Mariners ownership needs to figure it out
I do not care how mean Xfinity was.
As news continues to break about the teams who managed to land a visit with Shohei Ohtani, I’m reminded of the most high-profile free agent visit in Mariners history. Specifically, that’s the final hours of bringing Robinson Canó and just how, uh, dramatic the whole thing was.
When it all went final, exactly ten years ago today, I was on a bus commuting in to downtown in Seattle from Ballard—one of those dark and damp Seattle mornings when you couldn’t believe you were on the way to work at 7:30a.m. And they’d pack the hell out of that 15X, too.
Even that early, you’re already well behind East Coast time.
The first thing I saw waking up that morning, a morning after we all knew Canó was in Seattle at then-Safeco Field because we’d been tracking his flight, was that negotiations had broken off. Reports came in from multiple national accounts that Howard Lincoln got into a shouting match with Jay Z and it was all over.
It was not, as the esteemed Larry Stone later reported in this outstanding account of the night an agreement was reached—but at the time, to us, it had all come crashing down.
The deal was dead.
And then it wasn’t.
And then it was done.
I called my brother from the bus, speaking quickly because I’m not a deranged madman.
“Con? We got him…Yeah really…It’s done.”
Do you remember how incredible that day was? If you don’t, can you even imagine?
Seattle was the center of the baseball world. The Mariners got their guy, they got thee guy available that offseason—and still had months left to work.
They didn’t make much of those remaining months, going with Corey Hart over a post-PED suspension Nelson Cruz, but a decade ago they showed a level of ambition they’ve seldom shown since.
What big league teams do
That is how a big-league team operates. They take risks. They do things to fire up fans. They go for it. They also finish going for it, but that’s another story—another level so far removed from where we are now.
The supposed prodigy they got in sending Canó away in a salary dump trade was he himself sent out of town, like Edwin Díaz, attached to contracts the Mariners didn’t want to pay. And, unless we all missed something, the money saved on Cano’s deal didn’t at any point go back into the roster.
Like, what are we doing here? Are we tethered in reality at all?
It’s funny, this week’s first report on Ohtani meeting with teams was Ken Rosenthal’s piece in The Athletic on the Blue Jays. Besides the obvious points, Rosenthal laid out why the Jays in particular were gunning for Shohei.
Here’s that list, abbreviated:
The Jays’ disappointing and controversial exit from the postseason[…]
The restlessness of the fan base with the team’s performance at a time when Rogers Centre is undergoing a $300 million renovation, prompting a rise in ticket prices. […]
The possibility that Atkins and/or president of baseball operations Mark Shapiro could be in danger of losing their jobs. […]
Disappointing results? Check. Restless fans? Check. A present that necessitates capitalizing upon? Check. I think the dudes are good at their jobs but—a President of Baseball Ops and Manager who could stand to take another step forward? Check.
This is just how it all works. This is the job. This is what you do when you’re in charge of stewarding an entity that is both a public good and multi-billion dollar operation capable of printing untold sums of money, but with a customer base that is volatile—we’ll give your our heats, but we’ll give you hell, too.
It’s why the Yankees are finishing off the move to bring in Juan Soto. At some point, if you’re a first-class organization trying to do first-class things, you act like it.
Instead of lying and say it was an article or whatever, I’ll say it, I saw a TikTok. I saw a Tiktok recently that had no business resonating with me because it’s such an obvious concept—it was about how, when you’re worried about what people think about you, or want them to think a certain thing, or think they’re reading into something or whatever, to remember that only one thing matters.
People don’t see your thoughts, your motives, your intentions. They see your actions.
We don’t care what Xfinity did or did not do
I’m sick of hearing about this already. Beyond sick of it. I don’t want to hear about what XFinity did or did not do to ROOT SPORTS.
Where the games are shown and how many people can watch them and for how much money is something for fans to bitch about. And it’s for teams to figure out.
I’m sure everyone’s aware, but Ryan Divish has been all over reporting the situation (and, to be clear, I’m not angry about the reporting—just that it’s something to be reported):
On Oct. 10, Xfinity announced that it was moving ROOT Sports NW to its highest-tier Ultimate TV package.
It meant that subscribers wanting to watch the Mariners, Kraken and Portland Trail Blazers had to upgrade their cable package — a monthly increase of $18.50. […]
For the Mariners, who own more than 70% of ROOT Sports NW, the backlash from the immediate and continued decrease in subscribers was alarming. Besides their own broadcasts, they paid healthy amounts for the rights to broadcast the Kraken and Blazers. The valuations for those contracts were based on the previous cable structure and projected subscribers.[…]
While the exact or expected losses due to Xfinity’s decision aren’t known, it was enough for the Mariners ownership to exercise caution with their own expenditures.
