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What the 2021 Mariners look like without any additions

And why they probably should get busy in free agency sooner rather than later.

Detroit Tigers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

The Mariners have placed a large red “X” on the 2021 season as their point for throwing open their windows and flipping the sign in the door from “BACK-STEPPING” to “COMPETING”. It’s an aggressive turnaround time considering the pace a rebuild typically demands. That doesn’t make it impossible, and the strides made by the players in the minor leagues have been encouraging. Still, some of the most talented players in the organization will likely only just be arriving, assuming they even remain on positive trajectories. The truthiness of Jerry Dipoto’s front office has been something we’ve focused on here, both before and after the 2018 season, and that target date could change again. But it’s valuable to judge the organization on what they say they intend to do, so if 2021 they intend, 2021 I will attempt to project.

Making 2021 work means vastly improving on the current MLB roster. Some of that will come easily, with at least some of the 2019 Arkansas Travelers and Tacoma Rainiers progressing to the bigs. A reasonably appropriate expectation for the 2021 Opening Day (26-man) roster would be:

C: Omar Narváez
1B: Evan White
2B: Shed Long
3B: let’s come back to this shall we
SS: J.P. Crawford
OF: Jake Fraley, Mallex Smith, Mitch Haniger
DH: Daniel Vogelbach
Bench: C Cal Raleigh, OF Kyle Lewis, OF Braden Bishop and/or Dom Thompson-Williams, INF Dylan Moore and/or Donnie Walton

SP: Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Logan Gilbert
RP: Joey Gerber, Art Warren, Wyatt Mills, Matt Festa, Erik Swanson, Taylor Guilbeau, Sam Delaplane, Aaron Fletcher

The specifics of those positions are subject to vacillation, but purely working with what’s in the organization that’s what the Mariners would be looking at. It looks shiny and hopeful laid out in that way, but it presupposes health and positive development for most or all of the names listed above. That homegrown roster is intriguing, but it asks a great deal of a number of players in their first or second MLB season. It’ll be the most interesting roster the Mariners will have put out in years, but it’s probably not a playoff competitor. That’s not the end of the world, but if Seattle intends to be a contender starting in this window, they’ll need to add from the outside. The entire roster above will cost something around $40-70 million, however, meaning there should be plenty of cash on hand to augment. In looking at the next few years of free agency, I think that move would come best this offseason.

Seattle has sowed its farm with the seeds of outfielders and low-level pitchers, as well as one (1) potential impact player at each infield position. Most of the pertinent names for 2021 are listed above, though Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez could force the issue. Assuming fairly favorable outcomes for most of the players in the organization right now, two things are absent from the roster in the organization’s desired window.

  1. Who is going to play 3B?
    2. Is there a frontline starter here?

Both of those questions could be quashed this offseason. Kyle Seager will be in the final year of his contract, in theory, but given the team’s efforts to move players he could easily be gone. Moreover, he’s a dodgy bet to remain a strong player, though a recent uptick in play is encouraging. Throw $200 million or so to Anthony Rendon and ta-da, you’ve got a top-of-the-line 3B. I would love it if the Mariners did this, but I don’t believe Seattle will. Simply predicting Seattle won’t sign the best 3B on the market isn’t going far out on a limb, but it’s emphasized by this recent quote from GM Jerry Dipoto:

“We knew what we were getting into,” said Dipoto. “We knew there would be some pain to tolerate at the Major League level, and we don’t expect that we will go into this offseason and be scouring the free agent market at the top end of the food chain. We understood that this was going to be a two-year process, we’re almost halfway home, and we feel like we have made great progress in laying a foundation.

Dipoto leaned on similar rhetoric last offseason before going for a upper-mid-level signing in Yusei Kikuchi, so we can’t be too sure they won’t dip their snoot in the the trough once more, but that seems like a safe bet. Looking at the available options, that probably means the “top end of the food chain” refers to Rendon and Gerrit Cole. The Mariners could dearly use both, but both are probably off the table this winter. The same goes for OF Marcell Ozuna, who doubles as a player at a position of lesser need.

There is a stigma attached free agent investment in augmenting a rebuild, either of tying the hands of the front office by reaching the limits of ownership’s spending, pushing the team to rush their prospects, before the rest of the team is ready to compete, and/or investing in a veteran who is likely to decline by the time the rest of the team is performing well. So long as ownership is willing to spend even up to 2015-2018 levels (plus inflation) Seattle should be alright, though it’d be good to see a bit more commitment from the group that is eager to remind us how much they “hate to lose”. If the front office is able to convey the goals appropriately, the rush should not come into play either. So it’s up to the final issue, which is a serious one: are impact players out there who Seattle can expect to target who will make sense for 2021 and beyond, sustaining their value and performing the Jon Lester strength and stability role that the Cubs had as they emerged from their rebuild?

I think so. And I’ll be writing up a few of those players from the next couple off-seasons who fit that bill tomorrow.