Sports

1995 season and Safeco Field sent Mariners' philosophy on the wrong path

Last week, I wrote a story about Decatur High School grad Brad Reid being selected in the 30th round of the 2008 Major League amateur draft by the hometown Seattle Mariners.

Since then, Reid, who pitched the past two seasons at Bellevue Community College, signed with the Mariners on Tuesday at Safeco Field. He will be heading to Peoria, Ariz., to pitch on Seattle’s rookie league team.

Reid threw 59 innings and gave up only five earned runs. He finished 7-1 with a 0.76 earned-run average. He also struck out 48 hitters and had five complete games.

Reid inking with the Mariners got me thinking about the hometown nine — and why they have been so pathetic the past few years, despite having one of the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball.

I think the Mariners can trace all their horrendous play back to a couple of things. The first is the success of the 1995 Mariners, and the second is the opening of Safeco Field in 1999 — two of the greatest moments in the franchise’s history.

But here’s my argument.

During the Mariners’ heyday (1995-2001), a huge portion of their teams were made up of homegrown talent or guys that played in Seattle’s minor league system before being called up to the big club.

The Mariners’ first of four playoff appearances followed the amazing 1995 regular season.

The team included core position players like Tino Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Dan Wilson, Mike Blowers and Alex Rodriguez, who all played in the Mariners’ minor-league system.

That team not only rolled into the American League Championship Series, but also kept baseball in Seattle. The Mariners’ run in ‘95 basically built Safeco Field.

The new $500 million Taj Mahal of baseball in Seattle opened its roof in 1999 and has generated millions and millions of dollars in revenue for the Mariners ownership group.

But that’s when things changed inside the Mariners’ front office.

And the ‘95 team and Safeco Field get some of the blame, among several other things (obviously).

The immense amount of revenue generated by Safeco Field essentially changed the philosophy of the organization.

Instead of building the team’s Major League roster from within the organization, like they had done in the past, the front office started operating like a “big market” team, like franchises from huge media markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The new philosophy didn’t start hitting the Mariners until after their 116-win season in 2001.

That’s when the owner and general manager chose to jump heavy into the free agent pool, which was never really even a consideration before the opening of Safeco Field. They also resigned aging free agents from their own roster, like Wilson, Bret Boone, Jay Buhner and John Olerud.

They also started trading away minor league and young major league talent with a “win-now-at-all-costs attitude.” The team used to trade away veteran, established Major Leaguers for prospects.

Remember swapping Mark Langston for Randy Johnson, Brian Holman, Mike Campbell and Gene Harris? How about turning Johnson into Freddy Garcia, John Halama and Carlos Guillen or Ken Phelps for Buhner?

Now Seattle does just the opposite by acquiring flops like Horacio Ramirez, or Jeff Cirillo.

The 2008 edition of the Seattle Mariners was a league-worst 24-42 at press time on Thursday and includes only four players the team drafted — relief pitchers Mark Lowe, JJ Putz and Brandon Morrow and utility guy Willie Bloomquist.

That’s a pretty amazing tidbit when you sit down and think about it. And only two of those players — Morrow and Bloomquist —  were drafted in the first four rounds.

The other 20 players on the current roster were either signed as free agents or traded for, including guys like Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, Jose Vidro, Carlos Silva, Erik Bedard and Kenji Johjima. And those nine under-achieving players account for close to $80 million of payroll.

The Mariners’ payroll has doubled since the opening of Safeco Field.

In 2000, Seattle paid just over $59 million in salaries for its opening day, 25-man roster. That payroll number currently sits just under $118 million for the 2008 roster.

Seattle’s payroll is the ninth highest, behind the New York Yankees ($207 million), New York Mets ($137 million), Detroit Tigers ($137 million), Boston Red Sox ($133 million), Chicago White Sox ($121 million), LA Angels ($118 million) and LA Dodgers ($118 million).

So, next time you see the old footage of Griffey rounding third base and scoring after Edgar’s double in ‘95 or hear Dave Niehaus rave about the best ballpark in the Major Leagues, you will know they are two reasons why the Mariners sit in the basement of the American League.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com.

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