Mather settling into new role as Mariners president
Former finance VP is excited about the direction of the club, on and off field
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Kevin Mather took over as the new Mariners president on Feb. 1 and has wasted no time making a positive impression on those who've crossed paths with him.
Mather, previously the club's executive vice president of finance, led a Mariners contingent to the Dominican Republic last week to open the team's new baseball academy in that country. He then flew to Peoria to get his first taste of life as president of the club at Spring Training.
Mather sat down with MLB.com to answer some questions as part of a series with all 30 club presidents, a "State of the Union" update from baseball's top chiefs. Here's what he had to say:
MLB.com: As the new president of the Mariners, what is your big-picture view of this team as training camp begins?
Mather: I see a young team that has a lot of potential; kids who have been in the big leagues for a year or year and a half, and I'm really excited. If even half of them turn out to be above-average Major League players, we've got a pretty young team and a pretty good base for the future. Then we went out and got [Robinson] Cano and [Corey] Hart. Every team has holes. We have some holes. [General manager] Jack [Zduriencik] comes to me every day and wants to know how much he has for this or that, because we all have holes. And then I worry about injuries. [The Hisashi] Iwakuma [finger injury] would have been a hard story a year or two ago, but I didn't realize how much more it affects me in this position. It was, "ohhh." But the news is pretty good, the doctors seem optimistic. But every day I'm asking, "Any news? Any news?" Because I worry about injuries."
MLB.com: What signal did this franchise send with the decision to sign Cano?
Mather: We're tired of losing, it's time to win more games. We have resources that we're fully prepared to commit to get this thing turned around and be a playoff contender.
MLB.com: You've got two of the biggest contracts in baseball now with Cano and Felix Hernandez. How do you do that and still keep a balanced roster? How much flexibility do you have still?
Mather: I've asked Jack that, because you talk to old-school baseball guys and they'll tell you, on a scale of 1-to-10, you need nine 6s and 7s, you don't need 10s and 2s. The good news is, we've got a great television deal, we've got a great fan base. And as big as the contracts are for Cano and Felix, we still have some flexibility to go get some players.
Whether it's 2014, 2015, he's not done acquiring and filling holes. But my question to Jack was, "Can you really have that much invested in two players?" And his response was, "Here's how you have to look at it, Kevin. We have more resources available and it's not like we've got two 10s and a bunch of 2s. We've got a pretty good core group of athletes here."
So he answered my question. That was also a question that came up in our ownership meeting and he answered that question. He's got resources. He may not have resources for 2014, he's not going to sign another Cano deal in 2014. But if there's an opportunity for value in the future, he knows he can come and ask for it.
MLB.com: You just went to the Dominican Republic to open the team's new $7 million academy there. Why was it important to this franchise to put resources into that project?
Mather: I was walking around today. We've got a new clubhouse down here that, thankfully, we have a great partnership with the City of Peoria and they put a lot of the money in, but there's some of our money in this place. And we made a huge investment in the Dominican.
Last year we moved the outfield walls in at Safeco Field and put in an HD scoreboard and the Edgar Cantina. This ownership has made investments to do it the right way.
There are great baseball players in the Dominican. You drive around and everybody is playing baseball. We have classrooms in our academy, and it's not just to learn English and how to make change on a $10 bill when you get to the United States. It's also to make sure they get their high school diploma when they're down there.
Jack said it in his speech down there -- most of these kids aren't going to make it off that island, but when they're done and they're 19 or 20 and are released from baseball, they'll have an education and something to fall back on and are productive citizens in the Dominican Republic.
But the biggest reason we made the investment is we think there's talent there and we've come up short in the Dominican. Our roster, for all the money we've spent signing players in the Dominican, we should have more Dominicans playing on this team. And I'm not just talking about Cano and [Fernando] Rodney, who we signed as free agents. Let's grow our own. It's a lot cheaper than, as we just talked about, the Cano contract. We think there's a lot of talent down there and we want to get our share, if not more.
MLB.com: Fans are impatient, we're all impatient. But what is your message to them as you go forward with this team?
Mather: When I took this job, one of the things I told our ownership board in the interview process, I said, "What's happening across the street [with the Seahawks]" -- and there were three or four guys sitting in that room that have season tickets and were trying to find hotels in New York so they could go to the Super Bowl -- I said, "What's happening across the street can happen here."
