Editorials

The Seattle Mariners can Win the AL West in 2021: Here’s How

The Seattle Mariners are looking to make a jump in the 2021 and to contend for one of the three extra playoff spots expected to be available to them in MLB ridiculous expanded playoffs. But should they be thinking bigger than sneaking into the playoffs?

This off-season is a buying off-season. Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has said as much on a multitude of platforms. But 2021 is still going to largely be about getting young players experience and figuring out what kind of hand they can play in 2022. However, Dipoto has been quite clear that he expects to compete for a wild card spot in ’21 and will make move to improve his teams odds of doing just that this winter.

But should the Mariners put their eggs all in the wild card basket? After all, sneaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed likely means a quick two-game sweep in an opponent’s ballpark. Shouldn’t they instead try to win the AL West and get to host the first playoff game in Seattle since 2001? Well, here comes the bucket of cold water: NO. Absolutely not. The amount of money the Mariners would need to spend and the amount of young talent they’d need to trade to build a roster worthy of generating that type of buzz could set the franchise back 5-7 years.

However, just because the team shouldn’t add to its roster with the division title in mind, doesn’t mean it can’t happen, even if Dipoto is only trying to build a .500 ball club this winter. So how can the Mariners win the division by just adding some decent bullpen pieces and a mid-rotation starter? Let’s look at what needs to happen.

AL West takes a Step Back

I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but the Oakland A’s and the Houston Astros are going to look a lot different in 2021 than they did this. Oakland is set to potentially lose Marcus Semien, Mike Minor, Joakim Soria, Yusmeiro Petit, Liam Hendricks, Mike Fiers, Mark Cahna, Robbie Grossman, Tommy La Stella, and Jake Lamb in free agency this year. The notoriously cheap A’s may be able to keep 1 or two of these players, but with the decision on whether or not to pay Matt Chapman and/or Matt Olsen looming, don’t expect the A’s to open up their wallets anytime soon.

Houston is looking at its own mass exodus. They’ve already lost Justin Verlander for the entire 2021 season and will now have to figure things out with pending free agents George Springer, Yuli Guirriel, Michael Brantley, Brad Peacock, and Josh Reddick. Additionally, they owe $114 million to seven players and hold only one more year of club control over Carlos Correa, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers, Roberto Osuna, Martin Maldanado, and Joe Smith. Jose Altuve began his decline in 2019 and the farm system is absolutely barren. The Astros should do a soft reset, but their ego likely gets in the way of that. So unless Houston spends massive amounts of money this winter, they’ll take a step back.

The Angels are in disarray, having fired their GM after not making the playoffs again (damnit Jerry). They have no real pitching depth and lack quality arms and have a bad farm system from which to trade from. Rumors are circulating that Dave Dombrowski is on the Angels radar, but with Arte Moreno in charge, Dombrowski probably isn’t itching to go to Anaheim. And even if he is, the Angels are financially stuck on 4 mega-contracts with little maneuverability on their payroll this off-season.

Texas is rebuilding. They’ve admitted it. They aren’t a threat to anybody in 2021. End of story.

Growth

2020 was a lot of fun, largely because we got to see some serious growth from the youngest members of the Mariners. Kyle Lewis the AL Rookie of the Year and Justus Sheffield isn’t far behind. Mid-season acquisitions Ty France and Luis Torrens looked like everyday contributors. Dylan Moore broke out. J.P. Crawford is a gold glove contender. Justin Dunn, Nick Margevicius, Yohan Ramirez, Anthony Misiewicz all flashed great potential. Even a struggling Evan White showed impressive power.

But in order to compete for a division title in 2021, many of these players need to not only maintain, but show significant growth. It won’t be easy, but neither will winning the division in 2021. But if Evan White can post even a 100 wRC+ it would go a long way. If Justin Dunn could find some velocity and improve his fastball command, if Justus Sheffield can improve his changeup, if J.P. Crawford makes the tweaks in his swing to unlock his full potential, this could push the teams win total up 4-5 games without making any significant additions. Speaking of additions…

New Guys

Jul 3, 2020; Seattle, Washington, United States; Seattle Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic (58) watches an afternoon practice session at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

In order to win the AL West in 2021, the new faces are going to need to be good right away. This means any bullpen pieces Dipoto brings in need to hit the ground running. The starter he elects to acquire probably needs to pitch towards his ceiling all year. And yes, it means Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert need to be serious competitors for not only Rookie of the Year honors, but to maybe even make an All-Star team.

While they don’t qualify as “new guys”, the returns of Tom Murphy and Mitch Haniger would help almost help just by default, but if you get 2019 Murphy and 2018 Haniger….. well let’s just say things can get really interesting really fast.

The odds of all of these factors coming into play in the same season are practically zero. But they aren’t actually zero. And to quote our good buddy Jason A. Churchill (@Prospectinsider and Baseball Things Podcast): ” Never, ever give up on a non-zero chance”.

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