The Mariners downsizing is a bad sign for all of MLB

The Mariners downsizing is a bad sign for all of MLB

Maybe GM Jerry Dipoto is trying to make that 54 percent a real challenge.

The baseball offseason has yet to kick into high or even medium gear, puttering along, warming up the tires, making sure the lights work, etc. What action has gone on so far has mostly been the Seattle Mariners cutting salary.

In case you haven’t noticed, and if you’re not Jerry Cantrell you probably haven’t, the Mariners kicked off the offseason by dumping Eugenio Suarez to Arizona. That continued last night when the Mariners attached Jarred Kelenic to Marco Gonzales and Evan White to get those two latter contracts to Atlanta for a reliever who sucks (Jackson Kowar) and another arm who hasn’t begun shaving yet (Cole Phillips).

On a surface level, these are explainable, if not defensible. Suarez is 32 and probably has seen his best offensive season in his past rather than his future, and is already striking out over 30 percent of the time. Still a very good glove at third, but the M’s need bats and maybe want to open up that spot to put a bigger bat there.

Marco Gonzales is also 32 and missed most of the season with nerve problems in his forearm, and the M’s had no space for him in their rotation anyway. Kelenic raises some eyebrows, given his profile and prospect rankings in the past, and that he was clearly needed to get Atlanta to take on Gonzales’ contract when he’s an injury risk. But Kelenic really only had one hot month in April and then was back to the hack-and-whiff-a-thon that he’s always been. Suarez will take replacing, but none of these moves should keep the Mariners from competing in the AL West again, as they did in 2023. But neither do they help them haul in the Rangers or Astros either.

It’s also not hard to see the M’s essentially taking nothing back in these trades, and removing two players who were at least contributors last season, and think that the main attraction for the Mariners and their front office was getting the $15-20 million off the books. Which is not what a fanbase that’s seen two playoff wins in 22 years and no division titles wants to hear.

The Mariners are selling this as clearing some driftwood to make a big splash this winter, and it could very well turn out to be that. They would be a great home for Shohei Ohtani or Juan Soto or could station Cody Bellinger at first base, and they need bats.

However, it’s hard to ignore what not only the Mariners are dealing with in their calculations, but what is probably going to be the biggest story for MLB heading into next season and especially beyond, particularly when this CBA is up. While the Mariners aren’t under the Diamond Sports Group tent of death, they have seen Root Sports going through some shenanigans with cable companies, throwing their revenues from the channel into doubt in the near future. What that means for the M’s payroll in the future, not even they could tell you.

The M’s certainly aren’t the ones most in jeopardy. Arizona and San Diego already had their TV deals with DSG erased, and we’ve seen what that’s meant for the Padres. Cleveland and Texas may be next, Minnesota’s ran out, and given the shifting landscape between cable and streaming, no team can be totally sure of what they’ll be getting from their local TV deals, other than maybe the New York teams, the Dodgers and Cubs.

And it’s not insignificant money. San Diego was getting $60 million a year from DSG and MLB is covering 80 percent of that for now, but that’s not going to be a forever solution. Especially when more and more teams are going to need backstopping from their TV deals. Those whose TV deals are still intact are going to get awfully sick of subsidizing those who don’t, and quickly.

Which probably means that there are only a few teams who will be comfortable shelling out for the big-ticket buys in free agency this year. And that trend may only get worse in coming offseasons

Until we get to spring training, we won’t know what the Mariners’ trades so far mean. Right now, they’re only projected to have a $119 million payroll for the 2024 season. They should have room for something big and still be well under the tax threshold. What their own threshold is with TV money no longer a sure thing is another matter. And the M’s aren’t the only ones doing those calculations right now.

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.