The Mariners Won One Against The White Sox

If you ever want to know where the Mariners are in their rebuild, it’s helpful to see how they play against the very best teams in baseball. I would put the White Sox up there among them, and at least at this point in the rebuild, the M’s were outclassed.

The game on Monday was a brutal 6-0 shutout. Justus Sheffield looked pretty good through three innings, but the wheels started to come off in the fourth, and he was done after five, having given up 6 runs, 4 earned. I would say that performance was as expected for a guy making his first start of the season, against a team that absolutely mashes left-handed pitching.

The real drag was from the lineup, who managed only three hits on the day (two of them by Haniger). We struck out 15 fucking times against only 4 walks; that’s as pathetic as it gets. Take a picture of what the outfield looks like right now (sans Haniger), as it can ONLY improve from here with call-ups and guys returning from injury. Jake Fraley, Sam Haggerty, and Taylor Trammell don’t appear to be Major League players (yet? maybe ever?). Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, and Julio Rodriguez can’t get here soon enough.

The only positive in this one was the four innings of shutout ball by the bullpen. Don’t get used to that, though.

Tuesday’s game was a miserable 10-4 blowout, where both Paxton and Fraley left injured. Paxton’s injury seems particularly bad, as he’s reportedly seeking a second opinion. Fraley: who cares? Margevicius never should’ve appeared in this series – being a soft-tossing lefty – and was roped around accordingly. The rest of the bullpen behind him didn’t do the team any favors either, as everyone after Paxton combined to give up 9 of the 10 runs.

As for the hitters, Haniger and Ty France were good! Tom Murphy was productive in his at-bats at DH. Everyone else was pretty mediocre.

Yesterday’s game was a relatively impressive 8-4 victory for the M’s! I’ll be honest, that was a tough one to see coming, and in retrospect seems even less likely!

Justin Dunn has improved velocity on his fastball, but was otherwise up to his old tricks in this one: allowing one hit while walking EIGHT! Ye gods. He failed to get through the fifth inning. BUT, the hitters brought their lunch pails in this one, scoring three off of old buddy Dallas Keuchel, then five more against some hapless reliever who got knocked around something fierce.

Kyle Seager started pulling his weight in this one, with three hits and three RBI. But, seven Mariners in total had hits, most of them in a 7-run sixth inning.

The bullpen went 4.1 innings, giving up just 1 run, with Will Vest getting his first career Major League win. All in all, a lot to like about this one game at least. If the series as a whole is a barometer of where the Mariners are in their rebuild, it’s encouraging to have a performance like this one to at least give us some hope.

Now, the Mariners are off on their first road trip of the season, with a weird three-game series against the Twins (with a random Friday off-day). I don’t understand why MLB didn’t schedule this with another off-day on Sunday; if you’re SO worried about there being a rainout, why not front-load the games so you have a better opportunity to get the entire series in? Sure, the Twins’ home-opener is secure, but what happens if there’s a rain storm on Saturday or Sunday? We’re fucked into making a repeat trip to Minnesota later in the season! Fucking idiots; schedule smarter!

James Paxton Is Hurt Again

In his first start back, no less!

Before the game yesterday, I was trying to think of a couple storylines to write about the Mariners this morning. One, I think, is very much on the table, and I will get to it shortly. The other was going to compliment the bullpen a little bit, but that might be premature.

Regardless, they take a backseat to James Paxton throwing 24 pitches in anger last night before succumbing to elbow pain. Jesus Christ.

When you sign a guy in the prime of his life – if not, necessarily, the prime of his Major League Baseball career – you kind of expect … something. Even when you sign him to a 1-year, prove-it deal, after an injury-shortened 2020 season, you still figure there’s been plenty of time for him to recover and build himself up into a Best Shape Of His Life candidate. While you’re aware of the risk of another injury befalling this unlucky individual, you DEFINITELY don’t expect that injury to take place in the very first start, after an incident-free Spring Training!

I mean, I can’t even begin to tell you the level of relative despair I felt when I heard the announcers say that Scott Servais was coming out of the dugout in the second inning. I’m sure that’s nothing to the actual despair felt by Paxton and those close to him, but this really fucking sucks. Not just from a fan or a team perspective. Obviously, I want to see him pitch. He’s great when he’s healthy! He’s a fun guy to root for! And, not for nothing, but if he helps the Mariners win ballgames, maybe we can parlay that into ongoing affiliation with the team; or, conversely, if we want to take another stab at trading a veteran on a short deal for prospect(s) at the trade deadline this summer, all the better there too. But, even if nothing comes out of his second stint with the Mariners, and it fails to benefit us whatsoever, I was mostly hoping – for his sake – that he’d last the whole season and be able to resurrect things, to the extent that a pitcher with his injury history is able to do so. He really does deserve to have sustained success, and it’s not completely unheard of for guys in his position to have late-career flourishes.

It was announced today that he’s going on the 10-Day IL (as well as Jake Fraley, who apparently injured his hamstring while making a spectacular diving catch last night). Nick Margevicius – who had the ignominious honor to follow Paxton last night into a hornet’s nest of White Sox batters who crush left-handed pitching – will take the open spot in the rotation. That’s as big of a downgrade as you can get, I’d imagine, but it obviously won’t be as bad as it was last night in every start he makes.

Get well soon, Paxton! This season is A LOT more fun with you on the mound!

The Mariners Somehow Won Their Opening Weekend Series!

Actually, that’s not such a remarkable feat, but you try writing thousands of quasi-unique blog post titles and see what you come up with.

After staying at the game past 11pm, and then not getting home until around midnight last Thursday, I didn’t have it in me to watch the entirety of Friday night’s game. I’m such a bad fan! I’m such an old man! Kill me now!

