How the Seattle Mariners Stay Out of Contention

Can the Mariners turn it around?

In the past ten seasons, the Seattle Mariners have a combined record of 718-902 — an average year for them has been 18 games below .500.

Over that span, they have had two 101-loss seasons, seven last place finishes in the American League West, and seven different managers. The team hired Lloyd McClendon this week to take over from departing manager Eric Wedge.

They had the money; they spent the money — the wins never came.

During that time, the Mariners had 269 starts — at least 30 starts per year in all but his rookie season (2005) — from Felix Hernandez, a player who was crowned "King Felix" early in his career for good reason, and 1,371 starts from Ichiro Suzuki, one of the greatest hitters — and right fielders — in the history of baseball. Both players spent all or the majority of their time playing in Seattle since 2004 — Ichiro left halfway through 2012 — because of Seattle's ability to pay them what they wanted.

While small-market teams can blame their season win-loss volatility on budget constraints and high-turnover of rosters — think the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, and Cleveland Indians — the Mariners had a healthy payroll over that time span. In fact, from 2004-2013, here's how they ranked in terms of Opening Day team payroll: 10th highest, 9th, 13th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 9th, 16th, 18th, 18th. All said, that's an average of being the 12th highest payroll in baseball entering the season.

They had the money; they spent the money — the wins never came.

And, despite having ten first round selections in the MLB Draft over the past decade, half of which were in the top-5, their draftees have yet to amount to anything (the most successful of the bunch was Brandon Morrow, who has had his limited success while in Toronto).

So, what was it that they were screwing up so badly? Taking a look at some of the marquee players that they signed through free agency since 2004, it's pretty easy to see why they had almost no success at all:

Adrian Beltre, 5 years/$65 million

At the time, it seemed like a pretty good deal. At 26, Beltre seemed to have just taken the jump from good to great, increasing his home run total of 23 in 2003 to 48 in 2004 and bumping his batting average from .240 to .334. After his 2004 breakout season, the Mariners more than doubled his previous high salary of $5 million by giving him an average of $13 million per year for the duration of his contract.

And, of course, the 48 home runs proved to be a fluke. Despite the nearly five full seasons of previous data that the Mariners' front office could look at — home run totals of 15, 20, 13, 21, and 23 — the Mariners decided to pay him based on the best season that he's ever had in his career.

In his five years in Seattle, Beltre was less than impressive, hitting a total of 103 home runs and never breaking a .276 batting average.

Chone Figgins, 4 years/$36 million

After having an outstanding season in 2009 with the Los Angeles Angels in which he posted a 7.7 WAR (according to Baseball Reference), was named to the American League All-Star Team, and finished 10th in AL MVP voting, Figgins moved to a different franchise within the AL West.

Much like the case with Beltre, the Mariners paid a significant premium for Figgins after his career year. Giving Figgins an average of $9 million per season over four years was not only a mistake, but a costly miscalculation.

Figgins only played one full season in Seattle. His .227/.302/.283 slash line over the three years and 308 total games he played in was paltry, and his highest WAR total was a 1.2, a far cry from the 7.7 he had in his last season with the Angels. And, to top it all off, he was paid $8 million by the Mariners in 2013 despite not playing in a single game for them.

Felix Hernandez, 7 years/$175 million

Here's where it gets weird. I've already mentioned that Hernandez has been god-like for the Mariners since he stepped onto the mound for the very first time in 2005. And, I believe that Hernandez was paid a near-fair market value by the Mariners to stay in Seattle through 2019.

I also believe that the Mariners just guaranteed that they won't get much better than they have been in the last decade because of Hernandez's deal.

The Mariners have had Hernandez for nine seasons. In those nine seasons, Hernandez has a record of 110-86 with a 3.20 ERA and a total of 1,703 strikeouts. He won the Cy Young Award in 2010, and he finished in 2nd and 4th in the voting in 2009 and 2012, respectively. And, of pitchers since 2005, only Justin Verlander has a higher WAR than Hernandez, 40.7 to Hernandez's 38.7, according to Baseball Reference.

Yet, the Mariners haven't made the playoffs once with Hernandez. Despite all that he's done, it was never enough. Do they expect that he will substantially improve over the next seven years? Or, do they plan to build around him as he approaches the 2,000 innings mark — a high mark for any pitcher, especially for one that will surpass that mark in his 10th season.

Rather than signing Hernandez to an extension, they should have let him go to another team and put their best foot forward in rebuilding. Instead, they'll feel the void of the two or three quality players that they could have had in his place.

Bad management — that's how the Seattle Mariners stay out of contention.

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