Mariners trying to attract bats, fans with Safeco changes

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Let’s face it, there’s one very big reason the Mariners are pulling in the fences at Safeco Field next year:

Attendance/game
2007: 32,588
2008: 28,762
2009: 27,105
2010: 25,749
2011: 23,411
2012: 21,417

The Mariners peaked at more than 43,000 fans per game while leading the AL in attendance in 2001 and ’02. They ranked sixth-to-eighth each year from 2006-11 before plummeting to 11th this season.  That’s despite the fact that they’ve gone from 61 and 67 wins the last two years to 73 with two games remaining this season.

From a performance standpoint, there’s good reason to think the Mariners are better off playing in an extreme pitcher’s park. They have one of the game’s five-best pitchers in Felix Hernandez, they’ve gotten quality results out of journeyman arms and they possess two of the game’s top 10 (and three of the top 20) pitching prospects in the minors. To put it kindly, more of their talent is concentrated in pitching than in hitting.

But it’s also true that the Mariners aren’t winning anyway, and 80 percent of the time, they’re just not very interesting. The truth is that more people would rather watch the Mariners lose 7-5 than 2-0.

Now, that possibility alone won’t bring fans streaming through the turnstiles. But adding a couple of quality hitters might, and it’s going to be easier to sign free agent bats in the new Safeco than it was in the old Safeco. As it was, no big-time power-hitter with a bunch of suitors was going to choose Seattle.

That has to be part of the thinking here. It doesn’t seem at all likely that Josh Hamilton will make the move to the Pacific Northwest this winter, but the Mariners will try to add two hitters, one likely an outfielder.

I’m still not at all convinced this is the right move, at least not to the extent to which they’ve gone. They’re bringing in the left-center power alley by 12 feet and as much as 17 feet in one spot. It’s only going to be a four-foot difference down the left field line and in center (right field is staying the same), but combine the power alley difference and the lower wall in left and it looks like Safeco is in for quite the significant change. Something more mild that would have guaranteed Safeco remained at least a modest pitcher’s park would have been a better idea in my mind. But this is more about money than winning ballgames and it shows.

Report: Braves extend Kurt Suzuki

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Kurt Suzuki will wear a Braves’ uniform through the 2018 season after signing a one-year, $3.5 million extension with the club on Saturday, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Rosenthal adds that the two had been in talks for weeks and Suzuki made it clear that he wanted to remain in Atlanta for the foreseeable future. The team has yet to announce the extension.

Suzuki, 33, initially signed a one-year contract with the Braves back in January. The veteran backstop stepped into a backup role behind starting catcher Tyler Flowers, but still found a way to impress at the plate with a .271/.343/.525 batting line, career-best 18 home runs and an .868 OPS through 287 PA. According to FanGraphs, Suzuki’s 2.2 fWAR makes 2017 his most valuable season since his run with the 2009 Athletics.

It’s a prudent move for the Braves, who would have lost one of their most dynamic second-half hitters to the free agent market this offseason. Entering Saturday, Suzuki is second only to Freddie Freeman with 11 homers and 1.4 fWAR since the All-Star break. His stunning comeback also confirmed the team’s decision to look outside the organization for a backup catcher, rather than turning to fellow veteran Anthony Recker behind the plate.

“On a personal level, this season exceeded my expectations,” Suzuki told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s just one of those things I can’t explain. I put a lot of work in and really didn’t have a job until late January. I got an opportunity here and took advantage of it. It was definitely a good fit.”

Mikie Mahtook is likely done for the season

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Tigers’ outfielder Mikie Mahtook is unlikely to play again this season, club manager Brad Ausmus announced Saturday. Mahtook was diagnosed with a Grade 2 left groin strain following Friday’s series opener against the Twins, when he appeared to injure himself after chasing down Byron Buxton‘s two-RBI double in the fourth.

This is the second time Mahtook has sustained a groin injury over the past month. The 27-year-old exited Friday’s game with a .276/.330/.457 batting line, 12 home runs and a .787 OPS through 379 plate appearances with the team.

With the Tigers out of contention, there’s no reason to trot out Mahtook for the remaining eight games of the regular season. The club has yet to specify a timetable for his return, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in fine shape to compete for a starting role next spring.