When the Mariners’ prospects come of age, and the team is prepared to make a move for banners, an enormous blank check will be handed to Jerry Dipoto.
One source from within the Mariners front office suggested this week that, likely two off-seasons from now, winter of 2021, Jerry Dipoto is going to be given the green light to spend copious amounts of money.
It will be a lavish, luxuriant off-season.
That same source confirmed the money being saved from payrolls in 2019, 2020, and to a lesser degree 2021, will be rolled into the 2021 and 2022 budgets and beyond.
According to one source within the Mariners organization, when the team is ready to go for it, whether that be a year from now or two, money will not be an issue whatsoever. They're saving.— Joe (@JoeDoyleMiLB) December 22, 2019
"We may not surpass $100m this year, but we'll push the luxury cap limit when it's time."
The luxury tax cap was thrown around as a potential spending ceiling, but if previous Mariners spending habits are any indications, that’s probably a little generous.
That’s not to say Seattle’s ownership has been frugal. In fact, the Mariners have pretty consistently ranked in the top half of MLB payrolls for the better part of the 21st century.
Over the past 20 years, Seattle has had a top ten payroll in seven of the past 20 seasons. The team has spent the 11th most money on payroll over the past 20 seasons. Furthermore, the Mariners have ranked among the bottom third in payroll just once in the past 25 seasons. They’ve ranked among the bottom half of the league in payroll just four times this century.
The team has a proven history of spending.
Seattle has never come within $25 million of the luxury tax cap, so if the 2021 luxury tax cap is set to be $210 million, fans can probably reasonably expect a soft cap of $185 million for the 2022 season.
So what does that mean?
The Mariners payroll for 2020 is going to float around $100 million.
Seattle has Dee Gordon coming off the books after 2020, and Kyle Seager after 2021. That’ll open up an additional $32.5 million. Throw in some arbitration raises for Marco Gonzales and Mitch Haniger and the team, without additions (obviously not a reasonable expectation), sits at roughly $85 million for the 2022 campaign.
It should also be noted, if Yusei Kikuchi does not improve in the next two seasons, Seattle can shed his $14 million salary with their team option after the 2021 campaign.
That means, in theory, Dipoto will have somewhere around an additional $115 million AAV to spend on free agents.
Indeed, Seattle's front office can either go big on free agency, or buy "The Scream" by Edvard Munch, which, considering the last two decades of Mariner baseball, would also seem like a fitting expenditure.
Aaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!— The Scream (@MunchsTheScream) March 10, 2019
That's not to say baseball players are necessarily a better investment than Munchian works, but for this baseball playing stick and ball team, they probably make more sense.
Gerrit Cole just signed a $35 million AAV deal with the Yankees. Imagine Seattle making a signing akin to this deal in two years and still having $70-$80 million AAV to play with.
That, quite frankly, is a likely reality.
So how will they spend?
Catcher: Backstop is a big question mark for the Mariners long term plans. Tom Murphy, 28, is a solid, not spectacular option right now. He could continue to develop into a reasonable option for 2022. He’s under team control through 2023.
Down on the farm, Cal Raleigh, 22, is clearly Seattle’s top option to develop into an MLB-regular. There remains questions about his arm talent, but the bat should continue to grow and play at the big league level.
Further off in the distance, guys like Carter Bins and Jake Anchia remain possible options with more time and seasoning.
The free agent pool has some names Seattle could turn to. The biggest name is certainly JT Realmuto who will be a free agent after this season. Realmuto will be 30 years old for the 2021 season, but may hit the market a little too early, considering the Mariners still may not know what they have in Raleigh when the Phillies star backstop becomes available.
Seattle may look to acquire a catcher in the 2021 offseason. Unfortunately, It’s pretty desolate as far as that offseason goes, with guys like Salvador Perez and ol' friend Mike Zunino headlining the class at 32 and 31 years old, respectively.
Infield: First base is, for all intents and purposes, taken care of here. Evan White should be the every day first baseman. If he’s not, that’s a pretty big hit to the rebuild schedule.
Questions remain at second base. If Shed Long captures the job in 2020, it would be a huge weight off the front office’s proverbial shoulders moving forward. Long profiles as a modern ball second baseman with his power-first approach at the plate. The defense remains a question mark, but Long did make strides on the diamond in 2019. He also wears goggles and lots of jewelry and I cannot root any harder for that to succeed. He's the Mojo our SoDo has been missing for some time.
