The Mariners could learn from the Cardinals on how to put a successful baseball team together

By Terry Benish

Special to The Sports Paper


Tomorrow the World Series begins between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Is there a basis to contrast either of these teams to the Mariners?

Approach, success or failure, philosophy, help me here folks I’m reaching for some common ground. Perhaps a beginning might be to see how much the teams spend on players from 2000 on, inclusive of 2000. My readily available source is Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

For the previous 14 years, the Boston Red Sox have spent $1.827 billion on players, give or take a few dollars here and there. On average per year during that period their payroll has been $130.1 million dollars. In 2013 they spent $155 million. Last year they spent $175 million, and finished last, and the previous two years in the mid $160 millions. During this period they have won two World Series and been in the playoffs six times overall.

I do not approach this to incite anger amongst the faithful 24 at the level of player salaries. For all that expense, Forbes Magazine, that bulwark of capitalism, values the Red Sox franchise at $1.3 billion. In other words they make plenty of money and cover their cost of labor.

I don’t worry about billionaire’s pocketbooks. I don’t want to incite you to feel pity for their financial state. By all available research they are healthy. Indeed the Red Sox don’t pay taxes, as they are a not for profit entity. Which is and will be a topic for later discussion.

If the players do all right, bully for them, because the minute they can’t play due to injury or age, they will be tossed aside. There are no professional old folks baseball teams.

Let’s jump to the Mariners next, so that I can lead you into something interesting. The Mariners during that period described above spent $1.236 billion on player salaries, a little more than $500 million less than the Red Sox.

On average the Mariners spent $88.3 million per year on player payroll and twice spent over $100 million per year in 2007 and 2008. In 2013 they spent $84 million. No World Series and two playoff appearances in 2000 and 2001.

Forbes values the Mariners at $644 million or half of the Red Sox. With the acquisition of Root Sports by the Mariners, some local pundits suggest that is a significant under-valuation, and that $800 million is more accurate.

St. Louis in the new millennium has spent a total of $1.275 billion on player salaries or $91.1 million per year. Forbes says the Cardinals are worth $716 million. The Cardinals have been in the playoffs ten times during this period. They have been in three World Series and won two of them. They are now entering their fourth world series and may beat the Red Sox.

Arguably the Cardinals are the best team in MLB, although the Giant’s success during this period approaches that of the Cardinals.

But Forbes is about business and revenue and income and capitalized value. That the Mariners are just nestled behind the Cardinals on Forbes list seems preposterous. Yet there it is.

The Mariners sell a lot of uniform jerseys, hats, beer and hot dogs. Apparently. Their attendance has plunged from over 3.0 million per year to 1.761 million people, 25th in baseball. Yet they are the 12th most valuable baseball team.

What about the Cardinals versus the Mariners? $88.3 million versus $91.1 million is about $3 million a year of difference, on average. This most recent year, the Cardinals outspent the Mariners by $36 million. Big number, but the Mariners have out spent the Cardinals for five years during that period.

If you made the same comparison, without 2013’s numbers, the numbers would be almost identical.

I’m going to break this down a bit and look at the composition of the 2013 roster of each team to discern difference in approach; but the simple conclusion here is that the Mariners from a baseball perspective are by and large terrible. The M’s seasons of 2000 and 2001 were events the organization misunderstood. There was no organizational cognizance as to how they accomplished those playoff runs. For even if there were important people, talented people that put the teams together in 2000 and 2001, none of that was repeatable, or even worse the people that survived 2001 misjudged what happened and decided that the only thing of note was they had to spend some money on payroll just so they could not be accused of ignoring the baseball operations. It is not possible to conclude anything else.

In 2013, the Mariners had 47 players actually play on the major league team. The Cardinals had 43. Of the 47 the Mariners had 13 were drafted players ‑ Two number one picks, two sandwich round picks (in between first and second round for lost free agents); one second rounder, two thirds, one fourth, one fifth, one eighth, one eleventh, one 23rd and one 3oth.

The NO. 1’s were Dustin Ackley and Mike Zunino. The sandwich guys were Nick Franklin and Taijuan Walker. They also had six players that were signed as free agents from offshore markets when they were young: Yoervis Medina, Carlos Peguero, Carlos Tirunfel, Alex Liddi, Erasmo Ramirez and Felix Hernandez. Liddi is gone and probably Peguero will be too, as he is out of options and his wife apparently took advantage of Felix’s wife.

Felix and Ramirez might be in the rotation next year, Felix certainly. Medina will likely be in the pen. There is not much to say about his effort any longer.

The Mariner draftees that were on the roster include catcher Brandon Bantz, starting pitcher Brandon Maurer, starting outfielder Michael Saunders, reliever Bobby Lafromboise, reliever Stephen Pryor, starting pitcher James Paxton, starting third baseman Kyle Seager, Reliever Carter Capps, starting shortstop Brad Miller, Walker, Franklin, Ackley and Zunino. Everyone else came via free agency or trade.

I want to focus on the draftees and foreign free agents, 19 of them in total. Former general manager Bill Bavasi’s player development group was touted as having extreme knowledge of the offshore market. Right now, Felix and Ramirez and possibly Medina are of value. You can remark about Ichiro if you want and while he was talented, he was not the bell cow that a team was built around to win, and he has been a Yankee for some time.

Of the drafted players, Saunders is Bavasi’s and Seager, Zunino, Miller, Franklin, Walker and Paxton are quality players. Justin Smoak arrived via trade from Texas for the rent-a-player Cliff Lee, and that trade largely is a failure.

There are players in Tacoma and Jackson and below that are relevant, such as DJ Peterson and Austin Wilson and shortstop Chris Taylor.

Right now, the Mariners have three players that would play for good teams in the American league: Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Seager. After this coming year is over, perhaps you could add Franklin, Miller, Paxton, Walker and Zunino. But it is too early to say that. On the whole roster there is nobody that would bat three, four or five for the Cardinals.

St. Louis had 44 guys play on the major league team this year. They drafted Twenty seven. Seventeen of those were from rounds one through nine in various different drafts; five first round picks, one second, two thirds, one fourth, five fifths, one sixth, one eighth and one ninth. Nine players from rounds 21 to round 41 played as well.

They do have free agents, some great ones in Carlos Beltran, Matt Holiday and Adam Wainwright. David Friese was obtained as a minor leaguer in a trade. They have three off-shore free agents that were signed as kids. None of them are significant players.

Of the Mariners draftees under general manager Jack Zduriencik, they have arrived in the majors on average at three and half years, with some exceptions in Ackley and Zunino, who arrived much earlier.

The Cardinals arrive in the majors closer to five and half years on average. Players take longer than pitchers, generally. But they retain players in their system longer than the Mariners do. At least numerically, Zduriencik, were he here 14 years, might do the same.

So what does it all mean?

The Cardinals are fundamentally a baseball organization dedicated to acquiring and developing players so that they might help them win championships. No matter what and how you slice this they are fundamentally better because they can see talent in young players, foster it and develop it until it can successfully compete in the major leagues.

The Mariners do not even attempt to do that. It is easy to reduce this to insulting the team and Zduriencik and the executives, but they are so rushed and hurry the process and ruin players that otherwise might be good and should play another year or two in the minors.

The Mariners have announced a rebuild under Zduriencik and when contrasted to St. Louis which actually has rebuilt on the fly as part of normal operations it would seem fair to describe St. Louis as the actual rebuilding organization and the Mariners, well it would be charitable to call them something other than a baseball team because they continue to be bad at this business of baseball players.