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Seattle Mariners Team Health Check: Where have they been, where are they going?

SB Nation would like you to know they mean this metaphorically, but also told me to “pause for laughter”

Seattle Mariners v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

This year SB Nation is rolling out a series previewing each team before the upcoming season with an eye to how the team is set up to compete in 2018 and beyond. If you read the site in December and January—and if you did, your LL pLLatinum-level card is in the mail, along with what I’m told is a very generous fruit basket—you are familiar with the AL West preview series we did. This article will essentially condense what would have been a full week preview into a nutritious slurry that you can drink all in one go, because let’s face it, the less time spent thinking about the 2017 Mariners and the 2018 off-season, the better.

2017: The Mariners’ season in review

Just a series of Homer Simpson saying “It’s just a little [strained/inflamed/torn/dislocated/soggy], it’s still good, it’s still good.”

But it wasn’t ever good. It wasn’t ever right. Did you know, “reading through the transaction log for the 2017 Mariners” has recently unseated “man getting hit in the nuts” among popular searches on YouTube? That’s a fact, don’t bother looking it up. It’s a toss-up for what the bloodiest month of 2017 was, but my money goes to the fair month of May, when the Mariners sent James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ryan Weber, and Robinson Cano to the 10-day DL, and sent relievers Evan Marshall (whom they had just claimed off waivers after transferring Smyly to the 60-day DL) and Shae Simmons to the 60-day DL. Iwakuma and Weber would never throw another pitch for the 2017 Mariners, and Paxton would go down again later in the season. Really, though, there are arguments to make for every month. Maybe April, when the team transferred Drew Smyly to the 60-day DL, when it became clear he’d probably never throw a pitch in a Mariners uniform despite costing the M’s top pitching prospect, AND ALSO Felix Hernandez and Mitch Haniger went down in the same game, a 19-9 loss to the AL cellar-licking Tigers? Wait, I want to change my answer.

High point of the season:

Throughout all the injuries, there is still a ton of joy in this team (SPOILER ALERT: and the joy just, like, quintupled, thank you LIL DEE THE BASED-STEALINGGOD). I’m not sure there’s any more pure, beautiful joy on this earth than is contained in every atom of Nelson Cruz’s being:

Boston Red Sox v Seattle Mariners Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

Nelson. Nelson, Nelson, Nelson. Our beautiful man: strong arms that extend not to steal joy but to share it; a smile that would inspire cave-dwellers to scratch with sticks on the walls of their enclosures, just to spend every moment bathed in that beatific light; eyebrows like two of the king’s favorite foxes, sleek and tamed yet salvaje, ferocious. Our Silver Slugger: a man whose prowess on the field equals the heart that beats within, a king who will build a ladder before he ever digs a moat. A devout man: one who always sees himself second, for whom service is a second language. Last year Nelson Cruz was the single most valuable DH in baseball, and that’s just considering what he contributes on the field. He is ours—for this year, at least—and we are so, so lucky.

Low point of the season:

There are a lot of crummy points to choose from, and I’m interested in hearing your entries, but for me, there’s nothing worse than Deadgar Weekend (thanks, John, for that sobriquet, thus forever tainting the name of my lifelong idol). The Mariners threw a huge party for Edgar, the team promptly laid a weekend-sized egg, what should have been a beautiful moment fell a little flat. And then Edgar didn’t get into the Hall this year anyway. I KNOW I KNOW he’s made huge strides and he’s most likely going to get there next year and this is an incredible turnaround considering where he was before but I can still be mad, okay? And I can still irrationally blame the team farting away this weekend series for damaging his HOF chances, okay? There’s a lot to be mad about with 2017, you have to pick an anger that’s a slow burn. It’s the equivalent of eating oatmeal in the mornings, an anger that can fuel you all day.