What I did see, however, was an impressive outing by Yusei Kikuchi (who swapped places with Paxton in the rotation for … reasons), who went 6 innings, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk while striking out 10! Unfortunately, all three of his runs came on 2 homers, and he ended up with a no decision for his troubles.

This feels like a pretty standard 6-3 loss for the Mariners in 2021: pretty good starting pitching, not so great hitting (only 6 hits all game), and a dud performance from the bullpen (highlighted by Drew Steckenrider’s 3 runs in 0.2 innings of relief). Once the game was given away like that, I toddled off to bed. But, I still say this one was promising, for Kikuchi’s improved command alone. If he can keep that up all year, we might be onto something!

I’ll admit, I didn’t have high hopes for the rubber match on Saturday (the rare Sunday off-day is throwing me for a loop, I have to admit), with Chris Flexen making his Mariners debut. I was also outside working with my friends in their backyard gravel pit, so I managed to miss all but the very end of this one. Which is too bad, because it looks like I missed a pretty good Flexen outing! 5 innings of shutout ball, on 4 hits & 2 walks, with 6 strikeouts. We were told ahead of time that he might be limited in how long he could go, so all things considered that’s pretty amazing!

The bullpen behind him was also pretty fantastic! I would assume the combination – in some order – of Kendall Graveman, Anthony Misiewicz, and closer Rafael Montero will be in play for the vast majority of games where the Mariners hold a lead late. These are the guys Scott Servais is going to rely on until they prove they can’t handle it. Graveman went 2 shutout innings, striking out 5. Misiewicz appeared to struggle, but got two outs in the eighth. And Montero came through with the 4-out save after blowing one on Opening Night. All in all, as solid a 4-0 victory as you’ll see.

It’s obviously too early to draw any grand conclusions from three games. I don’t think the Giants are overburdened with quality pitching, so while it’s nice that the M’s hitters did as well as they did, we could very well be in for lean times ahead. Only three American League teams – who have played in just three games – have more team strikeouts so far. And, again, that’s with the Giants not having good pitching whatsoever.

The vaunted White Sox come to town for three starting tonight, before we hit the road for Minnesota and Baltimore. It would be nice to steal as many wins over the next ten days as possible, considering how difficult the schedule gets in the back-half of this month, and on into May.

The Mariners Somehow Won On Opening Day!

I don’t go to every Opening Day Mariners game, but I’ve been to quite a bit. After last year – when zero people got to see the game in person – my friends and I made an extra-special effort to get into this one. There were 9,000 tickets available – a robust 25% or so of the maximum capacity (actually, now that I do the math … on a 48,000-seat stadium … something doesn’t add up here) – and of course they sold out immediately. Naturally, many of the people who snapped them up promptly sold them on the secondary market, because everything is broken in the world.

Never mind your got-damn politics! This is a sports blog, you hear?!

Anyway, my three best pod-mates and myself were able to snag four seats in the 300 level for around $110 (including fees) apiece. That ain’t bad. You don’t look into getting Mariners tickets for Opening Day to find a good deal, you pay what you pay and you get your buns inside!

But first, a little pre-game festivities. Let’s see, Hooverville was closed. Henry’s shut down. Pyramid is no more. Elysian is down. The Triangle Pub is in the big triangle in the sky. Jimmy’s is out of commission. I mean, if you were looking for a bar that survived the pandemic, GOOD LUCK! My friends and I have always been partial to Sluggers, and they didn’t disappoint. But, even at whatever capacity they’re allowing inside bars and restaurants now, you still have to get there pretty early in the day to find a seat.

I will say that Gantry Public House looks VERY promising. They were at capacity when we got there, but they have outdoor seating and open-air indoor seating. Much smaller than Pyramid, but probably the best available as far as drinking outdoors prior to a game is concerned. As an aside, I’ll never understand why Pyramid failed. How did they not rake in money hand over fist on all the dates they had baseball, football, and soccer games? That should have been more than enough to give them the cushion they needed to survive the pandemic, but what do I know?

Anyway, we had a few beers in Sluggers, waiting for our entire party to arrive from their respective places of employment, then we headed into the stadium around 6:30pm or so. In spite of the early arrival, making it to our seats on time for the first pitch looked a little dicey.

It seems impossible for there to be only 9,000 fans in attendance (or, considerably less, depending on how many tickets were unable to be re-sold on the secondary market) and yet the lines for concessions were insanely long. Yet, there we were, waiting in endless lines (some lines – like those that sold IPA-type beers that my friends like – were considerably more endless than others). I was able to buy and eat two hot dogs, as well as a bottle of water and a Coors Light in half the time it took my friends to get their beer order in, which is less than ideal. Also, some lines went nowhere! If a concession worker opted to go on his break … there wasn’t anyone else to pick up the slack? So, you’re just waiting there for 15+ minutes, or until someone says, “Yeah, he went on break, there’s no one working this register.”

Also, this was less of a problem, but more of a warning: T-Mobile Park is apparently 100% cashless now. So, have working plastic in order if you want to buy anything.

You know what’s super-nice about being in a stadium on Opening Day with ~9,000 of your closest Mariners-rooting friends? Not having to stand up every two minutes to let people out of your row! I’ve enjoyed socially distanced baseball games since before it was cool! Also, I think the longest I ever had to wait to use the bathroom was MAYBE a minute? I was in and out every time I needed to pee! This: I could get used to.

The game itself was … fine, until it got wildly fun in the later innings. We goosed our enjoyment level by betting the OVER of 7.5 total runs in the game. It looked like we might’ve needed the Giants to do everything in that regard, as the M’s were down 5-0 through six innings.

