Mariner LogoNote: This is Part I of my Seattle Mariners 2014 season preview. The Mariners have just gone through one of the most eventful off season’s in their history and this upcoming season may well end up being the most important for the team since their legendary 1995 season and playoff run that saved baseball in Seattle. Here in Part I, therefore, I have taken the extra time to explore these off season events and how they may potentially affect the coming season, while Part II covers in more detail the M’s new players and the 2014 spring training. If you are excited for the new season, as I am, then please read on. MA

It has been a hell of an off season for the Seattle Mariners. Two games before the end of last season M’s manager Eric Wedge announced he would not be returning to the club. At the time he stated that, “It’s tough, it’s disappointing, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting. Sometimes people just don’t see things the same way and things just don’t work out. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I wanted it to work, but it’s just not going to.” From what Wedge said at the time it seemed that at the root of the disagreement was the refusal of the Mariners front office (meaning team CEO Howard Lincoln and team President Chuck Armstrong) to offer him a multi-year deal. They had extended his contract by 1 year when it expired after the 2012 season and proposed to do it again after 2013. Feeling that another one year deal indicated a lack of faith in him as well as the team’s own re-building program, Wedge didn’t even wait for the season to be over and called GM Jack Zduriencik to tell him he would not return.

When asked for his thoughts on the situation Zduriencik exhibited surprise at Wedge’s decision: “Eric’s job was not in danger,” Jack said. “This was his decision. I was looking forward to having Eric back.” Zduriencik’s comment leaves the rest of us to wonder just how he could be so out of touch with what his manager was feeling. At the minimum the full story was not being told, it seemed, and the whole situation appeared to be just another indication of dysfunction in Mariners front office management. Of course for a team that has had two winning seasons in ten years, has not been to the playoffs since 2001 and has never been to a World Series, that statement is probably just a painful statement of the obvious. Based on their record alone, clearly there is something about the Mariners that just doesn’t work.

M's skipper Eric Wedge

Former M’s skipper Eric Wedge

In early November the Mariners announced the hiring of Lloyd McLendon as Wedge’s replacement and brought him to Seattle to introduce him. The M’s are McLendon’s second gig as a major league manager, the first being with the Pittsburg Pirates from 2001 to 2005 where his combined record was 336 wins and 446 losses. The last eight seasons he spent mostly as hitting coach with the Detroit Tigers and was a favorite of Tigers manager Jim Leyland going back to when Leyland managed him as a player with the Pirates in the early 1990s. Presumably Lloyd has learned something across his Tigers tenure, as during that time Detroit did a whole lot of winning[1], at least partially due to his success as hitting coach. During the 7 season’s he performed that role 4 Tigers hitters won the American League batting title, a fact that should give M’s hitters and fans hope. Of course 3 of those hitters were the same player, Tigers All World third baseman Miguel Cabrera.[2] He’d make my sister look good as a hitting coach. Regardless,  McLendon is an old hand and knows the ropes in baseball. During the press conference introducing him in Seattle he was charming and said all the right things: “This is a result oriented business,” he said. “I understand the honeymoon process, but the bottom line is winning games, developing young talent, making sure they are moving forward, win games in the process and, hopefully, when it’s all said and done we’ll be popping champagne and having a good time.” Note that Lloyd emphasized the need to win WHILE developing young talent, something that Wedge had been unable to do.

 McLendon’s hiring was followed 1 month later, on December 6th, by the news that Seattle had succeeded in landing the year’s most prized free agent, former New York Yankees five time All Star second baseman Robinson Cano.  In signing Cano the M’s did something they never did for Wedge; and that is to aggressively go after and sign top flight free agent talent. It cost them a pretty penny to do it. Cano’s contract is for $240 million across ten years—but he gives the team something they have not had since Edgar Martinez: an elite hitter in the middle of their lineup.  Cano’s signing followed by 10 months the 7 year $175 million deal Seattle signed Felix Hernandez to in February of 2013. The two massive signings indicate a shift in what had been a notorious Mariners tight wad tendency over the last few years. Fueling the shift most likely was the announcement last spring that the M’s had agreed to a $2 billion TV deal to start a regional sports network of which they will be the majority owner. The deal will bring vast revenue to the M’s, thus opening the door for the Hernandez and Cano deals and possibly more.

Lloyd McLendon

Lloyd McLendon

McLendon and M’s fans barely had time to rejoice at the acquisition of Robinson Cano when they and the baseball world were stunned by a scathing article highly critical of the Mariners front office that was published in the Seattle Times on December 7th. The article, entitled “Dysfunction at the Top: Eric Wedge, Others, Point to Trouble in Mariners’ Front Office”, was written by the Times’ long time Mariners beat reporter Geoff Baker. In the article, according to Baker, Wedge goes on the record with the inside skinny of what really happened that resulted in his departure from the M’s. In the article Wedge states that at the end of the 2012 season in a meeting with Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong he had to endure a “ferocious and venomous tirade” from Armstrong that was critical of the team, the players and the coaches. According to Wedge Armstrong stated that the team “sickened” him and that it was “disgusting” and “disturbing”. Lincoln, Wedge says, agreed with Armstrong and threw in his own critical comments. Wedge continues, stating that he felt betrayed by Zduriencik because Jackie Z had relayed to him that both Lincoln and Armstrong were satisfied with the progress the team was making.[3] Clearly, based on what he was hearing, they weren’t.

