While John Stanton has just one full season as chairman and CEO of the Mariners under his belt, the weight of the 16 years without a postseason appearance has left its mark on him, just as it has with the fans. Unlike the fans, though, he shoulders the responsibility of the playoff drought as well.
“It’s hard. I’m one of them,” he said Wednesday afternoon at Safeco Field. “I think it is incumbent on us to demonstrate to the fans our commitment to doing the things necessary to win. My words, I can say we are deeply committed to winning a World Series, which we are. We are deeply committed to making the playoffs next year. And at some point in time, my words become hollow. We have got to back those words up with action both in terms of the decisions Jerry (Dipoto) makes, the decisions that Scott (Servais) makes, but ultimately it has to be backed up with results.”
Third place in the AL West is certainly not what the Mariners had in mind for 2017. A 78 win season in a year Stanton believed Dipoto had assembled a team that would play into October. That full team never took field however, with the pitching staff decimated by injuries. The results are what the results are in terms of wins and losses, but Stanton looks beyond that in evaluating the season and how the Mariners stack up heading into 2018.
“If you could somehow extract the impact of injuries, from a theoretical sense, should we be in the playoffs? I think the answer is yes,” he said. “So I think the results, I believe the results, are good. One of the things I am most excited about is when guys went down we managed to pick up so many players that hopefully are going to play a role in 2018. I think I am very positive about the way Jerry thinks about things.”
Agree or disagree, one thing appears certain — and it is important in an organization. Stanton and Dipoto are on the same page. They speak the same language.
“He thinks about things in baseball kind of the way I think about some things in the wireless business, which I know a lot more about than I know baseball,” said Stanton, after relaying a story about going over spreadsheets on matching laptops during a recent flight together.
If there is a left brain and a right brain of baseball, Stanton has both covered. While he can go toe to toe with the most passionate fans of the game – – he’s a baseball dad of two sons who played college ball and also has been a partial owner of two collegiate wood bat teams — his other professional life has been rooted in technology. He understands numbers, he understands methodology, and he likes what he has seen in Dipoto’s process in building the organization.
“I think Jerry is appropriately self-critical,” he said. “You see what the model predicted and how it actually performed. He’s going through this month and back-testing. He has some really creative ways in which he looks with the baseball operations staff and he will take the views of all of those bright folks and mash them together in a way that allows you to judge, and that’s another model, and then back-checks that.”
Looking back helps in moving forward. And while the Mariners won just 78 games this year, Stanton does not see the 2017 season as a step back.
“Are we better off? Absolutely,” he said. “You look at the caliber of players. This year alone we had the goal to get younger and more athletic. We got younger and more athletic. We solidified a number of positions. I think the dynamic for us, we’ve got a lot of key guys that we have control of contractually for 3 to 5 years. The veterans are the foundations, key in some respects, but in other respects the young guys are the foundation in which you build the strong building.”
Stanton said that there is room for growth in the payroll to add to that foundation and that he has confidence in the two men who will acquire and manage those players.
“I’m all in on Jerry and enthusiastic about what he has done,” he said. “I’m equally enthusiastic about Scott. I feel like Scott Servais made some big jumps this year and as a second year manager I think he made good progress. I wish that progress was reflected in the win-loss record, but I feel like he made good progress.”
Plenty of good to go around, but the bottom line is getting the Mariners across the finish line and into the postseason. While there were what would be fair to consider extraordinary circumstances that contributed to the Mariners failure to do so in 2017, the controllables have not been overlooked.
“I feel ultimately we are all accountable, we are all responsible,” said Stanton. “We all measure 78 wins is not enough. We need to do a number of things better on the field. We can do a number of things better in the front office. Those are the things I get to work on between now and March 29.”