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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: It’s not all that close to Christmas yet but the M’s are playing the role of Scrooge perfectly again

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Here it is, still early December, and our blood is already running at 212 degrees. Due to the M’s. We are just tired of the team’s ownership using its fans as an ATM instead of, you know, investing in success.


• We’ve never been a big fan of the sad song lyrics that flow from Nashville with more power than the Tennessee River. But we will admit we’ve been flooded emotionally from them once or twice. The latest time? Monday.

The M’s forward-facing folks, president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais, met with the media yesterday and their lyrical presentation, shared with more than a hint of embarrassment, was another example of the Mariners’ traditionally sad refrain.

Servais: “We’re trying to do the best with the cards we’ve been dealt.”

Dipoto: “We’ve had two avenues that we could’ve tried. One was if we didn’t do some of the things we’ve done recently, and the other was if we did some of the things we’ve done recently.”

Servais, again: “Things shifted maybe a couple weeks into the offseason one where we were headed and why we were headed there, based on different circumstances that came up. … Some of it was not within our control, on how you’re going to shape your team going forward.”

Translation: Ownership is worried about making enough money, the payroll is either staying the same or going down, and, if you want to transform the lineup, a bunch of money has to be freed up.

Instead of fine-tuning a roster that was darn close to getting over the hump the past couple years, Dipoto and general manager Justin Hollander, have to excise salary before any can be added.

They have been doing just that, dropping Eugenio Suarez, Jared Kelenic, Marco Gonzales and others. It seems like a fool’s errand, akin to running on a treadmill while everyone you’re chasing actually, you know, is on the street in a Maserati.

Why? A couple reasons. Even if Dipoto is smart, savvy and frugal enough to replace what has been loss (and that’s always a crapshoot when you shop at the bargain bin), then the Mariners are back to where they started, though there might – might – be an improvement in the pitching. Enough to move forward, to make the postseason and actually win a series? Debatable.

But the other reason is what is really worrisome, and, after reading Ryan Divish’s piece in the Times explaining the reasons behind the miserly change of course, seems likely.

The M’s rely on income from its Root Sports NW arm – the franchise owns 75% of the cable service – to help fund operations. Not only to put a decent product on the field but to ensure ownership a hefty return on investment.

In October, the Root part of the money machine was diverted onto a new course. Xfinity, which is the King Kong of Northwest cable providers even in this day of cord cutting, moved the channel to its highest tier Ultimate TV package.

It costs a lot more to watch. And will, ultimately, have fewer subscribers. The change, even though no one can be sure it will result in significantly less income, had to panic the Mariners’ bean counters. At least in the short run.

You know, when Dipoto, Hollander and Servais are trying to put together a roster. The baseball people thought they would have a certain amount of money to work with. Then that was cut. How much? They didn’t say. But the recent subtractions have been indicative of a company working with a lot less.

At the end of last season, Cal Raleigh and other players spoke up. Said the M’s were close. All they needed to do was what other teams do. Spend money, add some key pieces to the core. Now that core has been trimmed. Even if the pruning was of the weakest branches – arguable – the reality is, to the players and the fans, there won’t be enough money available to ensure offensive growth.

Which would make free agents who want to win – most, if not all – look somewhere else. Or ask for so much more as to be out of the M’s range.

What are the fans are left with? Another example of the Scrooge-like nature of the franchise’s management. And the ghosts of offseasons-past to haunt them.


