It's time to hold the feet of the Mariners' front office to the fire

I’ve been a Seattle Mariners fan since I can remember. The Mariners and Kingdome came into existence when I was 4 years old and I have been hooked ever since.

I’m the definition of a hometown fan. I also root for the Seahawks, Sonics and Huskies. I think it’s unconstitutional for people that grew up in the Seattle area to root for teams from other markets. An example of this would be LeBron James, who is the definition of a bandwagon jumper. The Akron, Ohio native donned a Yankees cap at a Cleveland Indians home playoff game and also roots for the Dallas Cowboys and the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. Wow, he’s really going out on a limb there, isn’t he?

But the Mariners hold a special part in my heart. I love baseball and I’ve had their backs through the bad times, as well as the good ones. And, as everybody knows, those lean times have far out-weighed seasons like 1995 and 2001.

I remember sitting in the 300-level of the Kingdome during my high school and college years when it was so empty you could hear conversations between the double-play combo of Joey Cora and Felix Fermin.

But it’s getting harder and harder to remain optimistic in the direction of the franchise. And it makes me wonder why the Mariners haven’t received very much flak after throwing out mediocre teams the past five seasons.

My Mariners are no longer the little fish in the big pond, who can use the excuse of being a “small-market” team. They aren’t a bottom-feeder in the baseball landscape.

The 2007 edition of the Seattle Mariners featured the seventh-highest payroll in the Major Leagues. The Mariners doled out $106,516,833 to its players during the season, behind only the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, White Sox, Angels and Dodgers. All six sit in huge population centers in the United States — New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston — and every one of them has won a World Series title since the Mariners came into the league in 1977. In fact, 24 of the current 30 Major League teams have at least played in a World Series since 1977.

What has been wrong with the Mariners? The short answer is pretty simple — the front office. Not only have the general managers spent money in a stupid fashion and overpaid for marginal players, but the team’s minor league system has failed to produce Major League talent, especially pitching.

All you have to do is look at the four teams who played in the American and National League championship series’. Three of the four have payrolls substantially lower than the Mariners. The Cleveland Indians feature a payroll of just over $61 million, the Colorado Rockies are paying $54 million and the Arizona Diamondbacks come in at $52 million for their NL West championship team.

All three feature lineups littered with talent that has come up through their minor league systems. That’s how good teams are built. The only “big market” team still playing is the Boston Red Sox, which features the second-highest payroll in the big leagues at $143 million. But the Red Sox and their general manager, Theo Epstein, actually know how to spend their money, unlike the Mariners.

Seattle’s highest-paid player is Richie Sexson at $15.5 million a year. The same Richie Sexson who hit near .200 this year. The Mariners’ two highest-paid pitchers were Jarrod Washburn ($9.85 million) and Jeff Weaver ($8.325 million), who combined for a 17-28 record this year.

I think 2001’s 116 wins were an aberration. It was the perfect storm. Everything that could have went right did. All five starting pitchers made every start during the 162-game season and every position player had a career offensive year. And what did all those wins get us? A loss to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series and the re-signing of several players that were past their primes to overpriced contracts. Guys like Bret Boone, Dan Wilson, John Olerud, Jay Buhner, Gil Meche, Joel Pineiro, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Mike Cameron were signed so the front office didn’t have to deal with the band-wagon suburban fan base in Bellevue, Redmond and Issaquah not coming to Safeco Field and spending money.

It’s time to hold the power brokers at Safeco Field accountable. The Mariners have the seventh-highest payroll in the big leagues. How about spending it wisely?

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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