Raleigh was Right: Is Mariners Management Committed to Winning?


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.

During a regular season in which they cavorted for several weeks as the hottest team in baseball, the Mariners faded in September (the 12-17 record was their worst month of 2023). They fell back into a race in the final 10 games among the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays for three available post-season berths. By expanding the playoffs to 12 teams for the first time, baseball seemingly was doing the M’s a favor similar to 1995, when the wild card was introduced and the M’s first made the postseason.
The Mariners and Rangers were booked head-to-head at T-ball Park for the final four games. The Mariners won three, two by shutouts against one of MLB’s best offenses, and a third with a dramatic walk-off single Friday night from shortstop J.P. Crawford. But after temporarily ascending to first place in the AL West, the Mariners Saturday lost fecklessly, 6-1, primarily because their best pitcher and best position player failed spectacularly.
Starting pitcher Luis Castillo, the veteran ace, gave up five hits, five walks and four runs in 2.2 innings, his shortest appearance since 2019.  It followed a Sept. 25 loss to the Astros in which he was nearly as bad — eight hits and five runs in six innings.
Center fielder Julio Rodriguez, MLB’s Player of the Month for July, closed the 10-game run with four hits in 31 at-bats. In the final seven games, all at home, he was 1-for-24, including a whiff Saturday in which he struck out flailing on a pitch that was closer to the Oregon border than the outside corner.

Regarding the Astros, Mariners followers know that the Seattle organization and players have contempt for their rivals that would fill a container ship. As if missing out on the postseason wasn’t bad enough, helping hand the Astros the division title on the final day is akin to Charlie Brown having his clothes blown off after a liner over the mound.
That is the micro-picture of the past week. But since the Mariners were 24-26 in one-run games this year, the if-then debate about a single-game outcome determining the season could go for days. The macro-picture is more illuminating. It was addressed Saturday night by Cal Raleigh, the catcher whose high pain threshold should be a matter of scientific inquiry.
This time, Raleigh’s pain was emotional, daring to question whether the commitment to winning among management and ownership was as sincere as what he felt in the clubhouse after three consecutive regular season win totals of 90, 90 and 88.
“We have to become a better team,” he calmly told reporters after the game. “Straight up. We’ve been right at this 90-win mark for a few years now. We’ve just got to get better. Something’s got to change. I don’t think by any means we’re a bad team this year, but it’s not where we want to be. We want to get into the World Series. You want to make the playoffs every single year. And in order to do that, some things have to change, and it starts with the players here in the clubhouse.”
But, Raleigh said, it’s supposed to continue through those making the calls on talent acquisition.

“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.

Art Thiel
Art Thiel
Art Thiel is a longtime sports columnist in Seattle, for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now as founding editor at SportsPressNW.com.


  1. Art
    The only thing wrong with your article is the headline which should have read.
    Raleigh was Right: Mariners Management is Not Committed to Winning!

  2. I remember when Jeff Nelson, the iconic relief pitcher sounded off about management (back in the 90s), he was traded. I hope that history, in this case, does not repeat itself.

  3. We left Seattle for NE Wisconsin two years ago (thank goodness, but that’s another story) and have now become massive Brewer fans. ML Milwaukee is the smallest market in MLB and has many baseball similarities to the Mariners. They’ve grown a marvelous newbie crop in Bryce Turang, Andruw Monesterio, Tyrone Taylor, Sal Frelick and others. By wisely adding veterans Carlos Santana (Pirates), Josh Donaldson (Yankees), Mark Canha (Mets) and reliever Andrew Chafin at the trade deadline they won the NL Central. Throw in Craig Counsell, the best manager in Baseball today, and they have a real chance at the pennant.

    Seattle could arguably be in the same league next year with better planning and player management.

    • Ironically, the Milwaukee Brewers are responsible for the existence of the Mariners. The Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The American League allowed for expansion after a lawsuit initiated by Washington Attorney General Slade Gorton.

      • Mil, you left too early. After a brief 47 years, the Mariners are just getting started. And Mike, there were many years when Brewers fans wanted to return the franchise to Seattle. Alas, Gorton did not include in the deal a Nordstrom-like return policy.

      • And the Pilots themselves were rushed into existence. They were scheduled for a 1971 launch, giving them time to bring Sicks Stadium up to snuff. However, a Missouri politician wanted an immediate replacement for the Kansas City Athletics, who had just moved to Oakland in 1968. The AL owners then pushed the expansion up two years, to 1969, giving Seattle virtually no chance to do anything worthwhile with Sicks. https://allsportshistory.com/2021/11/27/what-happened-to-the-seattle-pilots/

        That said, if it weren’t for the Pilots, we wouldn’t have Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four”, listed by the NY Public Library as one of the “Books of the [20th.] Century”, along with “The Great Gatsby”, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, et al.

    • There were numerous years when Brewers fans wanted the team returned to Seattle. Mil is right about the current roster comparison, but asking for quality management is a tad early. Mariners have been at it just 47 years — almost a startup.

      • I attended the only Seattle Pilots’ opening day game at Sick’s Stadium. The opponents were the Los Angeles Angels. Carpenters were still hammering away at new bleachers. I can’t remember who won. The headline speaker was Gene Autrey, owner of the Angels. The Old Cowboy was a little under the weather. He never finished his speech. Perhaps this was some kind of omen.

  4. A few more one-run game wins and we might be talking about this season differently. Art, you think there’s a chance ownership goes in for Ohtani? Seems like a move that’s bound to pay for itself over the years.

    As for the bullpen, no idea. Frustrating stretch run for them. Still, we weren’t good enough to make real playoff noise this year, not with those two AL East teams.


    • I’m sure the owners will make a run, if only for show, Eric. Seattle still has a park that heavily favors pitchers, and Ohtani won’t pitch next year, maybe not much again. I think the bullpen was a top-10 group, but you’re right, this roster is not Series-quality.

  5. I’ll make what’s likely an obvious comment: what are the team management and owners thinking about? That presumes they’re thinking. It doesn’t seem so to me, nevermind thinking carefully. To go back to the Peanuts comic strip: ” Good grief!” It’s no wonder my allegiance has shifted to the Seattle Storm. Just sayin’

    • In fairness, they’re bright people, Carolyn. But they so fear carrying an expensive veteran who’s unproductive (Cano, F. Hernandez) that they stay out of the free agent market. Attempting to win at all costs is not something they will ever do.

    • In fairness, Carolyn, they are smart people. They so fear the consequences of carrying a long-term contract on an expensive veteran (Cano, F. Hernandez) that they stay out of the free agent market. And, again, most veteran hitters don’t want to play in a pitcher’s park.

  6. “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”, and that says it all. Investors rejoice as ‘average’ is profitable.

    • That’s the great virtue of monopoly sports operations, Pete. If fans don’t like Seattle’s MLB product, it’s a long way to the parks in SF and Denver.

    • There really aren’t sides. Dipoto seems comfortable with the guardrails given him by ownership. They’re all making large coin running a monopoly.

  7. Great article Art. I always appreciate your perspective and your understanding of local history. I agree Cal was right. Hope he gets that message from the fans. Go Mariners!


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