You, the ever-optimistic baseball fan, have 21 questions about the state of the Mariners and the club’s outlook in the American League West in 2021 and beyond.
I, a sportswriter with a 55-grade Wi-Fi router and a (borrowed) Baseball America subscription, have all the right answers.
Let’s get to them.
1. First, thanks for doing this, Adam. We’ve seen your résumé from all those Little League T-ball teams you’ve coached, and we’re just so excited to have a true expert here to get us ready for the Major League Baseball season.
Absolutely. Glad to help. Let’s huddle up and swing for the end zone.
2. Uh, right. OK. So let’s start with a big one here in Seattle: Is this the year the M’s finally end their playoff drought?
*Spits out Grande Quad Almond Milk Americano*
Well, if you insist on an answer — no. It’s not that the Mariners aren’t trying to make the playoffs this year … but they didn’t do much this offseason to try to make the playoffs. They are entering Year 3 of a methodical rebuild, and the pandemic-shortened 2020 season probably hurt the Mariners — and their prospects’ development — as much as anyone. That’s just the reality. And this winter, the club elected not to spend much on the necessary reinforcements for the pitching staff, which means we should expect to see another year of blown leads late in games. One suggestion for M’s fans: Make the seventh-inning stretch your new bedtime.
3. OK, then what is a reasonable timeline for the M’s to contend for the playoffs?
The conversation could start to change a year from now. We should have a better sense by then if the Mariners’ plan is working. Some of that will depend on the club’s willingness to dip into a strong free-agent market next winter, but more depends on the development of the Mariners’ touted farm system. In that regard, 2021 is shaping up to be a really important year. If top prospects Jarred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert and Julio Rodriguez, among others, are as good as advertised, then the possibility of contending in 2022 could be more realistic.
4. How does the Mariners’ farm system compare to the rest of the AL West?
There is where things are looking up for the Mariners, who have the No. 2-ranked talent system according to Baseball America. The rest of the AL West rankings:
- Angels: 22
- Rangers: 24
- Astros: 26
- Athletics: 29
Part of the Mariners’ calculation in deciding to rebuild is they figured they would be trending up while the rest of the division would be trending down. That projection, on paper, appears to be on track. There are a lot of variables when it comes to player development, but the Mariners are certainly in an enviable position with the collection of young talent they have accumulated the past few years.
5. But the Astros still look like they have the most talented major-league roster right now, right?
For sure. They lost star center fielder George Springer to Toronto in free agency, and they won’t have ace Justin Verlander (Tommy John surgery) this year. But they nearly made it back to the World Series last year. I expect them to take a step back this season, but they’ll still be in the mix for another playoff berth.
6. Do you expect any more fallout from Astros trash-banging scandal this year?
Sure do. The scandal was the talk of baseball in early 2020, before the pandemic shut down everything, and the Astros haven’t had to deal with the backlash that will most certainly come on the road, particularly when they head to a place like Yankee Stadium for the first time.
7. Will the AL West have two playoff teams again this year?
Probably not. The Astros aren’t the juggernaut they have been the past few years — power in the American League has shifted East. Tampa Bay is the reigning AL champion, the Yankees are loaded again, the Blue Jays are rising fast, and the Twins and White Sox are both formidable in the Central. I’d rank all five of those teams ahead of anyone from the West in the AL pecking order.
8. How do you explain the A’s consistent run of success? They’ve been to the playoffs three straight years and won the division last year, despite again having one of the game’s smallest payrolls ($36.7 million)?
Duct tape, white cleats … and a lot of advanced calculus.
9. Bob Melvin — still managing the A’s, yeah?
Yeah, and the fact you had to ask proves he’s the most underappreciated manager in the game. Bet he’s glad he escaped Seattle when he did (sheesh, that was 18 years ago now).
10. Most clubs would try to lock up nice young core players like Matt Chapman and Matt Olson to long-term deals. Do you think Oakland will be able to do that?
Unlikely. We all know about Oakland’s financial constraints, and those issues are further complicated by the club’s ongoing attempt to build a new stadium on the Oakland waterfront (there’s a lawsuit connected to that, and it all sounds a bit messy). So, no, it does not appear the A’s owner will change his tune anytime soon, so no one should be surprised if they have to trade off their top players in the next couple years and start another rebuild.
11. Will the Angels ever stop wasting one of the great careers in baseball history?
You’re right: David Fletcher deserves to play for a winner.
Oh, come on.
Mike Trout is still just 29 years old. He could retire today and be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Trout’s Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference) of 74.6 ranks second among active players, behind only teammate Albert Pujols (100.8). Trout could pass (gasp!) Ken Griffey Jr. (83.8) in career WAR this year — and, yes, he deserves to play for a winner.
12. Is this the year Shohei Ohtani finally breaks through for the Angels?
It’s looking that way, yep. Ohtani is the biggest wild card in the division, and the Angels have to be giddy about what they’ve seen this spring. Ohtani, two years removed from Tommy John surgery, has been clocked at 101.9 mph with his fastball this spring and he was hitting .636 with a team-high four homers through the first three weeks of Cactus League games.
13. We heard your new editor, Kelly Ward, grew up a Texas Rangers fan. Can you offer her any modicum of hope for 2021? Is there anything nice you can say about the Rangers?
Um, well, hmmm … it looks like they have a nice new stadium. Does that count?
(Editor’s note: This disrespect will not be tolerated. Joey Gallo is a golden god and he will win the AL MVP award this year. Mark it down.)
(Actual editor’s note not written by Adam: Nice try, Adam. Anyone who really knows me knows that all hope died after Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.)
14. Are the Rangers really planning to open the season with 100% capacity at their stadium?
Appears so. They’re the only team in MLB, as of now, planning to do that. But they will operate at reduced capacity after opening day.
15. Here’s a curveball: What’s up with Russell Wilson?
The Yankees up-and-coming second baseman?
Don’t dodge the question.
The Mariners aren’t one of the four teams on Wilson’s trade list.
Shoot us straight, Adam. We can handle it.
Wilson doesn’t pitch anyway, so I don’t see how he’d be much help to the Mariners.
16. Fine. Let’s try a few quick-hitters: Who is the best player in the West not named Mike Trout?
Flip a coin between the Astros’ Alex Bregman and the Angels’ Anthony Rendon.
17. Best pitcher?
Houston’s Zack Greinke has the best resume. Ohtani might end up being the most unhittable pitcher by the end of this year.
18. Your No. 1 breakout hitter?
Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners.
19. Your No. 1 breakout pitcher?
Jesus Luzardo, LHP, A’s.
20. Most underrated player?
Marco Gonzales, LHP, Mariners.
21. Finally, who is your pick to win the division in 2021?
I see three good-but-not-great teams — Oakland, Houston and Anaheim — jockeying for the West title. In the end, it’ll be the A’s edging the Astros by a field goal.