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The Seattle Mariners burst onto the scene in 2019, providing us with a valuable reminder about the importance of sample size as they jumped out to a 13-2 start. Those early wins would amount to nearly 20 percent of their total for the year. They went on to play just .374 baseball the rest of the way en route to a 68-94 last place finish, thereby extending their postseason drought streak to an 18th consecutive season (the longest active such streak in North American professional sports). Now that the Nationals won it all in October, the Mariners also hold the ignominious distinction of being the only team in the majors without a single World Series appearance.
- Kyle Seager, 3B: $38MM through 2021, $15MM club option in 2022 (becomes player option if Seager is traded)
- Yusei Kikuchi, SP: $32MM through 2021, if 4-year/$66MM club option for 2022 to 2025 is declined, it turns into a $13MM player option for 2022
- Dee Gordon, 2B: $13.8MM in 2020, $14MM vesting option in 2021
- Tim Beckham – $3.0MM
- Domingo Santana – $4.4MM
- Mallex Smith – $2.7MM
- Omar Narvaez – $2.9MM
- Sam Tuivailala – $900K
- Mitch Haniger – $3.0MM
- Non-tender candidates: Beckham
- Wade LeBlanc, SP: $5MM club option, declined for $450K buyout
- Felix Hernandez, Arodys Vizcaino, Kelby Tomlinson, Keon Broxton (outrighted, elected free agency), Ryon Healy (outrighted, elected free agency), LeBlanc, Mike Wright, Tommy Milone, Ryan Garton
To get a sense of the Mariners 2019 season, consider this: their leader in games played was a designated hitter with a .208 batting average. Or this: where baseball-reference lists their pitching staff, just four starting pitchers populate, one of whom spent the final two months on the Diamondbacks. Or try this: Edwin Encarnacion finished third on the team among position players in bWAR, and he played his last game as a Mariner on June 12. Put another way, the Mariners lost 94 games in 2019 as they entered year one of a self-described “reimagining.”
Executive VP and GM Jerry Dipoto has been hard at work outlining clear guidelines to prepare the Seattle fanbase for another development year in 2020. It’s a rebuild, no doubt, but Dipoto has done a nice job of claiming some high-ceiling youngsters to keep an entertaining product on the field. They’re not quite “reclamation projects” because these players have yet to establish themselves in the majors, but recent acquisitions like Shed Long, Justus Sheffield, Jake Fraley, and J.P. Crawford have been in the conversation as prospects for some time and are now getting a fresh look in Seattle. These “reclamation prospects,” let’s call them, give the fanbase something to root for even as the losses pile up. It would not be surprising in the least to see Trader Jerry target more of these types of projects for 2020.
In terms of their own prospects, the time to shine is nigh for the likes of Justin Dunn, Kyle Lewis, Braden Bishop, and Evan White. Lewis got the biggest head start in 2019 by muscling up for a .592 slugging percentage in 71 at-bats as a September call-up. White probably has the highest ceiling, though he’s furthest away and there should be no rush to start the service clock of their 23-year-old first baseman. If this crew with the others above are able to successfully establish a base of major league talent, the Mariners will be in a good place to augment as their best prospects (Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert) approach promotion in a year or two.
Whether that group has a high enough ceiling to challenge the juggernaut Astros and competitive A’s isn’t totally clear. Hence, the second year of this rebuild provides an important window for the Mariners to add more talent. They shipped out most of their marketable vets in last year’s purge, but a few pieces remain that could conceivably move for prospects. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times quotes Dipoto predicting a calmer trade season, but a tiger can’t change its stripes, and with 29 enabling GMs out there ready to deal, take Dipoto’s claim with a grain of salt for now. That said, the offense looks pretty close to set, with Kyle Seager, Crawford, Dee Gordon, and Austin Nola going around the horn and Domingo Santana, Mallex Smith, and Mitch Haniger penciled into the outfield. Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy make up the catching tandem, and probably the most secure unit on the roster. To Dipoto’s point, that lineup doesn’t boast a cavalcade of gems opposing GMs will trip over each other to come claim, but they do have a sort of logjam with Tim Beckham, Dylan Moore, Shed Long, Lewis, Fraley, and Bishop all ready for larger shares of playing time asap. Dipoto will listen to offers, no doubt, but it might take until mid-season to find takers for his remaining vets.
