What Kevin Mather did last week was to effectively trigger a klieg light over a pitch-dark, rat-infested corner of baseball. Everybody in the sport is aware of the noncompetitive behavior present among many of the 30 teams. Everybody can hear the gnawing on good faith and on the integrity of competition. Everybody recognizes the financial manifestation, the enormous shift in dollars from the players to the owners.
But when the now former CEO of the Mariners said out loud what almost no one has said on the record before, Mather fully illuminated a creepy part of the sport that fuels the players' distrust of management -- a part of the sport that even a lot of folks on the management side detest, because it's antithetical to what initially drew them to competitive sports.
This toxic part of the business needs to be excised in the next collective bargaining agreement. That can happen only with a sportwide reset, so that everybody works against the worst use of analytics and focuses on two very simple principles:
1. Teams should be devoted to fielding their best players.
2. Teams should try to win as many games as possible.
And the rules should be reconstructed to foster those principles. But the path back from the bad-faith abyss the game is in now is complicated, and Major League Baseball and the players can get there only if they find a way to work together. Even if MLB tried to build guardrails against tanking and service-time manipulation and close loopholes, the players would have to agree to any set of rule changes -- and at the moment, there doesn't seem to be a lot of hope for a system redesigned by both sides through collaboration
Maybe a mutual fear of the nuclear option -- a prolonged labor stoppage -- can push them into a constructive alliance. But I'm far from confident that's a possibility.
The Mariners' awful week demonstrates the destructiveness of the practices Mather referenced, practices that somehow became standard operating procedure for most teams.
Seattle hasn't been to the playoffs in almost two decades. General manager Jerry Dipoto -- in the midst of a rebuild -- tried to distance himself from Mather's comments in speaking with the Mariners' players. But Jarred Kelenic, the organization's top prospect, told USA Today that when Dipoto spoke, "It was literally like someone farted in church. That is the exact expression on everybody's face."
The GM's words lacked credibility in the eyes of the players, because everyone in the sport is well-versed in how often teams have eschewed winning in the short term in order to bend rules to their advantage -- and to the players' disadvantage. Many teams have constructed teams meant to fail -- as cheaply as possible, to heighten profit -- and delayed the promotion of players to the big leagues for the sake of gaming the system and stunting the earning power of their best young players.
It happened to Kris Bryant. It happened to George Springer. It happens to players all the time.