MIXED TIMES IN MARINER LAND
If you follow the Seattle Mariners major league baseball club even half as closely as I do, you will have noted that they just gave one of the best second basemen to ever play the game as astronomical contract. Robinson Cano, the ex-New York Yankee, will make $240 million over the next 10 years to play for the M's.
The Good: The M's have not had a player of this caliber on their team since the days of Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson. The signing gives them an upgrade in their credibility among fans and throughout the baseball world. Until this, the Mariners had been perceived as a team for which no star-quality free agent would want to play. It is an overpay, but the team has come into some money now due to its new television deal. Other free agent players will take notice of that, and some more of them may decide to come play for the Mariners, which in turn could help them climb in the standings and maybe even make the playoffs again.
The Bad: Contracts like this have not been shown to work well. Cano will be 41 years old and may not even still be playing baseball by the time the contract ends. Second basemen tend not to age well in the majors. The Mariners probably have 3-4 years in which Cano will hit well, so in order to maximize that (as well as the remaining few years on Felix Hernandez' contract) they need to bring in some more good players NOW.
The Ugly: That last item may be much more difficult than usual, thanks to an article published in today's Seattle Times by Mariners beat writer Geoff Baker.
In his article, Baker points up a seemingly endless number of examples of how the team is being run by incompetent tyrants Howard Lincoln (the current CEO) and General Manager Jack Zduriencik. Baker backs up assertions made in the article with quotes from ex-Manager Eric Wedge and statistical analyst Tony Blengino, among others.
Concern: Geoff Baker is the outgoing Times beat writer for the M's. He will soon be replaced with Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News-Tribune. Baker's writing has been perceived by many as critical of the Mariners. I won't argue that the organization does not deserve criticism... it does, and in large doses. So I am not questioning Baker's writing of the article. It takes what many MLB fans and executives alike have suspected for years, and lays it out in black and white for the whole world to see. And because it has been obvious to many (and for many years) that the Mariners' front office tends toward incompetence (or even incontinence, if you will), this article could be viewed as giving hope to all of us who would like to see Howard Lincoln gone and Jack Z. replaced.
Question: On the heels of the Mariners' somewhat miraculous signing of Cano, why did the Times choose to publish Baker's article right now, with baseball's Winter Meetings set to begin tomorrow? Among other things, the Winter Meetings have always been a time when all the General Managers in Major League Baseball get together and meet with each other and with players' agents. It's a time for acquiring players to fill needs. I see two answers to the question of "Why now?"
Answer #1: Baker is self-serving. He is on his way out from the Times, and this was an opportunity for him to be in the limelight. The Cano signing has drawn the attention of the baseball world to the Mariners, so what better time to publish the article than during a time when the M's are the talk of baseball? This way, Baker can share the limelight and boost his own credentials.
Answer #2: Baker or his newspaper has some kind of ax to grind with the Mariners, and I explain this by saying that if he or his editor had waited a few weeks to publish the article, the Mariners might have had a better chance to convince some more good free agent players to sign to play in Seattle. Fans want good players on the field. Zduriencik has generally not provided good players on the field in the five years he has been the GM. Signing Cano was signal that things might be changing, and it provided some hope for fans. Are most fans not as concerned about whether the team is run by weirdos as they are about whether or not the team competes? I submit that a team can win games if it puts good players on the field, sometimes despite having a crappy manager, and probably despite having a crappy front office. I care more about the team winning games and becoming competitive again than I care about who's running it.
But I'm just a fan. What would a prospective free agent think after reading the kinds of things in Baker's article?
While the article might help increase the chances of the team having better management in the long run, I believe it could serve to cripple the ball club in its current efforts to land better players on the free agent market.
So, to re-ask the question: Why publish the article right now?
Seattle Mariners fans have been punished enough. Punishing the franchise with a scathing article is one thing, but punishing the fans by poisoning the free agent well? Sorry, I find that inexcusable.
The article is good, and it needed to be written and published. But the only words I can think of as a reason for publishing it right before the Winter Meeings? "Personal vendetta". Why else would the Times print it right now?