clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Quietly, the Mariners have begun spending like they used to

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Then again, maybe it hasn't been so quiet. In the two offseasons preceding this most recent one, the Seattle Mariners signed Felix Hernandez to the largest contract ever signed by a pitcher, and last they year inked Robinson Cano to what, at the time, was the fourth-largest deal in the history of professional sports. But here, and everywhere, context matters.

While Mariners fans' cries for the team to spend what they used to were met with reminders on these two deals, it's always been clear there was more to spending competitively than committing large sums of money over long periods of time. It's more important to spend wisely than spend big, but we know the degree of difficulty increases the lower you drop in those payroll rankings—and in recent years, the Mariners had been a bit lower than we'd all like.

That's changing, and it's changing quicker than we realize. At Fangraphs, Craig Edwards recently put together a comprehensive look at payrolls across baseball, with two pieces relevant here—his overall look and then the review of the American League.

And in the first link there, you'll find this chart, a rank of overall payrolls:


Hey now, there are the Mariners at 11th—not the upper tier, but getting there. And far ahead where they've been in past years. So how that'd happen? Well, you might be surprised to see this ranking of whose payroll has increased the most between Opening Day of last year and now:

Payroll Rank

Yeah, second. The only team that bumped its payroll more in the past calendar year is the organization that spends more than anyone. In the non-Dodgers division, and this should be a division for all things roster-building, the Mariners increased their payroll the most.

Oh, and for those who are wondering about that headline, and scoff at rising to decade-old spending levels considering baseball's current economic climate, I'm not speaking to those figures—but that rank referenced above. Here's a chart of the Mariners' payroll rank, updated since the last time we took a look a this issue:


Yeah, that's quite the pull back on the sticks. As you'll notice, this isn't a climb all the way back into the top 10, or to the peak #7 rankings in both 2003 and 2007—but they're getting there, and in 2015 the team will operate with a payroll as competitive as the one Pat Gillick had to work with in 2001.

So how'd this happen? How'd they climb all the way back—especially from last offseason to this one?

Well, of course, the Nelson Cruz deal played a big role. And then, in the other the big news of the offseason, Kyle Seager signed his seven-year $100 million extension. While Seager will start seeing the real big dollars for a couple years, this starts to give us a sense for where the money's going.

Last year, as trade talks developed between the Mariners and Phillies over Marlon Byrd, I noted the Mariners' perceived deficiency of middle-tier talent and contracts. Well, no more.

In 2015, Austin Jackson and Seth Smith will combine to make a combined $13.7 million, so that's a second Nelson Cruz right there.  Seager, mentioned above, goes from a few hundred thousand dollars to $4.5 million in the first year of his big deal. And then, you have all the incremental additions. Felix Hernandez makes $2 million more in 2015 than he did in 2014. Then there's Logan Morrison, Dustin Ackley, Charlie Furbush and Tom Wilhelmsen all jumping into their arbitration years, now making millions when they, like Seager, were making six figures previously.

In the end, the combination of free agent additions and young guys finding their foothold in the majors—really, the plan all along—adds up to getting payroll close to where it used to be. Now, the bigger question: where does it go from here?

It's hard to tell, but the best guess is simple: up. As we've covered a number of times in discussing this subect, Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln has said the organization's cable deal should put them in the neighborhood of the Angels and Rangers when it comes to resources available—and it seems like there's still a bit of a gap to close in expenditures, though that's unclear with all the off-field additions.

Then, as we've also covered, there's the explosive growth of Seattle. In recent years, Seattle has been one of the top economies in both the country and the world. It's something that's easy to see for those of us who live and work here. There's cranes everywhere, and just about every week there's a new story about a company—from SpaceX to Facebook to Twitter to Uber—expanding its operations here. The most recent census revealed Seattle is the fastest growing major city in the country.

In the end, most of the team's money is going to be made on that already-constructed cable deal, but improved ratings in a rapidly-growing media market won't hurt. Nor will an uptick in corporate sponsorships and the suite ticket packages that come with them.

At this junction, it's clear: Seattle, and the Mariners, are on the up. Now we just wait and watch to see how high things will go.