The Seattle Mariners have far exceeded the expectations of anyone and everyone outside the organization itself, and probably most within the franchise, too.
But they have work to do this summer, both on the field, where they are limping into the All-Star break, and off it, where GM Jerry Dipoto is undoubtedly looking for the most effective ways to improve his club.
As a result of all of the above, we’re probably going to learn a lot about this ownership’s commitment to winning.
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The current group, led by John Stanton, has owned the club for a little less than two years, taking over in August 2016. The previous group proved to be about avoiding losses — not about profits, but making sure they didn’t lose money. And to be fair, most of the the last several years, Seattle was among the top 10-12 payrolls in baseball. They simply didn’t spend it wisely enough to do any damage.
But this summer is different than any other over the past 14 seasons. It’s a good club, albeit not a great one. It’s a club in the lead for a postseason spot right now. And it’s doing so for the first time under Stanton’s leadership.
There are lots of reasons why this ownership may act a little differently — ok, a lot differently — than the Howard Lincoln-led group:
- 2018 is the best opportunity to end the postseason drought since 2003
- There are trade opportunities out there
- Some of those opportunities will require money
- Willingness to take on payroll could give the club an edge and an opportunity they will not otherwise have in player acqisition
- The club has the best GM they’ve employed since Pat Gillick left his post … after the 2003 season
This isn’t about an ownership overriding the baseball operations department like “no, you can’t trade Kyle Lewis,” this is about dollars. We all heard the stories and read the reports of $1-2 million being the difference between the club acquiring Juan Gonzalez from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Joel Pineiro in 2000.
Subsequently, the Mariners were outscored 31-18 in the ALCS that year in a six-game series defeat to the New York Yankees. They were held to two runs or less four times in the series. Just saying.
The Mariners are committed to about $160 million in payroll this season as we stand. That’s after trades, cash-in, Cano Fund, etc. There is no salary cap in Major League Baseball, and that figure is $37 million under this year’s luxury tax threshold.
After this season, the contracts of David Phelps, Marc Rzepczynski and Nelson Cruz expire. Next year’s luxury tax threshold is $206 million. The Mariners, if the offseason were to start today, would sit about $45 million under the luxury tax, and that’s assuming and including the tenders and likely 2019 salaries of key arb-eligible player such as James Paxton, Alex Colome, Mike Zunino, among others. I don’t believe Erasmo Ramirez will be tendered.
The reason I keep bringing up the luxury tax threshold is because that’s the only limit the Mariners ownership should be concerned with right now, and for the foreseeable future. Paying tax penalties is a horrible idea for a mid-market club. But anything below that should be more than just fair game, it should be made readily available to Dipoto.
That doesn’t mean it makes sense to go trade for bad contracts because you can. The path of least resistence doesn’t work in roster building in Major League Baseball.
But it does mean Dipoto should be allowed to navigate the 2018-2019 seasons however he sees fit as long as the payroll remains under the tax.
Trade Kyle Lewis? Fine. Commit more money up to a certain level? Yes.
Again, let me reiterate; this does not mean acquiring big-money players has to happen, needs to happen or a lack of it at the trade deadline is a sign of a stingy ownership. What I’m saying is dollars shouldn’t get in the way at this point. And I don’t believe it will.
Chairman John Stanton cares about this team’s success on the field EXACTLY like you do. He’s a fan, too. And not just some fan who likes baseball. He loves it. He’s married to it. He’s dug in as deep as you and me.
Some of you believe that, some of you don’t. But it’s important to know, Stanton is not alone. The group that purchased the majority shares two summers ago, First Avenue Entertainment, is full of long-time Seattle-area residents, business leaders and huge baseball fans. And they aren’t new to this. They were minority stakeholders when Nintendo of America held the majority. They could have left the ownership business two years ago and made a lot of money on the way out.
But they didn’t, they chose, again, to remain as part of the club’s ownership group, knowing damn well it’s not really a gigantic money-making venture (the operating income was in the red in 2016, the year they took over). They’ve gone through this dry spell with Mariners fans, and chose to stay.
They all hate losing. Perhaps Stanton most of all. This summer is Stanton’s opportunity to prove that to you.
What it appears this group believes that is different from Nintendo of America is winning breeds revenue — NoA saw that as a proposition they weren’t really willing to chase. Or maybe Stanton and company just believe the risk is worth the potential reward. Or perhaps it’s as simple as caring a little more about winning than making money.
If that doesn’t sound fan-like to you, we need to have a sidebar. Just you and me.
The Mariners head into very important stretch — the next two weeks leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline of 1pm PT, July 31 — both on and off the field. The Oakland Athletics are making things interesting in the No. 2 Wild Card race and Dipoto has weaknesses to patch up on the roster.
There will be hiccups and hurdles along the way, such as injuries, surging rivals and contenders vying for the same talent on the trade market.
One thing not likely to be on that list, however, is cash.