I’ll tell you my rationale for betting the over. It certainly wasn’t contingent upon the lineup the Mariners were throwing out there, with Kyle Lewis injured and whatnot. Last year, the rotation really struggled the first time through; and generally it seems to be pretty tough sledding for guys whose arms aren’t built up yet. Looking at the starter the Giants were pitting against us, it seemed like a quasi-no brainer.

Marco Gonzales did his part, giving up 5 runs in six innings. He really didn’t have it in this one, walking three and giving up three dingers. But, Kevin Gausman sure did! I couldn’t tell what his pitches were doing from our vantage point, but they must’ve been moving like crazy, because our batters were off-balance all night.

Thankfully, the Giants’ bullpen isn’t any better than ours, it would seem, as that fateful 8th inning not only gave my friends and I the over 7.5 in runs, but gave the Mariners a real opportunity to win this game!

The Mariners went into the inning down 6-1. A walk and two singles made it 6-2. Two more walks sandwiching a strikeout made it 6-3. With Dylan Moore standing at the plate, we checked on the live-betting; the Mariners were +525 to win the game at that moment. Several moments later – after considerable waffling on our parts, ultimately resulting in no bet being made, in spite of half of our party being on board (I was not one of them, sadly) – Moore shot a double down the right field line to score two more, making it 6-5 (and dropping the odds considerably for the M’s to win the game, where we ultimately snatched them up).

The Giants finally gave up a fielder’s choice/error to give the Mariners a 7-6 lead, so not only had we come all the way back, but we’d get a look at our brand new closer, Rafael Montero!

Montero – to the first batter he saw – got ahead 0-2 in the count on three off-speed pitches, only to give up a game-tying homer on a change-up on the outside corner of the plate (leaving it up in the zone, in spite of our pleas to bury it in the dirt). Montero was able to get out of the inning from there, but the damage was done. Extras would come into play on this day!

Anthony Misiewicz was able to work around the man on second base that MLB has decided is the new normal for extra innings games to get us into the bottom half unscathed. That ultimately earned him the victory, as the M’s walked the bases loaded with nobody out, only to walk in the winning run to anti-climactically send everyone home happy.

It also sent us home at around 11pm, which is LATE for me on a work night! So, you know, if this blog post is a little spastic, blame it on my lack of sleep. The Mariners are on pace for 162-0! Let’s dream the impossible dream, everyone!

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Rest Of The Team

Yesterday, I wrote about the starting rotation. Today – the day of the Mariners’ first game of the season – I’ll be writing about everything else.

If you’ve been following along all offseason, I’ve already written about most of these guys. But, now we have an official roster, so let’s run through it.

We’re pretty set with the infield:

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Dylan Moore (2B)
  • Evan White (1B)
  • Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)

All healthy, present, and accounted for! All of them, of course, come with question marks. Does Seager have anything left in the late-career resurgence tank? Can Crawford build on his Gold Glove campaign to be a more consistent (and somewhat more powerful) hitter? Was 2020 a mirage for Moore? Will White EVER hit, period? And, is the catcher position as strong as I expect it to be? How many of these guys – if any – will be longterm solutions at their respective positions? I gotta believe that the Next Great Mariners Team has at least a few of these guys playing roles; they can’t ALL still be in the minors or other organizations!

One guy we don’t have to worry about is:

This guy can hit! No notes! Also, since I believe in him so strongly, watch him struggle mightily. This is the way.

The outfield is my favorite part of this team, now and especially in the future. With Kyle Lewis starting on the 10-Day IL, it’s a little underwhelming at the moment, but obviously the M’s have to play it super safe with our 2020 Rookie of the Year.

  • Mitch Haniger (RF)
  • Jake Fraley (CF)
  • Taylor Trammell (LF)
  • Sam Haggerty (INF/OF)
  • Jose Marmolejos (INF/OF)

The story of camp has been Trammell making the Opening Day roster. Not just as an injury replacement to the injured Lewis, but as a legitimate starting left fielder for this team. He’s another one of those great guys we traded for from the Padres last year when we sent them Austin Nola – making us three for three of guys coming over in return making the team in 2021, with France and Torrens – whose prospect stock has fluctuated wildly over the course of his minor league career. But, he appears to be putting it all together now at just the right time: ahead of Kelenic and Rodriguez. This glut of highly-touted outfielders will only make things that much easier for the M’s as they fill out the rest of the roster to try to build a championship ballclub. Of everyone on this 26-man roster, Trammell is the one I’m most excited about.

And Haniger is the one I’m most curious about. He’s had a long road back to full health; at one point in his career he was one of the top 25-or-so players in the American League. It wouldn’t shock me to see him right back in that area; it also wouldn’t shock me to see him totally shit the bed. He no longer seems to be the future of the franchise, but he’s currently the present, and will have every opportunity to rebuild his value in the game of baseball.

Fraley and the rest are just guys. Placeholders until our young superstars return from injury and/or get called up from the minors.

The obvious wildcard on the Mariners is the bullpen:

  • Rafael Montero
  • Kendall Graveman
  • Nick Margevicius
  • Anthony Misiewicz
  • Keynan Middleton
  • Casey Sadler
  • Will Vest
  • Drew Steckenrider

Oof. Like I said, I have avoided learning too much about the bullpen; I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and draw my own conclusions. But, to get me started, I guess I’ll look up some info and regurgitate it here, for my own benefit if nothing else.

The Mariners traded for Rafael Montero from the Rangers in the offseason. He had 8 saves for a terrible Rangers team last year, and I guess figures to be our closer out of the gate? He doesn’t have a ton of Major League experience, but maybe he’s put it all together. We’ll see. He’s not a bad buy-low candidate, at least in the short term.

