The simultaneous collapses of the local pro and semi-pro football seasons were objects of perverse fascination.
By mid-October, the Seahawks were crumbling after Rams DT wrecked Russell Wilson’s finger. At Montlake, a 2-4 record for the Washington Huskies ran counter to all logic, reason and the optimism of the head coach. In Pullman, the improving Washington State Cougars were facing local and national ridicule for having to fire their head coach and half the staff for refusing COVID-19 vaccines despite a state requirement for having common sense.
Turned out that doom was properly ascribed for the fates of the Seahawks (7-10) and Huskies (4-8). The Cougars not only survived the unceremonious departures of Nick Rolovich, et al, they reached the modestly high ground of 7-6 with a bowl appearance and an Apple Cup trouncing of the ages over UW.
You can still smell the Buckhorn-beer breath on all of Eastern Washington.
This accounting is offered here as a partial explainer for the dearth of sports attention devoted to the Mariners.
As much as fans claim they savor success, it is hard to take eyes off the train as it plunges off the trestle into the river below.
The other part of the explanation rests with the business of baseball.
Apparently unimpressed with how COVID-19 crushed the industry into just 60 games in 2020, MLB owners and players union have decided to say for 2022, “Hold our beers.”
They have locked down the game since the Dec. 1 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. The specifics of the grievances will be the subject of another column, but you can get decent odds in Las Vegas that a settlement won’t happen until after April 1. Meaning if a deal is struck then, spring training starts.
Whenever baseball designs to resume, few outposts will welcome it more eagerly than Seattle.
As you may recall when football started to fall from the tracks, the Mariners were the worst hitters in MLB, yet still won 90 games, barely missing the playoffs. It was the equivalent of George Costanza lasting 12 rounds with Mike Tyson in his prime.
The perplexing feat caused sabermetricians to weep. Shards of shattered algorithms were wheelbarrowed out of analytics departments. But the result was highly amusing to fans of preposterous outcomes.
Then came two developments this week to make Seattle eager to dope-slap the sides into a labor agreement.
In its annual top 100 rankings of prospects, Baseball America listed five Mariners, including four in the top 45: OF Julio Rodríguez (No. 2), pitcher George Kirby (12), SS Noelvi Marte (18) and pitcher Matt Brash (45). Pitcher Brandon Williamson came in at 83.
The club also surprised during the opening of the international signing period by going big with a relative few. This annual business window is not covered by the CBA, so teams were free to sign kids to deals. MLB allots a base signing pool, like a salary cap, to teams, some of which choose to spread the money around, like the San Diego Padres, who spent their $5.2 million over 25 players.
The Mariners spent most of their $5.2 million on six players, because general manager Jerry Dipoto believes the farm system is sufficiently deep to direct fresh resources to quality, not quantity.
Lazaro Montes, OF/1B, Cuba
Michael Arroyo, SS, Colombia
Martin Gonzalez, SS, Dominican Republic
Marco Patino, RHP, Mexico
Joan de Jesus, SS, Dominican Republic
Eduardo Tovar, RHP, Venezuela
MLB.com reported that Montes’s deal was worth $2.5 million, Arroyo $1.375 million and Gonzales $1.3 million.
It will take years before these names surface in MLB. They’re all 17 years old. But after some academy work and minor league action, their values will emerge as assets that allow Dipoto to take more risks in deals involving MLB-ready players without bankrupting the future.
The guy in this group to watch is Montes, rated No. 8 in the top 50 international prospect list by MLB.com. Here’s how the director of international amateur scouting, Frankie Thon Jr., described him in a club release:
Montes is a left-handed hitting outfielder who has the ability to develop into an impactful middle-of-the-order power bat with a solid feel for the strike zone. He’s an above-average hitter with on-base skills to complement his top-of-scale elite raw power. Montes is a steady defender on the outfield corners and a solid athlete. The 6-5, 205-pound outfielder possesses a larger-than-life frame with an even bigger personality.
Yes, Thon has a vested interest in the kid’s success. Yes, these are prospects, not provens, and are a long way off. Yes, it’s the Mariners, crusted in 44 years of cast-iron skepticism.
But Rodriguez, Kirby and Brash have the upside to contribute in 2022. And they will join a roster that has two things long-missing from Seattle — credibility and a future.
It is the nature of baseball that the Mariners could be a better team in 2022, yet not win 90 games. But given what was seen in 2021, let’s play the damn season and find out.
Football has ceded the local stage.