It’s funny. Life is funny. Sometimes. Some of the times. A lot of the time! Definitely not all of the times. When I write articles about the Mariners, I just write. I don’t make outlines or make notes or anything, I just write. I always have some underlying theme that I’m going for. Sometimes that becomes the actual theme of the article, sometimes I go way way way into left field. With every article, I hope there to be a point of it. I hope that people pull something out of it, and learn something of it. I’ve more of less finished this piece and I’m not sure there is a theme. I’m not even sure there’s a point. Maybe writing these just give me an excuse to nerd out and look up a bunch of statistics that I know 99.9% of earth’s population doesn’t concern itself with or even know about. What I do hope is that this article gives you hope. I have lots of hope with our Mariners, and you should have hope too. But never have faith. Don’t be blinded by faith. And with that, let us begin.
Just like we all could have guessed, the Mariners strung us along almost as long as they possibly could, only to falter to the A’s in the second-to-last game of the season eliminating them from the playoffs. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. The Mariners traded the A’s blow for blow all game and after falling behind 4-7, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz knotted the game up at 7 apiece only to lose in the 10th inning.
Fans will try to isolate specific parts or players in this game, or games during the season, which isn’t fair to do. Iwakuma pitched a poor final game after being labeled the Mariners’ most consistent and/or reliable pitcher, sure. The season is neither on him, nor is it on Cishek for airmailing a pickoff attempt up the first base line. It sure as hell isn’t on Edwin Diaz after going 2.1 innings in the game and getting tagged with the loss. Shoot, I’ll spare Scott Servais while I’m at it. This season isn’t on him.
Back in February when the impending season and roster were taking shape, Jerry Dipoto projected the Mariners to win 85-86 games. People thought he was kooky. Projections thought he was out of his mind. I thought he was optimistic. If you glance at the current and final AL West standings, the Mariners are sitting at 86-76. A perfect projection and a full ten game improvement after inheriting something of a mess of a Mariners roster and farm system.
2015 was sort of a disaster. In fact, it was a disaster. After having high expectations once again, the dinger-heavy, unathletic Jack Zduriencik-led Mariners employed and started many players who didn’t get play at all in 2016. It featured Mike Zunino, who sported a .174/.230/.300 triple slash and had one of the worst seasons for a hitter ever. It featured Brad Miller, who couldn’t field. It featured Logan Morrison and Austin Jackson who couldn’t do anything. Robinson Cano and King Felix looked mortal, and often. Willie Bloomquist and Fernando Rodney played for us. It was bad. Boy oh boy was it bad.
Very suddenly, Zduriencik was rightfully and belatedly fired and Dipoto was handed the keys to the organization. Dipoto made a bevy of moves that transformed the philosophy and feel of the Mariners while keeping the skeleton of the team intact. The moves looked a lot like these, because the moves were these:
Dipoto prioritized athleticism, ability to control the zone, and on-base ability. All of these skills, Dipoto said, were fundamental to the M’s being competitive at Safeco Field, with it’s infamously large outfield and less-infamous-but-impactful heavy marine air.
Some moves proved to be genius. After dealing Tom Wilhelmsen for Leonys Martin, Martin was a stud all season, and Seattle even had Wilhelmsen return to the team long before season’s end. Edwin Diaz pitched as well as any bullpen pitcher in the MLB, and he wasn’t expected to join the club at all. Dae-Ho Lee looked like one of the best hitters in the league for a couple months.
Other moves proved to be ill-advised thus far. Nathan Karns was mostly hurt and ineffective, Boog Powell got dinged for steroids, and Wade Miley was traded for a Cuban defector that no one had heard of before July 31st. Ketel Marte looked pedestrian in most aspects of his game. Chris Iannetta looked like he did in 2015.
But hold the darn phone! You already know what happened this season. You already have your opinions about Dipoto and his trades, Servais and his managerial decisions, Wade Miley and his fantastically poor performances and Taijuan Walker and his fastball that is as straight as my fastball. Let’s talk about this season in context of what it means for next season.
- Adam Lind will be a free agent. I’d let him walk.
- Drew Storen will be a free agent. I wouldn’t be heartbroken to see him go.
- Dae-Ho Lee will be a free agent. As a 34 y/o that walks around at 250, let him walk.
- Lastly, Franklin Gutierrez will be a free agent. He can still hit lefties but he’s declined drastically as a fielder. Meh.
(A quick sidenote, while I picture Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee literally walking. Waaaaaay back in the day [literally like six years ago] when the Mariners were informing Eric Byrnes that he was being DFA’d, he became so visibly enraged that he stormed out of the clubhouse on his bike.)
