The 2018 Mariners piled up 89 wins, their most victories in a season since 2003, but the club still extended its playoff drought to 17 years. No North American pro sports franchise owns a longer postseason-less streak than the Mariners, who have elected to radically reconstruct their major league roster and minor league farm system over the past couple months. Believing the Mariners were neither good enough to compete for a title nor bad enough to bottom out with the talent they had, general manager Jerry Dipoto set out to “re-imagine” their roster this winter. Dipoto has done just that in ultra-aggressive fashion, having traded one familiar veteran after another in hopes of assembling a roster capable of striving for relevance as early as 2020 or ’21.
Dating back to Nov. 8, the Mariners have shipped out catcher Mike Zunino, left-hander James Paxton, second baseman Robinson Cano, shortstop Jean Segura, first baseman Carlos Santana (acquired for Segura), outfielders Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia, and relievers Edwin Diaz, Juan Nicasio, Alex Colome and James Pazos. In return, the Mariners have received a few 30-something veterans (first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, outfielder Jay Bruce and reliever Anthony Swarzak), substantial salary relief (including $64MM from the Cano trade) and a host of potential long-term pieces. The team’s hope is that recently acquired outfielder Mallex Smith, catcher Omar Narvaez, shortstop J.P. Crawford and outfielder Domingo Santana – all major leaguers who are controllable for three or more years – will be part of the solution for the foreseeable future, and it has the same plan for the bevy of prospects it has landed in its multitude of recent trades.
Prior to Dipoto’s November/December transactions spree, the Mariners had the majors’ worst farm system and none of MLB.com’s top-1oo prospects. But they got three such farmhands – lefty Justus Sheffield (No. 31), outfielder Jarred Kelenic (No. 62) and righty Justin Dunn (No. 89) – in those trades. Unsurprisingly, thanks to the additions of Sheffield, Kelenic, Dunn and an array of other prospects, the Mariners now boast one of the majors’ most improved systems, per Jim Callis of MLB.com.
Adding to the long-term optimism, the Mariners made a major strike in free agency to kick off the New Year when they signed Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi. While Kikuchi’s not on the level of countryman Shohei Ohtani, whom Dipoto badly wanted last winter before he signed with the division-rival Angels, he could nonetheless be a game-changing acquisition. Kikuchi will slot in near the top of the Mariners’ rotation immediately, and at 27, he’s young enough and controllable for long enough (possibly through 2025) that he could be a key factor for perennially contending Seattle clubs. The same applies to Smith, Narvaez, Crawford, Santana, Sheffield, Kelenic, Dunn (and the other acquired prospects), not to mention outfielder Mitch Haniger and left-hander Marco Gonzales.
Haniger and Gonzales – each controllable for the next handful of years – stand out as the most valuable players remaining from last season’s Mariners team. Both players, especially Haniger, no doubt possess high trade value, but it seems they’ll remain on hand as prominent members of Seattle’s next core. Still, with several other trade candidates on the roster (Encarnacion, Bruce, Swarzak, second baseman Dee Gordon, third baseman Kyle Seager and righty Mike Leake), the ever-active Dipoto may not be done flipping veterans for prospects and/or future salary room in advance of next season.
No matter what happens between now and Opening Day, the Mariners’ 2019 roster will look far different than it did last year, when the club tallied the majors’ 11th-most wins but once again fell short of a playoff spot. Are you on board with Seattle’s decision to take a step back in 2019 with the goal of becoming a perennial contender thereafter? Or should Dipoto & Co. have taken more of a win-now approach this winter in an effort to snap the team’s embarrassing playoff drought next season?
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