It wasnt quite to the level of a Tobacco for Tots campaign, but the Mariners had themselves a tough sell at their annual media luncheon Thursday heralding the imminence of spring training.
No new star players.
No promises of contention.
No new marketing slogans. Not even, Believe Medium.
There was, however, this moment of candor from general manager Jack Zduriencik:
We have not deviated from the plan, he said, to build this organization from the ground up, which will sustain the organization for years.
From the ground up? After 34 years in business, it has to be built from the ground up?
Well, after a pair of 100-loss seasons in the past three years, despite a top-10 payroll, the man has a point.
Its just that the point should have been made several years and a couple of GMs ago, instead of annually throwing money at veteran free agents who often provide what is known the these parts as the full Spiezio.
So without saying so directly, the Mariners are upon the season that nearly every non-major market team must engage in once in a while.
Take the hit, and hope the demand for bobbleheads doesnt implode.
Things got off to a bad start with the news, in the middle of the morning round of interviews, that one of their minor-league invitees to spring training, veteran second baseman Adam Kennedy, was arrested in Newport Beach, CA., for suspicion of DUI.
That is just so . . . 2010.
At least the Mariners have Eric Wedge, the man whose intensity chips paint.
The new manager Thursday out-petecarrolled Pete Carroll, the Seahawks voluble head coach who never needed a question to give an answer and never found a good use for a period at the end of a sentence.
Wedge’s opening remarks went on for several minutes, then amped up with every query. He is to his predecessor, Don Wakamatsu, as Yosemite Sam is to Ben Stein.
Were not looking to flip a coin here, people, he said to one question, were looking to stand behind something.
As everyone began thinking of saluting, the realization dawned that no one knew what that something was.
Wedge was honest enough to recognize the fact that roster is virtually leaderless, with all the top players in various spots on the back seat.
I dont know that we have a leader on this team, he said. Myself and the (coaching) staff will take on more of that role.
He also acknowledged, in the absence of proven vets or cant-miss rookies, he doesnt have much of a plan now.
Ive been more open-minded than Ive ever been, he said, a fairly remarkable statement from a guy who probably makes the corners on his bed very sharp.
The candor seemed refreshing, although it was almost impossible to be anything but, owing to the fact that he would sound like an idiot if he said anything else. I mean, its Felix and Ichiro and 23 guys.
So far this off-season, the most significant moves the Mariners made were to hire three journeymen: Catcher Miguel Olivo, second baseman Brendan Ryan and designated hitter Jack Cust, none of which caused a single bookmaker to adjust the mega-million-to-one odds on a Mariners appearance in the World Series.
The fundamental problem is payroll mismanagement. In Ichiro ($17 million), Milton Bradley ($12M), Chone Figgins ($10M) and Hernandez ($8M), the Mariners have tied up $47 million of their estimated $90M player outlay this season. That quartet was here a year ago and helped lose 101 games. With the marginal exception of Figgins, they arent likely to be better this season.
This season will be largely extended spring training, finding guys who can play in 2012 while burning through some unproductive contracts. In the smaller picture, that’s OK. Gotta be done.
The bigger picture is that club management, with all of its resources and marketplace dominance, should never have let things fray this bad.
But we all know that. Been here, seen that for years. Not going to change in the near term. So for the smaller picture of 2011, Zduriencik and Wedge must muddle through a misbegotten roster and hope that fans don’t mind being spoken to in code. As Zduriencik put it:
“This is the land of opportunity right now. If you want to re-start your career, this is the place.”
In other words, welcome to the ground. Open minds welcome.