Sunday, January 10, 2010

History Repeating?

The team has had plenty of recent success, but things are looking even brighter. They’re moving out of their putrid dome into their new downtown state-of-the-art ballpark. Situations where they need to trade away players, like they did with their Cy Young ace a couple of years ago, should be a thing of the past. In fact, with the new stadium they’ve already locked up most of their key players to long-term deals. So far, so good.

But there’s a huge concern. The face of the franchise is only under contract for just one more year, and everyone knows the team is going to need to gulp hard, dig deep and offer a record-setting deal to keep him. It has to happen. Nobody can imagine him playing for another team. Nobody can imagine the Mariners without Ken Griffey Jr.

Or did you think I was talking about someone else?

The Mariners did offer that record-setting contract back in 1999. Shortly after Safeco Park replaced the Kingdome, the Mariners offered an 8-year, $148 million contract to Griffey, only to watch him turn it down. It turns out the problem wasn’t the money. Griffey had other concerns.

On October 25th, 1999, pro golfer Payne Stewart died in a bizarre plane crash. He and four others had lost consciousness during the flight due to oxygen deficiency when the plane lost pressurization. The plane eventually ran out of fuel and crashed near Mina, South Dakota. Stewart was a close friend of Griffey’s and the tragedy impacted him deeply.

Griffey informed the Mariners that he would not be signing an extension and desired them to trade him someplace closer to his home in Orlando. Later, he further restricted the teams to which he would accept a trade to Cincinnati, his hometown. That February he was traded for cheaper, younger players and signed a contract for just $116 million, $30 million less than what he had been offered by Seattle.

The cautionary tale is full of lessons that one could take to heart if one wishes. New stadiums don’t guarantee anything. Delays can cause unforeseen circumstances to change attitudes. Money isn’t the only player's whim a club must satisfy. And players and teams, whose identities seem intertwined, don’t always work things out the way they probably should.

But there is one final lesson that may be more heartening to Twins fans.

It turns out the Mariners found something else to do with that money. They went on a free agent spending spree that included signing closer Jose Mesa (2 years/$6.8 million), John Olerud (3/$20M) and Aaron Sele (2/$14.5M). But the defining move happened the next year when they reached across the Pacific and paid $13 million to Ichiro Suzuki’s Japanese club just to negotiate with him. On top of that they paid him $14 million over his first three years.

And the Mariners, who had averaged 81 wins in Griffey’s last four years with the team, averaged 98(!) wins in the four years after he left. Without Griffey (and Alex Rodriguez, who would leave after the 2000 season) the Mariners made it to the American League Championship Series in 2000 and 2001.


FYI - I'll be on Travis Talks Podcast talking about the offseason at 9:00 on Monday night. I hope you can tune in or stop by is you have anything you want to talk about. Also, I would highly encourage you to join me on Twitter too. I'm doing a lot more posting there than I am here lately.


TT said...

The moral of this story is that its up to Joe Mauer. And he doesn't really need to make a decision right now. The Twins door is always going to be open if he wants to go that direction.

Jesse said...

Speaking of history repeating, the Twins have history of when they lose their top flight players (Hunter/Santana in 2008) that they do not take the windfall in available payroll and spend it on the type of reasonable contracts you described. The only hting they did was sign a horrible pitcher in Livan Hernandez to a 1 year contract and released him midway through the season. If Joe Mauer doesn't sign with the Twins all it means is that money just won't be spent.

KEN said...

Holy crap, are we now looking at the Seattle freaking Mariners as our font of optimism? We can hope to aspire to the great history and success that has surrounded the Seattle Mariners? Oh joy!

(meant to be funny, not mean)