The initial ZiPS standings projections from Dan Szymborski at FanGraphs have been released. They are built by incorporating the projections into FanGraphs’ roster projections for playing time, then simulating the season as scheduled a cool one million times.
That as scheduled is important, because it means these projections incorporate both the present “true talent” of teams as well as the strength (or weakness) of their division and schedule writ large. The Mariners face a division that is likely weaker than the AL East, but drastically stronger than the AL (or NL) Central. They also face the NL East in inter-league play, which is a similar division to their own as there are four teams with at least 15% playoff odds (or, more specifically, that made the playoffs in >15% of the million simulations). This also doesn’t account for moves still to be made, which could (and hopefully will) dramatically alter the capabilities of the Mariners and other clubs within their division.
As it stands, Seattle is in the hunt for the playoffs, but they are far from the vanguard. While their present projection dwarfs their preseason odds from 2021 (73-89, 0.7% division, 1.7% total playoff odds), they understandably are being treated as a team that well outperformed their expectations en route to 90 wins in 2021, by Pythag/run differential and otherwise. 17% playoff odds preseason are the best Seattle has had since they received a 39.3% prognostication in 2017. On the other hand, a sub-.500 projection is a reminder that the M’s dearly need the improvements offered by free agents like Trevor Story, Kris Bryant, Seiya Suzuki, Carlos Rodón, Nick Castellanos, et al. Additionally, moves figure to alter the landscape of the division in particular, with the Oakland Athletics primed for a fire sale that could benefit Seattle directly (by adding players from Oakland) or indirectly (simply by seeing good players from Oakland leave the division for clubs the M’s play less frequently).
Either way, it’s a reminder that though the M’s are on the upswing, their present depends heavily on investing more significantly to make 2022 the next stride in a lengthy stretch of contention. The Houston Astros seems likely to lose Carlos Correa, but still has as many players projected for 4+ fWAR as Seattle has for 3+, and plenty of reasonable depth to boot. Anaheim is their usual uncertain self, which is to say the coin could land their way eventually, but it’s not clear where they intend to add any further and the big league club they’ve constructed is overflowing with stars that could crumble at any time. Despite their spending, the Texas Rangers seems expected to still lag well behind the division despite their spending spree, but they too could be far from done. If the Seattle Mariners want to capitalize on a division that is utterly ripe for the taking for the first time in half a decade, it will not fall in their lap, they’ll need to act.