WSU: At least the Cougars’ football portal contingent didn’t grow Monday. Greg Woods shares that good news. By the way, there was a report yesterday Ohio State and Cam Ward are going to become an item. We have a family-built hatred of the Buckeyes (our Cinderella-like stepmother attended the school), so this would make us sad. … In happier news for Coug basketball followers, freshman Myles Rice won the Pac-12’s weekly award for his class. Greg has more on that as well. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, as is his tradition, Jon Wilner makes his own picks for the conference’s football awards. The real awards are announced today. … John Canzano has a mailbag that covers a lot of ground. … There are 41 bowl/playoff semifinal games. They are all ranked here. … Washington is headed to the CFP’s four-team invitational – we’ve called it that for at least five years and we’re glad to see others are using the term as well – as the No. 2 seed. Its quarterback, Michael Penix Jr., is a Heisman finalist, in which he is probably the No. 2 seed as well (behind LSU’s Jayden Daniels). … Oregon’s Bo Nix is also a finalist but the longest shot of the four invited to New York. The Ducks’ opponent in the Fiesta Bowl is Liberty, an undefeated team that just happened to play an epically bad schedule. … It looks as if Pat Schumur will call the plays next season for Colorado. That doesn’t sit well in Denver. … Is anyone excited about Utah playing Northwestern in their bowl game? … Who will play quarterback for USC in its bowl after Caleb Williams decided not to? … The Trojans wanted their new defensive coordinator as soon as Alex Grinch was let go. … Despite Arizona’s success navigating the portal and such this year, Jedd Fisch believes the system is broken. … In basketball news, the first NET rankings, released yesterday, aren’t worth getting too worked up about. Wilner does, a little, in the Mercury News. … Arizona is the No. 1 team in the polls – and everyone’s No. 1 target. Again. … The Wildcats’ money woes are going to hit the fans. … Oregon State’s NET ranking is really bad. After taking two overtimes to defeat woeful Cal Poly at home last night, we understand it. … A highly touted Washington freshman has yet to play. … Neither has a Utah transfer, who is appealing his eligibility denial.  … Colorado has a little time off before a big game. … The Washington women have made a commitment to defense. … Colorado wants to tighten up that side of the ball. … Utah lost one of its best players to a season-ending injury. … One of UCLA’s best became that in the offseason. … Finally, the Stanford women were blown out 5-1 by Florida State in the NCAA soccer title match. Maybe a committee will retroactively award the title to the Cardinal. … The Oregon State men will face Notre Dame in a semifinal match this weekend.

Gonzaga: We won’t see it (see our last comments below) but the Zags will be hosting Arkansas-Pine Bluff tonight. Theo Lawson has the preview and the key matchup. … The polls came out yesterday and Theo tells us the men moved into the top 10, as expected. … Gonzaga swept the WCC weekly awards. Jim Meehan has that story. … Jim also, along with Richard Fox, has their Zags Basketball Insiders Podcast. You can listen to it here. … The women’s upset of then-third-ranked Stanford moved them into the poll as well, at 23rd. Washington State returned to the top 25 at 21. Greg Lee has that story. … A GU cross country runner, Rosina Machu, was named the WCC’s female runner of the year. That news leads off the S-R’s latest local briefs column.

EWU and Idaho: Around the Big Sky, there have been two coaching changes already. … Now that Montana State’s season is over, two offensive linemen hit the portal. … UC Davis introduced Tim Plough on Monday. … In basketball news, Montana State plays at Washington, which is a homecoming for two players.

Mariners: One other thought about the M’s current roster. Even Servais admitted yesterday the lineup now isn’t good enough to win. More has to be added, using the money saved. And, we’re sure, he and Dipoto will trumpet every addition as one that potentially puts the team over the hump. The chances of that being true are slim. The margin for error is non-existent. Every bet has to pay off. And not all will. Sorry, but that’s just reality. Teams that spend lots of money can make mistakes. Overcome them. There was a thought that, for one year at least, Seattle would be one of them. Not anymore. … Here’s a happier story. John Smoltz is trying to qualify for the Champions Tour.

Seahawks: Of course, Seattle still has a path to the playoffs. The questions are, can they follow it and should they, or should they tank for a better draft pick? … Pete Carroll is Mr. Positive when it comes to the playoffs. He is Mr. Positive all the time. … The playoff push has to start Sunday, but topping the 49ers in Santa Clara will be a tough task.

Kraken: Despite a late push, Seattle ended its road trip in Montreal with another loss.

Sounders: Seattle announced its end of the season roster. Some of the players not included, such as goalkeeper Stefan Frei, will be back. Others won’t be.


• We’re a fan of well-written plays. Have been almost our entire life, ever since we saw The Devil’s Disciple performed in our teen years. Tonight, we’re headed downtown for dinner and a seat at To Kill a Mockingbird. It should be fun. Though we’ll probably get pretty wet walking in. Irony of ironies? We’ll more than likely walk past our younger son’s favorite store, Boo Radley’s, on the way there. Until later …