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Hok Talk: I was wrong about Dayton Moore

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Wait! I can explain!

Dayton Moore shares a word with Alex Gordon before a game in 2019
Dayton Moore shares a word with Alex Gordon before a game in 2019
Photo by John Sleezer/Getty Images

By now, many of you will have heard the short, strange, sad saga of Mariners Club President Kevin Mather. If you haven’t, our Mariners-focused sister site, Lookout Landing, has covered the topic pretty extensively. The short version is that Mather said out loud the quiet part that many avid fans of baseball have noted for a long time. He talked about service time manipulation for top prospects. He complained about non-white players indiscriminately. He chortled at the misfortune of free agents who are just trying to find jobs this off-season while more or less admitting that despite their complaints to the contrary, the Mariners were in perfectly good financial standing following the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

It was a very bad look. It was even worse when the team allowed Mather to make a statement of apology, which was as senseless as most public apologies but seemed to indicate they’d allow him to stay on. Then he was fired, and the Mariners doubled down on the message that somehow, the words of the then-president and still-part-owner of the team don’t represent the views of the team. I, to put it mildly, remain unconvinced. He was the president of the team. He was speaking in his official capacity as the president and describing how the team operated in 2020 and planned to operate in 2021. He did not even couch his words with phrases like “I think,” “Probably,” or “But plans can change.” He stated things definitively.

What does all this have to do with Dayton Moore, you ask? Plenty. I’ve been writing on this website for almost five years now. During that time, I have repeatedly complained about Dayton Moore as a general manager. Specifically, I have lamented the fact that he never once made a “seller’s trade” during the off-season or otherwise prepared the team to tank. I’ve suggested that he should break up the team and send everyone with any value to other clubs for prospects. In fairness, I often couched those arguments with, “Either he should get more talent or trade the talent he does have for future talent.” But the Kevin Mather saga has opened my eyes.

I was wrong.

That’s it. Plain and simple. I was wrong. I should never have made those arguments. I am left only to wonder - what on earth was I thinking? Losing baseball is not fun. It wouldn’t have been more fun if the Royals had traded away Whit Merrifield, Danny Duffy, and Salvador Perez. What could possibly possess me to root for more losing - even if I just considered it one potentially better outcome? I guess I was drinking too much of the ownership Kool-aid despite my loud, adamant declarations of being pro-player.

What Kevin Mather laid bare for all of us is that when it looks like teams don’t care about winning they really don’t. They care about possessing assets. They care about paying as little for possessing those assets as possible. And they are willing to do anything if it means holding on to appreciating assets a little bit longer, selling depreciating assets a little bit sooner, or profiting even just one extra dime for the club (and ultimately, the owner.)

If I really am as pro-player as I claim to be, then I have to admit that Dayton Moore is one of the better GMs out there for my team. He treats players with dignity; he has refused to play the service time game even with projected stars like Brady Singer and Eric Hosmer. He treats fans with a certain level of respect; he puts the best team he can on the field rather than trading off assets and seems to have tempered David Glass’ desires for profit by convincing him not to force Dayton Moore to make such deals or quit.

Now, does this make Dayton Moore a good GM? Eh...not really. His talent evaluation still seems suspect. He seems a bit too player-friendly with some of his deals (Ian Kennedy and Mike Minor’s second deal both had more years attached than made any kind of sense.) He still partners with questionable organizations to propagate the worst of his evangelical agenda at the players and fans. Mostly, I still wish his quest for more wins involved adding talent rather than just not subtracting it.

But at least the man understands one thing. Running a baseball team isn’t just about profit and loss. Running a baseball team is about humility. Running a baseball team is about taking in anyone who wants to put in the effort and making them a part of your team in every sense. Running a baseball team is about playing to win the game.