Mather aims to 'provide resources' for Mariners to win
New team president discusses plan to help GM fill roster holes, make playoffs
SEATTLE -- Kevin Mather admits he isn't a "baseball guy" and won't be telling Jack Zduriencik how to run the Mariners' baseball operations, but as the new club president, he definitely knows the importance of helping the franchise do what every fan wants to hear.
"Obviously we need to win more games," Mather said Friday in his first meeting with reporters after being named to his new position. "Take care of your fans, take care of the community, be a good community asset. But win more games and everything else happens a lot sooner."
Mather won't officially replace the retiring Chuck Armstrong until Feb. 1, but he already met with Zduriencik on Friday morning, and his first questions concerned what the baseball side needed to put a better team on the field.
"I think the president's role is to provide resources," Mather said. "Coordinate the business side and the baseball side and provide resources. Whether it's a Dominican [Republic] academy or a Draft signing or a new pitching coach in Tacoma or a free agent on the market, we have to provide the resources."
Much of that, particularly on the Major League roster, requires money, of course. Mather has been the executive vice president of finance for the Mariners for the past 18 years, which means overseeing accounting, ticket sales, retail sales and ballpark operations. But that doesn't mean he's reluctant to spend, as many fans fear.
Instead, Mather talked of the ownership group being fans themselves, and said it's not hard right now to convince them to pursue talented players, as evidenced by the $240 million signing of Robinson Cano this offseason.
"There are different opinions in the room," Mather said of the board of directors. "But as a group, it's an easy sell. You just have to show them a plan. It's an easy sell, because we've been losing and these guys are tired of it."
In the short term, Mather said there is still some financial flexibility for a team whose payroll currently sits at about $85 million with less than three weeks before Spring Training opens.
"I asked Jack, 'Where are we? Where are your holes? What were your priorities this offseason? Is there still value out there?" Mather said. "The answer to that question [about still having money] is yes, but he said, 'I just want the flexibility to have conversations.' I told him I'm working on that and he does have that.
"Our ownership group pays for their own tickets. They are fans. And they never say no to a capital call or budget adjustment or a move. We'll be having those conversations over the next several years, particularly if there's value, because we are close."
Mather said he feels the club needs "a three-year rolling, working plan" when it comes to payroll and player acquisition.
"Historically, it's been, 'Here's your payroll for next year,'" he said. "But free agents don't sign one-year deals, unless they're desperate. Free agents sign three-, four-, five-, or in Cano's case, 10-year deals. We need to have a longer-term vision. That's where I think I can add value. If we have a hole that needs filling, it's no fun losing. Let's fill the hole and we'll find the resources. And our ownership group has been historically very good about that."
Mather grew up playing hockey in the Midwest and briefly at the University of Wisconsin before realizing his future was in finance, not sports. But he found a way to satisfy both when he went to work for the Twins 25 years ago, and he is now well-entrenched in the baseball world.
Mather will be expanding his role now with the Mariners, but he appears ready and comfortable with that, and he said he'll be at FanFest both days this weekend at Safeco Field to talk with people and answer questions.
"I want to interact with the fans," he said. "Gametime for Chuck, he kind of got reclusive. He had his suite and watched the game, kept score, banged the table, picked up the phone. And I'm sure I'll do that. But I'll be out. I'm going to wander. I'm going to talk to our fans. I want to respond to what they say. You can't respond to everything, but if we win, the rest of it gets a lot easier."
The only thing Mather feels badly about is replacing Armstrong before the long-tenured president had a chance to see things turn around on the field. He said no one will replace Armstrong's energy and "go-go-go" spirit. And Mather does believe the Mariners are already close to turning the corner after missing the playoffs for 12 straight years.
"I feel bad for the timing, because in 2003-04, we started losing and we tried to rebuild, but stay competitive. And that was a mistake," Mather said. "Because we made bad personnel decisions, we traded prospects, we signed veterans."
Mather feels Zduriencik has made important strides in building up the farm system through successful Drafts and international signings. The key, he believes, is now seeing some of the key youngsters like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Mike Zunino, Justin Smoak and others come together with key new additions like Cano.
"I'm kind of stepping into an opportunity," Mather said. "We think we're really close. If these guys are above-average Major League players -- and it's taken a year or two longer than we thought -- but if they're above-average players like we think they are, we're going to have a long run of very good baseball teams. And we need to win more baseball games."