Mariners’ offseason moves won’t be fatal
The Seattle Mariners have fallen short of the playoffs for the last 18 years.
Since Executive VP and GM Jerry Dipoto took over in 2015, however, they’ve finished with winning records in 2016 and 2018, where they went 89-73 and fell just eight games short of a Wild Card spot.
There are teams that win 89 games in a season that would consider building more around their core, seeing it as a sign of improvement especially following a 2017 campaign in which Seattle won 78 games.
It’s certainly a respectable record to finish with considering they play 162 games per season. But in today’s league, where a 108-win team like the Boston Red Sox dominated the postseason en route to their fourth World Series title this century, 89 wins isn’t going to cut it.
With the Mariners’ boasting the most All-Stars they’ve had since 2014 and a number of young talented players ready to make the jump to All-Star status, fans and players alike were excited to see what the Mariners would do in 2019.
That all changed in November when Dipoto began making transactions that would change the trajectory of the Mariners franchise.
“We won 89 games and we did so with a team that probably wasn’t an 89-win team,” says Dipoto on MLB Network.
Dipoto made it clear that he didn’t feel this team was one that could improve upon their 2018 season with it’s current personnel.
On November 8th, Dipoto traded starting catcher and longtime question mark Mike Zunino to the Tampa Bay Rays.
After a successful career at the University of Florida, Zunino was drafted third overall in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Mariners and was expected to be the answer at catcher. However, once in the majors, Zunino was nothing short of a disappointment. He hit .207 in six seasons with the team and constantly bounced from the majors to the minor leagues in search of finding his swing once again.
In 2018, Seattle had had enough and couldn’t keep waiting around for Zunino to take the next step, and so began the rebuilding of the Mariners.
In his next move, Dipoto handed even more firepower to the already stacked AL East by sending ace and longtime fan favorite James Paxton to the Yankees on November 19.
Paxton, who finished 2018 with a record of 11-6 and had 208 strikeouts in 160.1 innings, gave the Mariners a chance to compete every season and was a necessary component for the M’s to make a run in 2019.
“We felt like we rode the roster we had for as long as we could ride it,” said Dipoto.
November was just the beginning of what the offseason had in store for the new Mariners team.
Weeks later, Dipoto would send off All-Star shortstop Jean Segura along with reliable relievers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The same day, Dipoto sent Robinson Canó, a lifetime .304 hitter, and All-Star closer/Puerto Rican sensation Edwin Díaz to the New York Mets and lost slugger Nelson Cruz to free agency before acknowledging it was a new era for the M’s - “this was the time to cash in our chips and reload.”
Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times
Why would a team with such a promising 2018 campaign dump off so much talent?
Well, the average age of each player traded by the Mariners is just over 30. An age that typically correlates with the first year players begin to experience a decline in their performance. The Mariners were willing to separate their aging roster at a cost - in return, they would get prospects and blossoming talent in order to help build around their young core.
Though they lost their ace in Paxton to the Yankees, they got 22-year old Justus Sheffield in return, who is currently the #4 pitching prospect in all of baseball, as well as former top pitching prospect Gerson Bautista in the New York Mets trade.
To compensate for the loss of Nelson Cruz and Robinson Canó, the Mariners added two veteran bats that have gotten the job done time and time again in Jay Bruce (32 years old) and Edwin Encarnación (36), who’ve combined for six All-Star selections and prove to be a slightly younger veteran tandem than Canó (36) and Cruz (38) that the young core can look up to.
Also included in the trades were the additions of Mallex Smith, Domingo Santana, and Omar Narváez (all 26 or younger), who hit .295, .265, and .275 respectively last season while showing signs of consistent improvement.
Last but not least, in free agency they added former first overall pick Tim Beckham, dependable reliever Cory Gearrin, and the next Japanese star to come to the MLB in lefty pitcher Yusei Kikuchi to cap off their offseason through mid-January.
These players have plentiful experience in the majors (or for Kikuchi in NPBL) and give the Mariners lots of depth for the future at any position on the field. If all goes well, most of these additions can become valuable assets to a team that retained the players they wanted to build their franchise around all along in breakout star Mitch Haniger and speedster Dee Gordon, among others.
With the incorporation of abundant young talent and the ability to retain their key players for the future, the Mariners project to compete once again in 2021 and should make a run for the title sometime in the following five years.
Mariners fans, keep your heads up. There’s a plan for everyone and everything and Jerry Dipoto has got it all figured out.
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