What are the Mariners rebuilding?

They’re finally doing what we wanted right? Right!?

Since the signing of Robinson Cano in 2014 the Mariners have been caught in the middle. Their roster has been fun and competitive, but not elite. As the organization has entered season after season forever content to be as far from greatness as they were from failure, the clock kept ticking. As the the team’s core aged, the catastrophic state of the farm system only furthered the horror at the big league team’s inability to make the postseason, and ownership’s refusal to loosen the purse strings to help them do so. It has been a stressful, combative, and largely unenjoyable era.

So I’m happy to offer a belated congratulations to all Mariner fans: We did it! The Mariners are rebuilding. It took a season-long case of whiplash worthy of an immense court settlement, but Jerry Dipoto and friends have finally acquiesced to the inevitable. While Dipoto’s silicon valley thesaurus calls it a “step back” or “re-prioritizing” the decision to trade James Paxton and Mike Zunino for younger players signals, at long last, the Mariners’ acknowledgement that a change in course was necessary. We can quibble over whether Dipoto is the right man to lead a rebuild, or whether the talent returns thus far are sufficient. We can (and definitely should) point out that the necessity of a rebuild could be entirely avoided by an obscenely wealthy ownership group sinking consistent investment into on field talent, and committing fully to winning, but those are conversations for another day.

With Paxton and Zunino in New York and Tampa, respectively, Seattle finds itself already near the bottom of its barrel of valuable major league assets. This dearth is both why a rebuild is so necessary, and at least part of why the team has been so hesitant to get it underway. Outside of Mitch Haniger, who is the one current big leaguer with value I can see a clear case for retaining, the team is down to Jean Segura, Edwin Diaz, and Marco Gonzales.

That state of things is what has made the past 48 hours so distressing as a Mariner fan. While Segura rumors are indeed out there, the past two news cycles have been dominated not by the young talent the Mariners can acquire, but by the persistent and multiply-sourced rumors that the team is “desperate” to move Robinson Cano. Most concerning of all, is the thought that this desperation is sufficient for the team to package Diaz or a comparable talent with him. It is here, friends, we find ourselves with a booming “SAME OLD MARINERS” echoing from the back, and with good cause.

The idea of trading Robinson Cano is difficult to stomach. He is one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise. His acquisition in 2014 could have, and should have, heralded a new era, with the Mariners joining the game’s upper crust, as ownership continued to invest in the product on the field. Watching him play daily has been a constant joy. Outside of last year’s regrettable (and overly hand wrung over) PED suspension, he has been consistently great since the moment he arrived. He has been great, he is still great, and I imagine he’ll be great for a few more years. Still, with the course of the franchise’s next 2-3 years seemingly set and destined to continue the team’s comically long playoff absence, it is understandable why all parties might be ready to move on. Cano wants to win, and the Mariners have no urgent competitive need to spend $24 million a year for the last productive seasons of a player’s career. I get it. I hate it, but I get it.

ALL THAT BEING SAID, if the franchise is willing to neuter the substantial value in desperately needed young talent a player like Edwin Diaz can return by attaching him to a contract they no longer wish to pay, a contract that has zero negative impact on this team’s ability to win games now or in the future, then it says the Mariners are, at least in part, using this rebuild as a smokescreen to justify simply culling payroll to cull payroll. I want to be careful not to act as though this is something the team has actually done at this point. Rumors are rumors. But they do not spring out magically from the ground. Someone somewhere is leaking the idea. While it may not be someone connected to the Mariners, the team could easily enough squash the idea with public statement. They have not done so, and as such I feel comfortable believing it is a concept they are at least considering. This, to be blunt, is unacceptable, and should be loudly decried from every corner of the fanbase. I am pleased to see in some ways it already has been.

To newer fans it may seem rash to leap so readily to the call for torches and barricades, but consider the track record the organization has offered us over the present era. They have not made the playoffs. They have not committed the financial resources necessary to make not making the playoffs a statistical unlikelihood. They have bad mouthed and vilified Felix Hernandez, the most loyal player in team history, and one of its most beloved stars. It has come out that the team’s president and other members of the organization settled sexual harassment cases while with the org. The front office is in the midst of a scandal involving accusations of misogyny and racism that, at best, makes them look wholly incompetent. As the team looks to shed payroll they stand on the brink of a new naming rights deal for the taxpayer-funded stadium we built for them, a deal that will bring them many times more revenue than the previous deal with Safeco ever did. For anyone who has followed this team closely for any amount of time, the Mariners have offered us little rational choice but to assume the worst case scenario is also probably the most likely one.

It was three and a half years ago, the day Jack Zduriencik was fired, that I wrote about how tired the team had made me, and how concerning Kevin Mather’s spoken priorities were. As Jerry Dipoto’s era lurches onward, everything about the team speaks to an organization that places vastly more emphasis on process-oriented life hacks and trumpeted announcements of same, rather than simply trusting, believing in, and paying the talented men who produce the phenomenal level of baseball that made us all fans in the first place. The team is rebuilding at long last, but our experience with the Mariners tells us that we must watch carefully, and speak out quickly. Do they intend to rebuild their talent, or their profits?

