'Step back' strategy has Mariners stuck and some players frustrated | KNKX

'Step back' strategy has Mariners stuck and some players frustrated

May 31, 2019

After having the best record in baseball at the start of the season, the Mariners are now last in the American League West with the most errors in Major League Baseball. The team said it would be "stepping back" this season, in order to start rebuilding. But KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel told Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick that there are some unintended consequences to that strategy.

Thiel pointed to a story this week in The Seattle Times in which starting pitcher Mike Leake admitted to being frustrated with the team's "stepping back" strategy.

"There’s days where you wonder, if I’m not part of it, should you trade me to someone who wants me more?" Leake told columnist Matt Calkins.

Thiel said the Mariners' plan to step back this season is exposing a myth in team sports.

"Fans love to believe that the individual player cares as much as he or she does about the outcome of games and the outcomes of seasons. When, in fact, at the pro level these guys, at least in baseball, are 25 independent contractors," Thiel said. "They all come in with different career aspirations depending on their age and their experience and their success."

Thiel said some Mariner players may start questioning whether to give it their all and play hurt — if the team doesn't plan on having a winning season: "Why risk the chance of making a small hurt a big one?" 

That’s one unintended consequence — alienating veteran players, such as 31-year-old Leake, who likely won’t be around to reap the benefits after the team moves beyond a rebuild.

"When this team gets good, his contract is going to be up. And he won't be a part of it,” Thiel said. “He'd like to be part of something now. Where he's going to get profile, maybe extra playoff money and show that he can be part of success.”

Thiel added that he understands Leake’s frustration, but also acknowledges the Mariners can’t backtrack now.

"This season is just going to continue to roll betwixt and between and I'm afraid it's not going to get better, it's only going to be endured,” he said.

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