Thiel: To do, and not to do, for Mariners

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by Art Thiel

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on April 7, 2012 at 9:30 PM

Since the season has at least three starts to it -- Japan, road in Oakland, home in Seattle -- I'm sure the Mariners won't mind my help in offering my do's-and-don'ts list right now for the 2012  season. They will probably have another re-start next month, after mathematical elimination from the race.

Since the AL West race was decided in December, the season amounts to 162-game spring training with the A's to decide third place:

THINGS THE MARINERS HAVE TO DO IN 2012

Sink the ship, not the ocean -- If the Chone Figgins experiment as leadoff hitter/fielding superhero isn't working by Memorial Day, buh-bye. He is already a sunk cost; the Mariners can't un-pay him what they've guaranteed. But they can free up a spot for a younger player with a future. It's not like the club is inexperienced in how to eat dead money, with a side of humble pie.

Let the manager manage -- Eric Wedge seems sufficiently smart, consistent and disciplined to be a successful major league manager. Please, bosses, get the hell out of his way and don't make him play players for reasons other than ability.

Hire someone to rep the club who isn't tone deaf to public sentiment, and strong enough to tell Howard Lincoln to just sit there -- This week's dust-up over the possible new arena in SoDo was a classic example of Mariners management being oblivious to the value of public perception. Even if numerous facts are on their side, their "this can't work" cannon shot to county and city politicians was exactly the wrong way to deliver their views. It's not as if they have political capital to burn in this town.

And puleeze don't drag out the "we had to do it this way, so you should too" posture regarding siting and related issues. That is SO 1995. The sports world, the political world, the media world, the tech world and the finance world are so different than when Safeco Field was conceived that the lessons from then are closing in on irrelevant. If nothing else, Chris Hansen is starting this project with HIS money, not badgering the state Legislature into special session for public money. Complete game-changer. That's an entity the Mariners could use in the front office as well as on the field.

Find a place to play Alex Liddi -- Yes, he's still raw as sushi, but as a ballplayer, he's nearly as tasty. There's a freakish upside to this guy that deserves a substantial major league trial. And what else is 2012 but extended spring training? He could be another Bucky Jacobsen, but he also could be another Scott Podsednik or Mike Morse, late bloomers that the too-busy-finishing-last Mariners couldn't wait on.

Make Jesus Montero a catcher, or die trying -- Since Dan Wilson, the catcher position has been a Mariners graveyard. The scouts have already written off Montero's chances, but he's only 22 and a superb athlete. If the Mariners can tolerate passed balls from Miguel Olivo as if he gets a bounty for each, they have room in 2012 to see whether Montero can be a 15-year catcher or the world's youngest permanent MLB DH.

THINGS THE MARINERS HAVE TO AVOID

Free agent quarterbacks who are 36 with four neck surgeries and counting -- Don't send a jet to Denver to wait for Peyton Manning without making sure he has first printed his boarding pass. A tad embarrassing. But he's just the kind of downside player the Mariners traditionally love, even if he's in a different sport -- and he's a year younger than Kevin Millwood and two years younger than Ichiro.

Giving Ichiro a contract extension during the season, no matter how he plays -- And say so now to remove the distraction. As with nearly every aging superstar from Babe Ruth to Barry Bonds, the tail typically wags the franchise dog, especially in a contract year. But after so many seasons, so many mysteries remain about Ichiro, let's just clear up one by saying nicely that out of respect to all parties, the club and Ichiro deserve to wait for a completed  season to determine a course.

Randy Johnson/Dan Wilson bobblehead night -- It's already on the promotions-night list, but nuh-uh. No disrespect to two splendid contributors to Mariners history, but if I have to tell you why it's embarrassing, it's even more embarrassing.

Expecting the TV rights bubble to last until 2015 -- If you're older than 35 you know by now that many industries'  economics are like stairs: They go down as well as up. The dot.com bubble, the derivatives bubble, the housing bubble, and next -- the cable TV sports-rights bubble. What the Angels and Rangers received in their astounding new TV deals may not be there when the Mariners' 10-year deal with ROOT Sports has an opt-out in 2015. The signs of consumer backlash are growing, and that will compromise any similar throwing of stupid money at baseball teams. It's not that the Mariners won't get a deal from some carrier -- if they don't choose to create their own network -- but the year-to-year changes in technology and distribution mean that the train carrying boxcars of outsider money for baseball teams is already leaving the station.

Putting the team on the back of Felix Hernandez, again -- One of these days after all the losing, Hernandez is going to go Ken Griffey Jr. on the Mariners and demand changes, trades, special chairs, roof closings, relatives on the payroll and photos of family in the clubhouse. Help Felix help you, Mariners, by winning some games you shouldn't.

Bringing up the premier young pitchers before September -- Of course everyone wants to see James Paxton, Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker ASAP. But there's no need this year, unless injuries become extraordinary. Stick to The Plan with these guys, unless The Plan includes trading them like Doug Fister and Michael Pineda in the endless quest to find someone who can hit a home run to left field.

Finishing last -- After going basement in six of the previous eight seasons, the Mariners are freshly helpless against the Angels and Rangers reinvigorated by TV money. But the A's are still floundering with a payroll of $55 million, a bunch of new faces and an uncertain stadium future. Still, they make Oscar-nominated movies about the A's boss, Billy Beane, whose only mistake was to tell the world how "Moneyball" works and give away for free his cleverness.

To get beaten for third place by the A's in the last year of the four-team division . . . just how many tee shots in a row can you put in the par-3 water hazard?

I know, "the race for third place" does not make the sporting heart soar. But around here, if we can get semi-excited about college basketball's NIT, the threshold is low.

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