The Seattle Mariners are not going to win the World Series in 2021. Let’s be clear about that. But while some fans want to pretend that the only thing keeping the team from that goal is the team’s cheapness, that simply isn’t true. If we’re being honest with each other, there is nothing the Mariners can do this winter to win a World Series in 2021. They’re just too far behind the mega teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.
But just because they won’t win the World Series, doesn’t mean 2021 isn’t an incredibly important season. But with a team that’s ceiling might be sneaking into the playoffs as the eight seed, what should 2021 really be about? Well let’s set some realistic goals for the ’21 club and since it is New Years Day, let’s call them resolutions.
Let the Young Kids Play
Nothing excites a passive baseball fan less than talking about the future generation of Seattle Mariners. But while many fail to see the value and would instead ask the Mariners to load up on 29-32 year old’s they have casually heard of, that style of baseball is part of what dragged on the now 19 year playoff drought. We saw a taste of this in 2020 as the Mariners boasted the youngest team in the majors and the product was totally watchable. They were more athletic than any team in Mariners history, led MLB in stolen bases, and collected two Gold Glove Awards and a unanimous Rookie of the Year Award.
This season, the likes of Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert are all but certain to join J.P. Crawford, Kyle Lewis, and Evan White, with top prospects like Taylor Trammell not too far behind. The rotation will feature four arms younger than 26 and the starting lineup will likely feature no more than three players over the age of 30 at any given time. Youth brings a new energy to a stale franchise and its anhedonic fan base and it’s the best way to identify who will help the team push for their World Series by being a part of the future and who will be dealt to bring in other players to help with that goal.
Any moves made that actively block the playing time of a young, controllable player are likely bad ideas with a few possible exceptions. The Mariners cannot judge what they’ll need to acquire in the next calendar year without first knowing what they have on hand.
Protect the Youth
In what may sound like contradictary sentiments, the Seattle Mariners must also protect their hoard of young players. How would they achieve this? By signing or trading for proving veterans who won’t block a producing youngster, but rather take over for a struggling or tiring one. Thankfully, the Mariners only have one or two spots where such a player is needed. Perhaps the biggest are is in the outfield. The Mariners don’t have an answer in left field at the moment, though it does sound like Jarred Kelenic will be the primary left fielder for most of the season at some point in the first 30 games.
But Seattle needs to prepare for some very real and almost likely scenarios. What if Kelenic comes up and struggles and needs to be sent down? What if the same happens to Kyle Lewis? What if Mitch Haniger hits the IL again? Or worse, what if two or more guys need to be replaced? What would Seattle do? Well, short of rushing a prospects timeline, they’d need to throw other players out of position to cover those shortages, including guys like Shed Long and Dylan Moore. Or the team can go sign one of the many quality outfielders available and nip that concern in the bud.
The same theory applies to both the bullpen and rotation. The Mariners have already started adding insurance in the bullpen by acquiring Rafael Montero along with a few lottery tickets, but they’ll need to add some more stability to allow the young grouping of relief arms to not become overwhelmed with roles they aren’t ready for. We know the Mariners are still looking for bullpen arms and have been linked to veterans like Blake Treinen already.
GM Jerry Dipoto has already hinted that the team wants to bring in a veteran starter to put a bow on the 6-man rotation. Doing so would allow the team to more effectively manage the innings of Justus Sheffield, Nick Margevicius, and delay the eventual call up of Logan Gilbert, thus protecting the young arms as much as they can.
Start Turning the Corner
The Seattle Mariners don’t need to win all that much for 2021 to be a success. If they were to repeat their 73 win pace of 2020, that could be a successful season, so long as we start to find answers to certain questions. This season will be huge for Yusei Kikuchi and J.P. Crawford, who have proven to be big league quality players but have not yet cemented any long-term role with the organization. Questions about the reality of Dylan Moore’s 2020 and Tom Murphy‘s 2019 need to be answered amongst others. But the Mariners don’t need all of those guys to take the next step. In fact, its a lock that not all of them will.
But the team needs to show that it is ready for an infusion of veteran talent to push it into playoff contention range. This group could achieve this quite early in the 2021 season or by finishing strong in August and September. But by giving the young guys a chance to play without over exposing them, Dipoto will have a more clear picture about which areas will need a veteran acquisition to help the team get to the playoffs in 2022.