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What does a successful 2018 Mariners season look like to you?

The LL staff offers their perspectives on what will make this season feel worth it

Seattle Mariners v Texas Rangers
coming outta my cage and I been doing just fine
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Perhaps you haven’t heard, but the Mariners currently have the longest playoff drought in all the major American pro sports. Unfortunately, most projection systems don’t have that drought ending this year, as Fangraphs’ latest-released projections gives the Mariners a paltry 9% chance to snag even a Wild Card, while the Astros have the highest odds of winning their division in all of baseball, at 96.4%. To put it bluntly: if one’s entire pleasure in watching this team is pinned to their ability to make the playoffs or not, there’s potentially a hard road ahead as a fan. You can argue that the team passed up opportunities to make themselves better this off-season, which is understandably frustrating; that is, however, a discussion for a different place. Here, we will focus on the 2018 Mariners as currently incarnated. So, if the traditional model of success—making the playoffs, winning a championship—seems out of reach, what does a successful 2018 team look like to you? Or, as the Beastie Boys found No Sleep Till Brooklyn, is there No Success Till Playoffs? Here are our thoughts:

Connor: Just be fun and finish above the Angels

My first year of seriously following the Mariners was 2009, which was a lot of fun! Ichiro was still Ichiro!, Franklin Gutierrez had burst onto the scene, and Félix had his first full breakout year. While serious contention remained out of reach, the M’s won 85 games that year, improving on the previous year by 24 games.

Unfortunately, this led to me going all-in on 2010, which was… a disappointment. Most of the next three years weren’t fun, either. I firmly believe, though, that this was an important thing to experience; in lost years like 2010-2013, I learned to focus less on team wins and more on individual players. Even in a rough season, there are dozens of fun moments, games, and streaks. Remember John Jaso and his 143 wRC+ and multiple walk-off hits? Félix’s perfect game? Mike Carp hitting a ball into the Hit-It-Here Cafe in the middle of a 20-game hitting streak? Brendan Ryan’s infield triple? 41-year-old Raul Ibanez tying a record set by Ted Williams? Chris Young winning Comeback Player of the Year? Cliff Lee throwing three straight complete games? Every season, no matter how lost, will have at least one memorable performance like the ones listed, and this is what truly makes this sport worth watching. It’s supposed to be fun, and if we can find fun where it isn’t obvious, then that makes it all the better. This roster is full of fun, lovable players, and it’s a near-guarantee that there will be entertaining stories and narratives to follow.

Also, please, *please* finish above the Angels. Hopefully [REDACTED] develops a homer problem on the mound or struggles with pitch recognition at the plate or something.

Jake: Clarity about Jerry Dipoto’s future with the team

Jerry Dipoto is entering his third season as the general manager of this ballclub. In two years, he’s furiously rebuilt the roster to align with his vision. For better or worse, this might be the last shot he gets to show ownership his long-term plan for the organization is the right one.

I don’t think it’s playoffs or bust for Dipoto either. I think there are certain scenarios where he may be offered a contract extension without the team finding its way into October baseball. But those scenarios are few and will require significant progress to be made by the player development division. Either way, playoffs or not, Dipoto needs to prove that all that roster tinkering, all those high profile hires in the front office, all of his work isn’t for naught.

Ideally, this commitment one way or the other would come before the season is over. An unsuccessful season in this regard might look like a lame duck general manager at the trade deadline, frozen out of making any significant moves to buy or sell, further pushing the organization into the lukewarm position they’re already in.

Secondary goal: Sign Nelson Cruz to the David Ortiz retirement special contract (a 1- or 2-year contract with options). Make sure he retires as a Mariner.

Kate: Continue to prove player development woes are a thing of the past

There’s a lot that frustrates me about the years of bad Mariners teams, but probably nothing more than being gifted golden opportunities via the draft to improve the team and squandering said opportunities in a near-Biblical sense. As someone who is passionate about education and professional development, there’s nothing that makes me more heartsick than thinking about the players who filed through Seattle for the past decade or so without having an opportunity to reach their potential because of poorly coordinated development. The 2018 team is what it is, but there are a few key things I’ll be watching for: can Mike Zunino sustain his success (or at least not fall back to his 2015 self)? Can Ryon Healy take a step forward with his plate discipline without sacrificing his power? How will Dee Gordon fare in center? Can Ariel Miranda adjust his arsenal to attend to his dinger problem? Development is a little harder to judge with players who are deeper in their MLB careers, so I’ll also be watching the minors carefully to see if pitchers like Chase De Jong, Andrew Moore, and Rob Whalen continue to refine their offerings, as well as monitoring the progress of catcher conversion project Joe DeCarlo and watching for positive signs among other prospects, like a reduced K-rate for strikeout machine Gareth Morgan or other encouraging signs on a farm that’s largely pooh-poohed by prospect writers. Feeling like the development is on the right track will make me feel like the club is in good hands going forward, which means even if the 2018 team falters, there’s hope ahead.

