John Stanton, a lifelong Mariners fan, saw the team from a different perspective this season. He was named, in April, as the organization’s CEO, a task with both perks and frustrations.
“It was the first time I was in this role, and it was more personal,” he said Wednesday during a casual question-and-answer session with reporters at Safeco Field. “I went to about as many games as last year, but the highs are higher and the lows are lower when you’re here.”
The lows ultimately prevailed. Injuries were an obvious factor, but there was a sense, with a month remaining, the team had overcome adversity and was poised for a playoff run.
“I love that we battled,” said Stanton. “I love the way the coaching staff and the players hung with it. In the end, I’m disappointed in the outcome. I think we all are – everyone in this building and the guys who’ve gone home.
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“It was painful. We expected to be in the playoffs and we’re not. We’ve got the Cubs-Nats game on TV downstairs, but it’s a little hard to watch the playoffs.
“I thought we were going to make a run in late August, particularly when we got James Paxton and Felix Hernandez back. I thought there was going to be some magic – it was going to happen – and it didn’t.”
Despite the failure to establish traction down the home stretch, Stanton insisted he’s “thrilled” with the work of general manager Jerry Dipoto.
“The goal was to get younger and more athletic,” said Stanton. “And we got younger and more athletic.”
If you’re looking for a template about how the Mariners will proceed toward 2018 and beyond, it’s steeped in the trade that brought shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger to Seattle last November.
Segura, 27, signed a mid-season contract extension that will keep him under club control through 2023 –the same year that Haniger, 26, will be eligible for free agency.
“The typical player ends up starting at 24, then goes through six years of club control,” Stanton pointed out. “Sometime in his early 30s we’ll see that the abilities tend to decline. The compensation goes up at the time the ability starts going down. It’s not a good formula.”
Stanton’s definition of a better formula?
“If we can sign and control players that are with us through their early 30s,” he said.
Stanton also addressed a variety of off-field topics.
▪ Safeco Field will be not be known as Safeco Field after 2018, but the process to identify a new naming-rights sponsor for the ballpark is ongoing.
▪ Safety nets that protect fans from foul balls will be expanded next season, although to what extent remains unclear. Stanton noted he’s taking notice on how other clubs are confronting fan-safety issues.
▪ The CEO generally supports the World Baseball Classic tournament linked to the kind of pitching ailments that sidelined free-agent pitcher Drew Smyly for the entire season. But he believes timetable adjustments regarding WBC pitchers are in order.
▪ Stanton welcomes the possibility of NBA and NHL franchises turning Seattle into a more crowded pro sports market, and he’s anxious to learn what Chris Hansen plans to do with the real estate Hansen acquired in his failed attempt to build an arena in the Safeco Field Stadium district.
▪ The grass surface at Safeco Field, intact since the park opened in 1999, is in the process of being replaced. The symbolism of the Mariners playing on a newly installed lawn next spring spring has not gone unnoticed.
“There’s a metaphor in that,” Stanton said on a mid-October afternoon he found it difficult to watch his favorite sport on TV.