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Mariners Post Season Drought Continues, but Hope for the Future Remains

"2017 05 21 Seattle Mariners 21" by Blake Handley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Unfortunately for Mariner fans, the most depressing streak in all of the sports continues. The Seattle Mariners missed the postseason for the 19th straight season. That’s currently the longest post-season drought in the MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL. But there’s a reason for optimism, it’s not like the end of the 2018 season where the team underperformed greatly, had a depleted farm system, bloated payroll, and aging roster. The Mariners currently possess a top 3 farm system, the youngest roster in baseball, an emerging superstar in Kyle Lewis, a borderline ace in Marco Gonzales, and plenty of funds available to add a few big free agents in the offseason.

The Mariners finished the season with a 27-33 record, more importantly going 20-15 to close out the season. No doubt outperforming most expectations, when you consider the fact, they’re not playing for 2020 and traded away some talent during the season. This was one of the most enjoyable seasons to watch in a long time. It was fun to watch a young team, with little to no experience playing together, grow and build that nucleus that should make them legitimate playoff contenders in 2021, and World Series contenders in 2022.

COVID shortened season or not, the M’s were actual playoff contenders right up to the last few weeks of the season. They benefited from a mediocre Astro’s team, and the additional wild card spots. But that doesn’t take away from the fact the youngest team in baseball we’re playing meaningful games in September. Providing beneficial experience to core players like Kyle Lewis, Marco Gonzales, JP Crawford, Evan White, and Justus Sheffield.

Two players who really shined the most this year are Kyle Lewis and Marco Gonzales. In my opinion, there’s no question these two were the MVP’s of the 2020 season for the Mariners. Kyle Lewis displayed elite-level power and athleticism; Marco Gonzales showed he can be a #1 starter on a postseason contending team.

Lewis the one-time top prospect in the Mariner organization is the best power hitter on the team, and at just 25 he’s only getting started. He’s the odds on favorite to be the American League Rookie of the Year, Lewis finished the season with a .264 batting average, 11 home runs, 41 RBI, and a .824 OPS (on-base plus slugging). Adjusted for a 162-game season, he’d finish with 36 home runs and 87 RBI. Combine that with tremendous athleticism in the outfield, and the Mariner’s very easily could have their next star centerfielder. I think most Mariner fans will remember fondly what that was like. Close your eyes Mariner fans, imagine an outfield with Kyle Lewis, Jared Kelenic, and Julio Rodriguez. Not to mention he probably has the catch of the year against the As earlier this month, reminiscent of when a Kid use to roam out there for the M’s.

Marco is no doubt the team’s top starter in the rotation, but in previous seasons he never was able to establish himself as a legit #1 starting pitcher. That all changed in 2020, my hot take of 2020 is Marco Gonzales elevated himself into a true #1 starting pitcher in the league. Marco finished with a 7-2 record, 3.10 ERA, .95 WHIP, and 64 strikeouts (8.3 K/9). He averaged over 7 innings per start, which is rare for a starter even in a non-COVID season.

Every major statistical category has improved for Marco over the last 3 full seasons in Seattle. His fastball has more life on it, his breaking pitches have more movement, and he just seems like a much more confident pitcher. He’s become the aggressor in each at-bat, the traits every front-line starter possess to be successful. A rotation with Marco Gonzales at the top, Justus Sheffield, Logan Gilbert, and Justin Dunn is another reason to be very hopeful for the future.

Another reason the organization is in a great spot is their payroll flexibility. With Dee Gordon’s $14 million option unlikely getting picked up in 2021, the only highly-paid veterans will be Kyle Seager at $18 million, and Kikuchi at $15 million. The good news about Seager’s contract it’s probably only for 2021, I doubt the team will be willing to take on his $15 million option in 2022, so a buyout is likely going to happen. After those two players, the next highest-paid is Marco Gonzales at $5 million. The rest of the roster is filled with young players making around $500,000.

The Mariners have money to spend, the lack of on-field success hasn’t resulted in poor financial success. As of April 2020, the Mariner franchise is worth $1.6 billion dollars, which ranks the Mariners 16th in the MLB. They have the budget to add some key free agents to fill some holes and support the young core that’s developing.

It also looks like they’ll be adding Mitch Haniger to the roster next year, the once considered untouchable player who has basically been erased from memory. Mariner’s GM Jerry Dipoto said on Wednesday that he expects Haniger to be the Opening Day right fielder after being sidelined the past 17 months by several surgeries to his core and lower back. If healthy, the former All-Star adds great depth and talent to this team.

The only reason to have some pessimism about the future is the lack of a minor league season this year. We’ll have to wait and see what affect the COVID shortened season had on the development of the team’s prospects. There’s a 20 game Arizona fall league that will be starting up soon, so most certainly the team will take advantage of that as much as possible. But only time will tell if prospects like Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert, Noelvi Marte, George Kirby, Cal Raleigh, and Taylor Trammell will be ready for the start is the 2021 season. All we know for sure is there are some real excitement and optimism surrounding this organization.

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