Most of the Mariners' best players won't be going anywhere for a while. Maybe this season is a sign of good — or great — things to come.
One All-Star is a requirement. Two All-Stars is an accomplishment. Three All-Stars gives you bragging rights. But four? That’s treading on special.
No, the Mariners won’t be as well-represented at the Midsummer Classic as the Red Sox, Astros or Indians, each of which will send five players. But they did match the Yankees and surpass other payroll titans such as the Dodgers and Cubs.
The team with the fourth-best record in baseball appears to be getting the national recognition commensurate with its success. The best part for its fans? This All-Star love may very well become tradition.
It would be one thing if it were Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano joining the 38-year-old Nelson Cruz in the nation’s capital Tuesday. Instead, Cruz will be joined by the 24-year-old Edwin Diaz, the 27-year-old Mitch Haniger and the 28-year-old Jean Segura.
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It was just a few months ago that we were talking about how the Mariners’ aging core was closing the team’s window of opportunity. Then these youngsters came in and smashed that pane to pieces.
Is it not remarkable how quickly the narrative changed? Is it not wild how the beginning of the end became simply the beginning?
I haven’t even mentioned 29-year-old pitcher James Paxton, who is probably the Mariners’ most prized player. But he, like so many of his 20-something teammates, are under club control through at least 2020.
Even if this team has been outkicking its coverage this year, that’s an exciting prospect. Even if the Mariners’ run differential (plus-14 heading into Thursday’s game) is more indicative of their skill than their record (58-36 after Thursday’s loss at Anaheim), this youth movement should spark optimism.
When Jerry Dipoto took over as general manager three years ago, it appeared he was inheriting an unsuited 2-7 in this MLB poker game. Now, he can barely see over his stack of chips.
Granted, you never know who is going to have injury trouble or if certain players’ production will drop off. But there seems to have been enough of a sample size to suggest these youngsters’ success will continue.
Segura is now a two-time All-Star on pace to hit .300 for the third straight year. Haniger, whose 65 RBIs heading into Thursday’s game was second in the league, was phenomenal when healthy last year. Diaz’s natural ability earned national attention almost instantly in 2016. And Paxton has firmly established himself as the Mariners’ ace.
But we’ve also seen 26-year-old pitcher Marco Gonzales emerge as a key factor, something his team-leading 10 wins attest to. And productive leadoff man Dee Gordon is locked up through 2021.
None of the Mariners’ top five leaders in WAR is older than 30. That might not mean much for a team at the bottom of the standings, but it’s quite noteworthy for a squad with a better record than all but three clubs.
Some might look at the Mariners’ depleted farm system and think that the future isn’t as rosy as I’m making it out to be. Perhaps. But give me established talent over prospects every time.
Ranking minor leaguers is almost as much of a guessing game as roulette. Locking up young players who have proven themselves on the sport’s largest stage is a much safer bet.
This season has been one of the more fascinating ones in Mariners history. The one-run wins and come-from-behind victories have been wild. The level they’ve played at after losing Cano has been unbelievable. Who knows if they’ll be able to keep up the pace many predicted would slow down weeks ago, but it appears they are a legitimately good team.
What might have been lost in all this, though, is the fact that this could start to become commonplace. Most of Seattle’s best players won’t be going anywhere for a while.
It wasn’t long ago that Father Time appeared to be the greatest threat to the Mariners. Now? That argument is old.