Last night the Mariners secured a winning season record against last year’s World Series champions, the Houston Astros. This should have been a cause for great delight; instead, any joy in victory was tempered knowing that for the Mariners the season will end when the calendar turns to October. It turns out, we on staff are still in the “anger” stage of grief. Although there are many, many things to be angry about with the 2018 Mariners, each of us has our particular hobby-horse, the thing that makes us a little angrier than everything else, our own piece of crummy, crummy straw that broke our backs this season. In the grand tradition of Festivus, these are a few of our least favorite things:
John: Backing out of the Driveline deal before the season
It’s tough to highlight an “undercovered” moment to the Lookout Landing community. There are no more meticulous followers of the Mariners’ goings-on than those here, and little slips through the cracks. But the story of this past offseason’s endeavor to sync up the Mariners’ training methods with local company Driveline Baseball fell to the wayside to some degree, yet it has eaten at me throughout every stage of this season, regardless of the record. From Levi Weaver’s three-part profile on Driveline this winter for The Athletic:
“This offseason, Boddy says he had a multimillion-dollar pitching development deal in place with an AL West team that fell through just before it became official, during spring training.
‘Basically, the GM didn’t get his contract renewed and ownership is losing faith,’ Boddy says. ‘He hired someone that was gonna oversee this program, they became combative, and a lot of it was “we’re not gonna commit millions of dollars to this.” Looking back, the team is a complete shit show now. So, good. We dodged a bullet… On the other hand, I was banking on $3 million being deposited in my bank account, and now we’re talking about layoffs at Driveline.’”
This segment, which published in June but was researched during March, was jarring to me more than any run differential. It was not unthinkable that there was tension between the front office and ownership. Jerry Dipoto was brought in to make the playoffs and has failed to achieve that. But considering that pursuit has been done without the roster flexibility to adjust more than the periphery of the roster, it felt jarring in a new way for this front office. My read of the quote above, which does not specify the Mariners, but has later been confirmed through LL’s intricate web of Sources to be the Mariners, is that this offseason, ownership was unwilling to commit the cost of roughly three Andrew Romines to an organizational overhaul in player development.
Dr. Lorena Martin’s hiring this offseason fits the bill of “he hired someone that was gonna oversee this program.” Yet, while there have been steps here and there organizationally forward out of the developmental abyss of the Jack Z era, the slow trickle of information from Dipoto and this information paints a picture of a front office desirous of pushing the envelope with developmental strategy, yet being distrusted by ownership too much to be given the funds to invest in a sorely needed overhaul in player dev.
Dipoto obviously received a contract extension this summer, which may foretell a new investment of this ilk this offseason. But that’s, at best, a season of a missed opportunity. The hiring of Brian DeLunas, whose background is in a private sector role with a Driveline-like player development company, was perhaps a hedged-bet, and one that seems like a resounding success considering the dramatic over-achievements by most of the Mariners’ pitchers relative to expectations this season. But the Mariners can’t afford to get anything less than the most out of their minor league system, and the disconnect between ownership and their front office is just the latest in a troubling long-term trend that discourages my hopes for the future more than any mid-August swoon.
Grant: Lineup construction
August 9, 2018. A fateful day.
That was the first day that Mitch Haniger slipped into the leadoff role. Until that exact date, Dee Gordon was the everyday leadoff guy, having hit anywhere else in the lineup just three times all season — all of those in pinch-hitting situations. In those 450 plate appearances, Gordon hit .282/.302/.346 with a wRC+ of 81. EIGHTY-ONE. Meanwhile, MEETCH has slashed .333/.393/.609.
Now, Haniger’s performance in the leadoff role since then isn’t likely to be repeated. I mean, sure, I’d like a 175 wRC+ all season long, but given that it’s propped up by a .420 BABIP, I’m pretty sure it’s something of a mirage. But it still represents a major issue I have had with this season: lineup construction.
It’s been obvious from very early on in the season that Gordon didn’t belong in the leadoff spot. There were countless better options: Haniger, Denard Span, and even Jean Segura vastly outclass the speedy second baseman-turned-center fielder. Any one of them would have provided severely-needed on-base abilities to the top of the lineup and supercharged a lineup that has proven to be top-heavy.
