The MLB regular season is wrapping up in 9 days, and since it appears the Mariners will miss the postseason for the 19th straight year, let’s talk about the off-season. More specifically, let’s talk about Seattle’s general approach.
Well, it was fun while it lasted. But after losing their 4th consecutive game and missing out on their last 3 opportunities to gain ground on the Houston Astros, the Mariners playoff odds have dwindled to just about zero percent. They stand, in all reality, 4 games back of a playoff spot with 9 games to play. If the Mariners went 8-1, the Astros would still have to go 4-5 for the Mariners to make the playoffs. That’s not happening. But that doesn’t mean this off-season won’t be filled with intrigue for Seattle.
Rumor has it that the expanded playoffs are here to stay and as we’ve seen this year, even bad teams can stick around for a long time in this ridiculous format. But we don’t know exactly how the Mariners feel about where they currently sit. Sure, there have been some encouraging signs this season. The starting pitching has been better than most thought. Kyle Lewis is on his way to a Rookie of the Year award, Evan White is the best defensive first baseman in baseball and is hitting the ball hard (when he is hitting it), and J.P. Crawford has become a premier defensive stalwart.
In addition to those positive signs, the Mariners managed to improve their already impressive farm system with a couple of impressive trades at the deadline, and should get back two of their best players (Tom Murphy and Mitch Haniger) after both missed all of 2020.
However, all of those positives come with the obvious caveat: the sample size is incredibly small. It may seem harsh but it’s true: aside from Marco Gonzales, the Mariners have zero established MLB difference makers on their 28 man roster. Now obviously, this is to be expected for the youngest team in baseball. There is nothing anybody can do in 60 games, either positively or negatively, to completely establish themselves as solid MLB players. But it does leave some questions left to be answered.
Only the Mariners know how they feel about their place. Entering 2020, GM Jerry Dipoto commented that he felt like Seattle was about a year behind the Chicago White Sox which led to some thoughts that the 20-21 Mariners off-season could look similar to the 19-20 White Sox off-season. Dipoto even eluded to such an idea. But after losing 100 games of development (more for the minor leaguers), we have to wonder if that remains the case.
In theory, Seattle has 3 different roads they can take. Road one is a similar path to what they did last off-season. No major signings or trades, lock down some of your young talent, and clear a path to playing time for your younger players while taking calculated risk on short-term free agents as stop gaps. Road two would be to go all in like the White Sox did, spreading out more than $100 million in free agency across 5-8 solid pieces.
Road three is some kind of hybrid path that allows the team to be more aggressive than they were last off-season, but pushes the “major” acquisitions to next July and next off-season. This seems to be the most likely path to choose, especially if .500 could theoretically get you into the playoffs. But we know what roads one and two look like. What about road three?
In layman’s term, road three is about raising the floor of your ball club. If the 2020 clubs worst case scenario was between 62-68 wins (162 game pace), then the goal of this off-season should be to bump that to 68-75 wins. It’s not sexy by any stretch, but serves as a bridge towards your first year of contention (2022), without placing road blocks in front of players for whom you don’t have enough data to draw conclusions.
In a practical sense, this means spending more resources in the bullpen, improving your bench, and probably adding a stabilizer in the middle of the rotation to go with Marco Gonzales. As for specific players, well that part comes later. The Mariners need to make some additions to their roster this winter, but it’s unlikely they’ll be involved in any of the bigger name free agents. And from a team building perspective, that makes sense. But until we have our first off-season addition, all we can do is speculate and that is the most fun part of our entire winter.