It’s not quite the end of awards season yet, as Baseball America recently honored the Mariners with their Organization of the Year award. BA has been awarding Organization of the Year since 1982; this is the first time the Mariners have won. The Rays won last year and in 2019, and the Dodgers won in 2020 and 2017. You’ll notice that there’s not a lot of overlap between teams that win the World Series and Organization of the Year; that’s because the voting criteria, per BA, is not based only on big-league success, but rather on a three-pronged rating system: current MLB success; future sustainability of the club (prospects, development); and stability (personnel, ownership, the club’s future in its city, etc). Therefore, winning Organization of the Year isn’t just a feather in the cap for the public-facing members of the organization, i.e. the players on the field and the staff in Seattle, but for every minor-league hitting coach, mental skills coach at the complex, nutritionist, and all the other largely unseen participants that make the organization as a whole run smoothly. It’s also a vote of confidence in the future of the organization—the stability aspect, which is what ultimately, per Matt Eddy of BA, differentiated the Mariners as a club.
Obviously, breaking a historic playoff drought will get a team a certain bump in the “MLB success” category, even if the team ultimately fell short of their goal by losing in the ALCS to the eventual World Champions. But the Mariners also earned points for the speed with which they turned a roster of aging veterans into the young and dynamic club of 2022, with several key trades—crucially, the franchise-altering trade for Ty France/Andrés Muñoz/Taylor Trammell—being recognized as keys to a quick turnaround. They also received acclaim for the high level of production of their young prospects, and for locking down generational talent Julio Rodríguez with a contract extension that provides a significant part of the Mariners’ future core, as well as extending top trade acquisition Luis Castillo.
All of that leads into the Mariners’ performance in the next category, sustainability. The Mariners will take a hit to their prospect rankings after graduations and trades, but the organization has earned a reputation in particular as a pitching factory, with the general industry view that they can continue finding pitching talent in the later rounds of the draft or in other team’s castoffs and maximize that player’s abilities. The Mariners are also well poised for future sustainability with a group of young players at the MLB level, accented with some MLB-adjacent pieces, and then another wave of talent further down the farm headlined by top prospect Harry Ford, a group they should be adding to this January with the anticipated signing of top international prospect Felnin Celestin. The Mariners also earned recognition from the BA staff for their more aggressive strategy in recent years in going after top international prospects, such as Julio Rodríguez, Noelvi Marte, and now Celestin, using the international market to sign top-level talent they might not always have access to in the draft. With savvy drafting, investment in the international market, and a proven commitment to player development, the Mariners are positioned to follow in the path of teams like the Dodgers, perennial competitors who seem to continually refresh their pool of talent year after year.
That description might sound like another club, one many thought would win Organization of the Year: the Houston Astros. No other AL club has come close to the success of the Astros over the past few years, who seem to perpetually churn out young stars despite losing two of their top draft picks in punishment for the cheating scandal, giving them a clear boost in the sustainability category as well. But while Seattle has a solid, time-tested triumvirate of Jerry Dipoto, Justin Hollander, and Scott Servais—three people who trust each other implicitly and communicate constantly—working under John Stanton and ownership, the Astros have much less stability at those positions. The affable septuagenerian Dusty Baker signed a one-year extension for 2023, but as he will be almost three-quarters of a century old at the end of his contract, that’s more of a stopgap measure than a permanent captaincy. Meanwhile, the Astros’ World Series-winning GM, James Click, left the team this off-season after an insulting one-year contract offer from owner Jim Crane, whose pecuniary will now result in a new GM search, meaning a likely cultural reset. According to BA, that is not Organization of the Year behavior. Meanwhile, the Mariners will proceed apace with a leadership group that knows and trusts each other, and hopefully reward the BA arbiters’ recognition with a significant playoff run next season.