That’s not where the bad decisions end, however. I, for one, would have liked to seen a healthy dose more of Daniel Vogelbach, especially given that he’s shown an ability to take a walk in AAA. In hindsight, sending Ben Gamel down so we could have Cameron Maybin hit was a pretty poor call. Given his struggles in 2018, Kyle Seager probably should have been dropped in the order a long, long time ago. Given his struggles in his entire major league career, Andrew Romine probably should have been dropped from the roster a long, long time ago. And on and on and on.
But the Dee Gordon, Leadoff Hitter decision still sticks in my craw. I don’t think it would have made a difference on this season, as the Mariners stand seven games back of Oakland, and I can’t imagine pure lineup sequencing making up that gap. It still smacks of old-school thinking at a time when every successful team is leaning heavily on new-age management; it reflects a disconnect between what has been espoused by the Jerry Dipoto regime and the actual on-field product. That, to me, is the most galling of all.
Zach: What is this hitting style
The offensive results that the Mariners have put up have been lacking, to say the least. More consternating than the results themselves is the path that they’ve taken to reach those results. With the exceptions of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Canó, Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger, and Denard Span, the offense has been miserable to watch in the second half of the season.
Even when the team wins it’s been miserable to watch. Maybe Mike Zunino is good for a catcher. I don’t want to watch a hitter with a 40% K%. It sucks. I know Dee Gordon is fun. I love him. I don’t love his 2% BB%, or whatever it is. Jean, please, take a god damn pitch. Guillermo, learn to fucking run the bases. RyOn, it is inexcusable to be a first baseman that seems to have an allergy to taking a walk.
When Chris Herrmann feels like a breath of fresh air, something is deeply broken. The offense is, indeed, deeply broken. And if it doesn’t change, then even if the team exceeds expectations otherwise next year, it’s going to suck to watch.
Eric: Kevin Mather’s stupid face is still everywhere
We all read the article. We all know what it revealed. The second half of the season had already begun to turn sour when the news dropped on July 25, leaving many fans reeling, confused, disappointed, and just plain hurt. How could the organization cover this up for nearly 8 years? For a franchise that does so many things right in regards to its charity work, its treatment of fans, the in-game experience, and inclusive promotions at games, it was shocking for a story like this to come out this long after the fact. What wasn’t shocking was that it happened during Jack Zduriencik’s well-documented toxic tenure as GM. But after all that, the guilty parties were all either gone or in advisory roles. All except for one, very public figure.
I saw Kevin Mather in person for the first time since the story broke at the September 5 game versus the Orioles. I wasn’t planning on attending any more games this season, but an opportunity came up to attend for a work function and get discounted tickets for the Terrace Club level. I hadn’t sat there for a while and figured I might as well take advantage and give Safeco Field one more hurrah before the cold and rainy months descend upon us.
I got to the game, beelined to the Terrace Club level, flashed the usher my ticket, walked in, turned left and immediately walked by Mather as he popped out of an office. He was strolling along, looking at his phone while he headed down to the field level for a photo-op with Nelson Cruz for his Clemente award nomination.
It was jarring because of how instantly it happened, but more so due to witnessing first hand the sheer audacity of this man. Two women left their jobs because of his harassment and he not only got to keep his job, but he got PROMOTED. And now, with the scandal being public knowledge, here is Mather not even trying to be seen less. Just flaunting his privilege. Flaunting the fact that he failed up. Flaunting his position of power. Similar to how I hate seeing players keep their jobs after they assault their spouses (or get traded to playoff contenders like Osuna to the reprobate Astros), I hate that Mather got to keep his job. Seeing him with the team causes cognitive dissonance because I turn to baseball for something fun and cathartic, but seeing him reminds me of all the bad things in the world and specifically how white men with power can get away with hurting people when the people in charge of handing out punishment are other rich and powerful white men.