 

The Mariners Have Been Accused of Discrimination

The term you are searching your brain for right now is: Bad

Well here is this then:

Lorena whoooooo boy.JPG

I want to be very, very careful here, because accusations like this are both extremely incendiary, and extremely important to consider seriously. Nothing I write here will impact how this ends up playing out, but still, this is news that has just broken, and we do not have #AllTheFacts.

Let us start with what we know:

We know that the Mariners clubhouse is one, both in volume, experience, and personality, dominated by players from Latin America. Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez, Leonys Martin, Ketel Marte, Edwin Diaz, Franklin Gutierrez, etc. These players have been the hub of the Mariners locker room in Jerry Dipoto’s time here. It is their voices, their music, their ideas of right and wrong, their culture that has led this team. This is the team that we follow, and make no mistake, it is these men, more than any analyst, executive, marketer, or other, that we have decided to cheer for.

We know that the front office has been extremely displeased with the state of the clubhouse since September, when Jerry Dipoto said this

In times of struggle you find out a lot about character, how people will answer in times of adversity, and frankly that was one of the highlights of this team in the first half of the season and it’s been one of the lowlights in the second half of the season. We have not responded to that adversity in the same way. … When teams pull apart when they no longer bind together and they don’t fight through the adversity.”

We know (as of about an hour ago) that Lorena Martin was deeply, deeply displeased with her role in the organization, and her experience with the Mariners over all. She was so displeased that she has taken the extraordinary step of making herself, at least in many professional sports circles, a radioactive hire by very publicly and specifically denouncing the people in charge of the Mariners by name.

We know that this not the first time the upper reaches of the Mariners organization has been credibly accused of being deeply harmful and dysfunctional. It is not the first time this decade or, hell, even the first time this calendar year.

I’m going to transition now very quickly to things that I know, because they are slightly apart from what’s listed above.

I know, from sources connected to the organization, that Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais are, and have been for some times, very annoyed with, among others, Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and Jean Segura. I know that on some basic level, be it for performance or contract, they have been in some way blamed for the franchise’s continued stagnation.

I know Dr. Lorena Martin had developed a reputation in her time in Seattle for being difficult to work with, to the point of being viewed as needlessly confrontational.

I know if that’s the case, then creating a role for her, specifically seeking her out and building an entire “High Performance System” for her to oversee was a catastrophic error in judgment and character assessment by Jerry Dipoto. The alternative is that she’s telling the truth. You choose which is worse nevermind you don’t get to and they’re both terrible anyway, just in different way. It’s all bad. Everything, as they say, is bad.

I know that blaming your employees, whose success is literally your job, for your own failure is poor management, and whether whatever was said (if it was indeed said, and it’s a big if at this point I want to stress) was simply blowing off frustration or otherwise, to do so in any capacity within earshot of any employee is not only poor leadership, but inexcusably stupid.

I know the timing of these revelations, from a pure roster construction standpoint, can be catastrophic, as the Mariners are now the one team no one wants to touch with a fifty-foot pole. Hell, THE MARLINS probably look at this and think “whoo boy, that’s not a great look now is it?” and move on to the next organization.

I know any prospective free agent, particularly one of latin decent, is going to be extra super duper skeptical about the idea of choosing to come here as long as the current leadership is in place.

Now, at last, what I and we don’t know.

I don’t know to what level Martin’s accusations are fueled by a workplace disagreement and/or personal grudge.

I don’t know to what extent these explosive allegations are issues that are globally systemic to baseball as a whole (hello, baseball as an institution is historically and still very much struggles with racism), and how much of it is specifically pointed to the Seattle Mariners organization possessing them to a degree that somehow sets them apart from the rest of the game. For the record, I am confident assuming, as it is his her first (and after today almost certainly last) job in baseball, neither does Dr. Lorena Martin.

I don’t know where this goes, if anyone loses a job, or what it all means in the grand meta-drama that seemingly forever surrounds this organization. It is as though they are Sideshow Bob, and for them the world is naught but rakes. An endless, horizon-less sea of rakes.

I wrote when news about Kevin Mather’s sexual harassment broke that I wasn’t sure where the line is for myself or others; the moment when we simply throw our hands up and worry ourselves with something, anything else. I still don’t know. All I know is, regardless of who said what about who to who, after today that line is getting closer.

 

Episode 22 – El Scorcho (LIVE)

THE DOME IS BACK IN TOWN

In the beginning, there was The Pod, and Fun was with The Pod, and The Pod was Fun. But then The Pod was told to log off, and it did, and so with it, The Fun left, and there was darkness, and ceaseless torment. But lo, upon the dusk of the *checks notes* 86th day, The Pod logged back on, and there was light, and dancing, and joy once again.

O Death, where is thy sting? Yes I’ll have another drink, thank you.

