As recently as July 3, 2018, this seemed like the long-awaited, much deserved miracle Mariners season that would see Seattle’s franchise end the longest playoff drought in professional sports was inevitable. On the heels of Fangraphs playoffs odds giving them a season-high 88.0% chance of sneaking into the postseason on July 3, the M’s have now dropped 10 of their last 15 games and seen those odds drop to just 55.9% as the A’s have rapidly made up ground in the hunt for the second wild card.
Throughout Oakland’s recent surge—they’ve won 11 of their last 15—the threat level has slowly risen from “could you imagine” to “okay but for real let’s get our cushion back” to finally, after an 11 run swing against the putrid Texas Rangers last night that was equally as improbable as Edwin Diaz losing a game on an infield hit to Pablo Sandoval that scored a runner from second, “holy shit, they’re ACTUALLY going to pass us.” With the A’s now just 1.5 back and the Mariners’ offense completely dormant—they’re 25th in baseball with an 85 wRC+—the impending disappointment is almost palpable, and it’s time to seriously consider the question, What if this team is bad?
For all we know, a potential landscape-changing acquisition is already in the works—Jerry has gone on the record saying they’re working the phones hard prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline—and we do know that we can expect a nice shot in the arm in the form of Robinson Cano early next month. But it’s no-doubt frustrating to see the biggest threat to the playoffs, as well as each of the team’s the Mariner’s could potentially square off against in a would-be one game playoff adding valuable pieces while this struggling club continues to roll out the same pedestrian lineup day after day and drop series’ to .500 teams.
Okay, backing away from the ledge a bit here, the Mariners technically would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, despite their best efforts. I mean, 55.9% odds means it still should happen. Furthermore, it shouldn’t be understated that this team is 19 games over .500 without last year’s second-best hitter, who is set to return shortly. But what if that isn’t enough? What if this team manages to defy the odds and lean into that 12% chance of watching the postseason from home for the 17th straight year? Like it or not, it might not change the on-field product as much as you’d think.
While yet another missed postseason would sting, the Mariners would likely still head into 2019 as competing with only Oakland as the pre-season favorites for the second wild card spot again and with ~$10M guys coming off the books (assuming Nelson Cruz is brought back and makes similar money as he did the last two years), the team could be poised to add via free agency. In last year’s free agent market, $10M was enough to buy you a season of an established middle of the rotation starter, relief arm, or difference-making bat. Any of those pieces added to whatever Jerry might add via trade actually positions the a reloaded Mariners team pretty well to make another run next season and beyond.
While the on-field product might not be all that affected by another playoff-less season in Seattle, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion the same can’t be said for how the team will be received by the fan base. We’ve already seen a large, perhaps less-deeply baseball-educated portion of the fan-base turn on management, the front office, and even the players as the team has struggled through much of July. After so much buzz surrounded this team and how much fun the first half of the season was, stripping Mariners faithful of October baseball after they felt it was a virtual absolute will almost guarantee the most negative morale we’ve seen in quite some time for a fan base that is perennially asked to hang on just a liiiittle longer.