Grant: Feel better about the organization in 12 months

There are many different ways to measure improvement. If this Mariners team can make the playoffs, that’s improvement in its purest form. If a guy like Felix can find his way again, or if we see true development from the Braden Bishops or Evan Whites of the world, then the organization is improving down the road, especially in its player development. And on, and on, and on.

This offseason has been bumpy, to say the least. After [REDACTED] spurned Jerry Dipoto’s advances, there have been many small steps forward and what feels like a reticence to take a giant leap or two. Injuries have marred much of spring training, and the prospect depth doesn’t seem to be improving. So that’s why a successful season, to me, involves something that gets my hopes up. I really, really want that to be in the form of a playoff appearance for the first time since 2001. But as long as I feel better about something, and that something gives me more hope down the road than I have right now, then this is a successful season.

Isabelle: The games in September “matter”

This is a very different answer than “go to the playoffs,” because in all honesty I’m not sure I’d survive a Mariners playoff game. Just envisioning it gives me that tight, panicky feeling in my chest usually reserved for standing on a glass floor of a skyscraper.

*breathe in, breathe out*

No, I’m all about the joy of the journey, the glory of the chase (so weird that my dating life is dysfunctional, right?). I want to feel that heightened buzz as I walk along First Avenue to Safeco Field after work on a Wednesday night in July. I want to be unable to hear my own jubilant yells, because they’re drowned out by the voices of 40,000 others. I want to high five strangers in a bar after Jean Segura hits a walk-off double in late August. I want to not know or care when the Seahawks first report for training camp.

At the end of the last home game of the season I always cry. Endings are tough and the baseball season has a way of obscuring the emotional capital we invest in 162 games until the end, when the players re-emerge onto the field, waving and tossing team paraphernalia, and the melancholy echoes in your chest like a gong. This season I hope those tears are for a team that makes the investment of fandom feel worthwhile.

Tim: I am a card carrying member of Team Fun

But this team needs to make the playoffs. There are so many fun storylines and personalities on this team; Jean Segura’s goofiness, James Paxton’s kindness, RyOn’s status as the good boy you take to Thanksgiving, take your pick. They’re a fun, lovable bunch. But there have been a lot of fun, lovable bunches. They’re fun, but it’s bittersweet to go chant at Tom Wilhelmsen from the Pen in August in the middle of a 4 run loss to the Royals that drops them to 7.5 out of the Wild Card race. I like reveling in the individual storylines. I like rooting for Good Men. But this season, this team needs to go to the playoffs for the season to be a success. No matter how many nice moments there are along the way, or positive signs for the future, I’ll just be sad on October 1st without at least one more game.

Zach: I don’t care about anything else. Make the playoffs.

Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager, and Robinson Cano will all be back in 2019, but they’re on the wrong side of 30. Nelson Cruz is a free agent after this year, and while he could be back, he’s inching ever closer to 40. Sure, there’s a young core with players like Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, Dee Gordon, and James Paxton. The presence of that core does give the Mariners a bit of a floor going forward (yes, there is a floor). That being said, it’s hard to see the 2019 Mariners being as good as the 2018 Mariners, while it’s really easy to see the 2019 Astros/Angels/Yankees being every bit as good as this year’s iterations. After 2019, it only gets more grisly.

So there’s a lot of urgency for this year. The team has chosen to not burn it down, which I think is a good choice. Even if burning it down was the right call in the long run, who actually wants to go see a 90-loss team in mid-August? It’s not fun, and fun does matter.

What is also not fun is missing the playoffs for 16 straight years. I think the Fangraphs playoff odds for the Mariners are fairly conservative. Their actual odds are probably not more than 50%, but they’re also probably not less than 10%. This team has a lot of potential. There will be plenty of hijinks that make them loveable and there will be wins against the Angels that are as satisfying as anything. But if October 1st rolls around and the Mariners are on the outside looking in, I’m going to find it really hard to be anything other than disappointed.

