The playoffs have begun and the Mariners have not been invited. Welcome to 2018, make yourself comfortable. You’ll see the mug you left here last year hasn’t moved. As the light on a screen in the distance flickers with men clad in purple celebrating, you may be dispirited to find the teal-donning 25 you favor is once again not represented. Are you mad? Are you hopeful? What should be done next? These are just a few questions facing the Mariners as we enter another offseason, and we will tackle them all here at LL. But for now I’d like to start big-picture. How do you feel?
Seattle is in as difficult a position as any organization can find themselves. They won 89 games this season, the best record for the organization since 2003 and the 6th-best in franchise history. They finished 13th in MLB in bWAR as a team with 35.7 wins above replacement - firmly intrenched in baseball’s upper-middle class, but a step removed from the elite.
Seattle lacks a Top-100 prospect. They are getting about the most that could reasonably be expected from their 24-28 year-olds, and are in a position of hoping for more from their 30-38 year-olds to get over the hump. That is, typically, the inverse of what you want.
Instead, the Mariners will go into the offseason with roughly $26-33 Million (pending Denard Span’s mutual option) coming off the books. That number comes before arbitration, which will likely eat up plenty. James Paxton, Mike Zunino, Nick Vincent, Alex Colome, Erasmo Ramirez, Justin Grimm, and Mike Morin are all eligible for arbitration. It seems quite likely the final two or three do not receive offers, but even still, the first four could end up costing around $25-30 million themselves. If the M’s want to improve their roster it will require financial flexibility and transactional creativity.
There’s arguably an easier path to a playoff spot in 2019 than 2018 in the AL. The Red Sox and Yankees remain potent, and Cleveland should once again dominate over a division with four bottom feeders. But with Houston losing several key contributors and Oakland forced to reckon with a full season of unprecedented bullpen reliance in the face of an atrocious rotation, the AL West may take a step back. The Blue Jays and Rays could join contention again, but it’s easy to see Seattle right in the thick of a playoff race next season with offseason investment and a full season of Robinson Canó.
But despite yielding meaningful September baseball in each of their last three seasons, the current course has not broken through the October barrier. That leads to the question that has hung in the air after each of the last few seasons - heavier with each passing season:
Should the Mariners try to win at all?
A rebuild would be lengthy, and it would be easy to make the Mariners extremely bad very quickly. Without many traditional prospects in the high-minors, trades of highly valued talents like Edwin Díaz, Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, and James Paxton could return hefty yields, but Seattle would still be saddled with several veterans on long-term contracts that might not be movable, and could hinder a future “window” when any prospects acquired might be coming into their own. Still, watching middling teams can be its own sort of hell, and I, like many, have a strong yearning for a sense of clarity of purpose in the organization’s trajectory, be it reaching for the stars or self-regulating to the primordial slop.
We will investigate several possibilities in depth in the coming weeks and months, but for now we’d like to take stock of where the community stands. I’ve tried to offer three feasible archetypes below, but would love to hear in further depth your desires, expectations, and fears. Note that the (suggested pathways) are only a few examples, and simply represent what I envision each path looking like.
What direction would you prefer the Mariners to go in?
This poll is closed
Go big to contend for 2019-21 (e.g. re-sign Cruz, add a second-tier FA a la Pollock/Keuchel/Corbin, etc.)
Run 2018 back (re-sign Cruz, shuffle fringes of roster, look to improve internally)
Begin the rebuild (between now & trade deadline 2019, trade everyone you can for prospects)
Other: please explain in comments
And yes, I realize this is essentially an invitation to rosterbation. If you have proposals, that’s great, but just as we try to do in articles, please make sure what is suggested seems at least generally plausible in a vacuum.