There are nine people in the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame. Four joined the Mariners organization thanks to one man – former GM Woody Woodward. Ironically, Woodward isn’t one of those nine Hall of Famers. Why not?
I can already sense the eyes rolling across the Pacific Northwest. A loud and perhaps large segment of fans believes Woodward doesn’t deserve the same honor bestowed upon some of the most beloved figures in Mariners franchise history.
|Alvin Davis||Dave Niehaus||Jay Buhner|
|Edgar Martinez||Randy Johnson*||Dan Wilson*|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||Lou Piniella*||Jamie Moyer*|
|* Brought to Seattle by Woody Woodward|
Probably Tampa Bay.
The Mariners Board of Directors selects individuals for its Hall of Fame. Recommendations can come from nearly any source – team executives, Mariners players, media members, or fans. Based on eligibility guidelines for selection, Woodward qualifies for consideration:
- Full-time employee of the Mariners for at least five seasons;
- Made significant contributions to Mariners Baseball and the franchise, either on or off the field.
Woodward clearly meets the first requirement after 11 seasons as GM. The second article will inevitably prompt debate. Does Woody’s body of work rise to the level of Mariners Hall of Famer?
I believe it does.
In The Beginning
Woodward became Mariners GM in July 1988 after briefly doing the same job for the Yankees and Phillies. The former Florida State Seminole stayed in place through the 1999 season making him the longest-tenured GM in franchise history. Amazingly, Woody’s assignment spanned across three different ownership groups headed by George Argyros, Jeff Smulyan, and finally Hiroshi Yamauchi.
Fun fact: Piniella relieved Woodward as Yankees GM in 1987.
Prior to Woodward’s arrival, the Mariners didn’t have a winning season since beginning play in 1977. That changed with an 83-79 record in 1991. Despite the success, the team replaced manager Jim Lefebvre with Bill Plummer, who lasted one year.
Piniella took over in 1993 and remained on the job for 10 years. Woodward provided Lou with a core of stars to anchor a winning club through the mid-to-late Nineties. All told, the Woodward-Piniella partnership produced a 540-525 record and postseason appearances in 1995 and 1997.
|Ken Griffey Jr.||Edgar Martinez||Jay Buhner|
|Álex Rodríguez*||Dan Wilson*||Randy Johnson*|
|* Brought to Seattle by Woody Woodward|
If you didn’t know anything else about the Mariners, you may be wondering why anyone would challenge a Woodward candidacy for the club’s Hall of Fame. Well, there are reasons.
Oh, Those Trades
To be clear, I’m going to won’t re-litigate whether other clubs bamboozled the Mariners. Instead, let’s focus on the team’s apparent motivation for making those deals – controlling cost and a win-now mentality.
Being a low-revenue club influenced the Mariners’ stance towards improving its roster and the timing of trades during Woodward’s tenure. The first notable instance involved Mark Langston in 1989. The ace was earning $1.35 million making him the second highest paid Mariner behind Alvin Davis. With Langston in his walk year, the team dealt him to Montreal.
We all know trading Langston led to the team acquiring Johnson. The “Big Unit” spent 10 seasons in the Emerald City, won a Cy Young Award, and finished top-3 three other times. A decade later, the club wouldn’t financially commit to retaining the then-34-year-old. Once again, Woodward recouped value for a pending free agent by trading Randy for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and John Halama.
In 1993, Woodward shipped Gold Glove shortstop Omar Vizquel to Cleveland for Félix Fermín and Reggie Jefferson. Vizquel’s climbing salary, which doubled to $2.4 million in 1994, likely persuaded Seattle to trade the defensive whiz. Another possible factor – the pending arrival of A-Rod.
After its franchise-changing postseason run in 1995, the team dealt Tino Martinez to the Yankees. Yet again, the club wasn’t interested in paying what Tino would’ve commanded as a free agent a year later. Woodward divulged this reality when discussing the trade with Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times.
“While all of us here wish we could keep the entire club intact, it is just not possible under the current economic system.” – Woody Woodward
The “current economic system” likely led to shipping Mike Blowers to the Dodgers for Miguel Cairo and Willis Otanez. The former Washington Husky’s 1996 salary more than tripled what he made during the year prior with the Mariners.
During the second half of Woodward’s tenure, the Mariners were postseason contenders several times. When in contention, Woody pursued established players to support the playoff push. The results of his summer dealing varied greatly.
In 1995, the team made two key additions – pitcher Andy Benes and outfielder Vince Coleman. To get these rentals, Seattle shipped former first rounders Marc Newfield and Ron Villone to San Diego for Benes. Reliever Jim Converse went to the Royals for Coleman. Both players contributed to the Mariners reaching the postseason for the first time ever.