Strength of the 2017 team:

Nelson Cruz. Next question. FINE I guess here we should ladle some praise over the heap o’poutine that is James Paxton—I’m sorry, I’m hearing from a horde of angry Canadians (they’re actually just knocking gently and slipping perfectly proofread notes under my door) that poutine is an EASTERN CANADIAN delicacy, and our Jimmy hails from the hinterlands of the great unwashed West. So whatever, general maple-scented reference here, Pax was excellent when he was healthy. Oh, you wanted overall statements, SBN overlords? Well, it wasn’t the infield, where the good parts ailed and the non-ailing parts weren’t particularly good, and it wasn’t the health-challenged outfield, and it certainly wasn’t the pitching...so, maybe the catching? Carlos Ruiz was a serviceable backup who provided moments of delight (CHOOOOOCH), and then there was Mike Zunino. Mike. Our good boy. Our nice Italian neighbor. We would have gone to his Senior Night, even if we didn’t like baseball, to clap for him and give him a nice gift certificate to Maggiano’s after. We love you and we want the best for you, Mike. Let Junino reign long and glorious.

Weakness of the 2017 team:

The off-season in review:

Selected off-season additions and subtractions:

Subtractions:

SP Yovani Gallardo, SP Drew Smyly, SP Andrew Albers, RP Shae Simmons, RP Thyago Vieira CF Jarrod Dyson, C Carlos Ruiz, MechaValenciaAlonso

Additions:

1B Ryon Healy, Dee Gordon 2B CF, RP Juan Nicasio, RP Nick Rumbelow, 1B Mike Ford, MechaVincejRomineBeckham

It’s not hard to see that there’s a lot of SP going out and only RP coming back in, and that’s before you take into account the Mariners losing their top pitching prospect—for the second year in a row—in the Dee Gordon trade. The strategy here was clearly to avoid the pricier tier of starting pitching options and instead bolster the Mariners’ starting pitching depth with a strong bullpen. The Mariners’ payroll is within the top ten in baseball—more than the Yankees—and with recent additions like Jean Segura and Dee Gordon, they’re taking on more salary on the offensive side to set the club up in the future as a complement to young, cheap players like Haniger, Gamel, and Healy. The idea of not doling out heavy contracts to pitchers north of 30 is a good one in theory, but it’s not like there’s a horde of young starting pitching crowding the minors who would be blocked by an inexpensive veteran acquisition. Maybe they’re saving up to buy a pitcher in next year’s free agent class (which is deep—MadBum, Kershaw, Keuchel, among others), but that’s starting to feel less and less likely. For now, it’s looking like the Mariners will continue to play out the string with the talent group they have assembled and not make any more splashy—

[JAZZ TRUMPET BEGINS TO PLAY]

Suzuki fans

The line forms to the right, dear

Now that Ichi’s back in town.

Projections:

Projection systems don’t particularly like the Mariners, nor should they, considering they did nothing in the off-season to bolster a starting pitching rotation that wasn’t seen as a strength last season. Steamer has them at 79-83, and ZiPS predicts the inverse, 83-79, as does PECOTA. Either way, they’re projected well behind the many-headed hydra that is the Astros, and possibly behind the Angels as well (MechaTroutani handily defeats MechaVincejRomineBeckham in a fight, sadly).

What reinforcements are available on the farm?

The farm has been trimmed by trades, and then trimmed again because it wasn’t quite even, and then oops again because now it’s not even on the other side, and then thinned one more time because it’s better to just start over, and this is why you don’t cut your own hair, Amanda. Dipoto’s top draft picks Kyle Lewis, Joe Rizzo, Evan White and Sam Carlson all remain, as do most other recent draftees who look to help out the big-league team before we achieve nuclear winter, if we’re lucky. Other than that, every draftee left standing from 2012-2015 deserves some kind of merit badge for either being extremely tenacious or extremely able to fold themselves into an origami crane and avoid Jerry’s roving eye. The farm’s strength is its relief corps, thanks to multiple starters-turned-relievers (which also means the weakness is its starting pitching, curse a coin for having two sides), and there is some outfield depth, but the Mariners will have to rely on a combination of excellent development and luck to get the most out of the talent on their farm. *Lights candle to St. Joe DeCarlo, patron saint of catcher conversions.* To make an extremely topical reference, the Mariners need to capitalize on what they have now, because winter is coming. The team has chosen a strategy of betting on their own ability to develop talent in-house, with only moderate improvements, and have been roundly criticized for that. Time will tell if their gamble pays off.