M's Owners Taking Off Blinders?

Mariner fans never saw it coming. Mariner players didn't have a clue. Management didn't seem to see it coming either. The collapse of the incumbent regime of Mariners veterans wasn't actively foreseen by anyone. But why wasn't it? Why did the failures of 2004 come as some sort of a surprise?



It shouldn't have surprised anyone when you consider the factors at hand. An aging middle of the lineup that showed signs of slowing down a year ago should have been the first red flag. A grossly overachieving starting rotation in the two previous seasons was certainly a sign that they could come back to earth, at least somewhat.

What about the bullpen that relied on Rafael Soriano, a first-year player in just his third full season on the mound, to serve as the team's go-to set up man and got a career year out of the decent but never-before spectacular Shigetoshi Hasegawa?

Hindsight it always 20-20 but in this case neither pitcher should have been expected to even come close to repeating the monster seasons they had in 2003.

When Soriano went on the disabled list, the Mariners had to turn the set up duties over to Hasegawa, who was never quite right from opening day to the season finale.

So we know what happened. But why it happened and why someone didn't see it coming are each vastly separate concepts to decipher.

Tackling the "why it happened" portion of the equation, it's pretty much just a matter of a veteran team hitting the proverbial wall all at the same time.

Edgar Martinez was probably finished last August. Bret Boone hasn't been a middle-of-the-order RBI machine since Martinez reached his end. John Olerud was clearly not the same after two months of the 2003 season saw him hitting well under his career average.

On the mound, father time himself Jamie Moyer, finally started to show some signs of losing his stuff as a 41-year-old soft tosser and might also have hit his own wall at the tail end of this past season. History was not on the side of Moyer having yet another ace season.

Why did such a solid group of players all of a sudden reach a point in their careers when they just weren't nearly as productive as they had been just six months earlier?

That's easy. It happens to every player, sooner or later.

There comes a time when every player just can't do it anymore, and many times, just like a two-ton truck slamming into a brick wall at 100-mph, the player will lose it very quickly.

So who is to blame for these occurrences? I tell ya what; we'll get back to that later. Deal?

We already knew what, and now we know why the M's made a season-long visit to the AL West's basement this season. Now, let's dig around and see if we can't discover why the M's front office didn't see a falloff coming. After all, it's what they are paid to do right?

Ok, it has been several seconds and I've personally looked all around the office and can't seem to come up with one single reason why the club couldn't have foreseen some sort of major drop-off with several of its' key contributors following the 2003 season. In fact, I don't see how they missed it after the 2002 season when during the second half of the year the club couldn't hit its' way into a Vegas ranch.

The offense had been sinking for 15 months when the M's hit the off season following their second straight 93-win season in 2003. Four of the team's five best players averaged 38 years of age, three of them key pieces to the offensive puzzle.

So why was management so blind to the facts in front of them?

Lemme tell ya something- they weren't.

Management knew. Pat Gillick knew. Lee Pelekoudas knew. Heck, even Bill Bavasi knew it the day he signed on the dotted line.

The problem was that ownership wouldn't let them dismantle the "good guys."

Telling Edgar Martinez that he wasn't wanted back would have been a PR disaster- not something Howard Lincoln and the boys really look forward to. Trading Bret Boone while he still had top value as an all-star performer would have outraged teenage girls all over the city and probably the entire town of Kent- and we just can't have that can we?

Declining to re-sign both Jamie Moyer and John Olerud when the money could have been spent more wisely on younger players would have caused a violent stir among Wazzu grads and the elderly who cross the gate into Safeco Field every summer day.

I can hear it now; "Poor Jamie and John."

The collective salaries of those four players after the 2002 season totaled about $60 million over the two seasons since.

Ouch.

Wouldn't you, as a Mariners fan, rather have seen that money spent on the likes of Vladimir Guerrero, Jason Schmidt and Miguel Tejada?

Who wouldn't? (see below for answer)

For the 2004 season, the Mariners group of owners preferred not to spend their payroll on Vlad, Miggy and the National League's best right-handed pitcher.

Instead they put their eggs into the same crusty basket they had been putting them in for the past several years, and it finally came back to them as rotten as dairy can get.

It's tough to get a grip on the Mariner ownership, starting at the top with Howard Lincoln. For his first few years as CEO, Lincoln was a liar, a wearer of the rose-colored pair of spectacles and a symbol of what was wrong with the club.

Since 2003, Lincoln seems to have learned to speak to the media a little bit better and has said the right thing more often than not. The result hasn't changed so it's impossible to tell how genuine a suit like Lincoln is actually trying to be.

The words are music to the ears of the Mariner faithful.

But actions speak louder than words, and Lincoln leaves much to be desired in this area.

General Manager Bill Bavasi's job this winter is much tougher than it would be if the same circumstances were pressed upon him in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Houston or even, gulp, Detroit.

Bavasi isn't just fighting 29 other clubs for the services of the necessary players to rebuild his roster, he is also fighting the Mariner ownership group.

Has Lincoln finally turned the corner and realized how a truly committed Major League Baseball team is run?

Only time will tell.

So if you're looking for someone to blame for the total collapse of your beloved M's this past season, look past Bret Boone, John Olerud and Scott Spiezio. Don't even bother placing blame on Edgar Martinez, Shigetoshi Hasegawa or even Bob Melvin. Look no further than Howard Lincoln, Chuck Armstrong and the rest of the Mariners ownership group.

They are the ones who made the decision to stick with the "good guys" for two years longer than was appropriate.

When reflecting on the 2004 campaign, remember one thing; all isn't lost. After all, the hated New York Yankees just produced the biggest choke job in professional sports history.

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