It viscerally grossed me out, seeing him walk down the hall like nothing happened. Other folks have described similar experiences of seeing him around the ballpark, or how weird it is now to see him on the field for photo-ops. I would prefer the Mariners either fire him or ask him to resign, but the very fucking least he could do as a human being with any fucking decency left is not be out here showing his ass like nothing happened. The initial reveal of the harassment was awful, but to see him around the stadium while the team shit all over themselves in the second half was just a gross insult to the actual injuries inflicted on the women who were sexually harassed.
Connor: Poor play against poor teams (okay, mostly the Padres)
With last night’s blowout win, the Mariners clinched the season series against the Astros— reigning champs and perpetual juggernaut—for the first time since 2014. Barring being on the losing end of a three-game sweep next week, they will have clinched the season series against those damn Oakland A’s. For the most part, this team hung in there with the clear contenders, a 1-5 mark against the Yankees the lone blemish. Losing three out of four to a mediocre Blue Jays team in Rogers Centre West was pretty darn demoralizing, but hey, sometimes bad teams beat good teams. That’s why they play the games.
But why, oh why could they not pull a single victory from the San Diego Padres?
I mean, Jacob Nix? Seriously? No walks, no strikeouts, only one Nelson Cruz homer? Rude, you guys. Coupled with an Erasmo Ramírez blowup and followed up by two gross losses at home, going 0-4 against one of the two worst teams in the National League was an especially low point in a stretch chock full of them. Next year’s Vedder Cup rematch will be heated.
Matthew: Terrible deadline acquisitions
As the Mariners’ putrid month of July reached its finish line, the non-waiver trade deadline rolled around, same as it ever does. Except, this season, with the Mariners on the brink of ending a playoff drought old enough to drive, the deadline carried much more importance. Some shrewd acquisitions could have presumably been the difference between participating in the playoffs and following along from the golf course. With the team already flipping two minor-leaguers for Denard Span and Alex Colomé in May, general manager Jerry Dipoto had shown a willingness, and strong ability, to add pieces during the season.
On July 30 he traded two non-flashy prospects to Minnesota and a briefcase of cash to the Yankees to acquire Zach Duke and Adam Warren. The idea was for the two veterans to stabilize a Mariner bullpen that while effective, was still young and relatively injury-prone. The moves were great in theory, and disgusting in execution. Warren has toed the rubber 20 times for Seattle, never recording more than five outs in an appearance. The 31-year-old righty owns a 3.79 ERA in an M’s uniform with a 1.42 WHIP, 4.68 FIP, and 12 strikeouts to eight walks. While he did post six straight scoreless outings from August 10-20, all against playoff-bound teams, that all blew up when he allowed three earned runs to literally the Orioles.
Not to be outdone, Duke has been even worse than his bullpen-mate. 22 games, 11 innings, 5.73 ERA, 5.15 FIP, 1.55 WHIP, six strikeouts, six walks, and a Players’ Weekend nickname that was a little too on the nose.
Cameron Maybin has hit like the Seahawks defense: disappointingly and somehow even worse than we’ve come to expect. He’s running a .210/.256/.284 slash line with the Mariners with exactly three (3) extra base hits. That the Mariners gave up one of their best infield prospects to get Maybin twists the blade even deeper into my Torero heart.
Sam Tuivailala was also part of the deadline pickups, but his unfortunate and unlucky injury will exempt him from this roast. If I’m making a frustration piñata to get rid of my negative 2018 Mariner energy, it’s taking the form of a Warren-Duke-Maybin cerberus. My home run swings are reserved for the Warren and Duke parts, while Maybin gets my weak, dying, most flailing efforts.
Kate: Clubhouse turning toxic
One of the best things about the early-season Mariners, aside from all the winning, was how much the team seemed to genuinely like each other. Marco and Wade turning into the neat! brothers, players leaving positive comments all over each others’ social media accounts, Dee Gordon acting as the #SendSegura campaign manager...this team had more than just a steady accumulation in the “W” column; they had heart. They scrapped against the Red Sox and Wade LeBlanc emerged victorious on Saturday Night baseball, his teammates seemingly happier for him than he was for himself. There were walkoffs and on-field hugs. Maybe this team wasn’t a titan like the big-bopping Red Sox or the MechaAstros rotation, but they were scrappy and fun and genuinely seemed to care about each other, and all those nerds could beat it.
