Re-imagining a Franchise: The 2019 Seattle Mariners and Beyond

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Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Seattle Mariners made us experience just about every emotion I can think. We felt the elation and hope that “this might finally be the year we break through” and the familiar sick feelings as everything fell apart late in the year. The bats went cold, the pitching (outside of Edwin Diaz) became volatile, and we found ourselves on the outside looking in at the postseason for a 17th straight season.

In my mind, our playoff chances went out the window in Colorado in July. The final game before the All Star break to be exact. It was a cold and rainy day, and the M’s were comfortably sitting in second place in the division. Things were starting to get a little uneasy as the A’s had caught fire and were rapidly making up ground while the Mariners had a lackluster 5-7 record for the month of July. The Rockies had taken the first two games of the series. Then this happened.

Trevor Story and the Rockies come back to complete 3-game sweep of the Mariners

I stood on the main concourse down the third base line, huddled under the awning with thousands of Rockies fans and watched Trevor Story plunge a dagger into Mariner’s fans hearts. I walked out of the stadium absolutely fuming. I finally had given in and believed that “this was the year”. But after watching that series, I knew deep down we were done.

In typical Seattle fashion, the team absolutely imploded. After finishing the first half with a 58-39 record, the team limped to the finish line posting a 31-34 record in the second half and with a -32 run differential. The Oakland A’s played way above their talent level and jumped the Mariners in the Wild Card standings in route to a 97 win season.

This is the most Seattle Mariners thing I can think of. A team with lofty offensive expectations ends up not being able to hit at all for large stretches of the season, while the A’s and their Sean Menaea-less pile of shit starting rotation somehow win 97 games. Baseball is cruel sometimes. That A’s team is by far and away the worst 97 win team I can remember. Granted, I don’t believe the Mariners deserved that postseason berth because they too had glaring weaknesses, but give me a break. On July 1st, the Mariners had an 86.5% chance to make the playoffs according to FanGraphs. On that same day, the Oakland A’s had a 7.6% chance to reach the postseason. What the hell did we do as fans to deserve this?

This has been an incredibly long winded way of saying we absolutely needed to tear it down. The core of Felix, Cano, Seager ect. have proven repeatedly they can’t get it done. Don’t get me wrong, I will always love and appreciate Seager and Felix (Cano can kick rocks for juicing) but this isn’t the first time the M’s were in contention only to collapse. Poor Felix has been the guy for Mariners fans for years. He chose to stay through all the shitty years and because the baseball God’s hate Seattle, he has now become a liability instead of asset. Going into his age 33 season, if he posts another 5+ ERA, he will be lucky to even get another MLB contract. Luckily for us, his contract comes off the books after this season and we can use that money on someone who will help the ballclub.

A/P Photo Brandon Wade

The flurry of trades made by Dipoto pissed a lot of people off and I still don’t understand why. By every metric, the Mariners were incredibly lucky to win 89 games last year and the front office realized that was as good as it was going to get with that group. Call me pessimistic, but everything pointed to the need to rebuild.

With the trades of Paxton, Segura, Diaz and Cano, the Mariners were able to drastically improve their barren farm system. Top 100 prospects Justus Sheffield, Jared Kelenic and Justin Dunn are welcome additions to a young group of exciting prospects like Evan White and Kyle Lewis. While the later two are still a year or two away from breaking into the bigs, Sheffield looks to be an instant contributor along with J.P. Crawford who was acquired in the Segura trade.

Crawford at one point was considered by many to be the top prospect in all of baseball, but struggled in his debut with the Phillies. Sheffield was also supposedly a big time prospect while with New York, but upon being traded we listened to pundits talk about all his flaws instead of his upside. Just goes to show that anything to do with the Yankees will always be blown out of proportion.

Speaking of New York, Jerry Dipoto does not get nearly enough credit for being able to unload Cano and his contract onto the Mets. Cano was the guy I figured we would never be able to move and somehow he got it done. But then again, this is the same team and ownership that continues to piss on us and say its raining when trying to say Tim Tebow is a legitimate baseball player. I understand we had to attach Diaz to that trade, but in being able to move a huge chunk of his contract it was absolutely worth it. Diaz was a luxury we couldn’t afford and we made the most of his value in that deal.

The thing that stands out to me about this off season is that the Mariners were able to not only load up on prospects, but get out from under deals that would hurt the team long term. The reality is that the Astros aren’t going anywhere for a few years, and the Mariners don’t have the players to compete with the likes of the Astros, Red Sox, and Yankees in the short term. By freeing up money with moving Cano, along with loading up on prospects, they are giving themselves what could be a pretty legitimate shot to do damage in 2021 and beyond. Having an extra 50ish million to play with after 2020 will go a long way to supplementing a young team of highly touted prospects.

I know prospects don’t always pan out, but they don’t all have to. Evan White and Kyle Lewis seem primed to be impact players in the show. Logan Gilbert, our first round pick in the 2018 draft appears to be a guy who could slot in at the top of the rotation in 2-3 years. Kelenic won’t be far behind that as well as the incredibly toolsy Julio Rodriguez, who is coming off an MVP performance in the Dominican Summer League. Between the guys I just mentioned and Sheffield and Crawford, we only need to hit on a couple. If players like Mitch Haniger are any indication of how the front office develops talent, I feel pretty good about where we are.

Mitch Haniger hits a double against the Oakland Athletics (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

The Mariners have shown they are willing to spend money when they believe they have a chance. Clearing the books of bad contracts in preparation for the arrival of homegrown guys could be a move that leads to World Series aspirations. I know I am getting way ahead of myself but isn’t that what being a fan is all about?

In punting the 2019 season, some of these young guys are going to get an opportunity to contribute in the big leagues in a pressure free environment. Realistically, if we catch a couple breaks and guys take steps forward, the 2019 squad might be surprisingly good. No, we won’t even sniff the postseason but it could be a building block to the future.

There are a few things to watch play out over this upcoming season and the big one to me is Kyle Seager. He is the most likely candidate to be traded before the deadline, and what that trade would net for the Mariners depends entirely on him having a bounce back season. Injuries helped derail his 2018 but if he comes back healthy, look for him to have a strong showing in 2019 and possibly bring in more young talent to the farm system.

Felix Hernandez is flat out in a make or break season. Until he can show he can pitch off something other than his fastball, I don’t expect things to improve for him. For a few years now there have been rumors of frustration with his lack of work ethic in the off season and I don’t see why that would change now. As I’ve said before, I love Felix. But watching him go out and shit the bed every 5th day is getting old. It is even more frustrating to watch him continue to try to get world class hitters out with his high school fastball and then seem confused as to why he’s getting lit up. For his sake, I hope he gets it together but I don’t like the chances of that happening.

While there will be interesting story lines to follow this season, I would urge to look to the future. Better days are ahead. But enjoy this season for what it will be. Ichiro is going to play in an MLB game with the Mariners in Japan and we will get to send off one of the best the game has ever seen and do it correctly (sorry Jr, that wasn’t our best work). This will probably be the last season in a Mariners uniform for Felix and we should look back fondly on the Hall of Fame caliber career he has put together in Seattle. We have some talented young prospects to pay attention to, and hopefully we get to watch them take steps forward and see glimpses of a brighter future. This is the Mariners we are talking about. What’s one more bad season if it leads to new heights for the franchise? We have waited a long time for postseason baseball in Seattle and I believe it’s coming. Keep the faith. Winning is so much sweeter that way.