Fun fact: A year after Seattle dealt Newfield and Villone, they moved again as a pair in a trade to Milwaukee.
In July 1996, Woodward added starter Jamie Moyer from the Red Sox for outfielder Darren Bragg. A day later, Terry Mulholland arrived from Philadelphia for minor-league infielder Desi Relaford, rated Seattle’s third best prospect by Baseball America.
Bragg and Relaford each had 11-year careers, but losing the pair didn’t set back the Mariners long-term. Mulholland, a rental, made 12 starts posting a league-average 4.67 ERA. Conversely, Moyer remained with Seattle for a decade ultimately entering the franchise’s Hall of Fame.
Another August deal now looks terrible thanks to 20/20 hindsight. Woodward shipped a 20-year-old outfielder named David Arias to Minnesota for veteran David Hollins – a one-month rental. Most of you know Arias by the name that likely appears on his plaque in Cooperstown someday – David Ortiz.
A year later, Woodward traded two former first round picks for bullpen help in separate deals. Unlike previous summers, the players dealt away enjoyed sustained success elsewhere. One of the trades continues to irk some disillusioned fans.
To acquire Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric, Seattle shipped outfielder José Cruz Jr. to the Blue Jays. Prior to the deal, Cruz flashed the talent that prompted the Mariners to select him with the third overall pick in 1995. The Rice alum would be runner-up for 1997 AL Rookie of the Year. Timlin and Spoljaric provided needed depth for Woodward’s bullpen.
Then, there’s the trade still troubling those who can’t let go. The Mariners traded their 1994 first round pick, Jason Varitek, and fellow minor-leaguer Derek Lowe to the Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb.
Varitek played 15 seasons in Boston and was a team leader during its championship window. Battery-mate Lowe placed third in 2002 AL Cy Young voting and helped the Sawx win the 2004 World Series. Conversely, Slocumb served as Seattle’s closer for the remainder of 1997 providing marginal value during two seasons.
Fun fact: Two teams drafted Varitek in the first round. Minnesota in 1993, Seattle a year later.
Frustrated fans tend to focus on the success of Varitek and Lowe compared to Slocumb’s. That’s understandable. Still, what confounds me was the rationale of trading two prospects, one a first rounder, for a reliever not pitching well for Boston.
Well, there’s a story.
Last year, Peter Gammons of the Athletic detailed the machinations of the trade. Apparently, Woodward called Red Sox GM Dan Duquette 15 minutes before the deadline wanting to acquire Slocumb and mistakenly thought Duquette wanted both Varitek and Lowe when Boston would’ve settled for one or the other.
Clearly, Woody had a blind spot when it came to trading young players for short-term veterans. Especially when his team was contending. Perhaps having a manager preferring established players to newbies influenced his tactics.
The best player drafted by any MLB team during Woodward’s tenure was A-Rod. He’d go on to be a three-time MVP and join the exclusive 3,000-hit/600-home run club with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Albert Pujols.
Some may suggest drafting A-Rod was a no-brainer. Fair point, but Woodward once told Christian Red of the NY Daily News there were critics of Seattle’s selection. Apparently, some believed the team should’ve picked Darren Dreifort, a pitcher out of Wichita State.
“There were a few people criticizing us for taking A-Rod over Dreifort. They’re hard to find now.” – Woody Woodward
Despite shrewdly selecting A-Rod, Seattle didn’t obtain significant on-field value from its draft classes during the Woodward era. The team signed 278 players from the 1989-99 drafts with 58 reaching the majors. Only half had a career bWAR greater than 0.0. That’s bad, yes?
The first round was particularly brutal. Obviously, A-Rod produced results worthy of a Cooperstown plaque. That said; only he and Gil Meche reached free agency with Seattle. Woodward traded six of his first rounders with five others never playing in MLB.
|89||Scott Burrell*||Never Reached MLB|
|89||Roger Salkeld||Traded in 1995|
|90||Tony Manahan||Never Reached MLB|
|90||Marc Newfield||Traded in 1995|
|91||Shawn Estes||Traded in 1995|
|92||Ron Villone||Traded in 1995|
|93||Álex Rodríguez||Free Agent in 2006|
|94||Jason Varitek||Traded in 1997|
|95||José Cruz Jr.||Traded in 1997|
|96||Gil Meche||Free Agent in 2006|
|97||Ryan Anderson||Never Reached MLB|
|98||Matt Thornton||Traded in 2006|
|99||Jeff Heaverlo||Never Reached MLB|
|99||Ryan Christianson||Never Reached MLB|
|* Did Not Sign With Mariners|
By now, it’s obvious the draft wasn’t Seattle’s strong suit during Woodward’s tenure. In fairness, the organization has rarely enjoyed sustained success at transforming amateur players into big-league talent.