And then suddenly, everything fell apart. The team started hemorrhaging losses and eventually that losing on-field spilled over into the clubhouse. The tight-knit family became less like an episode of Leave It To Beaver and more like the Real Housemariners of Seattle, complete with knock-down, drag-out fight. It felt like a betrayal of the last thing I had to cling to about this team, that they were Nice Guys. While the Astros and A’s signed players with DV records to prop up their bullpens, the Mariners did charity work and liked each other in affirming, non-toxic ways [side-eyes Astros’ DREAM CRUSHERS shirts]. And then that all exploded, when reports of a clubhouse fight that had beat reporters gossiping like 19th-century socialites. Even more than their poor play, I was embarrassed for the players in that moment, and embarrassed for myself, that I had invested so much emotional capital in this team. In a season that’s presented challenges to loving the Mariners at every turn—starting with the cancellation of Fan Fest, straight through to the sexual harassment revelations, the stadium-funding snafu, and the team’s painful collapse—this was the thing that finally, irreparably crushed my love for this team. Way to go, guys.
Tim: The @#$%^&! Oakland A’s
Don’t come at me with your Matt Chapman love. JUST DON’T. I know he’s amazing. He’s very, very good. I don’t care. He’s the worst. Mark Canha? Put your turtleneck hoodie (seriously what the hell is that thing) on and go back to Berkeley. Matt Olson? Just hurry up and get a job as a division manager at a Wells Fargo headquarters. Looking down the Athletics’ 40-man roster makes me break out in kombucha-loving hives. It’s filled with names like Trevor and Liam and Cory and Josh and Matt. WHY ARE THERE SO MANY MATTS.
This is a team that went 18-0 against Toronto and San Diego and Detroit. They lost their season series to Houston and Los Angeles and—probably—to us. They lost their season series to the Rays. They play in a stadium literally filled with poop. I don’t want to hear about how lucky the Mariners were early in the year. It’s been more than wiped out by a team with a pitching staff constituted of two real life pitchers and three Rube Goldberg machines stretching from the rubber to home plate which have generated a league-leading-by-a-mile .265 BABIP since June 1st. No, the Mariners were not lucky. The Mariners were Job, waiting for baseball’s version of Satan to visit torment on them for no particular discernible reason whatsoever other than that they were minding their own business.
Watching Oakland probably beat the Yankees in a literal crapfest in O.Co by throwing like 30 eephus pitches isn’t going to be fun or quirky or neat. It’s going to suck, because the A’s suck. It’s like Oakland took everything it had left over after giving us Marshawn Lynch and was like “uh… here. Have this. It talks way too much about its pour-over technique.” Beach them next to the King Philip after the season and let the seagulls pick their eyes out. I don’t care.
Isabelle: The crowing of the I-told-you-so crowd
It wasn’t about the playoffs. Let’s make that clear. I know some had that postseason-or-bust mentality, but if I recall correctly, many of us wrote hopefully about the desire to just see competitive baseball at the end of the season.
And instead the team fell flat on its face. They may end the season as a 90-win team, but that does not erase the two months they spent playing some of the most insulting baseball I’ve seen in recent memory. Sure, plenty of teams in the Mariners’ illustrious franchise history have played worse baseball—that bar is so very, very low—but few have executed such a rapid 180 from battling it out in close games against some of the best teams in the league, to being steamrolled by the San Diego Padres.
I’m happy for those who find satisfaction in the affirmation of their doubts. We all enjoy this game in different ways, and it does feel so deliciously gleeful to be right. Unfortunately, my own doubts refuse to beget any happiness; I’ve never felt less affinity for the organization than I have in the last few months. But maybe next year the team will prove our doubts wrong. Maybe next year it won’t be a question of paying for groceries or attending games. Maybe next year the organization will not continue to elevate a man who harassed one of his employees. Maybe next year I’ll love the Mariners again.