets most of his value out of swinging that bat.

Importantly, though, Ryon Healy at peak health was never projected to be particularly good in 2018. ZiPS has him at a positively Lind-ian -0.1 fWAR, while PECOTA pegs him just shy of a win. Any overwrought reactions to Healy’s injury are born through a combination of the Mariners, largely absent any offseason moves of actual consequence, having spent the winter touting Healy as one of their major acquisitions to an increasingly and bizarrely trusting fanbase, and the fact that the depth behind Healy is Mike Ford, a 25-year old with zero MLB plate appearances, and only 25 games above AA, and Daniel Vogelbach, who is not a first baseman.

Now, Mike Ford is an intriguing pickup, and exactly the kind of potential sneaky value Dipoto has specialized in in Seattle. See Ben Gamel, Nick Vincent, and on. If you want an Applebee’s steak at Denny’s prices, Jerry Dipoto is your kind of general manager. But for a team whose best/most expensive players creak with age, going into Opening Day with Mike Ford as your starting first baseman presents an unacceptable and unreasonable risk. Ford could very well finish 2018 as a better/more exciting/more fun baseball player than Ryon Healy, but it’s important to note that the lion’s share of reason for that is because being better than Ryon Healy is not a particularly high hurdle to clear.

Spring Training now figures to be a battle between Mike Ford and Daniel Vogelbach for the starting first base spot out of camp. I would put my money on Ford, as Vogelbach’s defense continues to be, erm, not good. Importantly, and primarily, the team shows no interest in bringing in, say, Lucas Duda or Logan Morrison, available free agents with major league track records who could allow the team to build depth, something they still lack to a comical degree at almost every position.

The insistence on standing pat with the way things are will be challenged and thrown into stark relief every time a player is lost to injury. And while it’s fair to assume that won’t happen as often in 2018 as it did in 2017 make no mistake, it will happen plenty, regardless of how Dr. Lorena Martin and her admittedly interesting high performance program do this year.

For a team that has repeatedly insisted its commitment to winning, it’s hard to figure out why the Mariners don’t at least seem to be trying to find some free agent bargains a la Duda, Eduardo Nunez (how is Taylor Motter on this roster?), and etc. However, for a team that knows 2018 is largely about shuffling deck chairs while keeping up appearances, whether to cynically depress wages and maximize profits, or to position itself for a run at next year’s monstrous free agent class, it makes sense to run out a roster where losing a one-win first baseman for Spring Training stands as major news.

The Mariners are one of those two franchises, and every day we get closer and closer to knowing which one.