It’s been an interesting almost-year to follow the Mariners. Once last season ended with yet another whimper, the Fire Sale officially commenced, and with it one of the more remarkable rollercoasters in recent memory.
As I’ve mentioned a million times now, the Mariners started 2019 with a 13-2 record. This was followed by them going 18-43; for about half a month, we were talking about one of the most surprisingly good stories in all of baseball, and ever since it’s been one of the most predictably bad stories in all of baseball. So, with the trades of Bruce and Encarnacion, Fire Sale 2.0 is in full effect. Where she ends, nobody knows.
One of the major themes in recent weeks – since this team has plummeted – has been my desire for them to lose as much as possible, to get as high of a draft pick as possible next year. If we’re kicking this rebuild into full gear, might as well make the sky the limit (or whatever the reverse of that is for losing). The team hasn’t really disappointed in that regard, but it can always get better (or worse, depending on your perspective).
Ergo, the Mariners need to trade anyone of value that won’t be around for the theoretical Next Great Mariners Team. Now, of course, if you’re like me, you believe that Next Great Mariners Team doesn’t exist, because the Mariners will NEVER be great, such is our lot in life as Mariners fans. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t try. That doesn’t mean that the baseball gods can’t look down upon us favorably, if only for one magical season. It can’t ALL be 1995 and 2001 and that’s it, can it?
(it absolutely can, but that’s neither here nor there)
What’s funny is that I have serious doubts that the M’s would’ve been as willing to move on from Encarnacion and/or Bruce if certain guys hadn’t at least shown potential, if not outright skill. If Vogey weren’t as good as he’s been, for instance – and make no mistake, based on his Major League career heading into this season, he was as far from a guarantee as you can get – I have my doubts that we would’ve been comfortable trading away both of our big bats. Maybe I’m too in my own head with that 2010 team, but remember how our lineup was so historically terrible that we had to go out and RE-acquire Russell Branyan in a deal midway into the season – even though that team was headed for a 100+ loss season regardless – just to not be even MORE inept than we already were? You could put the blame for that on the prior ownership group and the prior GM, but 1) how much different is this new ownership group REALLY when you consider most of them were minority owners originally, and 2) teams in general have a hard time bottoming out because it angers too many of the fairweather fans that sports teams have to cater to (knowing that hardcore fans will be there regardless, it’s those fairweather folks who keep the lights on).
My thing is: I WANT this team to totally bottom out! And I think we have a pretty good chance. Not great, mind you, because there are some truly God-awful teams around baseball this year, it’s going to be hard to keep up with how great they are at losing. Gun to my head, I think getting a Top 2 or 3 draft pick isn’t in the cards. Getting a Top 5 pick is probably our realistic best case scenario, and it would be a huge disappointment if we landed outside of the Top 10. So, yeah, getting rid of as many helpful veterans as possible is a great start.
How low we can go still depends on a number of key factors. For starters, if the pitching improves too much, that’s going to hurt, because right now it’s that part of the team (particularly the bullpen) that’s costing us the most. I want – or, rather NEED – this bullpen to continue to blow otherwise winnable games late. I wouldn’t mind seeing Marco Gonzales do okay, but I also wouldn’t mind seeing Kikuchi continue to middle his way through his first year in the Bigs. Experience for the younger guys is more important than having them succeed out of the gates. Working on their craft, working on adjustments they need to make, is more important.
As for the hitters, I think this team needs to go young almost across the board and let them fail or succeed, because I think the pitching is more than bad enough to cost us enough to stay in the Top 10 draft pick range. Someone like Kyle Seager is always going to start, but another nagging injury or two wouldn’t be the worst thing for the team.
But, J.P. Crawford, Vogey, Santana, Haniger (when he’s healthy), Mallex, both of our catchers, and Shed Long (whenever we get out from under Dee Gordon) all need to be playing every day by the end of the season. And if they struggle, all the better!
I was concerned that the Mariners might’ve gotten too bad too quickly, that if they TRULY bottom out, the ownership group will be tempted to clean house in the front office. That’s probably a worst case scenario that we’ll never actually reach. I don’t honestly think these Mariners will be bad enough to start costing people their jobs. And, quite honestly, losing a bunch in May and June is probably better than doing so down the stretch.
Remember last year, when our May and June was terrific, and we looked like a sure bet to make the Wild Card? What happened? Well, we peaked too early and lost out late. An overall good season was derailed by a poor finish, and that’s the taste that’s left in your mouth. Whereas, if we’d struggled early, then finished super hot (while having the same overall record), 2018 would’ve been deemed a rousing success, and maybe we’d be looking at a 2019 season where the front office would’ve opted to go for it once again.
Well, if we suck now, but the young guys improve by season’s end, to the point where we win some meaningless games in August or September (while still maintaining a Top 10 draft status), I think that’s the best of all worlds. We have some momentum heading into 2020 (which is meaningless from a statistical point of view, but is very meaningful when it comes to the outlook of fans, and is great for those young players looking to parlay a great finish into promising careers moving forward) and maybe these Mariners indeed do start to contend for playoff spots or division titles in 2021 instead of 2022 or later.
All of that starts with losing as much as possible right this very minute. So, say goodbye to the vets, and let’s hope that it doesn’t stop there!