The Seattle Mariners play their final games of the season at home this weekend against the Oakland A’s. It’s the Mariners 14th year missing the playoffs - the longest drought in the majors.
Seattle’s front office is hoping newly-announced general manager Jerry Dipoto will help turn things around. KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says "major changes" are in order.
’The Right Guy’
Thiel said Dipoto is the right guy for the right time. And he thought Dipoto "won" the press conference this week, when he was introduced to the media, fans and city.
"He's a bright, glib, articulate guy who speaks very clearly about his passions," Thiel said. "I thought he was as candid as a guy can be in that position without trying to trash his predecessor. But he clearly pointed out shortcomings and flaws, not only in the Mariners' 25-man roster but also in the farm system. He said all the right things.
“Then again, if you look back at Jack Zduriencik he said all the right things when he was hired as general manager. And before that, so did Bill Bavasi.
"Words don't mean much. It's a guess on the part of Mariner management. Even the best ones make mistakes," Thiel pointed out.
Angst Over Analytics At Angels
Dipoto was formerly the general manager of the Angels. But he left after clashes with manager Mike Scioscia over the issue of analytics. That's the use of statistics made famous by Billy Beane of the Oakland A's in the book and movie “Moneyball.”
"Analytics, basically, are just a collection of advanced statistics on player performance that tell details about how a pitcher pitches and how a hitter hits, in a way that has not been readily available in baseball before about the last 10 years," Thiel explained.
"That information, I think, is useful to a manager. Mike Scioscia didn't think so. Ultimately, the owner sided with Scioscia, who's won him a World Series and is the longest-tenured manager in baseball.
"I think [Mariners manager] Lloyd McClendon is a little bit more like Mike Scioscia, which I think makes him vulnerable to be fired. We'll find out probably as soon as next week if that takes place.
"It wouldn't surprise me that Dipoto wants his own guy in after experiencing what he did in Anaheim, where it wasn't his guy and it wasn't a good fit," Thiel noted.
'Time For Major Change’
So what does Thiel think Dipoto should do in the offseason to make the Mariners more competitive next year? Something that won't likely be popular with fans. It has to do with the Mariners' poor catching.
Thiel referred to a Sportspress Northwest story this week that said the five Mariner catchers this season, collectively, are the worst in Major League Baseball history.
”Their batting averages, cumulatively, were about .156," Thiel said. "It's been awful. Not only this year but previous years.
"Mike Zunino may have a chance to win back the job. But, to me, priority number one is fixing catching. And I think it may require a trade of designated hitter Nelson Cruz.
"I know fans don't want to hear that because he's been so good this year [44 home runs as of Oct. 1].
"But he's in the second year of a four-year deal at [age] 35 and he may have peaked in terms of his hitting contribution.
"He's had a few injuries, which happen with age. But he's also the one guy the Mariners have that either doesn't have an onerous contract or a mediocre background.
"I think he could be an asset that would be useful in trade because the Mariners have to fix a lot of other places in the lineup," Thiel noted.
"Dipoto made that point when he said 'this team doesn't fit this ballpark.’
"Safeco Field is a spacious place where you really need to save runs as much as produce runs. That means having an athletic outfield that can run down fly balls in the gap or along the lines. And can manufacture runs, much like the Kansas City Royals, last year's American League champions who this year are division winners.
"Dipoto understands he's going to have to remake the lineup. And it's going to be a hard, painful thing for fans of Nelson Cruz, I think. But it's absolutely necessary if they're going to get back in the playoffs.
"They now are the team with the longest drought in the Major Leagues - 14 years without. So, it's time for major changes.”