2018: 89-73, 3rd in AL West
The Seattle Mariners. The posterchild of baseball failure. Currently holds the ongoing record for most seasons without a playoff appearance across all four major sports. Jerry Dipoto, former Angels GM, is leading their charge into further Octobers spent at home.
Were they even good last year?
Yes! Until no. Getting off to a solid start, the Mariners managed to keep pace with the Astros and Angels, leapfrogging the good guys as they began to falter in May or so. They would go on an insane stretch of winning in 1-run games, leading many to believe that they were getting lucky and relying on elite closer Edwin Diaz too much. Ultimately, they fell apart in the second half as the A’s surged to the Wild Card spot that Mariners fans believed was as good as theirs.
What did they do this offseason?
What hasn’t Trader Jerry done, honestly? You can’t keep this guy from making transactions, even when a staffmember cautiously taps his shoulder, muttering under his or her breath that maybe they don’t need to make a move every single time a GM calls them up. Six (Count them, six) position players projected to be everyday players for the team were acquired over the offseason, with J.P. Crawford (acquired via trade with the Phillies), Dylan Moore (a Free Agent from Milwaukee), Shed Long (acquired from the Yankees), and Jarred Kelenic (from the Mets) being key bench pieces and top position player prospects not listed below. They lost key components of the 2018 team including Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, and Nelson Cruz, but they aren’t looking bad at all.
Stats and info courtesy of FanGraphs
I was certain that the Mariners had the makings of a last place team before going into this preview, but looking back at that lineup, they actually have a pretty formidable team. Domingo Santana, Jay Bruce, and Edwin Encarnacion is nothing to sneeze at, they have speed demons in Mallex Smith and Dee Gordon, and the always impressive Mitch Haniger headlines the group. And while he may not be seen above due to a surgery that has him currently on the IL, Kyle Seager could always rebound and go back to being the pain in the butt he once was. While the WAR totals might be laughable, the Angels’ rotation might have more to fear from going to
Safeco T-Mobile than we might realize.
Meanwhile, the rotation is definitely where they are lacking.
When your projected best starter is a 27-year old international rookie you just acquired who hasn’t seen a hitter in the MLB yet, you might be in trouble. James Paxton really carried this Mariners rotation, and the loss of Big Maple will be tough for Washingtonians to handle. He was sent to the Yankees for a prospect package in what might be considered the most uncharacteristic of moves for Jerbear.
Marco Gonzales is a lefty and so is Wade LeBlanc, so the Angels might have their difficulties at times if they don’t figure out southpaws, but Mike Leake is well past his prime and Felix Hernandez is basically a glorified Jerome Williams on a good day at this point. Justus Sheffield will be fun for the Mariners to dream on (and was a personal favorite of mine for the Angels to acquire this offseason), but he will not come remotely close to replacing the value that Paxton once provided for. At least, not yet.
Going from the lineup to the rotation and finally to the bullpen is like falling down a flight of stairs. Juan Nicasio and James Pazos went to the Phillies in the Jean Segura deal and Edwin Diaz to the Mets was the best news of the offseason for AL West fans not located in the Pacific Northwest, and just like that, the Mariners had a bullpen that would make the Rangers scoff. At least they have Leclerc.
Hunter Strickland getting the first save of the season on Wednesday morning was not something I would have ever guessed, yet it looks like he will be the de facto closer for the team. Roenis Elias was a strong candidate for second best reliever on the team last year, but outside of that one bright spot, the Mariners might be hoping their starters, none of whom inspire very much confidence in the first place, go 8+ deep every game.
What is their strength?
It is pretty easy to see that the lineup is the Mariners’ greatest strength. Much like the Angels, it will probably not be uncommon to see double-digit slugfests, especially when playing at the Big A or T-Mobile. The power is especially impressive, with Santana, Bruce, Haniger, and Encarnacion all being threats to give 20-30 homer performances. For a team embracing the tank, they are going to score a lot of runs.
What is their weakness?
If you have no bullpen, can it be said to be weak? If the rotation doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of Lookout Landing’s dedicated readership, the last few innings of every game will. They’ve also had some controversy lately, and while that may not be a factor on a game-by-game basis, there could be a shakeup in the management sooner than we expected which could trickle down and affect the season.
So, what can we expect?
I wanted to come away from this laughing at the Mariners, but they’re hardly more laughable than the Angels if we are honest with ourselves. In fact, I expect that we will see the two teams come away from 2019 with pretty close records, as they both have players with similar low floors and similar high ceilings. It is debatable whether or not this is the right move for the Mariners, as they could sell off everything and hard-retool for the future. Instead, they look to be content with mediocrity, a familiar story for Jerry and something Angels fan relate to all too well.
If the Angels get lucky, they scoot into a Wild Card spot, beating out the deadly Rays and young A’s. If the Mariners get lucky, I think it is reasonable to expect the same. Anywhere between 79 and 82 wins is probably likely for both of these teams stuck in No Playoff Purgatory.