Graveman we all know. He was here last year, signed to be a starter after missing a lot of time with injuries. He ended up with a neck issue that somehow allows him to throw very hard in short bursts as a reliever, but hampers him too much to go too many innings in a row. I don’t understand this one iota (mostly, I don’t understand why he doesn’t just have some surgical procedure to fix it and return 100% healthy), but whatever. He’s generally pretty good for an inning most of the time, so that makes him a quality set-up candidate in my mind.

Margevicius was neck-and-neck with Justin Dunn for the sixth starter job. He will be one of the long men in the bullpen to eat up innings and keep us in ballgames when a starter falters. He’ll also be the first man to join the rotation if there’s an injury (and there will be an injury). He’s fine, I like him in this role a great deal. He’s also one of just two lefties in the ‘pen, so there should be no shortage of work for him this season.

Misiewicz is presumably our top lefty reliever. We drafted him in 2015 and he made his debut last year. He was pretty good, I think! I dunno, we’ll see I guess.

Keynan “Don’t Call Me Kenyan” Middleton was a free agent signing who played for the Angels’ organization the last four years. His 2020 looked pretty atrocious. The three years prior look better, just as long as you don’t go sniffing around his FIP too hard. He might be just a guy. A cheap guy, but a guy nevertheless. He’s still young enough to put it all together, but don’t hold your breath.

Sadler is a veteran we claimed from the Cubs last year, who has bounced around multiple organizations. He’s someone else with big Just A Guy energy.

Will Vest is a Rule 5 guy we poached from the Tigers this offseason. He will be making his Major League debut this year, which will be somewhat fun! Other than that, I dunno. He’s the Rule 5 guy, that’s the nugget I’m going to keep in my brain and promptly forget as soon as he makes it into an actual game.

Drew Steckenrider sounds like one of those names I always fuck up when it comes to those Lookout Landing Sporcle quizzes asking you to name all the Mariners’ pitchers from a particular season. He came over from the Marlins organization on a minor league deal and was apparently one of the last guys to make the team. He’s another one I’m not holding my breath about.

***

The world is our oyster here! The Mariners could be a Bottom Five team, but I really don’t think that will be the case. There’s a lot of young talent in the organization just waiting to break through. There’s a TON of athleticism. There’s promise bursting at the seams. This is a team that WANTS to be great, that has just enough leadership at just the right spots – including the coaching staff – to potentially make it happen. We could be looking at a team that hangs around and FINALLY becomes the one to break the playoff drought!

Or, you know, it could be another year with another mediocre record.

But, the hope is that the young guys will improve. That’s really all that matters. 2020 was a roaring success because we saw improvement from the guys we needed to see improvement from. 2021 needs to be more of the same. Winning and losing isn’t quite as irrelevant as it was last year, but that’s not the ultimate agenda quite yet. The experience of winning isn’t quite as important as the experience of just playing at this level, but there is a lot of value there. That’s why I won’t be as maniacal as in years past when it comes to getting a high draft pick for next season.

Do what you’re going to do, Mariners!

My prediction is that the M’s easily surpass the 72.5 win total that Vegas has them at. But, ultimately I don’t see us getting one of those Wild Card spots. Instead, we’ll probably be drafting in the teens next year.

I’m reserving all predictions beyond that. I’m not making ANY specific player predictions, because so much can happen. Injuries, regression, breakouts, it’s all on the table. My only hope is that I don’t exit this season feeling worse about the Mariners than I do right now. Right now, I’m full of optimism! So, let’s just work in service of that and try to make 2022 and beyond really special!

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Starting Rotation

I don’t know if the official 26-man roster has been set yet, but I do know we have the 6-man rotation good to go. So, I’ll start there. I’ll forego the bullpen because I don’t know those men, nor do I care to know those men. Tomorrow, I’ll look to talk about the everyday players and then we’ll get this pig in gear!

  1. Marco Gonzales (L)
  2. James Paxton (L)
  3. Chris Flexen (R)
  4. Justus Sheffield (L)
  5. Yusei Kikuchi (L)
  6. Justin Dunn (R)

The next man up – at least until Logan Gilbert gets his initial call-up – figures to be lefty Nick Margevicius. So, a lot of familiar faces there.

Once the M’s signed Paxton, this is pretty much the group we expected all along, even if the order after the top two is a little surprising. I think you can really toss all four of the bottom guys (five if you count Margevicius) into a hat and pick them out at random. Is Flexen really the #3 guy? Or, is he just projected to be the most-reliable right-handed starter and Scott Servais wanted to break up the four lefties? My hunch is it’s the latter.

When healthy, I’ll ride or die with Gonzales and Paxton all day every day; I think that’s as solid a 1-2 punch as you’ll find. Especially with Paxton as your #2? When he’s going strong, he’s as dominant as they come! If things break right with this team, these two guys should have tremendous winning percentages when it’s all said and done.

Neither, of course, were particularly amazing in Spring Training; Gonzales had a pretty high ERA and Paxton only made two official starts (with, presumably, lots of games in back-alleys to fill out his pitch counts). But, these are tried and true veterans who only need to get the work in; they have nothing to prove in these games. I expect big things.

Flexen has always been an interesting case, as he’s largely either an unknown in America, or a terrible pitcher. He salvaged his career in Asia, and obviously is hoping he can carry that over back in the Major Leagues, but this is all Wait & See for me. He had five starts in Spring Training, and pretty pedestrian numbers, but his last two starts totalled 8 innings of 5-hit, shutout ball. So, at least he’s hot heading into the regular season.

