Dragging along its historic futility like an anvil, the Mariners franchise is desperate to be rid of its dead weight. After having tried most everything else, it is opting for an strategy unusual after four decade — patience.
They are sticking with Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais.
While it’s easy to say that the move was a no-brainer as club entered September in playoff contention, it’s even easier for longtime fans to stay the Mariners leadership has yet to really do anything except assemble some quality prospects.
It’s true that this entirely expected burst from mediocrity can fizzle at any time. That doesn’t change the fact that for five months of headaches, setbacks and tailspins, a core group of mostly low-profile newcomers assembled by the general manager and deployed by the field manager has created a positive future visible to anyone who can look away from the anvil.
From the teensy perspective of two games — back-to-back shutout wins over the Houston Astros, MLB’s best offensive team — the incremental timing couldn’t have better to wrap around Wednesday’s announcement that the contracts for the tandem running the show for the past six seasons have been extended.
It was the converse of the timing on the controversial July 27 trade between the clubs that sent Seattle’s best reliever, Kendall Graveman, to Houston for an obscure reserve infielder, Abraham Toro — a magnum buzzkill after the previous night’s thrilling 11-8 win over Houston thanks to a walk-off grand slam from Dylan Moore.
In Tuesday’s eighth inning, a grand slam by Toro off Graveman provided all runs in the 4-0 victory. Wednesday, Toro’s sacrifice fly produced the only run in Seattle’s 1-0 triumph (box).
The irony was strong enough to bend light waves. Since the trade, Toro entered the day with with 32 games as a Mariner, hitting .311 with four home runs, 16 RBI and 12 walks.
The Dipoto skeptics were drowning in a sea of vindication, not only for the near-term outcome of the trade, but for the plan three years ago to tear down the roster. The decision began the slow pursuit of young, controllable talent, a scheme that would tax the patience of a weary fan base already taxed financially to build a premier stadium that was said to be the solution to the club’s problems.
Ahead of the Wednesday game, Dipoto was on the field talking to media about a moment that someday may be seen as the franchise pivot point.
“My interaction with our ownership group has always been logical,” Dipoto said, via MLB.com. “They’re smart people. We laid out a plan that we thought was right. And I still don’t know. We certainly haven’t accomplished our goals, but we’re making great progress.
“When we laid that out with a vision, we did lay out a timeline, and hopefully we’ve done our jobs and are delivering on that timeline.”
The Mariners are 72-62. The division-leading Astros, who lost two of three here and were nearly swept, are 78-55. That’s delivering on a timeline.
Servais talked about the assembly of young players, but wasn’t ready to commit to the arrival of immediate playoff legitimacy.
“It’s really hard to say that when you have to go through it every day and deal with the some of the pain along the way,” Servais told MLB.com. “But if you stay disciplined, which I think we’ve done an excellent job of . . . discipline is the shortcut. As soon as you lose the discipline, it just takes longer to get there. And the reason this has turned around a little bit quicker is because we’ve been very disciplined.”
To have gone another way, by letting the contracts of Dipoto and Servais run out and make another change, would have disrupted the discipline of player selection and instruction. As Seattle Times baseball writer Ryan Divish noted, since manager Lou Piniella left Seattle for hometown Tampa in 2002, the Mariners went through six managers and two interim managers, none receiving a contract extension. The relentness churn solved nothing.
Servais and Dipoto, the latter receiving the title of president of baseball operations, a club first, each have second extensions.
They have helped overcome ownership’s debacle in February of then-president Kevin Mather’s derogatory and insulting remarks about players to a service club. That got him fired, but didn’t eliminate a key question: How does a guy who thinks like this end up running an MLB organization?
Ownership did the right thing with Servais and Dipoto. But it’s not enough. They owe the fans more.
However the season turns out, Mariners chairman John Stanton needs to commit the resources to enhancing the roster’s youth with quality veteran help. The tear-down provided ownership the cover to run lean, and the revenue losses from the pandemic helped with the the story of financial caution.
But the Mather episode says that ownership has some making up to do beyond the obvious.
MLB’s immediate future is fraught with unknowns because of the lingering pandemic and the threat of a labor stoppage after the contentiousness anticipated in pending labor negotiations. But those are just more excuses for a franchise that leads MLB in the category.
Since MLB is a monopoly operation, it’s almost impossible to screw it up financially. That’s why spending big into annual losses is harmless. Equity value always increases, and the tax-shelter privileges are immense.
Here’s what’s hard in baseball: Throwing back-to-back shutouts against the same team that two weeks earlier dropped back-to-back outputs of 12 and 15 runs against the same two starting pitchers, Yusei Kikuchi and Logan Gilbert.
Patience has delivered the Mariners to contention early. In the off-season, urgency needs to be put first.