Photo via Norm Hall/Getty Images
After a quick gloss of the title, there are already Seattle fans rolling their eyes, more than likely.
In a sense, that is warranted. After all, the Seattle Mariners haven’t made the playoffs since 2001 when they won a regular season-record 116 games. Since then, the Mariners have barely averaged 77 wins a season. When factoring interim managers into the equation, Seattle has gone through nine managers since that season, with the best winning percentage among them being Lloyd McClendon (.503%).
No postseason success. No playoffs at all. In fact, Seattle’s postseason drought is the longest among all teams in Major League Baseball and all teams in the four major sports.
At this point, Mariners’ fans are probably considering clicking out of the article. Rest be assured, though, this isn’t an article slamming Seattle. This article is merely a suggestion.
A suggestion that, if the patience persists, the payoff could be in the form of postseason baseball returning to the Emerald City.
How does Seattle get to the playoff promise land, though? The current roster is in no shape to contend for a deep playoff berth, let alone for top position in the American League West. The AL West, of course, features the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, the Moneyball-savvy Oakland Athletics, the gritty Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros, who, sign-stealing scandal aside, have averaged over 103 wins over the past three seasons.
Well, the current roster will not contend with the gauntlet, but the future one can.
Building a future roster, though, involves three important steps: shedding payroll, building up the farm system and having an outside-the-box front office to complete the first two steps.
Luckily for the Mariners, they have been able to tackle all three areas.
After having a steady payroll well above the $110 million-dollar plateau over the last six seasons, Seattle has begun to emphasize less on spending, and more on developing. Gone are the major contracts of Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, where both contracts easily surpassed the $20 million mark in average annual value. While relatively hefty contracts are still on the books in the form of third baseman Kyle Seager (owed at least $38 million over the next two years) and starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi (owed $29 million combined over the next two years), it is more manageable than the behemoth contracts Cano and Hernandez commanded.
Through smart shedding, Seattle has been able to cut the payroll from northward of $120 million $100 million. Not too shabby as a starting point.
While Seattle’s farm system in the past has shown a dearth of high-profile arms or bats, the same could not be said for the current farm system. The current farm system, per MLB.com, contains five top-100 prospects. That number is tied for the second-most in all of baseball (along with the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks), behind the Tampa Bay Rays, who possess six. The brightest blue-chipper of the five is outfielder Jarred Kelenic, who was the headliner in the trade that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the New York Mets. In 117 minor-league games combined over three different levels last season, the left-handed slugger was able to slash a smooth .291/.364/.540 with 59 extra-base hits. The nifty bat-handling has vaulted him the 11th-best prospect position in all of baseball.
Next in the pipeline is outfielder Julio Rodriguez, the 18th ranked prospect in all of baseball, despite being only 19 years old. While still raw and several years away from making noise on the major-league roster, the Dominican native averaged a .929 OPS through Class A and Class A-Advanced last season.
Right-handed pitcher Logan Gilbert (ranked 38th), first baseman Evan White (ranked 56th) and right-handed pitcher George Kirby (ranked 100th) round out the Seattle farmhands within the top-100. All three possess solid major-league tools and could find themselves pitching or batting in big-league games this upcoming season.
Collecting the high-profile farm talent or the depth behind it, though, would not be possible without a nifty front office. From the international signing, drafting or trading front, general manager Jerry Dipoto has established his footprint that might look like one small step now, but could in fact morph into a giant leap down the road. All five prospects were either signed internationally (Rodriguez), drafted (Gilbert, White and Kirby) or traded for (Kelenic), all while shedding payroll in the process (the Cano trade). Given Dipoto’s tendency to remain active on all fronts, expect more high-profile prospects to be pooled into an ever-growing farm system and a lively manager in Scott Servais to mentor them once they hopefully reach the majors.
Payroll trimmed? Done.
A once-barren farm system gradually building into a garden of quality and quantity? Well on its way.
How about a nifty front office looking to see both done to its best fruition? 100%.
While it is true the Mariners are one solid season away from competing for the AL West, patience is key here.
For Mariners fans, waiting one more year might be tough, but make no mistake, it will be well worth it.