How exactly do you build a championship franchise? The previous model was more focused on free agency, and trades. Spending enormous amounts of money on flashy free agents, essentially making it almost impossible for small market teams to compete. Over the last 10-15 years, it’s shifted towards building through the draft, player development, and sabermetrics. Some great examples of this are the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians, and Oakland Athletics. All these teams have been successful over the last 10 years or so while operating in small markets with low payrolls.
Look at the Houston Astros for example, forget that they’re cheaters for a moment, they’ve built this great franchise through drafting superstars, signing some key veteran free agents, and making great mid-season trades. Also getting a little luck can play a part as well. The Astros found Jose Altuve at a tryout camp in Venezuela when he was 16, it’s good of them to stick with Altuve and develop him through their minor league system, but a little luck played a definite role there. Great scouting and great player development built that team’s core and are the reason why they’re a championship franchise. Let’s get away from the Astros, I’m starting to get a vomit taste in my mouth and focus on the Seattle Mariners.
It’s no secret that the Seattle Mariners have been a bad franchise over the last 20 seasons. They haven’t made a playoff appearance since the 2001 season, they’ve been close a few times but ultimately fell apart in August and September. The big question is why? What has this franchise not done, that other clubs have? The Mariners are the only baseball team to never make a World Series and have the longest postseason drought in all major American sports. There must be some consistency with this team that has created this perpetual disappointment. It’s not a lack of spending money, the team has been willing to get out the checkbook. The answer is much more obvious and easier to find then you think.
Want an even more depressing statistic than the ones I shared in the earlier paragraph? Over the last 20 seasons, not one first-round pick of the Seattle Mariners has made an All-Star team. They’re one of two MLB teams to not draft a first-round All-Star in that time span, the other team is the San Diego Padres, and they’ve been a bad franchise for a long time as well. You can see the direct correlation here. No playoffs in almost 20 years and bad draft picks over the last 20 years. They drafted Adam Jones in 2003, but he wasn’t an All-Star for the Mariners, he was with the Orioles when he was selected to the All-Star team.
Want some empirical evidence to support this theory? Let’s look at some of the first-round misses for the Mariners over the last 15 seasons, and the great players they passed up. Get ready to cry Mariner fans, especially the 2005 and 2011 season, “Holy Schnikes” were those bad drafts for the M’s. Let’s look at those seasons first, and just imagine how things could’ve been different………
In the 2005 draft, the Mariners had the 2nd overall pick, and selected catcher Jeff Clement from USC. Clement was a great college catcher, one of the best college catchers in the last 25 years or so. Unfortunately, Clement was never able to find any success at the big-league level, he was a great minor league player, but just seemed lost in the major leagues. He only played 2 seasons for the M’s, had a total of 7 home runs, and hit .237. Really disappointing for your 2nd overall pick.
The really depressing fact about drafting Clement in 2005 was that seven future All-Stars were selected after him that year, not only All-Stars but franchise-building players. Let’s look at who the Mariners missed out on.
#4-Ryan Zimmerman 3B Washington Nationals
#5-Ryan Braun OF Milwaukee Brewers
#7-Troy Tulowitzki SS Colorado Rockies
#11-Andrew McCutchen OF Pittsburgh Pirates
#12-Jay Bruce OF Cincinnati Reds
#23-Jacoby Ellsbury OF Boston Red Sox
Ouch was 2005 bad, the hope is that a franchise only endures punishment like that once in their history. Well unfortunately for the M’s it happened again just 6 years later. In 2011 the Mariners again had the second overall pick in the first round, and selected University of Virginia pitcher Danny Hultzen. Like Clement, he was an excellent college player, but injuries prevented him from ever making it to the big leagues. His minor league career started off great, he was named to the All-Star Futures game in 2012. In 2013 he suffered a shoulder injury and missed that entire season. The next few seasons were filled with more and more injury setbacks until the team parted ways with him in 2016.
It’s hard to imagine a worse draft for the M’s than 2005, but 2011 said hold my beer. That year eight future All-Stars were drafted after Hultzen, again not just All-Stars, but core franchise players.
#3-Trevor Bauer P Arizona Diamondbacks
#6-Anthony Rendon 3B Washington Nationals
#8-Francisco Lindor SS Cleveland Indians
#9-Javier Báez SS Chicago Cubs
#11-George Springer OF Houston Astros
#14-Jose Fernández P Miami Marlins
#18-Sonny Gray P Oakland Athletics
The amount of talent in the 2011 MLB Draft was UNREAL.
Who has had the best career so far? pic.twitter.com/H3gDtVTrd0
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) June 10, 2020
The biggest stinger to the franchise with those drafts is the fact that you literally got nothing from either player at the major league level. Clement just couldn’t develop into a big-league hitter, I think that one is more on the franchise then Hultzen. Even though there was some thought that Hultzen’s bizarre mechanics could lead to injuries down the road, most people still thought he was worthy of a second overall pick.
Let’s keep the fun rolling and briefly look at some other picks that the club missed out on. The 2006 draft is an honorable mention for all-time bad. Three of the future All-Star pitchers picked after the Mariner’s draft choice that year have eight Cy Young awards combined, ouch.
2006-P Brandon Morrow 5th Pick from California
-Notable players drafted later; #6 P Andrew Miller, #7 P Clayton Kershaw, #10 P Tim Lincecum, #11 P Max Scherzer
2009-2B Dustin Ackley 2nd Pick from UNC
-Notable players drafted later; #17 OF AJ Pollack, #25 OF Mike Trout
2014-C/OF Alex Jackson 6th Pick out of High School
– Notable players drafted later; #7 P Aaron Nola, #10 OF Michael Conforto, #13 SS Trea Turner, #25 3B Matt Champman
The hope with Mariner fans is poor drafts, and lack of player development is a thing of the past. Current General Manager Jerry Dipoto and his staff are dedicated to advance metrics and building a winner through the farm system. So far, the future looks very bright, in just three seasons the Mariners went from the worst farm system in baseball to one of the best. They’ve done this via trades for young players like Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunne, Shed Long, and JP Crawford. Also, through the draft, their last four 1st round picks (2016 Kyle Lewis, 2017 Evan White, 2018 Logan Gilbert, 2019 George Kirby) are all top 100 MLB prospects.
If these players develop like fans hope, and most experts think. All they’ll need to do is sprinkle in some good veteran free agents, a good mid-season trade or two, and I think there’s real validity to the optimism that surrounds this franchises’ future.