Justus Sheffield impressed the hell out of me in 2020. He’s another one with pretty shabby Spring Training numbers, but his last two starts totalled 8.2 innings of 6-hit, 2-run ball. He’s not the proven veteran that Gonzales and Paxton are, so I don’t know if we can totally write off his performance in those four official games. I would still expect an up-and-down season, hopefully with more ups than downs. A full Mariners turnaround and/or a playoff-bound 2021 season likely requires Sheffield to be better than he was in 2020, and to continue to improve as time goes on. I’ll be rooting like crazy for this to happen, even though I have my nagging doubts.

Seeing Yusei Kikuchi as the #5 starter is pretty abysmal, all things considered. There’s no way the Mariners signed him to all of that money to be their fifth starter. Kikuchi had three official starts in Spring Training and his numbers were solid. He continues to make steady progress, but I don’t know if he’s making ENOUGH progress to be a guy that will stick around beyond 2021. At this point, I’d say my prediction is that he’ll continue to scuffle and won’t be here in 2022 under his existing contract, if at all. BUT, of any one of these bottom four guys who might put it all together, I think Kikuchi has the highest ceiling in 2021 (if not necessarily beyond). He has the stuff! The fastball works. If the command locks in, the American League better watch out, because Kikuchi could be pretty special.

I was happy to see Justin Dunn make the rotation in the 6-spot, because obviously he has a much higher ceiling than Margevicius. He’s apparently in tremendous shape and has added a few MPH to his fastball. He’s still young, he’s still raw, but he battled like crazy in 2020 and I’m hopeful another year in the Bigs will work wonders for his development. Like the rest of these bottom four guys, I expect ups and downs. Like Sheffield (and, really, everyone, I suppose), here’s to more ups than downs.

The over/under for Mariners wins is 72.5 (72-90/73-89). That’s a pretty low bar for this team to clear. If it does, I think we’ll have to lean on the rotation to … just keep us in games. That’s largely what they did in 2020. Nothing TOO flashy, just some solid 5-6 innings of 3-4 run ball. The hitting will be there sometimes and will fail us sometimes (but, I think it’ll be there more often than not); the bullpen PROBABLY won’t blow it every single time.

For this team to exceed expectations and actually contend for a playoff spot, I think the rotation will have to be better than just solid. They’ll have to go long stretches of carrying this team. Of not putting too much on the shoulders of the bullpen, as it tries to sort itself out. It COULD be capable of that, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think this rotation is good enough to get us to 76-80 wins, with the team constructed around it as such. The real wild card is what we have in the upper minors, how quickly they can develop, and how hot they start their Major League careers.

The Mariners are going to have to ride their youngsters if they’re going to wildly exceed expectations. Fingers crossed!

I Can’t Fucking Wait To Go To Mariners Games This Year!

I like to think I’m taking the pandemic relatively seriously. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but I can see there’s a risk that exists for people and I’m doing my part to not make things worse. I’m also not a fucking maniac about it. I’m not going to go around wearing two masks (except I might when I’m flying on a plane next week; being in a smallish tube full of people who WILL be taking their masks off to eat and drink and whatnot seems like a petri dish of infection just waiting to happen), but I’m fine wearing my one mask whenever I need to go inside somewhere. Because I live with my recently-retired father at the moment (who isn’t yet 65 years old) and until he gets his vaccination, I want to at least make sure I’m looking out for him (hence why I’ll be quarantining when I return from my Vegas trip after next week).

But, I also realize it’s pretty easy for me to take the pandemic relatively seriously. I don’t go out a TON. I’m not frequenting a lot of bars or nightclubs, when I do go out it’s usually outside (where it’s safer, virally-speaking). I’m more than happy to work out on my own and wait until we have herd immunity before I get a new gym membership going. And, I work from home permanently now. So, it’s not like I’ve had to really sacrifice all that much in the last year to live my life. Every once in a while, cabin fever strikes. But, I can go for a walk or go for a long drive and usually feel better afterward.

So, I get why people might be apprehensive to return to baseball games, even at 25% capacity. It was announced that the Seattle Mariners are going to have fans for Opening Day on April 1st (and, obviously, going forward, barring a catastrophe); 9,000 people will be allowed inside T-Mobile Park. If the pandemic is something that’s keeping you up at night, if you’re paranoid about what COVID-19 will do to you (in either the short or long term), I can see why you might want to hold off on any large gatherings for the time being. But, I’m fucking ready. Let’s fucking go! Tickets are going on sale in a couple weeks and I am going to be ALL OVER IT.

The worst is behind us, man. Some of our most vulnerable people are being (or already have been) vaccinated. Is it going as smoothly as we’d like? Of course not. What ever does when it comes to the government? But, we’re quickly headed to the tipping point where we can finally exhale and relax. At this point, it’s been a fucking year. I’m willing to risk it – while still being relatively safe and wearing my mask and all that – in an outdoor stadium environment that is going to be as electric as anything I’ve ever witnessed.

For starters, there’s nothing like Opening Day baseball. It’s the best! In non-pandemic circumstances, you’ve got a full stadium, you’ve got happy fans optimistic for the coming season (where anything can happen!), you’ve got your best players out there competing to go 1-0 on the year, you’ve got the player pre-game introductions, you learn about the new stadium food and drink options. It’s a totally joyful experience! A couple of friends and I try to go to them every year, and we ALWAYS have a blast.

Now, 9,000 fans in a 48,000-seat stadium is usually reserved for a Tuesday night in early May. That’s when the Mariners have proven they’re going to suck once again, it’s dark, it’s cold, kids are still in school, it’s the middle of the week, and only the die-hards and the deranged have braved Seattle traffic to show up in person. That’s an experience in its own right, though, because you pretty much have your pick of where to sit, where to walk; concession lines are short; and you feel like you can yell at the umpire and he might actually hear what you say about his mother. You’re down on the team, sure, but that’s also fun too! It’s like you’re all in on the same twisted joke, and gallows humor is some of my favorite comedy.