With a good first half, the Mariners will no doubt try to move Santana. He’ll make around $4.4MM in 2020 and will be arbitration eligible for the final time in 2021, so he’s controllable but affordable. A 2019 line of .253/.329/.441 is pretty close to what you might expect from Santana, but he strikes out too much and is borderline unplayable in the field, which will grossly mitigate any potential prospect return. Same for Daniel Vogelbach, who struggled in the second half to the point that the team plans to play him more or less exclusively at DH. Gordon has the name recognition to pop up in trade rumors but not the track record of recent productivity to make him appealing. Seager put together a bounceback campaign, hitting .239/.321/.468, but as the longest-tenured Mariner, he’s also a fine candidate to serve as a veteran bridge to the next competitive group. Besides, he’s still likely too expensive to move (especially since his 2022 option becomes guaranteed with a trade).
On the more plausible side, a healthy Mitch Haniger could fetch a decent return, as could any number of bullpen arms that develop over the first half of the season. Roenis Elias and Hunter Strickland helped replenish the pool in that way last trade deadline, and they should probably be open to moving anyone who steps up in the first half this year, including controllable assets like Taylor Guilbeau, whom they received from Washington in the Elias/Strickland deal. Austin Adams is another Washington castoff who could become a valuable trade chip once he is healthy, as might Sam Tuivailala, Matt Magill, or any number of slush pile free agents they add to the mix prior to Spring Training. Dipoto took full advantage of the bullpen carousel last season, and it’s a safe bet to expect him to do so again.
Keon Broxton was a mid-season slush-pile find from last season, but with no offense to speak of, the defensive standout was outrighted at the starting bell of the offseason. Like Broxton, Ryon Healy chose free agency after a disappointing two-year run in Seattle. Dipoto sent Emilio Pagan to Oakland to acquire Healy, a disappointing move in retrospect as the first baseman hit just .236/.280/.423 across 711 plate appearances in two seasons in Seattle.
Speaking of free agency, the Mariners do have some money to spend, and Dipoto will look to add flippable assets, probably in the form of starters on one-year deals. Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, Wade Miley, Drew Smyly, Martin Perez and Tyson Ross might be free agent targets. Depending on the shape of the market, Michael Wacha, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Lyles and Kendall Graveman could also be names worth exploring. Speculatively speaking, Julio Teheran, who had his option declined by the Braves, could be a name they monitor depending on the price point. There’s anywhere from one to three rotation spots up for grabs in Seattle, depending on how aggressive they want to be with getting Sheffield and Dunn time on the major league roster. In a perfect world, Kikuchi pitches better in his second season stateside while Sheffield and Dunn make themselves indispensable pieces of the 2021 rotation — but there’s probably at least one rotation spot available for a veteran looking to establish value.
Marco Gonzales is the big potential trade chip they have yet to cash in, but every indication points to him being a foundational piece over trade fodder. After pitching to a 3.99 ERA/3.83 FIP across 369 2/3 innings over the last two seasons, the soon-to-be 28-year-old enters 2020 as easily the most reliable member of the pitching staff. If indeed Dipoto hopes to re-enter the competitive fray in 2021, Gonzales provides more value pitching for the Mariners than as trade bait. And given that he is under team control for an additional three seasons after 2020, there’s no real urgency to move him. Especially not after the good faith two-year deal they gave Gonzales as a pre-arb player undoubtedly laid the groundwork for productive negotiations in the future.
Still, the Mariners have almost no money on the books following this season, and given Dipoto’s itchy trigger finger, there’s no ruling out acquiring a player with more than one season of team control. There’s no ruling out anything, really, when it comes to Dipoto. The Mariners are in a great place financially, and Lord knows Dipoto will eventually explore the trade market. For at least the next calendar year, the Mariners have only one priority: add talent to the organization by whatever means necessary so that come 2021, as promised, the framework for a contender is in place.