Add Beltre's presence along with fellow masher Richie Sexson, who signed two weeks previously, and incumbents Bret Boone, Raul Ibanez and cult hero Bucky Jacobsen, and the Mariners now have one the most potent lineups in baseball, hearkening back to the days when Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Jay Buhner struck fear in the hearts of every American League pitcher. Not to mention the signing of Cubs right-hander Matt Clement, but the Mariners have just completed the finest off season in club history-and perhaps the most crucial of them all.
Does it give you goose bumps? I’m on the edge of the laz-e-boy myself. For a team that has never signed a big name free agent in its 28 year history, there is no reason to think this is even a remotely plausible outcome, yet something tells me, the chances are better than we might ordinarily think.
Free Agency has become the most glamorous part of the baseball off-season. Teams are transformed and rebuilt, made and remade with the signing of one significant player, who often turns out to be the final piece of a championship puzzle. Unlike most professional sports, Free Agency is a time when the rich get richer, unless of course, you are Seattle Mariners fan.
For Mariner fans, free agency has an entirely different meaning. It signals two months of frustration, disappointment and jealousy as all-star after all-star are signed by teams with fewer resources but more aggressive front offices. Much has been written about the token attempts by the M’s front office to pursue big name free agents in the off season, so it doesn’t need to be rehashed here, but the reality is, when it comes to player acquisitions, Mariners fans have been let down more often than any other fans in baseball. Most fans know where their team stands in regards to free agency. Some have big dollars to spend and some don’t, but few have big dollars to spend but just won’t.
For as much love as Mariners fans lavish on our beloved players, the opposite can be said of the front office. Coming off the worst season in over a decade, there couldn’t be a better time for a change.
So we suspend reality for a moment and pretend the scenario above has just played out. The Mariners have just addressed their most glaring deficiencies and signed two of the most devastating hitters in baseball. The city reacts
Rabid fans rush to Mariners team stores snapping up home jerseys, away jerseys, black jerseys, practice jerseys and the new limited edition “alternative home/away blue and green pinstripe with the retro yellow trident” jersey. Season ticket sales, down by almost a quarter prior to beginning of the free agent period, skyrocket as bandwagon Mariner fans jump aboard the Bel-train, with renewed faith in Bill Bavasi and Co.
Mariner’s fans play the most important role in the reshaping of this team. We have voiced our dissatisfaction at the Ownership by denying them the one thing they crave above all else….Our Money. Let’s not delude ourselves into believing anything Howard Lincoln says about the team’s willingness to lose money in exchange for winning. All manor of creative bookkeeping keep the fans in the dark about how much revenue the Mariners are capturing.
Fortunately, on field success and profitability don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, for the Mariners to continue their financial success they must continue to win. Seattle’s fan base is fickle compared to teams like the Red Sox or Cubs. Interest erodes quickly after just a taste of losing, and revenues drop, necessitating immediate change. On the plus side Seattle fans tend to jump on the bandwagon much faster when a team starts winning.
Ownership has the resources to turn the USS Mariner around in a hurry, without breaking the bank, and winning back disenfranchised fans at the same time. Making the right moves this off-season are as important to them in the court of public opinion as they are to returning the Mariners to respectability on the field.
A losing season presents a unique opportunity for Mariners Ownership. By making a legitimate investment in this ball club, Ownership can finally prove that they are committed to producing a winning product. For the first time in team history the club has the payroll flexibility to add several top free agents without negatively impacting the bottom line.
The Mariners aren’t facing any major personnel losses, and they have a brand new coach, so without any public relations nightmares looming, Ownership has a chance to be the Good Guys for a change, but the balls in their court. Wouldn’t be wonderful to boast about the Bill Bavasi’s Free Agent suave for a change, instead of whining about the ineptitude and greediness of our front office. Mariner’s ownership is desperately in need a paradigm shift, and now is the time to initiate it.
Mariner’s fans aren’t unrealistic. We understand that there are many other forces at work that may prevent us from signing a Carlos Beltran or Adrian Beltre, but we also know that we have a better shot than most. However unlikely it may seem, simple baseball economics tells us that the teams with more money to spend get better free agents. This season the Mariners have more money to spend than any team save the Yankees and our free agent signings should reflect that. It’s not a difficult concept for most organizations to grasp, but in the Mariners case, it must seem like rocket science.
Memo to the Mariners front office and ownership: Give us a reason to love you!