By Trevor Williams, Sports Radio KJR
Well it’s just about that time of the year in Seattle. July is rolling around and it looks as though the Mariners are going to be out of the AL West race at the break. So, once again the Seattle sports focus will shift much earlier than necessary to the gridiron. But maybe, this year, this shift can shed some light on what the Mariners need moving forward.
Back in 1989, Bo Jackson made the shift from the gridiron to the baseball diamond and he did it with style. Bo was a super-talented multi sport athlete. What made it even better? This wasn’t Michael Jordan having fun with the White Sox. Bo was a multi-sport athlete who could actually play at an all star level within various professional sports. ESPN took advantage of the marketing opportunities presented by Bo’s success and launched the “Bo Knows” campaign, which showed Bo’s ability to dabble in different professional spotlights.
While playing for the Oakland Raiders, the campaign had a line that stated, “Bo knows baseball.” What does this have to do with another struggling Mariners baseball team? Well, Seattle has its own Bo Jackson. Not on the field, but in the front office. Problem is, he works for the team on the north side of Royal Brougham Way, and we can only hope and dream that he too knows baseball.
I’m talking about none other than one of the catalysts of the Seattle Seahawks success, General Manager, John Schneider. News broke a few days ago that Schneider signed a deal about a year ago that will keep him in the Seahawks front office until 2016. But, just imagine with me for a moment what the type of player personnel genius he brought to the NFL in Seattle would look like at work in the Mariners organization. Imagine the Mariners drafting players that become all star talents, quietly managing necessary roster moves, and working with their coach to create success on and off the field.
Obviously it’s an absurd dream, but sports in Seattle could get pretty interesting if an office popped up on Royal Brougham, between Safeco and CenturyLink Field, and John Schneider filled its vacancy.
Hawks fans would cringe. On the verge of what some expect to be a Super Bowl season, the last thing the 12th Man needs is John Schneider trying to fix the Mariners problems, which may be beyond fixing. However, if the same magic Schneider brought to a 5-11 Seahawks team could be harnessed and released over Safeco Field (roof retracted of course), summers in Seattle could be vastly different.
Joking and dreaming aside, the Mariners can actually take some lessons from John Schneider and the Seahawks organization. Schneider came into Seattle and quickly added to the culture of the Seahawks. With him came Pete Carroll, one of the most eccentric and energetic coaches in professional sports (I mean his nickname is “Pom Pom Pete”). But bigger than that, was the new level of talent that he and Pete brought to the city. This talent was acquired through the ability of Schneider and his staff to scout and draft quality athletes, who were sometimes overlooked. This success in drafting and developing players is what Schneider is now known for. This success and the plan the Seahawks implemented and executed, if emulated, could really and I mean really, help the Mariners.
A common complaint in Seattle is that we can’t buy big level talent like the Yankees or the Dodgers. However, the purchase of big name players really doesn’t guarantee anything in baseball anyways. Take Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics. They fielded playoff teams with salaries that were as much as one hundred million dollars lower than the Yankees. So money can’t be the only factor.
The truth is, a lot of success in sports comes down to the ability of teams to hold players under contract who produce a higher value on the field than they are paid. We see this all the time. Take the Seahawks for example. Russell Wilson is under contract for three more years and will make less than one million dollars in each of those seasons, despite playing at the level of the NFL’s best QB’s. John Schneider probably didn’t foresee Wilson having the success he did in his rookie season, however, it would be silly to say that Schneider didn’t know what he was doing when he drafted Wilson.
Positive draft results aren’t due to luck. You bet it’s a factor at times, but largely positive results are earned in the front office when the general manager, coaches, and personnel are dedicated, focused, and don’t accept anything less than success. There were undoubtedly a lot of long nights and I’m sure John Schneider had to put on a few pots of coffee, but the hard work pays off when players, like Wilson, live up to the potential management saw in them (and that others didn’t).
The Hawks GM was always very interested in Wilson and watched him intently up to draft day. When he had a chance to pull the trigger on the QB from Wisconsin it was a no brainer. The ability of Schneider to forecast the 2012 draft and wait on Wilson until the third round also freed up a pick in the second round, where the Hawks selected a perennial pro bowl level linebacker, Bobby Wagner. That move could be characterized by some Hawk fans as borderline genius and what Mariner fan couldn’t go for a little genius right now? The move by Schneider was essentially a two-for-one deal.
It also should be noticed that Schneider and Carroll also drafted Bruce Irvin and Robert Turbin that year. All four of those players made regular appearances each week for the Seahawks. Additionally, the salary hit taken for those productive players totaled around 3.5 million (on a team whose payroll was fourth smallest in the NFL in 2012).
We notice the picks Schneider made on draft day, but remember, leading up to the draft he spent a lot of time at various college bowl games, combines, and tryouts as a hands on general manager. He was essentially another scout, looking for talent that could work in Seattle. This is where we see his value. He is a very personal general manager that takes interest in the scouting and development of the guys entering his organization.
Now cross Royal Brougham Way and take a look at the Mariners latest draft picks who made appearances at the major league level. Dustin Ackley, the first round pick in 2009 is a great example. His salary slates him to bring in 1.9 million dollars over the 2013 season (over half of the 3.5 million the Seahawks four biggest rookies made in 2012). He currently is bouncing between the Mariners and their minor league affiliate as he works to learn a new position and develop hitting skills that Mariners General Manager, Jack Zduriencik, hoped to have on display by now.
Zduriencik isn’t just sweating because of Ackley though. The M’s front office has had a lot of questionable moves and is on the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to John Schneider and company. They’ve traded away big time pitching prospects like Michael Pineda for players like Jesus Montero, who is also now in AAA-Tacoma with Ackley. Zduriencik says he needs just two more years, but it’s unclear how long Mariner fans are going to be able to wait patiently. Especially while the M’s front office squanders roster moves. After all, it’s been all too long since the Mariners last playoff appearance in 2001.
How much Eric Wedge has to do with the problem remains unclear, because he can only work with the players available to him. It is concerning though, because the Mariners are struggling to develop talent past the AAA level. This is something top echelon teams in the league are not having trouble doing. Logistically, if the M’s do pull the trigger and make a change, it would be a good opportunity to switch managers and conduct a complete culture change, like the Seahawks.
Maybe the 2013 Mariners need what the 2010 Seahawks got. Maybe it’s time to go in a different direction. It’s not to say that Jack Zduriencik and Eric Wedge aren’t good people. Things just aren’t working out. With the lack of improvement brought forward by the current front office, there shouldn’t be much argument against trying something new. Whether that is possible under current ownership, I can’t say. However, it seems as though the same energy seen in the Seahawks front office would have the potential to return the Mariners to the good ol’ days. After all, this organization can do it. They drafted Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Tino Martinez. All they need is dedication, genius, and a little luck. Just like what John Schneider brought to a desperate Seahawks team in 2010.
In a summer where the city of Seattle is getting ready to break out the Seahawks gear and wait to hear, “The Mariners will be better next season,” (as we hear almost every year now) maybe it’s time to consider a changeup, or a big 12-6 curveball, in the Mariners front office. The excitement of new jumbotrons and HD hydroplane races can only keep fans amused for so long. Mariners fans would trade that fluff for on field performance. And really, for an M’s team that has finished in the bottom half of its division in each of the last five seasons, what is there to lose? It’s time for the Mariners to look long and hard and find their own John Schneider. If that happens, the M’s will have a chance to return the mojo to SODO.