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