There were times when Howard Lincoln couldn't give his money away. Like the winter he put $100 million in front of Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.
There were times when Howard Lincoln couldn’t give his money away.
Like the winter he put $100 million in front of Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.
“We were prepared to spend a lot of money then, too,” he said, “and take the risks that go along with it.”
There were other years following the magical 116-win season in 2001 that he didn’t think he had to give it away at all as the gravy train that was Safeco Field seemed perpetually fueled by innocence.
So it is significant that the Mariners were both willing and able to spend more than $100 million to improve the team this year.
In other years, the Mariners wouldn’t have offered Adrian Beltre the money he got — $64 million for five years — and Beltre wouldn’t have taken it even if they had.
He was from the National League, and unlike the Mariners’ other recent signing, Richie Sexson, Beltre wasn’t from the Northwest. He had to know how far it was to Seattle from anywhere else in baseball.
Surely Beltre wouldn’t want to try to hit home runs in Safeco, let alone be associated with a team that is coming off a 99-loss season.
The Mariners had to give him $3 million more a season than his team, the Dodgers, were willing to. They probably overpaid for Sexson, too, but in order to fix what was broke, they had to make up for the money they couldn’t or wouldn’t spend in the past.
They got Sexson first and used him to help land Beltre. They shocked baseball people who didn’t think they had the resources or acumen to pull off such a deal.
They turned Beltre’s agent, Scott Boras, into an advocate rather than an antagonist.
“Beltre is the kind of young talent you build a team around, not lose to Northwest latte sippers,” wrote Steve Dilbeck in the Los Angeles Daily News. “He’s a centerpiece in your lineup, a guy you lock up to lure others.”
Are there risks? Count them.
The Arizona Diamondbacks were similarly excited about Sexson a year ago at this time, but then the 6-foot-8, right-handed slugger pulled up lame.
He still drew a paycheck, of course.
Beltre was runner-up to the chemically enhanced Barry Bonds in the National League MVP voting last season, but the reality is it was the only great season he has had.
Clearly, these guaranteed, multi-year contracts and the fragility of the players they are given to represent the absurdity of the business of baseball.
Yet, for Seattle, the risk of spending money on two powerful players was less than the risk of not spending the money.
Lincoln faced the reality that his golden goose was constipated, if not dying, and that the public largess that created Safeco Field could go for naught if he couldn’t field a competitive team.
The Mariners were facing a significant reduction of season-ticket sales this winter following the 99-loss season.
“I’ve gone from ordinary pond scum to saint,” Lincoln said when asked about the reaction to the acquisitions of Beltre and Sexson.
He’s neither, of course, but the point is that people have hope again, and a reason to renew their season tickets. Although it is too early to know for sure, Lincoln said he believes there will be as many season tickets sold this year as in past years.
“There is definitely a buzz in the community about the Mariners again,” Lincoln said.
“In a letter last season to the season-ticket holders, I asked for their patience while we fixed this thing,” he said. “I told them our actions would speak louder than our words, and I think we’ve delivered.”
Lincoln wants to give the credit to general manager Bill Bavasi, who since a dreadful season ended signed not only Beltre and Sexson, but kept catcher Dan Wilson and identified and signed Mike Hargrove as manager.
In retrospect, the decision by Bavasi to unload pitcher Freddy Garcia well before the trade deadline was a good one. The trade yielded two potential starters — center fielder Jeremy Reed and catcher Miguel Olivo — and established the fund that would be used to sign Beltre and Sexson, a fund made even larger with the departures of John Olerud, Edgar Martinez, Rich Aurilia and Kazu Sasaki.
“They’ve done their homework,” Lincoln said of Bavasi and his staff, trying to minimize the risk of spending so much money on two new players.
“I can’t wait for spring training.”
Assuming they are healthy and perform near their bests, Beltre and Sexson will make the Mariners so much better. Their defense will help the pitching almost as much as their hitting will improve the offense.
Their presence in the lineup will make Raul Ibanez and Bret Boone better. Their presence on the roster will take the pressure off Bucky Jacobsen to be some kind of immediate answer.
Beltre, 26, isn’t a rent-a-player. He isn’t Pete O’Brien.
He is a cornerstone that Griffey was. And Alex Rodriguez declined to be.
Blaine Newnham: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.