By: Chris Larson
The Seattle Mariners once again finished the past season without a postseason berth after finishing the year with a 89-73 record, which was good enough, for third place in the American League West. Given that the Mariners missed out on the playoffs again, it now makes gives them the honor of being the only professional sports team with the longest playoff drought, that being for 17 seasons.
Throughout the past few seasons, the Mariners have had to deal with a couple of tough luck seasons where injuries have certainly been a factor, seasons where certain players might not have lived up to expectation, and seasons where the proper amount of coaching might not have been in place. However, how much longer can the Mariners go on with this level of mediocrity and continue to miss out on the playoffs before fans start to put pressure on ownership to create a championship caliber ball club and a team that can consistently play competitively year in and year out? The answer to that is not much longer and now is the time for Seattle to act and begin to put the franchise in a better state of affair.
When looking back at this past season, the problem for the Seattle Mariners was the fact that their roster almost seemed to run out of gas right around the beginning of July, after such a promising start. During the first three months of the 2018 regular season, the Mariners put up a 52-30 record, before putting up a 36-42 record over the final three months. August was the team's worst month, when the Mariners finished the month with a 12-16 record, a .429 winning percentage, and 151 runs allowed, the most of any month during the course of the regular season.
Many times when a team outperforms expectations, like that during the first half of the season, and then just crashes during the second half, there are either a number of key injuries that have happened or the team's overall depth failed to hold up it's end of the bargain. For the Mariners, the latter part of that statement would accurately describe what happened, as some of the offensive players that were expected to play a big part in the lineup, didn't, and much of the pitching staff seemed to hit a wall. Championship baseball clubs are built to sustain long-term success and competitiveness for 162 games, not for only, 81 games out of the regular season.
Since General Manager, Jerry Dipoto, has taken over the reigns of the team, he has attempted to do a massive overhaul of the entire organization from top to bottom in an attempt to put the Mariners on the map and give them the best possible chance to make the postseason. Unfortunately, those efforts haven't panned out as expected and to Dipoto's credit, he has had to make many of those moves under some tight budget constraints, given how much of the Mariners payroll has been hamstrung by the contracts of both Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano. That's why most of the time throughout his tenure, it has felt as though Jerry Dipoto, has had to mix and match pieces on the everyday 25-man roster.
Looking ahead to the 2019 regular season, both Hernandez and Cano combined will make close to $52 million dollars, which would account for almost 40% of the Mariner's total payroll for next year. Considering the age of both players, Hernandez (32) and Cano (36), that is an exponentially high amount of money and something that the Mariners are just going to have to deal with because no team is going to want to take those contracts off their hands. Luckily, this is the final season of Felix Hernandez's contract before he hits free agency, but the same can't be said for Robinson Cano, who won't hit free agency until 2024.
Now, taking all of those facts and figures into consideration, it's easy to see why the Mariners should be focused on rebuilding this winter and putting their most attractive assets on the trade market to see what some teams might be willing to give up for them. For instance, with the lack of starting pitching available, could the Mariners get a nice return for James Paxton? Sure, James Paxton has been injured often the past two seasons, but he has been an extremely valuable asset and a team might be willing to take on that risk, considering that he is still only 29 years old. In addition, Paxton is arbitration eligible this season and has two years remaining before free agency, so if Seattle is going to trade him, now is the time to do it.
Beyond Paxton, the Mariners might need to make other guys, such as Jean Segura, Dee Gordon, and Mitch Haniger, available to see what some teams might offer. During the offseason, team's are always looking for offensive upgrades and for those teams that might not want to look towards the free agent market for a bat to lengthen their lineup, one of the three aforementioned names might be attractive to them. Just because the Mariners might listen on all three of those players, doesn't necessarily mean that they are willing to trade them outright or focused entirely on blowing the entire roster up. It just means they might gauge the market to see what value is being put on guys like that and see, if there is an offer out there, that might blow them away.
Now, some might argue with the notion for the Seattle Mariners to enter rebuild mode and start focusing on the future rather than the 2019 regular season, but you have to consider how often the team has been stuck in neutral the past few seasons and the idea of how much money ownership might or might not be willing to spend. Seattle's projected payroll is expected to be about $132 million dollars next season so how much more money would ownership want to add to that to attempt to make the team even more competitive? Probably not much, if anything at all, considering the market that Seattle plays in.
Furthermore, the Mariners also have to consider the division that they play in. The Houston Astros are going nowhere anytime soon and will continue to be a powerhouse in that division, while the Oakland Athletics are another team to take seriously in the American League West. In addition, the Angels might look to return to competitiveness next season with the proper upgrades this offseason, which would essentially leave both the Mariners and Rangers, as the two teams looking on from the outside, in terms of a potential playoff berth in 2019.
Sure, the Seattle Mariners might do the inevitable and elect to go all in now while there's still some hope, but it might end up doing more of a disservice to the organization, as well as, the fanbase as time moves forward. After all, the Mariners have one of the game's worst farm systems and a roster full of a lot of mix and match pieces, so why not reboot while the opportunity is there or at the very least listen to offers on some of the team's attractive names? It certainly wouldn't hurt and could help the Mariners start to travel down the path of being able to compete year in and year out moving forward.