With Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager in the middle of the order, six starting pitchers with extensive big league experience and a young flamethrower for a closer, the Mariners have a good core in place. But general manager Jerry Dipoto will continue to tinker.
On Saturday evening before the Mariners’ dreams of snapping the longest postseason drought in Major League Baseball ended with a crushing 9-8, 10-inning loss to the Oakland A’s, general manager Jerry Dipoto and former pitcher and part-time instructor Jamie Moyer stood in the home dugout at Safeco Field waiting and chatting before taking part in the organization’s minor-league awards ceremony.
As they talked, Moyer offered a comparison of the 2016 Mariners. He mentioned the 2007 Phillies team that he was on. While that team actually made the playoffs after winning the NL East, it was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Rockies. The next season, the Phillies won the World Series.
“He said ‘Our 2008 championship started that night in 2007,’ ” Dipoto said.
And as Dipoto saw the sadness envelop his players in defeat, knowing they had fallen short, Moyer’s words echoed in his mind.
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“I thought: ‘Ah, that’s it. That gives me something to focus on. Maybe this is the day that we start focusing on that championship (in 2017),’ ” he said.
It’s a good premise. But history with the organization can make fans skeptical. It was just two years ago the Mariners finished the season one game out of the postseason with an 87-75 record. They went into 2015 with lofty internal and external expectations. Those goals went unmet as they underachieved to the point that general manager Jack Zduriencik was fired and Dipoto was brought in.
It goes beyond recent history. Besides not making the postseason since 2001, the Mariners have failed to post back-to-back winning seasons since 2002-03.
Seattle had winning seasons in 2007 (88-74) and 2009 (85-77) and then made big offseason acquisitions. The result? Two 101-loss seasons.
Will this group be different? It seems plausible.
With Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager in the middle of the order, six starting pitchers with extensive big-league experience and a young flamethrower for a closer to anchor an improved bullpen, the Mariners have a good core in place. Dipoto used his first offseason with the team to revamp and reshape a 40-man roster that was commensurate with his overall philosophy.
“We have a deeper organization than we had at this time last year,” he said. “The 40-man roster that we inherited at this time last year, if you take away the free agents, there were 36 players on the roster, 15 of them were coming off the season in which they posted a negative (wins above replacement).”
And this year’s roster?
“You reduce it by the pending free agents, we’re going to have 36 players, three of which had a negative WAR,” he said. “That’s roster depth. That’s raising the floor.”
The Mariners have only a handful of pending free agents — reliever Drew Storen, outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and first basemen Dae-Ho Lee and Adam Lind. Seattle must make decisions on outfielders Norichika Aoki and Seth Smith and catcher Chris Iannetta, who have options for next season.
Sources have said the Mariners are likely to bring back Smith on a $7 million option for 2017 and are considering Aoki at $5.5 million. It’s unlikely that Iannetta will be brought back.
There likely will be a change at shortstop. Youngster Ketel Marte struggled in his first full season, battling injuries and inconsistency. The Mariners thought they had a deal with Cincinnati for veteran Zack Cozart, but it fell apart in the hours leading up to the MLB trade deadline. They’re expected to revisit those talks again this offseason or look elsewhere for a possible replacement. It would allow Marte to return to Class AAA Tacoma to improve, similar to what catcher Mike Zunino did this past season.
At first base, Daniel Vogelbach will get a chance to make the team out of spring, but the Mariners will also have other options to look to. Young outfielders Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia will have a chance to make the team, but Seattle should be creative with those spots.
One place that isn’t quite as needed for extensive change is the pitching staff, which is in stark contrast from last season. The five finishing members of the rotation will be back along with Nathan Karns. And a bullpen that was totally retooled last season has 13 pitchers under club control.
Servais chuckled about the premise of a lack of potential roster moves in the offseason.
“Jerry Dipoto will turn some things over,” he said. “I don’t think you’ll see us sitting pat. I think you’ll see us aggressive and trying to get better. Maybe in some areas that the normal fan isn’t anticipating to happen.”
Dipoto has said often that he isn’t a fan of building through free agency. This year’s class, which is considered abysmal, only reaffirms his thinking.
“There will be some change,” he said. “We do have pending free agents, we do have some roster decisions to make, and obviously as the offseason begins we’re going to have some holes to fill, but I think we have fewer critical holes to fill.”