The Mariners' biggest problem in recent years has been management's inability to let the baseball people make the baseball decisions. The signing of Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre after the 2004 season for instance. Howard Lincoln and the other Mariners' owners have sometimes shown the willingness to spend, but always at the wrong time.
2000- Alex Rodriguez hits free agency. Management offers him $100 million to stay in an M's uniform. He says he wants the richest contract in baseball history, and declines to sign with the Mariners unless they up their offer. Howard Lincoln, et al, refuse to do so, and A-Rod proceeds to sign with the Texas Rangers for 10 years, $254 million.
I'm not saying that the owners should have opened their wallets that wide, but at the time, the largest contract in baseball history wasn't really much more than the $100 million that they were offering. ($100 million over 8 years, roughly $12 million per year). At that time, the largest contract in baseball history belonged to Ken Griffey, Jr, coming in at $116 million over nine years. If management ups their offer to ten years, $130 million, Alex Rodriguez is a Mariner until 2011. Say what you want about him, but at the time, Rodriguez was the best player in baseball period.
1998- Randy Johnson wants a contract extension and he wants the Mariners to show that they are willing to spend the money it takes to build a contender. Management offered Johnson a well below market offer, he tanked the season and was traded at the deadline to the Astros. If Johnson is given his extension, he finishes his career with the Mariners, acquiring win #300 along the way.
1999- Ken Griffey, Jr. wants a large contract, wants the team to show they want to win, or he wants to be traded to his hometown Cincinnati Reds, (because of his full no trade protection, he has the ability to stop a trade to any team he doesn't like, and with his contract expiring at the end of the 1999 season, he could walk, leaving the Mariners with nothing). Management is unwilling to spend the dough, and the House that Griffey Built would not see its namesake play within her walls for 9 years.
2004- Management is desperate for sluggers. The best sluggers available are Richie Sexson (right-handed) and Adrian Beltre (also right-handed). Unfortunately, right handed sluggers never fare well within the friendly (or hostile, depending on the perspective) confines of SafeCo Field. As many fans predicted, Beltre and Sexson both disappointed at the plate. That's not to say that Beltre wasn't worth every penny. His defense brought his value sky high, but if he had been able to live up to expectations at the plate, he would have been a bargain.
2007- Management signs Ichiro to a $90 million extension, and then keeps him, instead of trading him for a boatload of prospects, saving cash in the process. I'm not saying that I don't like Ichiro. On the contrary he happens to be one of my favorite players ever. However, the first mistake that the Mariners made was not trading Ichiro immediately after the 2004 season, when he broke George Sisler's single-season hits record. At that point, his value was higher than it has been at any point since. The prospects the Mariners could have gotten from trading Ichiro alone would have been enough to jump start the rebuilding process that it took until the end of 2008 for the owners to realize was necessary.
All of the examples above are used to highlight the recent times when the owners opened (or shut) their wallets at a bad time. Unfortunately, most of the times that management was willing to spend money was for one reason and one reason alone: to make more.
Take the Ichiro extension for instance: the revenue that the Mariners earn from Ichiro's celebrity status in Japan alone pays for his contract and then some.
The Beltre/Sexson signings were intended to boost attendance, and they did, for a while, until fans were once again sent home shaking their heads in disgust.
All of the problems that the Mariners are facing right now (having to try to lure players up to the Northwest, but being unable to compete with the Yankees and other teams as far as money/respectability is concerned) could be wiped away with one simple, logical move: Paul Allen must successfully make a bid to purchase the team from the current owners.
If you haven't heard of Paul Allen, you might want to get your head examined, or crawl out of the box you've been living in for the last 25 years.
Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, Inc., is the 37th richest man in the world, with a net worth of around $14 billion (personal net worth, his companies are worth much, much more).
To the average person, looking at a 37th wealthiest ranking isn't that impressive, especially when you take into consideration that Bill Gates also lives in Seattle, and is always ranked in the top 5.
What IS impressive, however, is the fact that Allen is the #1 wealthiest sports franchise owner in the U.S.
His personal wealth makes Hank Steinbrenner look like a pauper. He could, with no assistance from any other investors, buy the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, and L.A. Lakers (three most valuable franchises in their respective sports) three times each and still have a couple billion left over.
The Seattle Mariners are valued at around $439 million. Paul Allen probably has that much tucked underneath the mattress in the master bedroom aboard his $250 million yacht, Octopus.
If he were to make an offer of around $500 million to purchase the team, Howard Lincoln and the other owners would be hard pressed to turn the offer down, as it would be a 500% profit from what they spent when they purchased the team in 1992.
Allen could then buy any player he wanted, turning the Mariners into the Yankees. I'm not saying that he should do that, just that he could. What I actually think he should do is open the wallet to keep the talent we have, and open it as wide as is necessary to bring in the best players available via free agency.
Imagine A-Rod, Teixera, and Beltre in the infield and Ichiro, Holliday, and Guttierrez in the outfield.
How about Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia, and John Lackey taking up the top 4 slots in the M's rotation?
The days of being bargain shoppers would be over. Jack Zduriencek would be able to pick which players he thought would best serve the team's needs and go after them. Gone would be the days of picking players up off the scrap heap and hoping they would be able to resurrect their careers in the spacious confines of SafeCo Field. Instead, the M's would be able to choose the cream of the crop, leaving the hated Yankees with whatever is left.
Sure, there would be some bad contracts, some bad trades, and some bad seasons. But that's baseball. In the end, Paul Allen has shown he'll spend whatever money it takes to keep the teams he owns competitive. Look at the Seattle Seahawks. Look at the Seattle Sounders. Look at the Portland Trail Blazers. In the end, Mr. Allen would spend whatever money was necessary and he wouldn't stop until he was holding the World Series Trophy in his hands.
Credit to Casey McClain for the inspiration for this story, as well as the headline.