Dipoto’s initial offseason plan that featured a much higher payroll budget after a season where the team drew 2.7 million fans had to be amended.
Here is the absolute most generous reading of the situation; this is what we as Mariners fans are supposed to understand.
The Mariners bought a cable television network in 2013, with the shift to streaming already well underway (MLB Advanced Media as the tech backbone to much of it). Instead of seeking out an arrangement to pay them a regular rights fee while avoiding taking on risk in a dying industry, they bought a station so they could theoretically reap the rewards of eventually having other teams on there, which became the expansion Kraken and the Trail Blazers.
They acquired those Blazers rights in the summer of 2021, after Portland was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, they fired their coach and Damian Lillard’s future with the team was very much in doubt. And any NHL team that came obviously had to grow a whole new fan base.
All the while, they haven’t reached an agreement to get their games on the two big streaming providers in Hulu and YouTube TV. They push Fubo, which doesn’t have the full MLB Postseason for M’s fans or primetime NHL and NBA games on Turner stations.
That’s before we even get to theoretically doing something innovative like going over the top and straight to Mariners fans with some kind of streaming service of their own, powered by MLB.
Again, that is the most generous reading, that they just didn’t see this coming. They didn’t make agreements that, as a sports entity, were the most advantageous to their financial and competitive health. They, I guess, had contracts that precluded a creative streaming solution…but not one that prevented Xfinity from unilaterally slicing a big chunk off their revenue,
And that’s the story? Sheesh.
We’re supposed to understand the owners of the Mariners are titans of industry who worked hard and brilliantly to earn millions upon millions upon millions of dollars. And they keep on operating so brilliantly that their professional sports team has jumped in value another billion just since they bought majority control from Nintendo.
But they just didn’t see a situation like this unfolding.
They spent millions to build an entire bar complex across the street, they renovated multiple luxury spaces at the ballpark, they acquired those Blazers and Krakens broadcasting rights but, when it came to ensuring appropriate resources for a period of time they themselves said was for gunning for a title—they had a little goof and can’t afford that part?
And the thing is, we can all see it—they could make so much more money. So much more. They could have all the money they ever wanted and more by investing in this club to the level the organization, the city and these fans deserve.
But we’re to believe these businessmen made a bad business move. That it couldn’t be avoided.
That, or they think we’re dumb and are pocketing untold cash while crying poor.
Again, even the least malicious interpretation is quite bad.
But the interpretation doesn’t matter. Not one bit. Whether the Mariners are victims of circumstance due to their own negligence or just grotesquely and shortsightedly greedy, it doesn’t matter.
It has to stop. The Mariners need to figure out how to run a first-class organization—not try to convince us it’s okay to not be one while asking us to pay first-class prices.
Subscribe for free to get everything or go paid to buy me a beer.
Figure it out—or find someone who can
I’ve mentioned it before but there’s this certain line of argument in discussing baseball transactions where, if you challenge something that did or did not take place, someone will invariably say “Well, what would you do?!?! Who would you have traded for or signed?!”
Buddy, I’m not the GM. I’m not the owner, either. I’m not supposed to have all the solutions, but they are. That is the job.
When your baseball operations group does its assigned task and pries open a championship window, you need to find away to invest in the club to a level the situation dictates. Also, even below that, you need to be capable of projecting profit in such a way you can accurately forecast what that level of investment needs to be and how you’ll move money around to make sure you have the funds available.
I don’t care if that’s a creative broadcast solution or a cash call to the ownership group. Doesn’t matter.
Divish has reported time and time again that each of the last few offseasons, Jerry Dipoto’s group has gone into the winter and ensuing campaign with a considerably lower budget than he had been expecting, based on what he’d been told.
Again, that is the job. To provide the financial resources and management to ensure success.
You do that, you win. You win, you make money.
It isn’t any more complex than that.
People in this town are dying to spend money on this team, and a lot of it. I wrote last summer with the All-Star Game, Seattle is ready to be a world-class baseball town on the level of Philadelphia, prime San Francisco, New York and Boston.
We love our M’s. And we want someone up top who loves them, too.
You can tell us you do, that you want a World Series just like we do but like I said above, it’s actions that count. Actions are all you’ll be judged on.
The Mariners need to figure out the actions to take to put them in position to compete for a world title. They need to figure out how to have enough money to do that.
And if they can’t, if it’s something they are incapable of doing, it’s getting to be past time they try to find someone else who can.
As I wrote previously, this offseason sat on a razor’s edge between “They did it! A raving success of an offseason!” and “Sell the team.”
With all that’s transpired, it’s going to take a miracle to land on the former—perhaps a level of ambition and investment like we have never seen.
And if this ownership group does’t have a miracle in them?
Well, then we need to find someone who does.