One of the more intriguing observations about CF Jarred Kelenic, said to be the prize in the Mariners’ inefficient trade with the New York Mets that required sacrificing All-Star closer Edwin Diaz in order to dump Robinson Cano and his contract, is his birth year of 1999.
That means he would have no recall of the 2001 regular season, the last time the Mariners were in the playoffs. To him, it is history unlived, a sterile artifact as is World War I to everyone today.
The startling sequence of moves the past four days directed by general manager Jerry Dipoto to a far-off, nebulous end, evokes wonder as to whether Kelenic and his generation are any more likely to see a World Series in Seattle than the dwindling generation of fans who were around for the expansion season of 1977. Those fans are 0-for-almost-a-half-century.
For them, the response to Dipoto’s statement that the Mariners are taking “a step back” in 2019 is a question:
Step back from what?
The Mariners have been in the playoffs four times in 41 seasons. They were the slowest expansion team to a winning season (15 years) in North American pro sports history, were the first team in MLB business annals to lose 100 games with a payroll of $100 million (2008) and now have the longest active absence (17 seasons) from the playoffs. The Mariners won 89 games in 2018, yet the outcome was so unsatisfying that even Dipoto used the descriptor “embarrassing.”
How can a franchise take a step back from nearly nothing?
Generations have seen how that worked for Wile E. Coyote and his relationship with desert cliffs.
Those of us old enough to recall that out-of-body, 116-win season of 2001 may reasonably wonder, in hindsight, whether it drained entirely all the wits, soul, protoplasm and karma from the franchise.
The Mariners Monday completed their third trade of top talent in four days, this time sending SS Jean Segura and relievers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos to the Phillies for 1B Carlos Santana, 32, and SS J.P. Crawford, 24 next month.
Earlier Monday they concluded a simmering blockbuster, unloading Cano, All-Star reliever Edwin Diaz and $20 million cash to the Mets for Kelenic, OF Jay Bruce, 31, RHP Anthony Swarzak, 33, RHP Gerson Bautista, 23, and RHP Justin Dunn, 23.
Friday the Mariners traded righty reliever Alex Colome to the Chicago White Sox for C Omar Narváez, 26.
The speed and breadth of the moves is daunting. Unprecedented in Mariners history — there have been few teams of 89-plus wins to dismantle — and rare in baseball, Dipoto swapped out much of the Mariners’ contributing talent for a couple of journeymen veterans (Bruce and Santana) and a journeyman reliever (Swarzak) who pitched 26 innings last season for the Mets (his sixth MLB team) and some kids whose potentials vary from intriguing to pedestrian.
The deals followed the earlier trades of their best pitcher, James Paxton, and the organization’s only real MLB catcher, Mike Zunino, for prospects.
At ground level, the needs to unload Cano’s remaining $120 million salary and to replenish the bankrupt farm system make the frenzy broadly understandable. And since evaluating from a distance prospects mostly without much time in the majors is futile, I will leave that to the good folks at Fangraphs.
To take the view up to 30,000 feet reduces matters to a single question: Do you trust this regime to have made the right decisions?
I have a two-word snark of an answer: Dan Vogelbach, the definition of a 4A player — .616 OPS with the Mariners, .837 OPS in eight minor league seasons.
That is, of course, unfair, because all GMs have several Vogelbachs on their resumes. What is fair is that Dipoto had to know when he took the Seattle job three years ago that he couldn’t have many misses because he knew how bad the Mariners’ system was from competing against it with the Angels. He had heard all the industry snickers about Seattle.
But for Vogelbach, almost strictly a DH, he gave away a versatile, solid major league pitcher, Mike Montgomery, who helped the Cubs win a World Series for the first time since the Great Permian Extinction.
Certainly Dipoto has made some good acquisitions, but his frenetic churn of the organizational roster — here’s a blog post that reviews many of the larger deals — failed to advance the franchise fast enough to avoid a fate that he seemed so dead-set against: Tanking.
From a consumer standpoint — and that includes not just fans, but advertisers, sponsors, media partners and politicians from which they recently sought favors — he is telling all that the Mariners will be non-competitive in 2019, 2020 and maybe beyond.
Even though other MLB teams have followed a similar strategy, the ask for indulgence in this market is huge because the history is so pathetic.
Particularly in view of the recent history within the franchise, which includes ownership and business management imbroglios:
- The embarrassing demand in March from minority owner Nintendo to hire and play a diminished Ichiro, then invent a non-playing job for him so he could stay in uniform
- A sexual harassment scandal in the front office that included the past and current club presidents making settlements to keep accusers from court
- A request for $180 million over 25 years in additional taxpayer funds for maintenance and upgrades to the ballpark (later bargained down to $135 million) that looked callous in the face of the seemingly unsolvable crisis of homelessness in King County
- Accusations by a senior executive, Dr. Lorena Martin, that Dipoto, manager Scott Servais and farm director Andy McKay made racist and sexist remarks. Martin, much praised by Dipoto upon her hiring, was fired and her charges strongly denied. An MLB investigation is underway. Even if all are exonerated, her hire and the job somehow failed miserably
These dubious developments don’t directly impact MLB player personnel decisions. But the decision to tank is a massive one that will strike all corners of the organization, which didn’t seem to be doing well before it said goodbye to 2019 before it said hello.
“This is the road we’ve opted for,” Dipoto said Monday afternoon in a teleconference with reporters. “We’re excited to watch these guys play. But we think the (farm) system has come a long, long way.”
That could well be true. But it was so far back on the road that the distance was measured in time zones.
Getting a buy-in for sports tanking is an onerous task, one always made easier with public credibility.
Perhaps Dipoto can trade for some.