Wedge waited until Armstrong and Lincoln were done and then didn’t mince words in letting them know how he felt. Wedge states that things “got real heated. I started fighting back with Chuck and Howard and it got loud.” In the article Wedge says he took the two M’s execs to task for dugout meddling, lack of leadership and lack of faith in the team’s young players. He accused them of never really buying in to their own team’s re-building program. According to Wedge, at some point Lincoln got so upset that he walked out of the meeting. That, says Wedge, was the beginning of the end for him and the Mariners.

M's GM Jack Zduriencik

M’s GM Jack Zduriencik

Baker’s article then goes beyond Wedge’s experience and states that over two dozen former and present M’s baseball operations employees stated to the Times sentiments similar to Wedge’s, to the effect that no Mariners manager or team will succeed until the interference of Lincoln and Armstrong ceases. In addition Baker reports that former Zduriencik assistant Tony Blengino, who was recently dismissed by the Mariners, claims that he was the one that actually prepared Zduriencik’s application package for the M’s GM job, and that in the application he made false claims that Zduriencik as a baseball man combined knowledge of traditional baseball scouting procedures with advanced sabermetrics[4] statistical analysis skills. Not true Blengino says. “Jack never has understood one iota about statistical analysis,” he said. “To this day he evaluates hitters by homers, RBI and batting average and pitchers by wins and ERA. Statistical analysis was foreign to him. But he knew he needed it to get in the door.” In the article Blengino goes on and on with negative statement after negative statement about how the Mariners GM tried to marginalize him and how he would belittle, intimidate, manipulate and berate him and other Mariners staff. He concludes his attack on Zduriencik by claiming that, “Jack tried to destroy me.”

 Whatever the truth of this situation really is, there is little chance that regular fans like you and I will ever really know it. Lincoln, Armstrong and Zduriencik all made statements that basically declined to comment or discuss the situation with the media. For myself, I know from extensive work I have done in the field of human relations that fueling the intense criticism from a guy like Blengino are his own misdeeds and not those of Zduriencik, not to say that some of what Blengino states didn’t happen, but only that he has his own culpability in the situation. It is a grievous error by a reporter like Baker to take such criticism and report it as sooth, in my view.

Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln

Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln

Still, based on the Mariners stats of winning games, or failing to do so for such a long period of time, it is obvious that something has been very wrong with how the team has been run. The result has been a drop in average attendance to less than half of what it was when they led the league in attendance in 2001, and a general malaise in the fan base regarding the team. A clue to what may really be at the bottom of the situation can be found in a statement made in July, 2002 by Howard Lincoln. At the time The Mariners were in the thick of the race and manager Lou Piniella had been lobbying to get another bat for the team before the trading deadline, but Lincoln and Armstrong refused to do so. When asked about it by Seattle Times reporter Blaine Newnham Lincoln made the following statement: “If you don’t operate as a business all sorts of bad things happen…The goal of the Mariners is not to win the World Series. It is to field a competitive team year after year, to put itself in a position to win a World Series, and hope at some point that happens. People want us to do something exceptional, but what we want to do is have the discipline to stick with our plan.” 

Lincoln’s statement above speaks volumes more to me about the source of the M’s futility than anything in Baker’s article lambasting the Mariners brass. If that is how Lincoln really feels it explains everything. How silly of us M’s fans to think that for all these years we were trying to win a World Series. Can you imagine Pete Carroll and John Schneider of the Seahawks saying something like that?

My good friend Tim Stoner put it best when he and I were attending a Seahawks’ football game a few weeks before Baker’s story broke in the Times. Tim and I are both M’s fans and before the Hawks game started our conversation turned to a comparison of the success of the Hawks versus the decline of the Mariners. Upon considering the subject Tim, who is a successful businessman in his own right, looked at me sadly. “There oughta be a law!” he said.

“How so?” I asked

“A professional sports team is a public trust,” Tim said. “It should be against the law to run a team in a way that violates that trust.”

After considering the plight of our Mariners, I think my friend Tim is right.

To be continued..

Copyright © 2014

By Mark Arnold

All Rights Reserved

[1] During Lloyd McLendon’s 8 seasons with Leyland in Detroit they won a number of Division titles and 2 American League pennants, going to and losing the World Series twice.

[2] Miguel Cabrera has won the American League batting title the last 3 seasons including the Triple Crown (Batting Average, Home Runs and Runs Batted In) in 2012, the first player to do so since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

[3] The first two seasons with Wedge as manager the Mariners improved from 61 wins in 2010 to 67 in 2011 and 75 in 2012.

[4] Sabermetrics is a system of advanced baseball statistical analysis developed by a guy named Bill James and others over the last 3 decades. It has become very popular over the last 15 years as a means of gauging player effectiveness. The name is derived from an acronym for “Society for American Baseball Research” (SABR)

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3 Responses to Seattle Mariners 2014 Season Preview— Part I: “There Oughta Be A Law!”—by Mark Arnold

  1. Steve Rodriguez says:

    Great article Mark! Sheds some much needed light on how cause and effect have translated into the real world plight and predicament of the Seattle Mariners. I’m anxious to learn more and see if things are beginning to change for our beloved Franchise.

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Thanks Steve. The tale will be in the stats as to if the M’s are starting to improve. Very difficult to do any sort of accurate eval from where we sit but the data trail definitely points to front office management. Armstrong has retired now but Lincoln is still there. Based on the little I have dug out so far, the Admin Scale is awry. The goal should be getting to and winning the World Series and not “running a profitable business”. You get one you get the other. Make sense? Go M’s! MA

  2. Steve Rodriguez says:

    Makes great sense!!!

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