So, just imagine what it’ll be like to combine the two: the optimism and joy of Opening Day, with a select few fans allowed inside during these crazy, fraught times. We’re probably never going to experience anything like this ever again! So, for that factor alone, you are DAMN RIGHT I’ll do everything in my power to make this happen. When tickets go on sale in a couple weeks, I’ll be right there trying to get some. And, come April 1st, I’ll be in probably some socially-distanced line waiting to get in.

I Am Part Of The Problem

I would recommend clicking HERE and reading all of this, because it says it all.

There are two types of sports fans in the world: those who side with the players, and those who side with ownership. I always find myself in the latter camp, which is strange, because politically-speaking, that’s the opposite of what I espouse. I’m not Team Amazon, or Team Google, or Team Facebook; I’m Team Workers’ Rights. Trickle-Down Economics is a scam, because that money NEEEEEEVER trickles down. The rich ALWAYS get richer, and everyone else stays the fucking same. That’s why you see such a widening disparity in the income gap from the 1970’s to today. It’s capitalism run amok thanks to a neverending supply of greed and one-upmanship. I wouldn’t say I’m as liberal as it gets, but I will say that the wealthy in this country have nobody’s interests at heart except themselves (until they get so old, and so rich, that they decide to dedicate their lives to atonement through charity, at which point the damage has already been done); in short, they’re fucking scumbags.

Never has any of this sentiment been more applicable than in the world of sports ownership. The value of professional franchises (in the United States, we’re talking mostly about the NFL, MLB, NBA, and to a lesser extent the NHL) have skyrocketed over the last four decades; it’s the single best investment we have going right now! This is for any number of reasons, but at its essence it boils down to the fact that there are SO MANY different ways to monetize your team. TV deals, merchandise, ticket sales, stadium naming rights, luxury boxes, advertisements, you name it. If there’s a buck to be had, it WILL be had.

I think where the main disconnect lies is with these arbitrary and self-imposed limits teams and leagues put on themselves when it comes to salaries for their employees. I would argue that I’m not ACTUALLY on the side of ownership, but I’m just a fan who lives in the real world. Would it be nice if all teams spent whatever it took to bring in the very best players? Of course, but I live in the real world where it’s been decided that this isn’t an option, unless you’re in New York or Los Angeles or a small handful of other large cities. Would it be nice if teams actually TRIED to win, and didn’t just give lip-service to that desire? Again, of course, but teams are always going to be more interested in making money, and there will always be money to be made, even in losing.

For as much of a cynic as I can be, or a pessimist on even a good day, I can’t help but hold out hope on the things I want the most, no matter how far-fetched they are. Never is that carrot dangled more tantalizingly than with the sports teams I follow. That hope is the only thing that keeps me coming back for more and more torment! Why else would any rational human being continue to stand by the Seattle Mariners for this long? Why would you welcome back the Seahawks with open arms again after the nadir that was the 1990’s? It’s a sickness in the human mind – Dan Savage refers to it as Dickful Thinking when talking about sex – that allows you to warp and twist your thinking in such a way as to delude yourself into believing that continuing on this path is a smart idea.

I like to think I’ve moved beyond the mentality of “Shut Up & Honor Your Contract” when it comes to disgruntled players (admittedly, I was very much in that camp until probably a few years ago); owners time and time again refuse to honor contracts, so why should players have to sit there and accept it? For the longest time, I begrudged Alex Rodriguez for taking that money from the Texas Rangers, but you know what? If they’re going to offer that kind of money, you’d be an idiot not to accept it!

But, it’s time to take this personal growth to the next level. I still have to work within the confines of reality – I’m still going to be in favor of the Seahawks making smart decisions within their own salary cap, a la K.J. Wright – but that doesn’t prevent me from also demanding that the system itself should change. That our reality – as we now know it – doesn’t have to remain so forever. Maybe use a little of that Dickful Thinking when it comes to sports and sprinkle some of it on a hope that teams and their respective ownership groups should, you know, TRY to win. Not just once in a while, but all the time!

It’s grotesque that there are so many viable and quality free agents out there without deals, or who have to accept below-market contracts, because Major League Baseball invented a “Luxury Tax” system that effectively works as a Salary Cap without using those exact words. It’s grotesque where – in a sport that prints money – we have such disparity in payrolls from roster to roster, yet provide everyone with the same profit-sharing mechanism to perpetuate their unwillingness to spend. If there’s going to be a Salary Cap – er, excuse me, a Luxury Tax – then there has to be a Salary Floor, and a significant one. Really, the bottom end should be damn close to where the top is. And, if you’re a team in a city that can’t afford to provide in this fashion, then either you need to move or you need to sell to an ownership group that’s smarter and better able to monetize their product.

You’re telling me the team in St. Louis, MO, can frequently land in the Top 10 in payroll every single year, while the team in Oakland, CA – in the heart of Silicon Valley – is always at or near the bottom? In what world does that sort of ineptitude get rewarded?

Oh, that’s right, in the REAL world, where the rich always get richer, and everyone else can go and fuck off!

Kevin Mather Resigned From The Mariners Instead

As soon as word spread about what former Seattle Mariners president Kevin Mather said at that Rotary Club online event on February 5th, it was clear he needed to go one way or another. Obviously, firing him would have been much more satisfying, and sent a more powerful message to the rest of the organization and the fanbase as a whole, but accepting his resignation yesterday works too (while, presumably, reducing the legal ramifications for the club in having to separate from a high-level executive).