This town is ready for a winner. They have shown tremendous patience. They've been better to us than we deserve. But it's time to turn it. Let's get 80-85 wins and be talking about the playoffs on the first of September. Then we've got resources to go get a little bit more and fill a couple of those holes and get to 90-95 wins and get to the playoffs on a consistent basis. With this young crop of players that we have, I think that's a real likely event.
MLB.com: We're sitting in a new building here. You've got a new skipper, a new president, a new star player coming in. Is it fair to look at this as a new beginning, a starting point to go forward?
Mather: I don't know if I'd say it that way. I'm excited about Lloyd [McClendon]. I'm excited about a new approach and his philosophy and what he's going to do. I'm obviously excited about the new facilities we have.
I think our hands were tied last year, or for the last 10 years, in our Spring Training facility. It was too small. The coaches used to be crawling over each other in their room and the players didn't have the access they have now. All the little things … we can send a message that this is a winning franchise, I think that helps.
I don't know that I'd use the term "rebirth." The first meeting I had in the front offices, I told everybody, "We're really good. Our front office is really good. Everybody calm down." And I know the fans don't care about our front office. I get that. But I told them, "It's business as usual. Keep working hard and keep your chin up because we're really close and I know it's frustrating."
So I wouldn't look at it as a rebirth. That's too strong a word. But I'm excited to get it going.
MLB.com: That front office was described as "dysfunctional" by one media report over the offseason. Do you care to respond to that?
Mather: The word dysfunctional does not come anywhere close to my mind. Our organization runs like most businesses. You've got a chairman and a board, a president and various executives. That's how most businesses are run.
We're in the public eye and we're not winning, so there are a lot of stones being thrown. But the word dysfunctional never comes to my mind or anybody else's in the front office. I might be wrong --there might be a few exceptions -- but I can't believe this is any more or less dysfunctional than any other company in America.
MLB.com: You've worked with Zduriencik for a number of years in a different role. What is your relationship with him, and how involved will you be with baseball personnel issues?
Mather: The one thing I've learned from Jack now that my relationship with him has changed is he's high energy. He's always going.
We'll be having a conversation about a certain player or transaction he's interested in and before I can even finish trying to understand he's, whoosh, off on something else. And I'll say, "Hold it." And then he'll say, "Oh, I changed subjects on you."
But he's got more ideas. He is constantly trying to fill one more hole. We need one more league-minimum guy in the bullpen. And I'll say, "Are you sure we don't have a league-minimum guy in the bullpen already?" And I'm not saying I'm trying to answer that for him, because that's for him.
He makes the personnel decisions. I'm just enthused with his energy and his commitment to get better. He's looking way down the road, which I'm really pleased about. He's saying, "This kid is gonna be good. I don't want to trade this kid. He's in Double-A, but our scouts and player development guys are really high on this kid and I'm not giving him away yet." That long-term thinking -- and the fact he's having those conversations -- I'm enthused about.
MLB.com: People want to win now. But how important is it to keep that long-range view at the same time?
Mather: I had dinner with Jack, and I don't know if we had that exact conversation, but he's planning on working with me for a long time.
He said, "I want to grow old with you on this job, Kevin." And I said "I'm looking forward to that."
I do think, when he took over in 2008, we didn't have a whole lot. We didn't talk about it, but we didn't have a whole lot in our Minor League system, in our amateur Drafts, in our Dominican academy, in our Venezuelan academy. I think now, based on the conversations I have with Jack, there are a lot of other general managers that are very interested in our Minor League talent, which is encouraging. The discouraging part is it's a long way from Double-A to the big league club, and there are a lot of hiccups and trips and falls along the way, and we've seen some of that. But I'm excited about the future.
MLB.com: Last question. How have things changed for you since you took this job? Give us a little window into your life since you took this position.
Mather: I'll tell you, I got here to this office and I tried to move the refrigerator and it's heavy, but the clubhouse kids came up here and they wouldn't let me move it. I'm like, "I can move this!" It's almost like they're treating me like I'm suddenly fragile. And that's kind of eye-opening to me.
But I'm having fun. I wake up in the middle of the night and think, "I've got to get this and this done tomorrow." But that will settle in. I'm having fun. I'm really having fun. The people here make it easy for me."