Living In The Now
To mitigate the low availability of MLB-ready talent in its farm system, Woodward used free agency to bridge the gap during the winning years. The club didn’t sign marquee names, although several valuable free agents helped the Mariners during the good times. A sample of such players includes Rich Amaral, Luis Sojo, Joey Cora, Paul Sorrento, José Mesa, and Paul Abbott.
Still, the persistent jettisoning of youth combined with an increasing reliance on veterans to win-now depleted the Mariners’ already shaky system. Consequently, the team’s roster grew older by the final years of Woodward’s tenure. As you can see below, the ratio of plate appearances assigned to players 31-and-older rose substantially during the Nineties until Woody’s last season.
Percentage of PA’s By Age-31 & Over Mariners (1989-99)
“Minnesota did a nice job identifying David as the player they wanted. We needed a third baseman and Hollins came over and did a nice job for us. We had a lot of good hitters at the major league side so it was hard to project David down the road on our club.” – Woody Woodward
Essentially, management believed the team’s core could reach the World Series with the right complementary pieces. On the other hand, the organization had to realize the “good hitters” Woodward referred to were going to become too costly to retain or were quickly approaching age-related regression.
With that, let’s turn our attention to the purse string holders.
A GM typically receives considerable grief over player moves. Sometimes, justifiably so. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the reality he must operate within the financial boundaries established by ownership. In Woodward’s case, his owners weren’t free spenders – especially during the Kingdome days.
“When I told them (fellow executives Roger Jongewaard and Lee Pelekoudas) we could add payroll at the deadline, it was like it was Christmas,” Woodward said. “They asked me what happened? Why? I said ownership wanted to be in the race. I gave them the same pitch I always used, but this time it fell on concerned ears.”
Essentially, ownership rarely approved payroll increases to win. This necessitated Woodward’s patchwork approach towards seeking complimentary pieces for his superstar core. Supporting this assertion, a Seattle PI piece also authored by Thiel. When discussing the bullpen in December 1997, the venerable writer opined the budget prevented the team from building a contender.
“A roster churn dictated by cash is hardly unique in baseball to the Mariners. But the Mariners are among the few teams with legitimate postseason parts without the budget for postseason success.” – Art Thiel
During this time, the Mariners revealed the team wouldn’t re-sign Johnson. By August, Randy was pitching for Houston. Two years later, Junior and A-Rod were gone too.
It’s important to emphasize the win-maybe attitude of senior team officials doesn’t exonerate Woodward of his miscues. However, he was in the unenviable spot of trying to contend without the complete support of ownership. Despite all of this, Woodward managed to bequeath his relief with a solid foundation when he retired in 1999.
New GM Pat Gillick transformed the other 1977 expansion team – the Blue Jays – into a two-time World Series champion. Gillick also oversaw Baltimore during two consecutive ALCS appearances in 1996-97. In Seattle, the Hall of Fame executive started on good ground thanks to his predecessor.
Although Gillick made key additions, such as Ichiro, Mike Cameron, and Boone, Woodward’s fingerprints are all over the roster of the 116-win team of 2001. Altogether, 12 holdovers from the Woodward regime played prominent roles on that squad, including most of the rotation – Paul Abbott, John Halama, Jamie Moyer, Freddy García, and Joel Piñeiro.
In a way, Gillick’s maneuvering extended the competitive widow Woodward had opened.
Some fans refer to Safeco Field (now T-Mobile Park) as “The House That Griffey Built.” Maybe, but Woodward constructed the 1995 team that inspired lawmakers to fund that wonderful ballpark at the corner of Edgar & Dave. In essence, that makes Woody its architect. How can’t he be in the Mariners Hall of Fame?
Perhaps there are in-house reasons known only to the Mariners justifying Woodward’s exclusion. Maybe he’s the kind of person who helps himself to other people’s lunch in the office refrigerator or takes the last cup of coffee without starting a new pot. If that’s the case, we may never know.
Is it possible the concern over negative public feedback would sway the Mariners Board away from selecting Woodward? After all, his teams couldn’t reach the World Series despite boasting so much Hall of Fame talent. That’s a tough pill to swallow for fans.
True, but Woody Woodward’s body of work vaulted the Mariners into relevance for the first time in the club’s existence. Without his efforts, where would the team be today?
Probably Tampa Bay.
Perhaps now is the time to honor Woodward for the considerable contributions that made the Mariners a fun and exciting postseason team and helped keep the franchise in the Emerald City. Those sound like a Hall of Fame achievements to me.
My Oh My…
(Photo: Elaine Thompson / AP)