This upcoming 2012 season seems dire for hopes that the Seattle Mariners might break their playoff drought. That is in part because of the strength of the Texas Rangers an in part because of the weakness of the Mariners and their current lack of enough funds to rectify all the problems. There've been posts about how some of those faults can be mitigated for 2012, but building a true contender seems out of reach unless several members (Ichiro Suzuki, Franklin Gutierrez) progress in significant ways.
Does 2013 hold any brighter of a chance? Simply by being farther away, it paradoxically does as we're more able to feel cheerful about the far future (check out our 2004 2007 2011 2014 rotation!) than the future right in front of us. However, I do believe that rationally the 2013 season offers a legitimate shot at a playoff-capable squad. It requires an optimistic projection. That is required for every team though since nobody currently assembled is a sure-fire 90-win group two years hence.
What encourages me though is that the level of positive assumptions I have to make to fit the 2013 Seattle Mariners into that 90-win territory are not, to me, extraordinary. There are no "Justin Smoak turns into Prince Fielder" level jumps. It's mostly holding onto gains made or recently seen, which, granted, are still hopeful in nature as we've had first-hand viewing of the frequency and magnitude of some people's collapses.
Still, here is how the 2013 roster could, could!, look given the Mariners' current internal assets.
C: Open, 0 WAR
1: Smoak, 2 WAR, $1M
2: Ackley, 4 WAR, $1.5M
3: Seager, 1.5 WAR, $.5M
S: Ryan, 2 WAR, $4M
L: Carp, 1.5 WAR, $.5M
C: Gutierrez, 3 WAR, $7M
R: Open, 0 WAR
D: Open, 0 WAR
SP: Felix, 5.5 WAR, $20M
SP: Pineda, 4 WAR, $1M
SP: Paxton, 2 WAR, $.5M
SP: Hultzen, 2 WAR, $.5M
SP: Open, 0 WAR
It's a simplistic rundown to be sure but what it assumes is thus. Justin Smoak doesn't crater at the plate (.800 2011 OPS sans July and August). Dustin Ackley gets a little worse (his 2011 season pro-rated full would have been nearly 5 WAR). Kyle Seager (or someone) manages to be passable at third base. Brendan Ryan stays the same. Mike Carp (or Casper Wells or Trayvon Robinson or...) is passable in left field. Franklin Gutierrez recovers enough strength from his illness to become 2010 Gutierrez again. Felix Hernandez gets a little worse. Michael Pineda stays the same but throws a full season. James Paxton and Danny Hultzen (or someone) develop into average starters.
The enticing result is how much money is off the books. The above salaries total to $36.5 million. Chone Figgins will still be eating up $8.5 million and I figure another $5 million for the bullpen and that's $50M committed leaving somewhere around $45M free, four open starting spots and a team already pegged around .500 (assuming a league average bullpen and bench). $45 million on the free market should buy them about 10 WAR assuming they can find the right pieces for the open spots.
This does not say the above will happen. I set out to clarify for myself if 2013 represented a reasonable playoff chance and what would be the most favorable path to getting there while staying within the realm of realism. That is all. The Mariners have assembled some stars and some supporting cast who still have greater potential. They need help and this is more unlikely than likely, but I do now think that 2013 is a possibility for the Mariners should they get a couple minor breaks along the way.