For a franchise born not of baseball passion but litigation (a lawsuit over the 1970 relocation of the Seattle Pilots) that took 15 years to reach a winning season — still the slowest meander of its kind in modern American pro sports history — and more recently went 21 years between playoff games, the ground between sporting tedium and agony is not just well-trod by the Seattle Mariners. Futility is their most remorseless tradition.
The 47-year habit that has made them the only MLB team never to have made the World Series just added a chapter of remarkable perversity.
“We’ve got to commit to winning, we have to commit to going and getting those players you see other teams… getting big-time pitchers, getting big-time hitters. We have to do that to keep up. I think we’ve done a great job of growing some players here and within the farm system. But sometimes you have to buy, and that’s just the name of the game. We’ll see what happens this off-season. Hopefully, we can add some players and become a better team.”
He also criticized the mid-season trade of reliable closer Paul Sewald. Although the returns from Arizona of outfielder Dom Canzone and second baseman Josh Rojas were respectable, the loss of some bullpen prowess was noteworthy too.
“I thought we were going to have a lot better year,” he said. “I thought adding some bats was going to help, but losing Paul at the trade deadline definitely hurt. And that was a big spot in our season.”
In Seattle civic culture, the lament that Mariners management never spends enough money comes in a close second to the lament that “I-5 traffic is the worst it’s ever been.” The criticism typically comes from fans and sports media, or off the record from anonymous sources. Instead, Raleigh’s public candor as a player leader gave new resonance to his nickname, “Big Dumper.”
But as his comments quickly rounded the baseball world, Raleigh seemed to have morning-after regrets. Meeting with reporters briefly before the game Sunday, and taking no questions, he regretted some of what he said.”
Obviously (Saturday) was a really emotional day, for everybody,” he said. “I just want to apologize to my teammates, my coaches, the fans. It wasn’t a time to talk about what-ifs in that scenario. That being said, I’m not going to apologize for wanting to win and wanting to bring a World Series to the city. They deserve it. The fans do, and this organization does. I’m committed to doing that.”
The Seattle Times reported that Raleigh came to the realization about the controversy on his own, suggesting no club encouragement. Regardless, Raleigh’s initial sentiment reflects what most analysts said about the Mariners’ off-season effort to add to a roster that in 2022 finally broke through to the playoffs: It was lame. The only 2023 newcomer to make it through the entire season was outfielder Teoscar Hernandez; the rest were marginal talents jettisoned earlier.
In an exit interview in the clubhouse Sunday, Crawford, asked about Raleigh’s initial lament, agreed.”I think Cal had some great comments,” he said. “I’m in with that.
“What is “that,” exactly?
Raleigh pointed to the visiting clubhouse. After a 68-win trainwreck last season, the Rangers won 90 games this time, spending 149 days in the AL West lead. That was partly a result of spending over the past two seasons of about $560 million in total value on new player contracts.”
You look over at the other locker room right there, and they’ve added more (in free agency) than anybody else, and you saw where it got them this year,” Raleigh said. “There’s more than one way to skin a cat, that’s for sure.”
And yet, it took until the final weekend for the Rangers and their $247 million player payroll, fourth highest in MLB, to slide past the 88-74 Mariners and their $134 million, ranked 18th — $30 million below the league average. The three clubs ahead of the Rangers — New York Yankees, New York Mets and San Diego Padres — all whiffed on the playoffs.
Then there’s Baltimore, which two years ago had a 52-110 record, yet won the AL East at 101-61 with a $52 million payroll. Almost all of the Orioles’ talent is home-grown. For the Orioles and Rangers, 2023 is the first postseason since 2016.
In the past decade or so, such disparities in payrolls and outcomes have become closer to the norm: Big money doesn’t always prevail, and less money doesn’t mean doom. But sometimes winning at baseball requires the use of a scalpel instead of a chainsaw, as the Rangers proved.
On July 30, Texas, pickled with pitching injuries, acquired for prospects from the sagging St. Louis Cardinals Jordan Montgomery, 30, a seventh-year lefty starter with two months left on a $10 million contract. In 67 innings over 11 starts in Texas, he has a 2.79 ERA, including wins Sept. 23 and Sept. 28 over the Mariners, who scored one run against him in 13 innings.
Imagine if the Mariners had decided at the trade deadline to make a strength stronger by acquiring Montgomery to ease reliance on rookie starters. Hey, the guy started 97 games for the Yankees, so he probably can handle the pressure in Seattle. Instead, the Mariners did nothing at the deadline while the Rangers patched their rotation.
Was the $3+million in Montgomery’s remaining salary too much for the Mariners? Team attendance was 2.7 million, up from 2.2 million in 2022 and the most since 2005. And last year, according to Forbes, the Mariners led MLB with $82 million in annual profits.
Raleigh may have felt compelled to apologize Sunday for reasons of team politics. But his observations weren’t wrong.
It’s time for the complaints about traffic on I-5 to retire its trophy and cede to a more persistent tradition.