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As fans bid farewell to Paxton and Zunino, Thiel says Mariners aren't done with tough transition

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
Former Mariners starting pitcher James Paxton walks with former Mariners catcher Mike Zunino in a game against the Yankees, Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, in Seattle. The Mariners have traded Paxton to the Yankees and Zunino to the Rays.

Mariners fans are wondering who might be next as the team continues to rebuild following another disappointing season. The M's traded pitcher James Paxton to the Yankees this week, not long after sending catcher Mike Zunino to the Tampa Bay Rays.

KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel says he wouldn't be surprised if closer Edwin Diaz also gets traded. Art talked with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick about what's happened so far and why.

To put it in perspective, the Mariners' 17-year playoff drought — the longest of any team in the four major North American sports leagues — is older than Twitter, Facebook and the iPhone.

The Mariners are now making big changes to try to end that drought. But Thiel said it's going to take at least two painful years of rebuilding before fans will see any results.

'A lot of work to do'

"They're not done and they shouldn't be," Thiel said. "They have a lot of work to do.

"The fact that they've traded James Paxton and starting catcher Mike Zunino in the same month, they have signaled that they're done with the incremental developments that have created this mediocrity. They're rebuilding."

"General Manager Jerry Dipoto said, after trading Paxton to the Yankees for three prospects, 'We're taking a step back.' And I'm saying 'stepping back from what?'

"There was nothing there. They're stepping back from air to air. And that's the frustration for Mariner fans."

Fan frustration

"From ground level, these transactions make some sense because they offer a direction," Thiel added. "The Mariners are giving up on 2019 and probably 2020 in order to have a contending team by 2021.

"But from the standpoint of longtime Mariner fans, this is a signal event that the Mariners are actually acknowledging they can't be competitive, so why would fans invest in tickets?"

Thiel said fans can take some comfort in what happened with the Houston Astros. The team was dubbed the "Lastros" and went through several losing seasonsbefore their rebuilding efforts paid off with a World Series championship in 2017.

Never miss an episode again. Subscribe to Sports With Art Thiel with iTunes orGoogle Play now. You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and

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.