To their extremely minimal credit, the remaining Mariners executives are saying the right things, sort of. They’re obviously downplaying Mather’s sentiments as his own, rather than the organization’s (which is, of course, bullshit). As I said before, and as is clear to anyone with half a brain cell, Mather wasn’t just making up total fabrications, he was being just about as candid as possible, without literally tossing out racial epithets. The president of a major sports team is privy to all of the inner-workings of that organization, as well as its plan of action for the next however-many years. What’s that quote? “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” That certainly applies here. Don’t believe Mather’s toothless apology Sunday night after he got caught; believe the 45-minute speech and Q&A that he didn’t realize was being recorded to later be published on the Internet.

Yesterday, John Stanton – majority owner – had to face the music to the press. He will be taking over as president on an interim basis until they find a permanent replacement. That’s not as interesting to me. What’s interesting is how he’s trying to walk back Mather’s statements as one man going rogue. Kind of a play on the One Bad Apple policeman analogy, that totally dismisses the systemic issues at the heart of the Seattle Mariners.

It’s a delicate dance, because the smart thing IS to manipulate with a player’s service time. Look, this is the system that we have in place. There’s no formal salary cap – the players won that battle a long time ago – but in its place, we have this system of Team Control, that might arguably be worse for players than it would be to have a hard cap. Professional sports owners are greedy and fucking RUTHLESS, man. If they’re conceding something to you, I would take a hard look at what you’re agreeing to, because somewhere in there is a huge blindspot that the owners will be more than happy to take advantage of.

Getting back to the dance, though, you have to play all sides. You have to tell the players, “It’s all about competition and having the best players out there to help the Major League club win ballgames,” while at the same time telling them, “Well, you’re young, and don’t have enough minor league reps yet, so we’re going to play this underqualified retread/has-been until you ARE ready,” which just so happens to be however long it takes to maximize that player’s Team Control. You have to tell the fans to be patient, that it’ll be worth it in the end when all of these young prospects are up with the big ballclub, so just hang in there! And, you have to bend to the will of the ownership group, who will cut any corner if it means saving money in the short term. Owners will TELL you they’re desperate to bring back a winner, but in reality, that only matters if it comes with lots of fanfare and beaucoup bucks.

So, where are we now? I would argue, trust in the Seattle Mariners is at an all-time low. The fans are, obviously, outraged, to see that management has – ONCE AGAIN – bungled in the face of zero adversity. The players are, justifiably, outraged, to see that their worst suspicions have been not only confirmed, but given a name and a face to place their scorn. And, shit, the other Major League ownership groups are outraged because everyone knows Kevin Mather and the Mariners aren’t the only ones who think and act this way; and, of course, the Players Association is outraged because they’re looking out for the players who keep getting dicked around in this fashion.

How do we fix it? Well, not fucking up royally again for a while will surely help! Time fixes all wounds or some damn thing. I would also say the Mariners are heading into Spring Training with one arm tied behind their backs. ALL EYES will be on them and the way they go about deciding who makes the Opening Day roster. I would say it’s all but assured that at least Jarred Kelenic is in Seattle at the beginning of April, rather than the end of it. He might not be the only prospect making his Major League debut on such a timetable.

If you’re worried about Kelenic’s Team Control concluding with the 2026 season as opposed to the 2027 season, fear not! If he makes the Mariners effective Opening Day, presumably that means the Mariners will have him starting every day (there’s no reason to call him up and sit him on the bench). If he struggles, they can always send him to Tacoma for a month, telling everyone, “See, we told you, he’s not quite ready yet!” And we’ll get our extra year of Team Control. Of course, if he succeeds, then GREAT, we’ve got another quality outfielder helping us win games right away. This is win-win all around.

But, that’s a short-term solution. In the long-term, you want to know how the Mariners get over this controversy? SPEND SOME FUCKING MONEY.

Put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. You talk a good game about wanting to be a World Class, World Championship organization. Well, you gotta spend money to make money in this game. Or, you gotta spend money to make wins, at least. Because, quite honestly, the Mariners don’t develop to the same high-quality level as the Rays or A’s to think they can get away with being fucking tightwads now and forever. It’s time to put up or shut up, Mariners.

Frankly, it was time to shut up a few weeks ago!

The Mariners Absolutely Must Fire President Kevin Mather Immediately

I don’t come to these types of reactionary decisions lightly. I’m not waiting around, scrolling Twitter all day, just looking for something to be offended by. Indeed, when I come across something that either already has blown up, or clearly WILL blow up in the very near future, I tend to chuckle and think, “Well, that person just ended their own life.”

These types of responses – so and so must be fired immediately – get lumped in with this phony concept of Cancel Culture. For starters, it doesn’t exist. No one is ever canceled; at worst, they go in Time Out for a while and then get to resume earning a living again. If Brett Ratner can get another job directing a major motion picture, if Mel Gibson can be welcomed back into the Hollywood fold, if Louis C.K. can start touring again after a nine-month vacation, you tell me who’s really canceled. Beyond that, you know who NEVER seems to get canceled? Good people. Isn’t that strange? It’s only the fucking assholes, or the idiots who can’t keep their mouths shut and need to boost their own egos constantly who end up taking themselves down (for a period of time). Furthermore, if you don’t know how the game is played by now, it’s your own fault. If you do or say shitty things, you will be exposed eventually … SO JUST DON’T DO OR SAY SHITTY THINGS! Because it very much is a game, and you’re losing if you get found out; there’s no money in being a martyr. Just because good people don’t get canceled doesn’t mean there aren’t bad people absolutely THRIVING; they’re just smart enough to know how the world works.

In fact, I’m annoyed that Kevin Mather’s speech at the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club (whatever the FUCK that is; I’m assuming it’s full of the absolute worst of what this area has to offer, when it comes to entitled wealthy pricks) is even SLIGHTLY brushing up against racism, because while he’s certainly being one of those entitled wealthy pricks in his comments about Iwakuma (and other players, not noted in the link above; go find the full transcript for all of his bon mots), and while those are indeed fireable sentiments, I’m not here to tell you what you don’t already know: rich old white guy looks down on those from other ethnicities, news at 11.