***

Welcome back friends, to a special, in person, live podcast of Dome and Bedlam. We are hugely apologetic for our long absence. It was summer, and we had vacations to take. It’s tough to express how much it means to hear from so many of you (often angrily, and justifiably so) that you miss the show. Dome and Bedlam was always, before anything else, just three friends who loved baseball, and each other. That our nonsense has found such a loyal and passionate audience is something we never really expected,  and we definitely don’t deserve, but we’re truly thankful for.

A HUGE thank you to Pinxto and their speakeasy Branchwater for putting up with our noise, and the world’s least inconspicuous microphone while we recorded. Please remit to them your business for delicious food and drinks. Do not tell them we sent you, we want you to have a nice time.

We always say we’ll try to do this more often, and we always mean it, and we seemingly never do. But, we’ll try to do this more often. Thanks so much for listening.

***

(Music credits: Mom Jeans, Baroness, Bayside)

 

 

 

A Felix Hernandez FAQ

LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT WAS, IS, AND SOON SHALL BE

So, like, you all have seen Felix’s numbers this year right? He’s got a 5.73 ERA, and a 5.03 FIP in over 120 IP. You all don’t like, still think he’s good. Right?

I am glad you asked. Felix Hernandez was among the very best pitchers alive from 2009-April of 2015. Unfortunately, it is now August of 2018 and, over the last three and a half seasons, the small leak in Felix’s dominance has been rapidly widened by the flood, and water is now gushing everywhere, ruining electronics and control panels, and reducing him to what he largely is today: An ok fifth starter with poor command, decent stuff, and an inconsistent outlook.

The answer to the question is no, I do not think Felix Hernandez is still good. He hasn’t even been “squint your eyes and pretend” good since a few starts in 2016. That’s a long time ago, and to deny that reality is pretty foolish and naive.

Ok, well then I’m confused. It seems like you’re always coming to Felix’s defense anytime the team talks about removing him from the rotation. Do you think he should stay in the rotation?

Well first of all, for me and my house, this is about loyalty before anything. Felix is the King. Secondly, look, I don’t know. Like I said above, Felix isn’t very good anymore. Felix was never going to be very good in 2018. Everyone knew this, including the team. That’s at least part of what has made Jerry Dipoto’s attempts to spin this season’s outcome as somehow contingent upon Felix becoming something he hasn’t been in years so infuriating.

If the team is half as smart as they very publicly try to make themselves appear, they know far more than we know. If we knew that Felix was probably going to struggle this year, it makes depending/planning on him being something other than that, with only Erasmo Ramirez and his 11.94 FIP to fall back on, seem like folly.

Well now it feels like we’re getting somewhere raw and pretty emotional. Do you think the Mariners want Felix to fail or something?

/bites inside of cheek extremely hard

Well, no. The Mariners front office wants to win baseball games. Felix Hernandez pitching like an above average starter in 2018 would have greatly helped them in that regard, particularly as they made little to no effort to build up major league depth at pitching. That’s something they could have really used, given that they’ve traded Luiz Gohara, Freddy Peralta, and Nick Niedert the past two years for Adam Lind, Nate Karns, and a leadoff hitter with a 1.6% walk rate.

The Mariners needed and wanted Felix to be good again, but the need was created through their own poor trades and inaction. Rather than look inward (or upward, to ownership’s miserly penny pinching) the team seems to have focused its frustration on Felix himself. To myself, and I believe to other like-minded fans, the pattern from the front office has been a combination of ill-founded/disingenuous expectation, coupled with a paternal, overly public shaking of the head whenever Felix has struggled. This pattern not only needlessly, publicly, agonizingly draws attention to Felix’s decline, but seeks to distract fans from the fact that this failure is at least as much one born by the team itself as the player they seem hellbent on shaming.

Well then, smart guy, what do you want them to do instead?

I want them to go back and exhaust their mental and financial resources to shore up this rotation. I want them to correctly predict, and proactively plan for, an incredible buyer’s market this past offseason. I want them to understand that this fanbase and franchise existed well before any of them got here. I want them to get that respect is earned, not given, and that slapping a “Mr. Manager” badge on your chest and walking around a dugout in uniform doesn’t earn you a damn thing with players or fans.

I want them to quit smiling and accepting all praise, and bristling and deflecting downward all blame. Given that they are more than willing to publicly consider the future of their franchise icon, I want them to do the same for their lead off man with a .303 OBP, or their starting first baseman who has been worth -0.6 fWAR.

More than anything, seeing as how this front office and management caters to public appearance and “openness” more than perhaps any other in the game, I want that same openness to indicate an understanding that the failure of the players; even proud, stubborn, declining icons, is their failure too. I want them to understand that there is a very good chance in seven or eight years, when we pack whatever Safeco Field is called at that time for Felix Hernandez’s jersey retirement and statue unveiling, that we will struggle to recall their names.

Wow, uh, that’s quite the rant. Do you have anything else you need to get off your chest?

Letting Felix burn in the Texas Hellfire  last night was unforgivable; an unnecessary and seemingly petty insult towards a longtime Mariner great. Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto are meddling with love forged over years of sacrifice and shared loyalty. They are forces they do not seem to fully understand.

Felix Hernandez forever. Long live the King.