- Hisashi Iwakuma eclipsed 162.0 innings this season, which means he will return to the Mariners in 2017 for $14M.
- Seth Smith has a club option for $7M. While that’s not a ton, I would pass on a player who can only hit lefties and cannot run or field well. Pass.
- Nori Aoki has a mutual option for $6M. Nori might look silly in the field sometimes, but you can do much worse at $6M. If he’d like to, bring him back.
- I’m not entirely sure of what the deal is with Iannetta’s option, but I wouldn’t mind having him back. He’s a good clubhouse guy, to my knowledge, and he’s not too far removed from being a really solid player. Good backup.
If Jerry Dipoto follows the plan I’ve listed above, then he’ll need to find some new corner outfield platooners, maybe, and a new first base platoon. A (sorta kinda) big narrative towards the end of the season was that Daniel Vogelbach was working hard on his fielding mechanics. If Dae-Ho Lee can hack it at first, I see no reason why Vogelbach couldn’t after a full offseason with bench coach Tim Bogar. That leaves a right-handed hitting 1B to fill the rest of the platoon. Edwin Encarnacion would be a fun addition. It would likely relegate Vogelbach to more of a DH/bench role, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Billy Butler has struggled for three seasons straight, but has good plate skills and a career .354 OBP. He’d be a textbook buy low candidate.
Jerry Dipoto has stressed defense and athleticism many a times, so it would be a surprise to see the M’s bring in a corner outfielder that wasn’t fleet of foot. There are a ton of good (and fun!) options in the outfield. Ian Desmond just had himself a helluva season, but the Rangers likely would not like to see him leave. Other options are Colby Rasmus (gross), Michael Saunders, Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gomez, Peter Bourjos, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Moss (who is definitely not fleet of foot).
Guillermo Heredia looks to be a useful bench player, and Ben Gamel (who I just *cannot not* think of as Mat Gamel, his brother) looks like he’ll be a solid everyday player sometime in the near future. While I love me some Seth Smith, I’d love to see less Aoki/Smith/Cruz/Guti in the outfield and more Gamel/Heredia/[insert not-not athletic player here]. That means giving Smitty the boot.
I’m of the opinion that the Mariners’ pitching is in a good place. The bullpen has a really, really good trio in Diaz, Cishek, and Vincent. Furbush would make it a nice foursome, but he’ll be out until spring 2018 due to a somewhat recent shoulder surgery. Altavilla and Scribner also flashed some good stuff before the season ended, so it’s not a top-heavy bullpen either. Due to the volatility of bullpen pitchers, it’s not something I’d worry much about anyways.
The rotation, well, that’s something that may be worrisome to many. Felix, who’s slated to make $81.6M over the next three years ($27.2/yr), had his worst season as a major league player. Iwakuma had an alright season, but it’s not a good thing if your #2 pitcher is just alright. James Paxton had an absolutely spectacular season. Taijuan Walker finished the season with a HR/9 of 1.81. That’s, like, really really not good. How not good? It was the fourth worst HR/9 rate in the MLB (min. 130 IP). Walker didn’t even eclipse 1 WAR. Ariel Miranda was pretty solid for a #5 pitcher, but his peripherals aren’t awesome.
I’m excited about next season. A lot of people will talk about the Mariners’ extremely mediocre farm system, and the fact that they have no assets to move. Hell, I’ll talk about those things. But to me what this offseason means is another offseason for Jerry Dipoto to work his magic and continue to impose his philosophy upon this roster. With last year’s roster, Dipoto did all he could to maintain a healthy balance between winning now while still having some things to look forward to in the future.
At times that means you’re stuck with having Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith in the field. That means you’re forced to go with James Paxton and Taijuan Walker in the rotation. That means you choose one of Ketel Marte/Brad Miller and go with them. Not everything worked out, but nothing was a complete disaster. And that’s what the 2016 Mariners lacked that the 2015 Mariners had. Disasters. There were no Mike Zuninos hitting .174, and upgrading to Chris Iannetta alone was a rather significant improvement. Having black holes can have an effect on your team just as much as a superstar can have on your team. In many ways, I suppose, 2015 Mike Zunino was the anti-superstar.
Dipoto and Servais conceivably will have a couple prospects to feature on the roster. I’m not sure how they feel about them, but there’s some things to like about at least a couple players. Tyler O’Neill won about every minor league award he could, D.J. Peterson improved upon his abysmal 2015, Boog Powell will hopefully stop doing steroids. The near future is bright! Come March, the Mariners will have shaped up into a fun squad and GLOBAL WARMING WILL HAVE TIGHTENED ITS GRIP ON EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE THAT MUCH MORE. Just kidding. For the most part.