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Will Mariners fence changes make big difference next year?

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo

Despite modest improvement this year, the Mariners end the season last in the American League West for the third year in a row.

And that's not the end of the frustration for Mariners fans, according to KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel.

Former Mariners shine

The Mariner season may be over, but there are a lot of former Mariners who've made it to the playoffs with other teams, including: Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez, Raul Ibanez and Freddy Garcia with the Yankees; Adam Jones with the Orioles; and Doug Fister with the Tigers.

Not to mention former Mariners manager Bob Melvin heading the Oakland A's, who shockingly won the American League West despite the lowest payroll in baseball.

"And you look around and you just see all these other players come to good and the Mariners sit there idling in last place. It is just agonizing."

And fans are frustrated. Art says about 173,000 fewer people came to Safeco Field this season.

"The fans have responded with their dismay over yet another rebuild - even if the Mariners did get to 75 wins (this season)."

The Mariners ended 2012 with 75 wins and 87 losses. Last year, they won 67 and lost 95.

'Like putting whipped cream on Spam'

The Mariners have announced a big change for Safeco Field next year. They're bringing in the fences in left field to make it easier for hitters. Art says it's "a little like putting whipped cream on Spam. In the end, it's still Spam."

But says it IS true that the ball doesn't travel well in the cool, marine climate here. It's been a negative when the Mariners pursue veteran free agents.

"You're trying to make your ballpark more fair. That means, in this case, a balance between hitting and pitching. The Mariners ballpark has been known as an extreme pitchers' park ever since it was built. It's just really hard to hit there. So, they're bringing in the fences a little bit on the left field side and it should help batting averages and home run production but it's going to hurt pitching. If that's all they do, it's a real empty gesture."

Art says, for serious change next year, the team has to look inward.

"It's really difficult to see a big improvement - particularly since the veteran free agent market this winter is expected to be fairly thin, so there's not really anybody you can throw a lot of money at to join this lineup. So the idea of the fences bringing some star hitter here is not likely to be seen next year. All that has to happen is guys they've got, improving. And there's a lot of debate about that."

The Mariners announced Thursday they will not retain hitting coach Chris Chambliss for 2013, after another season during which their offense was among the worst in baseball.  Chambliss was the Mariners' hitting coach the past two seasons. The rest of team's coaching staff will return next year.

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.