Now or Never

The Mariners will be a veteran group in 2003 with the window of opportunity closing in a hurry. Similar to the Sonics teams of the mid-1990's, it could be a case of "Now or Never" this season.

Two world championships. A record tying 116 win season. Numerous division titles. There is no questioning the talents and abilities of Pat Gillick when it comes to putting together a winning ball club. He has brought success to every organization he's ever graced. That is why you have to wonder why Mariners executives refuse to give him the financial freedom to mold the M's into a perennial champion. Instead, he has to sit idly back and watch as the M's get older and fall further away from the competition.

The main goals of Seattle executive Howard Lincoln are for the Mariners to remain competitive year in and year out while at the same time being fiscally responsible. The problem with that is that this Mariners team is built to win now. It is largely composed of veteran ballplayers, many of whom are at or near the end of their careers. Players such as Edgar Martinez and Jamie Moyer are already over 40 years old while key veterans such as Bret Boone, John Olerud, Mark McLemore, Jeff Nelson and Kazuhiro Sasaki are in their mid to late thirties. While the Mariners plan on replacing these players with young alternatives down the road, there are no guarantees with young talent. The only sure thing is that the pieces are in place for a championship run this season. And, in Gillick, the Mariners have a guy who can put all of those pieces together.

For a team that has won so much over the past three years, the Mariners have very little to show for it. They are a team reminiscent of Gillick's Toronto ball club during the mid-to-late 80's. The Blue Jays then were a very successful team during the regular season, but were unable to translate that success into any World Series appearances. It was only once the SkyDome opened, unleashing a wave of cash upon the organization, that the Jays were able to move to the next level. Gillick went out with that money and got veteran players such as Jack Morris, Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, and Rickey Henderson to bring back-to-back championships to the Blue Jays.

What have the Mariners done with their perennial cash cow known as Safeco Field? They have gone out and gotten forgettable veterans like Jose Offerman, Al Martin, and Devil Rays retread Doug Creek. These players could not have even helped the M's during in their prime, and it is debatable if any of them ever even actually had "primes".

The way that M's executives are hamstringing Gillick is comparable to asking Picasso to paint without a brush or Beethoven to perform without a piano. There is absolutely no reason for keeping Gillick on if he is not going to be allowed to make deals. The Mariners are letting a golden opportunity pass them by. The window for winning a championship is very small in baseball, especially for an older team such as the M's. Gillick has won before in Toronto and might also have in Baltimore if it wasn't for 10th Yankee, Jeffrey Maier. It's time to let him do the same in Seattle. We've all seen first-hand what he can do here. He signed Olerud, McLemore, Sasaki, Arthur Rhodes, and Stan Javier in his first season here. But since then the purse strings have tightened and the moves have been limited.

The Cleveland Indians can tell you first-hand that winning teams and legions of fans do not last forever. But at least they have two World Series appearances to show for it. The Mariners have nothing. It is time to sell the farm and go for it all. The Mariners have the perfect man to take them to the Promised Land, all they have to do is let him.

Scott Smiles is a life-long baseball fan and 2002 graduate of the University of Washington. He can be reached at scottjsmiles@hotmail.com.


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