Eric: I don’t care about playoffs, but I do care about fun, beating the Angels, embarrassing the Blue Jays, and giving Jerry more time.

Playoff baseball is extremely stressful. I am legitimately worried that thousands upon thousands of Mariners fans not old enough to remember 2001 or any of the good 90’s seasons will end up psychologically scarred for life as a result of the next Mariners playoffs run, whenever that happens. Y’all are not prepared. We older fans may just have heart attacks from the stress because we’ve forgotten just how brutal playoff baseball is when you’re actually invested in the outcome. It’s not that I actively don’t want the Mariners in the playoffs, it’s just that I’m perfectly okay with a fun 80-85 win season, too. I’ve grown so, so much less focused on the results of baseball and more focused on the process and experience of it.

Beyond that, I have three things I really, really want out of the 2018 season and three irrational dreams.

Wants:

  1. To beat the Angels really badly a few times and be at least .500 against them for the season.
  2. TOTAL ANNIHILATION OF THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS WHEN THEY COME TO SAFECO. I WANT BLOOD. I WANT 15 RUN BLOWOUTS AND POSITION PLAYER PITCHING. I WANT INNOCENTS TO DROWN IN THE TEARS OF DISTRAUGHT AND TRAUMATIZED BLUE JAYS FANS. I WANT THEM ALL TO GO HOME TO SURREY AND COQUITLAM, SLUMPED OVER IN THEIR BUS SEAT, SADLY BLASTING SHITTY DRAKE SONGS IN THEIR HEADPHONES.
  3. Regardless of the outcome of this season, I would like Jerry Dipoto to get a 3 year extension at the very least. They can still fire him, of course, if things continue to be underwhelming or worse, but the guy deserves some more time to keep building his vision of the team and hopefully restock the farm a little through the draft and better development. I love having a GM who is as open, well-spoken, and just so obviously in love with/obsessed with the game of baseball. The Wheelhouse podcast has only deepened my respect for him and simply put, he deserves at least as much time as Jack Zduriencik got.

Dreams:

  1. For Ichiro to surprise everyone and perform well enough to remain on the roster all season. That may mean some combination of injuries and Ben Gamel or Guillermo Heredia totally faltering, but I would love, love, love to see him be a big contributor. At the very least, PLEASE let him pitch in some blowouts. Let Old Man Ichi save those bullpen arms.
  2. For Felix to burn down the American League again.
  3. 40 Vogelbombs.

John: I want to know where the team stands

It’s not been long enough to evaluate if the work in by this front office has been effective, but this year is a solid starting point.The minor leagues have been realigned, with high-ceiling, high risk players jettisoned for near-MLB talent. This is the window that has been pushed. This is the time when the team is being expected to compete, and yet they’ve not made additions when they seemingly were available. Those choices point to a belief stronger than anyone outside of the organization that the players already present in the Mariners’ system are enough. That is a bold stance to take that seems destined to burst in their faces like a soda opened at the lunch table that had been dropped in third period.

I cannot wait for the season to begin. I will likely watch or listen to nearly every game this season, because baseball is something I love, and the Mariners are the team that I love most. In Cooley’s Looking-Glass I am a Mariners fan, and I refuse to be ashamed or unabashed in my fervor for what is positive or negative.

But the uncertainty of this past offseason has worn on me. I don’t expect a miracle run at the division, but I do, like Isabelle and Connor suggested, desire a team at least in competition in September of their own volition, not by the ineptitude of the masses. I hope for progress in the minor leagues, like Kate, as seeing tangible progress from what remains of the lower levels would bolster my confidence that trusting this front office with developing the next batch of homegrown Mariners is a worthwhile endeavor. I yearn for clarity, like Jake, about the team’s direction - if 2017 repeats itself, there will be little hope for Seattle to hang around in a top-heavy American League, and the onus will be on this front office to make moves to either retool around the youth that remains or rip out the foundation itself. Either choice carries pain and risk, but a choice will have to come, because the injuries of 2017 rendered it unbearable and difficult to appraise.

If the players on the roster perform the way many projections expect them to, it will be a turbulent season and changes may come. If the Mariners are right, we’ll be much happier in several months as we debate if we’d rather face Luis Severino or Chris Sale in the Wild Card Game. Neither of their teams will want any part of James Paxton, trust me. I just want to know, and I can’t wait to watch it play out with you all.