As I grow older, I find that for the most part I’m capable of only two emotions: apathetic and surly. This certainly describes my disposition when it comes to the Mariners. In my surlier moods, I’ll take a hard line and let everyone know that there are NO MORAL VICTORIES. Either you win or you don’t; either you make the playoffs or you fail. Those opinions are no less valid just because at times I find myself waffling over to the other side.
The fact of the matter is, when I sit back and apathetically look at The Season That Was, I can see the ways in which 2014 was a success. Everyone needed this season. The organization needed it, just to get everyone to stop breathing down their necks. The players needed it, to show that it IS possible to be a winning ballclub and still play half your games in Seattle. And, quite frankly, the fans needed it more than anyone.
Let’s face it, there has been a gloomy, dark cloud hanging over the Seattle Mariners for over a decade. Obviously, everyone knows the last playoff appearance was in 2001. Since that time – including 2014 – there have been five seasons where the Mariners finished with a winning record. In 2002 & 2003, the Mariners were still really good, but they were surrounded by teams who were even better, and thus failed to make the playoffs. Then, the Mariners fell off the cliff, but looked to make something of a comeback in 2007, when they were 88-74. Of course, you were looking at a team that was 14 games over .500 with a negative run differential, who did remarkably well in 1-run games. 2007 proved to be a fluke, and as the Mariners went all-in with the Erik Bedard deal, everything fell apart in 2008 (and would continue to more-or-less fall apart for many years to come).
2009 would prove to be another even-flukier season, where the Mariners went 85-77, but had a much worse run differential. Undoubtedly, the Mariners fell into a sinkhole of despair in 2010, from which they are only NOW climbing out of.
Ever since the end of that 2010 season – where we sort of went all-in again with the Cliff Lee deal and the Chone Figgins signing – this organization has been in the tank. We were able to flip Cliff Lee mid-season, but that deal turned out to be the Justin Smoak disaster. We would go on to flip Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero after the 2011 season, and from then on it’s been all about Building From Within. Which, quite honestly, is what you have to do if you’re a losing ballclub and you’re not ready to spend New York Yankees-type money in free agency.
And, it hasn’t been easy! Many of our first-wave youngsters have come up and failed miserably. Smoak and Montero and Ackley have largely been disappointing (until Ackley’s second half this past season). For every Kyle Seager that we’ve hit upon, there have been dozens of Carlos Pegueros.
Finally, as the 2013 season ended (with the Mariners finishing 71-91), the organization had apparently seen enough to finally open up their wallets.
There have been rumors of the Mariners being “in on” any number of big-money free agents over the last several seasons, from Josh Hamilton to Prince Fielder, but they finally settled on Robinson Cano (who, really, has the highest floor of any of these guys). Why this was the right time, or he was the right player, only the Mariners can say, but it turned out to be a huge success in the first year. At the time of signing, Cano instantly became the best position player on the team. His performance in the 2014 season was right in line with those expectations. He was our 3-hole hitter and he never let us down.
On top of that, Kyle Seager took that next step in his progression, finally becoming an All Star (and deservedly so). His defense is stellar, the pop is still in his bat, his batting average isn’t ideal, but he’s becoming more consistent and less streaky.
Then, we had a number of smaller players picking up the slack at times. Logan Morrison was a positive, once he got healthy and was placed in the everyday lineup at first base. Dustin Ackley – as I mentioned before – had that torrid second half to cement his status as our 2-hole hitter. Mike Zunino surpassed 20 homers and played quality defense. Role players like Endy Chavez, Michael Saunders, and Chris Taylor all made big impacts. While, at the same time, the bullpen was a force to be reckoned with; and for most of the year we had four really good starting pitchers with Felix, Kuma, Young, and Elias. The hitting, for the most part, did just enough to get the job done; and our bullpen locked it down in the later innings. That’s a recipe for winning baseball. Specifically, a team that finished 87-75, a single game out of the Wild Card.
And, not for nothing, but a team that also had a +80 run differential. With that run differential, you should theoretically be looking at a 91-win ballclub, so it can be argued that the Mariners were, in fact, a little UNLUCKY.
This is the part where I’m supposed to shift gears and tell you all the things that were wrong with the 2014 Mariners, but I don’t really have it in me. We all know where the Mariners need to improve before 2015:
- Right Field
Beyond that, it’s a matter of the younger players continuing to improve. It’s Ackley building off of his second half. It’s one of the two short stops (Miller or Taylor) winning that job and not looking back. It’s Austin Jackson figuring out how to hit again. It’s LoMo staying healthy. It’s the bullpen not regressing too far. And, it’s leaning on our starting pitching once again to keep us in ballgames.
It’s consistency in all three phases. Fewer times being shut out. And, if we have to make trades to get the pieces we want, it’s all about not giving up too much from our areas of strength. And, of course, it’s about the right kind of luck.
Like 2008 and 2010, the 2015 season could see the Mariners go right back into the tank if things go horribly wrong. The difference between now and those last two winning seasons is: we’ve got a better foundation. We’re not coming off of a smoke & mirrors season where the Mariners SOMEHOW generated a winning record despite a negative run differential. And, the only players we’re losing to free agency are players we probably won’t miss too much (I’m looking at you, Kendrys Morales).
As we watch the Royals return from the doldrums to make the World Series for the first time in almost 30 years, this offseason will surely bring about feelings of, “Why Not Us?” Hell, if the Seahawks can win the Super Bowl, why can’t the Mariners get back to the fucking playoffs?
Now is the time for the Best Offseason Ever. The buzz is starting to return to this team. 2014 saw an increase in attendance for the first time in a long time. If we can land a big free agent, I’m pretty sure 2015 will be the most-anticipated baseball season in Seattle since the 1990s.