Much news has rightfully been made about the Seattle Mariners extending Felix Hernandez services with a seven-year $175 million extension. While this certainly bodes well for the future the team, one intriguing possibility needs to be explored and that is a potential sale of the team.
Officially Mariners ownership has said the team is not for sale, but anyone knows this kind of talk is standard often until the ink is dry on any purchase agreement. While the team has made money, it has failed to be competitive for several years and has been amongst the worst offensive teams in baseball in recent years. Even the majestic jewel of Safeco Field cannot draw fans like it used to as the team recently posted their lowest attendance totals since the stadium opened. Quite a drop from the heady days when Mike Cameron and Ichiro Suzuki patrolled the outfield and attendance topped 3 million.
So why would the team look to sell now? For starters the Mariners ownership is not very well liked in the city. They see from office of Howard Lincoln, John Ellis, and Chuck Armstrong is being meddlesome and focused only on turning a profit. The belief is that no matter who the general manager is, the team will not be able to execute any long-term plan due to their meddling and wishy-washy nature.
The team recently decided to move the fences at Safeco Field as well as install an extremely expensive yet large HD video screen in the outfield. Fans reacted very angrily that the team is simply trying to put Band-Aids on the problem and is more concerned about showing blooper reels and boat races and not on improving the zeros that are likely to dominate the scoreboard whenever the team is at bat.
This is a team that held onto stars such as Dan Wilson, John Olerud, and Brett Boone, past their prime because their marketing strategy was centered around a fun, and family-friendly stadium where the nice guy mentality of the players was a huge marketing point. I remember one fan commenting to me that perhaps it’d be better to have a couple of jerks on the team who can actually hit the ball out of the park now and then rather than choirboys past their prime.
Another extremely sore spot for Seattle residents is the team’s open opposition to a new arena that has been designed to return the Sonics to the city as well as attract an NHL team and other revenue-generating events. The team has constantly cited their displeasure with the proposed location of the new arena, and in the past has also complained about simultaneous events across the way at Century Link Field. I remember one Sunday evening were the Mariners flexed their might and had traffic rerouted away from a communal parking lot so that fans arriving for an event at the other stadium had to drive miles out of their way rather than being able to turn left into the parking lot. Not only is this a bad neighbor policy but it sits very badly with fans who cite that the team resides in the Stadium built by tax dollars that were gifted to them to keep the team in town.
A look at the Mariners roster shows that aside from Felix, there are no high market contracts on the books for 2014. Many of the young players such as Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Kyle Seager are operating under a much more financial friendly arrangement as they do not have arbitration for a couple of years. This makes it very attractive for prospective owner to come in as your most valuable asset is secure for the foreseeable future, and you are not saddled with any cumbersome contracts that would prevent a new owner from coming in and shaping the team the way they wish.
All of this may be just pie-in-the-sky speculation for fans eager for change, but I would have to say that the team might be pretty appealing to someone looking to buy a baseball team. You have a magnificent stadium that has been shown to draw fans once an entertaining and competitive product is on the field. You have a solid TV and radio contract, and operate in the 12th largest market in the country. As an added bonus, you have one of the game’s premier pitchers locked up for the next seven years and a minor-league system brimming with young talent that can either be traded away or developed. Mark Cuban has made no secret that his desire to own a major-league baseball team and was actively trying to purchase the Texas Rangers. Area fans also cite the billionaire Paul Allen who has a history of civic gifting which has included purchasing the Seattle Seahawks and being a driving force behind their new stadium.
The final piece to look at is the attractiveness of the team to the majority owner. H Yamauchi built his fortune in name through Nintendo and became majority owner the team to keep it from moving out of the Pacific Northwest. The fact that the man had never seen a baseball game in person was of little consequence, he saw gifting the team to the area as only an appropriate thanks to the growth that Nintendo had experienced through its Washington headquarters.
Even with Japanese icon Ichiro on the team, the owner never once saw the team play but did indicate should the Mariners ever make the World Series, he would attend.
With Ichiro now a New York Yankee, the lucrative merchandising of the team to Japanese viewers doesn’t hold the same luster and may make the team that much easier to part with.