Mariners should focus on putting people in the stands

After reports that the Mariners’ ownership had put a chokehold on spending money for player payroll, the mood of hope and optimism for an exciting offseason changed to frustration.

With so much speculation about the Seattle Mariners’ front office, along with the budget and the lineup for the 2024 season, there needs to be some clarity from the team’s ownership.

After a disappointing season where expectations were at an all-time high, this 2023-24 offseason was looking to be one of the more interesting times to follow the team in Seattle.

Jerry Dipoto, President of Baseball Operations, had a rough start to the offseason with his 54% win percentage comments at the end-of-season press conference. Along with that comment, there was also an expectation that players’ salaries and the team’s payroll were going to increase for this upcoming season.

Right now, the roster is worse than when last season ended. Payroll had to be cleared via trade, which meant there was a change in heart for what Dipoto could spend to better this roster.

2023 was a season of failure. The Mariners couldn’t make the playoffs after a preseason hype video on social media declared World Series aspirations.

Manager Scott Servais hasn’t shied away, saying that rising expectations are a good thing. But when you fall on your face and then rub your own face in the mud, how much good is that doing? Not much.

After reports came out that the Mariners’ ownership had put a chokehold on spending money for player payroll, the mood of hope and optimism for an exciting offseason changed to frustration and bitterness.

Adding to the frustration is Comcast’s recent announcement that the main Mariners media rights holder, Root Sports, is being moved to the premium program — meaning fans wouldn’t fork over the extra $40 a month to upgrade to that package.

Sure, anytime things get more expensive for fans, ownership should think about their next step. But that thought should have happened before the price of season tickets rose 25%, or before they added premium seating at the expense of the press box that most fans would never be able to afford. Yes, fans could attend games for $10 last season sitting in centerfield and buy a warm-ish hot dog for $3. But everything else has risen in price, and the Mariners’ ownership is reaping the benefits.

Mariners majority owner John Stanton talked about putting money back into the stadium and the Hatback Bar and Grille — those are great areas to build a sense of community. But they are still money-makers for the Mariners, and that money should help go to quality on the field.

The problem is that the Mariners’ front office has no ground to stand on. The words of the president of baseball operations and chairman of Mariners will mean less and less until action proves there is some effort being made to win baseball games, not just make a profit.

Players want to play here, players want to win here. Jesse Winker and JP Crawford are prime examples of that. Winker didn’t pan out, but he liked playing here, coining the “Electric Factory” nickname for T-Mobile Park, which the Mariners have no problem selling on a T-shirt. Crawford always talks about the energy the fans bring to the players and how passionate the team’s fan base is.

Current San Diego Padres pitcher Blake Snell, born and raised in Shoreline, is coming off his second Cy Young Award and has hinted at coming back to Seattle to pitch for the Mariners. He has a chance to be a hell of a story, but he might cost a little more, and because people won’t watch the games on TV, that means he won’t fit in here? In an era of streaming and cord cutting, people are still watching Mariners games on Fubo and DirecTV.

But shouldn’t the emphasis be on putting people in the stands?

The phrase “strike when the iron is hot” exists for a reason. Seattle baseball is nearing its peak. After hosting the All-Star Game and making the postseason in 2022, the Mariners fandom is at a high that hasn’t been seen for 20 years.

The Mariners had the most attendance at home since 2005 — in a year where the team didn’t make the playoffs. That team had two Hall of Famers. This team has a batch of young talent that keeps making strides to compete in an AL West that keeps getting better and better.

Again, Dipoto is not solely at fault here. There are still plenty of ways to better this roster by Opening Day. Dipoto seems to always have a move that no one sees coming, but as of right now, the projected starting lineup has some huge holes.

Scott Servais knows it and voiced as much of his frustration as he could, right up to that company line, saying, “We have to play with the cards we’ve been dealt.”

Pitchers and catchers report mid- to late-February with spring training officially starting in March. There is still time to make deals and improve the roster. But ownership has to show if they care more about the bottom line or winning. If it is the former rather than the latter, Mariners fans are in for quite the ride.

Sports reporter Ben Ray can be reached at