Shortstop is probably going to be J.P. Crawford, so long as he continues to develop toward being a premier defender and his bat develops above the line of liability. The team still believes in Crawford as being an asset at the plate. At this point, it’s probably a toss-up whether he’ll be manning the “6” spot as the starter a few years from now.
Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, and Carlos Correa are all scheduled to become free agents two years from now. That may be too great an opportunity for Seattle to pass up, given the money they’ll have to spend.
Let the record show, jettisoning one Seager for his little brother in the same off-season would be soul crushing, but one Seager is always better than none.
The Mariners will almost certainly be spending, and spending big at the hot corner two years from now when the elder Seager comes off the books. It’s still possible Seattle extends Seager with a strong 2020 campaign, but odds are probably against that happening.
Kris Bryant will likely be a free agent two off-seasons from now. Nolan Arenado has a player option that he’ll likely decline to garner a longer contract going into his age-31 campaign.
It’s also entirely possible Seattle targets a trade for a prominent third baseman while their farm system is flush with talent.
Outfield: Seattle simply has to be banking on two of Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez and Kyle Lewis to stick in the outfield and produce at a high level. Haniger could also be a possibility. Haniger will be 31 years old in 2022 and will be in the final year of arbitration, commanding a pretty penny. The team likely won’t go after a big fish for the outfield before 2023.
Pitching: Seattle’s farm depth on the hill is stronger than it’s been in a very long time. Any glass-half-full pair of eyes can probably count a dozen guys who may have MLB-caliber talent.
Logan Gilbert, Ljay Newsome, Brandon Williamson, Isaiah Campbell, Ricardo Sanchez, Justin Dunn, George Kirby, Justus Sheffield, Juan Then, Brayan Perez, Damon Casetta-Stubbs, and Sam Carlson.
Admittedly, odds are against a number of these guys turning into options at the big league level. That being said, the Mariners front office has to be banking on at least two of them turning into viable, strong rotation options. Gilbert, Kirby, and Williamson are seen by the organization as premier guys with Campbell not far behind. Of those four, if two end up being productive rotation options, it’s a win. If any of the other eight develop unexpectedly and suddenly skyrocket, Seattle’s playing with house money.
Chances are the Mariners will look to target a couple big ticket starting pitchers in the next two off-seasons. Whether that’s one in 2020 and one in 2021, or two in 2021 -- we’ll see.
Next offseason is not one brimming with talent. Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton may be the cream of the crop — both will be 32. Guys like Robbie Ray, Marcus Stroman, Jake Odorizzi, Garrett Richards (big sleeper) and Corey Kluber will all be available, but none, for now, possess top-of-the-rotation stuff without serious question marks.
2021 is far more stacked with premier arms Seattle could hunt. Jon Gray, Noah Syndergaard and Lance McCullers all represent high-tier starting pitchers that could immediately be slotted into the Mariners rotation. Proven veterans such as Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, and Jon Lester will all hit the market as well, and represent fantastic one- or two-year deal candidates to put the team over the hump.
Bullpen: It would be a fruitless venture to try and forecast what a Mariners bullpen would look like this July, let alone two full years from now. Again, the point is, Seattle has cash to spend, so you can expect Dipoto to be in the market for a shutdown, late-inning guy.
Final Thoughts: So what does $100 million get you? Well, Seattle could conceivably grab Syndergaaard and Richards for $48 million AAV combined. Let’s also say the Mariners splurge and sign Bryant to play third base and snag Lil’ Seager to play middle infield. That probably puts the team close to $185 million in payroll.
A rotation of...
... looks pretty good.
Add in the likes of guys like Williamson, Campbell, and Carlson and suddenly the team has depth and serious trade chips.
A lineup of...
CF Jarred Kelenic -- RF Mitch Haniger -- SS Corey Seager -- 3B Kris Bryant -- LF Julio Rodriguez -- 1B Evan White -- DH Kyle Lewis -- C Cal Raleigh -- 2B JP Crawford/Shed Long
Does this all read like a pipe dream? Maybe. But financially, it checks out. It’s incumbent on the front office to recruit these players into signing with Seattle. But that’s one of Dipoto’s strengths. He’s charismatic and inherently a strong salesman.
None of this even takes into account a blockbuster trade or two to acquire younger, more cost-friendly contributors. It also fails to account for the Mariners 2020 first round draft pick who figures to be a premier talent in a deep amateur pool.
Time will tell what the Mariners will elect to do with their money, or when they’ll elect to spend it for that matter. But the team has a long track record of spending — simply the calm before the storm.