The Mariners need to shut the f@*$ up

Photo credit: Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times

The Mariners front office for the better part of two decades has been mediocre at maximum and a full-blown laughing stock at minimum. This is not a secret in baseball.

The one thing the Mariners, as a front office, are good at lately is spouting gallons upon gallons of utter bullshit, and despite little to zero success, somehow getting the fans to lap it up as if they are some sort of authority on “good baseball.”

Let’s be clear here: The Mariners have done absolutely nothing to earn this good will.

This is, after all, the team that figured out how to cope with allegations of sexual harassment by elevating President Kevin Mather to his current position.

This is, after all, a team that weathered the storm of Dr. Lorena Martin’s lobs of discrimination by labelling her as a disgruntled ex-employee and a complete liar.

And now, we have the newest member of that full-fledged galaxy brain of fucking idiots: Director of Player Development Andy McKay.

McKay is a master of motivation, as seen by his insightful tweet before, and before one iota of the season had transpired, new wave analytics guy Jerry Dipoto was seen as a genius.

 

Now, to Dipoto’s credit, at the time of McKay’s hiring, the burning trash can fire that is the front office hadn’t quite reared its ugly ass head. The future, in 2015, was looking as bright and sharp as that brand new black hole we discovered (which, unfortunately, is located too far away to suck up all of humanity and end this whole story earlier).

So color me surprised when Mr. Andy McKay, the leader of all good things smart in the brain development of our players, ends up looking like a complete and utter asshole in this column about Rob Whalen’s mental health.

Mariners mental skills coach Derin McMains recommended Whalen seek professional treatment beyond what the team was providing. He started seeing a psychologist in Tacoma, Washington, but by June the situation felt untenable. He reached out to McKay, who Dipoto once called “one of the more well-respected sports psychologists in the country” and whose hiring as head of player development had earned the Mariners plaudits for “creating a better culture for players to flourish.”

According to Whalen, McKay offered him a week off to deal with his anxiety, but after just a few days, Whalen received a text message from McKay explaining that he would be replaced on the roster if he didn’t return to the team immediately.

The Mariners had a player in clear duress, a player that had reached out for assistance for said duress, and the Mariners Director of Player Development rescinded an offer for time off by literally dangling his job over his head.

Now, categorically, of course, the Mariners issued a few statements in the article that are well at odds with Whalen’s version of accounts. It is a fitting pattern now for this squad.

Here is my rub: the Seattle Mariners front office, which despite their repeated best intentions, are continually fucking up all of these lauded improvements, over and over and over again.

Whalen walked away from baseball because of the lack of assistance the Mariners provided, and the one thing this fucking franchise was supposed to be good at was all of that “new agey” shit, like mental health.

Now, obviously, Whalen’s story can easily be applied to the entirety of Major League Baseball. The one difference is that most coaches and general managers across the league, unlike Mr. Gerard Peter Dipoto, don’t talk in interviews like they returned from Burning Man for the for the first time in their life.

Mental health is the most important health possible. I know. I spent years in therapy after my father passed away trying to make sense of a world that I no longer wanted to make any sense–because that feeling was easier. It was hard work, but at least I had support. I was able to rediscover the passions in life and get back on-track.

Rob Whalen did not have any support. The Mariners completely failed him. Now, Rob Whalen is no longer playing baseball. Instead, in fitting 2019 fashion, we are stuck with Director of Player Development Andy McKay, a snake oil salesman, just like the man who hired him.

Boys Into Men

Two moments, two boys, two men, two futures, and one choice

It is Thursday, and Michigan State is losing to Bradley. Because college sports is the least regulated (and not coincidentally most wildly corrupt) institution in major American sports it’s easy for gross inequalities to form and widen. Michigan State and Bradley sit upon opposite sides of this now gaping chasm, and let’s just say Bradley shouldn’t be winning. There’s a time out and, from nowhere, chaos.

This is a man screaming at a boy. He does so not to instruct, nor to impart wisdom. He does so because he is furious. He does so because once, when he was a boy, someone near him was furious, and screamed at him. He screams because he can, because he has worked for it. His title, his tenure, his bank balance afford him unlimited power. He is not mad at a bad defensive rotation, a failure to make the extra pass, or a lack of hustle on the break. He is simply mad, and all that money and power affords him a convenient target, one so helpless and vulnerable he can be screamed at live on television and the majority of humans will think almost nothing of it. This is how boys become men.

***

It is very early in the morning on that very same Thursday, and in the middle of a baseball game a ceremony has broken out. Ichiro, a global icon whose impact on the game stands among the greats even if he were not also one of the greatest baseball players to ever live, is leaving the field as a player, for the final time. His teammates have lined up to hug, to high five, to pay their due respect for the legend. He reaches his teammate and countryman Yusei Kikuchi, who has just made his major league debut.

This is a man weeping into the shoulder of his idol. He does not cry because he is sad. He cries because, despite a world that declared it to be weak, someone near him made it clear to him that it’s OK. They told him no matter where, or when, or how, there will come times when the effort to hold it all in will not be worth the cost. That doing so will make us hard, and full of rage. He is crying because as a boy he found a man to idolize, a star by which to set his course. Unlike most of us, this boy stayed the course. He followed the path of his idol and, at the very end of that idol’s career, he shared the field with him. One game, one day, one moment shared. When it was over, he wept, and his idol embraced him. Two men, and one exchange. This is how boys become men.

 

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?

 

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)