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Friends, enemies, whoever you are, I have some news. Most of you probably already knew this, while others of you may be in denial. With things like this, sometimes it’s best to say them out loud a few times so your ears can hear the words and your brain can process them effectively. Go ahead and give it a try with the following sentence:
The 2019 Seattle Mariners are going to be trash.
Now, unless you started following the team in 2014, you’re well-equipped to handle the oncoming suckfest. Experienced dumpster divers know that with bad baseball comes many benefits, like cheap tickets and low-stakes, low-stress baseball that allows you to focus on things outside the win and loss columns.
To be clear, the 2019 edition of the Mariners likely won’t be as bad as, say, the 2004, 2008, 2010, or 2011 versions. There’s enough talent—and importantly, enough young guys who will care—to propel the team to about 72 wins. Had they posted 72 wins in 2018, the M’s would be picking 10th in the upcoming draft.
The whole point of re-imagining the roster is threefold: to get younger and plan for the future, to be bad enough to land a high draft pick, and, sadly, to slash the payroll with a flaming machete. Jerry Dipoto has already hatcheted #1 and #3 off that list, with #2 yet to be determined. Compared to the teams of the last five seasons, teams that compiled a 416-394 (.513) record while both yo-yoing between winning and losing seasons and turning in the second-best era in franchise history, the 2019 fellas won’t be nearly as successful. But that’s ok.
When we look ahead to 2021, this puzzle will have most of its pieces in place, and perhaps some new ones by way of newfound payroll space. By 2021, maybe the A’s will be doormats again, and the entire AL Central will be relegated, and Mike Trout will retire to become a weatherman. Those absolutely-plausible scenarios, paired with the development of the Mariners’ farm boys, could equal the long-awaited, much-ballyhooed playoff appearance. If not, at least we’ll have hockey!
But back to 2019. As fans, the key to a rebuild is to find enjoyment in the smaller, sometimes trivial things that can at least sprinkle some fun atop the garbage. Hitting 89 wins again is a tall task, and even 79 is a little pie-in-the-sky too. While the team is already doing its best to deprive us of some much-needed joy (see: Vogelbach, Dan getting blocked AGAIN), there will be a multitude of things to get excited about while the team drives its tank into the 2020s.
I, for one, will have my eyes on the Mariners’ minor league system for the first time in my life. The development of Justin Dunn, Jarred Kelenic, Kyle Lewis, Josh Stowers, Evan White, and JULIOOOOOOOO, among others, will be the determining factors in the team’s eventual turnaround. Should the big-league club hit the All-Star break in the AL West’s cellar, turning to the children can be a nice respite.
Of course, the whole point of this is to get you excited about the Mariners, not the Rainiers, Nuts, or Power. If we want to get really weird and keep setting the hot stove ablaze, there are a few free agents who could both sink the win total toward the top of the draft and bring some splashes of brightness to an otherwise gray canvas.
The Mariners could court Billy Hamilton and have a soft-hitting, turf-burning team straight out of the 1980s. Hamilton and Mallex Smith could probably cover the entire outfield by themselves, allowing Mitch Haniger to increase his trade value even more by showcasing his skills as a fifth infielder (sorry). Penciling Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton, and Mallex Smith into the 8-9-1 spots would place all corner infielders on high alerts for bunts, while tormenting pitchers and catchers in the running game. So long as they get on base enough in this imaginary world, that trio could combine to steal something like 150 bases. That sounds fun.
Of course, the MLB’s patron saint of fun, its round mound of Twitter town, Bartolo Colon, is also on the free agent market. Not only could Bartolo eat some innings as the most entertaining mop-up guy of all-time, he could also be used as a pinch hitter, designated hitter, or hell, even a pinch runner if need be. Get him on the phone, Jerry.
An interesting quirk that could actually come to fruition would be a catcher in the leadoff spot. Newly-acquired backstop Omar Narváez is the bizarro Mike Zunino, in that on-base percentage is one of his strengths and defense is not. Narváez owns a .366 career OBP, peaking at .373 for the 2017 season.
Catchers hitting first isn’t completely uncharted territory, as Jason Kendall can attest to. However, the experiment hasn’t really been tried since 2010, when Russell Martin led off in 18 games and John Jaso was the Rays’ primary leadoff guy. Kurt Suzuki, Pudge Rodriguez, and Paul Lo Duca have also dabbled in the leadoff spot, as did Craig Biggio when he was squatting early in his career, and JT Realmuto 11 times last season. While Narváez has just 221 games of MLB service time, his career OBP is higher than Mallex Smith’s, who stands to be the leadoff hitter right now and has played just 73 more big-league games than Narváez. In other words, you can either be boring and put the singles-hitting, speedy outfielder at the top of the order, or go with the slow-footed but high on-base catcher. Do the fun, unconventional thing please.
If dealing in hypotheticals isn’t your thing, there are real aspects of the current team worth your hype. Savor each Mitch Haniger plate appearance. Make time for every Marco Gonzales start. Acquaint yourself with Justus Sheffield’s Instagram, and enjoy Jackson LeBlanc, boy wonder. This is all we have now. Hold them close and don’t let go.
The first step to a rebuild is acceptance. It’s foolish to think this team will be on par with the ones that had All-Stars at second base and short stop, a dominant closer, an elite defensive catcher, one of the most productive sluggers of the decade, and a left-handed strikeout machine. For the 2019 team to give you the same happy feelings that the last five did, you must divorce yourself from winning and marry the idea of productive badness.
Other things the Mariners can do to make 2019 fun:
· Paint all the seats in the stadium T-Mobile pink
· Get rid of the home jerseys and design new ones
· Make Félix Hernández the closer and have him enter each game to T.I.’s “King Back”
· Let Ichiro pitch
· Let Ichiro sing the national anthem