I think Kevin Mather should be fired because he’s fucking terrible at his job!

When you are a president of something, your primary job is to be a leader. Handing out all of the Mariners’ internal secrets – when it comes to sabotaging a player’s service time, when it comes to exposing (in broad strokes) the organization’s financial situation, when it comes to fucking badmouthing your employees (you know, the guys you rely on to play the fucking game of baseball) – that’s not being a leader. I mean, in political terms, it’s the baseball equivalent of Joe Biden handing all of our nuclear codes to the Russians; Kevin Mather is helping THE REST OF THE LEAGUE destroy the Mariners.

If you’re a player in the organization, how can you trust anything that anyone says, from manager Scott Servais, to GM Jerry Dipoto, to primary owner and CEO John Stanton? If you are a free agent, why would you ever sign with a team that has this much contempt for its players? IT’S ALREADY HARD ENOUGH TO GET FREE AGENTS TO COME TO FUCKING SEATTLE! Because we’re so far out of the way, because we’ve sucked for almost the entirety of this organization’s existence, and because the weather is fucking shit! Now you’re chopping off both of the organization’s arms and legs, tossing us a sword, and telling us to go fight?

Someone who WANTED to get fired, who went into his boss’s office and shat on his desk and motherfuckered everyone in the most public and ostentatious way possible couldn’t have done a better job than what Mather did at this meaningless online event. He name-drops just about everyone, and NOT in a good way; in fact, he has something derogatory to say about just about everyone.

The thing is, did he lie? As far as I can tell, no. He said what everyone was already thinking. We knew there was no chance that any of the high-level prospects were going to get a shot at the Major Leagues in 2020. We knew that Jarred Kelenic wouldn’t likely be called up until May of 2021, to ensure that the Mariners control his services through 2027. We knew, financially, the Mariners are in good shape, because they have a controlling stake in their own cable channel that earns them countless millions of dollars that they get to hide from the rest of the league (there’s no profit-sharing in Regional Sports Networks; that’s all M’s, baby!). But, you can’t say those things out loud! Major League Baseball has another huge collective bargaining agreement to work out with the player’s union very soon! Do you think the rest of the league wants this type of dirty laundry aired for all to see (and to be used against them)?!

What galls me is that Kevin Mather talked about how confident he is that the Mariners are going to be world champions with this group. First of all, don’t you God damn jinx it! Secondly, if you’re ostensibly so high on these players, why are you making it nearly impossible for them to want to stick around longer than they absolutely have to? Why do I envision some of these guys refusing to play, and forcing their way out of Seattle eventually? Why do I see those championship hopes slipping through our fingers like the sands of fucking time, because one way or another we’re going to shoot ourselves in the fucking foot?

That’s what this is: the ultimate act of self-sabotage. His comments are no good for the Seattle Mariners organization BECAUSE they are the truth. They are the truth and everyone knows it, because there are 29 other MLB organizations who feel the same way about their own players (the only difference is, the other 29 presidents aren’t so fucking STUPID as to speak these words into a recorded Zoom meeting – allegedly while not knowing that it was being recorded in the first place, because he’s old and technologically inept). In that sense, this is the most Mariners thing he could have possibly done. The Mariners are ALWAYS fucking things up for themselves, in new and profoundly shocking and moronic ways. It’s like we’re fucking allergic to winning!

I am usually inclined to give people a second chance, if they speak out of turn or let some small thing slip out in conversation, or if something is taken out of context, but we’re talking about a keynote speech. This isn’t something he just blurted into a hot mic; this is something he worked on and maybe even rehearsed. To not know that this would get out into the world is BEYOND arrogant and/or asinine, because EVERYTHING gets out into the world! Shit man, even Ted Cruz can’t sneak away to Cancun for a weekend – abandoning his state in its time of need like the miserable fucking snake oil salesman that he is – without his picture (ON THE PLANE) circulating throughout every corner of the Internet. You think, you, Kevin Mather, are somehow exempt from the world that is 2021?

Of course, I had completely forgotten about how Mather was wrapped up in that sexual harassment scandal (and somehow got away scot-free with his employment with the organization intact). I was going to say that even though this is his first strike (it would, in fact, be his second strike … that we are aware of), he needs to be fired immediately, because this goes above and beyond damaging to the Seattle Mariners. It’s fucking sabotage.

His apology (riddled with spelling and grammatical errors as it is; perhaps he needs an English interpreter to help him with his statements) is meaningless. It’s also the first time he’s lied to us in this entire ordeal. Those comments are his own, because they are also reflective of the Seattle Mariners’ organization. They come off of years of strategy meetings and conversations with the rest of the higher ups, formulating their plan on how to run this rebuild. He can work to make amends all he wants, but that needs to be done with a pink slip in his back pocket.

Kevin Mather clearly can’t be trusted with delicate, valuable information related to the Seattle Mariners. Furthermore, I don’t know of a damn thing he has EVER done that makes him worthy of keeping his job. The best thing you could say about Mather up to this point is that he managed to stay OUT of the news (again, aside from the sexual harassment scandal). That’s something Chuck Armstrong – his predecessor – couldn’t seem to accomplish, as he kept sticking his big foot in his mouth in seemingly every interview. But, to blow up whatever good will he’d built up in such spectacular fashion is akin to striking out the side on a single pitch.

ONETWOTHREESTRIKESYOU’REOUT, Kevin Mather. I know you’re only fluent in Dumb, but I trust you won’t need anyone else to spell it out for you to help you understand.