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The Mariners Most Dangerous Opponent When It Comes To Free Agency: Geography
Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, the jewel of the trade market and a potentially franchise altering player, recently rejected a trade to the Seattle Mariners The Mariners were one of just a handful of teams to which Upton could reject a trade and last week he exercised that contractual right. Why would the Mariners, a relatively well-run franchise with a top three pitcher, a beautiful, newly-hitter friendly stadium, in a nice city with good fans, be on Upton’s no-trade list? For that matter, why do the Mariners have such trouble luring free agents–mostly hitters, but really all free agents–into the Great Northwest?
My theory? Geography. Specifically, the distance from Seattle to every other Major League city. Seattle’s two closest counterparts are Denver, with the Rockies, and San Francisco with the Giants and A’s. The Rockies are about 1020 miles from Seattle and the Giants and A’s are more than 680 miles away. That means that every single road trip that the Mariners make is at least 680 miles. Not exactly a selling point.
Now, lets look at the Mariners’ divisional opponents, the teams they play most often. The A’s, as I mentioned, are 680 miles away and it takes the Mariners two hours to fly there. The Angels are 981 miles away and the flight is two and a half hours. The Rangers, all the way in Arlington, Texas, are 1600 miles and nearly four in-the-air hours from Seattle. And the newest addition to the AL West? Houston is nearly 1900 miles away, and an extra four and a half hours of flight time (Texas is a big state) from Safeco Field.
Compare that to, for instance, the Yankees, who take a bus to Boston and Baltimore, and a puddle jumper to Toronto. Their most substantive flight is two hours down to Tampa.
The Mariners fly to every game. For East coast games, of which there are many, (West coast teams have more East coast games than vice versa; a result of the number of teams in each of those locations) they have to fly about six hours.
Just look at the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. They had to play in Washington DC last weekend, fly back to Seattle for practice all week, and then fly back to Atlanta for another game on Sunday.
Wouldn’t that be a deterrent for you to sign all the way up there? If presented with two effectively equal free agent contracts, one in Seattle and one in another city, wouldn’t you lean towards the one that didn’t require countless extra hours of flying? I know I would.
Nobody likes to fly, baseball players included. When we think about players selecting teams, we think about the front office, the pithing staff, the ability to compete, and the money. But these guys have to live where they play for six months and they have to deal with the reality of life in those places, for good or bad. If you think that the fact the Heat are based in Miami didn’t have any role in Lebron James’s decision to play there, you’re wrong. If you think that travel demands don’t play any role in guys like Justin Upton placing the Mariners on their no-trade lists, and free agents forsaking Midwestern adorationg for the coasts–well, you’re just as wrong.
There’s nothing the Mariners can do about this, it’s just the reality of their situation. They’ve competed before in Seattle and they will compete there again. It’ll just be a little more difficult than if they were a little closer to the rest of us.