To rebuild or reload, that is the question in Seattle.
The Seattle Mariners can safely maintain their 17-consecutive-season playoff drought and look ahead to next season. Sitting 7.5 games behind the Oakland A’s as of September 17th, who themselves trail the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros, the Mariners are likely done for the 2018 season. Seattle managed another winning season under manager Scott Servais with their 82nd win on Saturday over the LA Angels, which brings up the prevailing question for Seattle and General Manager Jerry Dipoto heading into the offseason: will the Mariners rebuild or reload for 2019?
Cases can be made for both. One thing we know, barring some kind of wild vortex of unforeseeable events this winter, is that both Dipoto and Servais will be back. Both were given extensions on their contracts while the Mariners were outperforming their run differential back in July. Dipoto, despite continuing the longest active playoff drought in major American sports, has assembled a core of talented players who can contribute to playoff baseball in Seattle: Mitch Haniger, Dee Gordon (in spite of his struggles at times this year), Edwin Diaz (who crushed the Mariners franchise record for most saves in a season and made Servais cut his hair, what a year), Alex Colome, Jean Segura, Marco Gonzales, and James Paxton are all quality players who had success in 2018.
Let’s not forget this was a winning club this year, even if their playoff hopes were snuffed by a few of the best teams in MLB. All of those players above are under contract for 2019. With a few more creative trades and signings by Dipoto, the Mariners could be right back in the thick of a playoff race next season. Better, healthier seasons from Gordon, Gonzales, and Paxton translates into several more wins, and Seattle’s in business.
However, this is still a flawed team, and quite possibly a flawed organization. Three contracts the Mariners have on the books for 2018 could send them into rebuild mode for different reasons: Robinson Cano’s albatross contract will pay him $24 million a year until 2023—five more seasons (!). Cano will be 36 on Opening Day 2019. Felix Hernandez had a fairly terrible year in 2018, but is owed $27 million next year and has earned a full no-trade clause. Then there’s Nelson Cruz. The Boomstick, who crushed his 36th home run of the season on Saturday, is the only Mariner of note whose contract expires this offseason, and he also happens to be one of the team’s most consistent offensive stars. Cruz will be looking for that final, multi-year deal to end his career, and the Mariners are unlikely to give it to him.
So, to recap, heading into 2019, the Mariners will be stuck with two aging stars on massive contracts they probably won’t be able to get out of, which will also make it difficult to make the playoffs, and will be without their All-Star designated hitter.
We’ve seen plenty of teams blow everything up and start over with great success. Exhibits A and B can be found in the AL West. Oakland and Houston had painful rebuilding years, now they’re both 90-win teams headed for the postseason (Houston could easily win 100 by the end of the regular season). But the Mariners are stuck in limbo. Which way will they bend this offseason?
Rest of the West
The American League playoff race is essentially decided with two weeks left in the year. I don’t know what’s going on in the National League, but over here in the Junior Circuit, it’s very orderly. The New York Yankees appear destined for a date with Oakland, but the real question will be whether the reductive (and stupid) Wild Card winner-takes-all game will be in the Bronx or in the cavernous confines of the Oakland Coliseum*. The winner will likely take on the Astros, who are healthy and ready at just the right time to defend their World Series crown. As disappointed in my Mariners for the 17th-straight season as I am, the AL playoffs this year will be lit. The MLB-best Boston Red Sox will take on an intriguing Cleveland Indians team in the Divisional Round, with another possible Yankees-Sox ALCS waiting in the wings. Then there are the AL West teams, both of which look like they could win it all in wildly different ways. Get your popcorn ready.
You may have read Ryan Kanne’s article on this site about how Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani could make an even more valuable impact as a relief pitcher. I agree wholeheartedly. However, Ohtani will have to recover from a UCL tear before next season if he wants to pitch for the Halos again. I hate to say I told you so, Mike Scioscia (actually, I love it), but you should have shut Ohtani down from throwing long ago.
*Maybe the A’s will sell, like, 20,000 tickets for that playoff game.
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