One thing you gotta give Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais is that they keep it honest. It might not be honesty that the ticket office is thrilled to hear each offseason, but the candor still comes.
The question is — is that honesty enough to quell a fan base that, by the start of next season, will have gone 20 years without seeing its team make the playoffs? Because the patience is thin enough to floss with right now.
Before the 2019 season, Dipoto announced his famous (infamous?) “step-back” plan, in which the M’s traded top players for prospects in an effort to rebuild. Before last season — long before COVID-19 flipped the country on its back — he again tempered expectations, correctly implying that the Mariners weren’t going to snap their postseason skid.
Well, on Wednesday Servais — whose views have been consistent with Dipoto’s — met with the media for the first since the end of this past 60-game season. So I asked him: Is this a team finally ready to contend?
“I do like our chances to be more competitive throughout the whole year, understanding that we still have a long ways to go. We played very well in my opinion over the last 30 or 35 games of last season, but it’s 30-35 games,” Servais said via a Zoom call. “We need to be realistic around where we’re at. For me, and I said it last year, and you’ll hear me say it a ton this year — it’s about getting better … If (our young players) continue to get better, I like our chances for being competitive this upcoming season. I really do.”
So, what say you, Mariners fans? Was that to your satisfaction? Did that give you a jolt of adrenaline? Does that make you think 2021 will finally deliver the playoff appearance and end this two-decade-long humiliation?
Because here’s how I interpreted Servais: meeehhhh.
That’s not a shot at Scott whatsoever. If I’m a fan, I would much rather hear an accurate assessment than an empty promise. But he’s right — they have to be realistic in their expectations, and the focus should be on getting better.
That might be infuriating for the diehards to hear. It seems like this city has been getting some iteration of those statements since Dipoto and Servais got here in 2015. But that’s the current state of the team.
While there was a sliver of playoff hope at one point last season, 2020 was more or less a disaster for the M’s. The entire focus was on developing their younger players at all levels, and given that there were only 60 big-league games and no minor-league season, the Mariners suffered more than most.
Perhaps expectations would be higher if their top guys under 25 got 500 plate appearances as opposed to 200. Unfortunately, that was the reality of what might go down as the most tumultuous season in MLB history.
Still, it’s not as though there aren’t reasons for optimism. Outfielder Mitch Haniger, who made the American League All-Star team in 2018 before injuries limited him to 63 games the following season and no games last year, has resumed full activities. Catcher Tom Murphy — who was second in WAR (3.2) for the Mariners in 2019 despite playing in just 75 games — is also expected to be ready for spring training after missing last season because of a broken foot.
And then, of course, there is the return of American League Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, the emergence of second baseman Dylan Moore (who led the M’s in WAR last year while playing 33 games), the likely call-up of phenom Jarred Kelenic — not to mention, shortstop J.P. Crawford and starting pitcher Marco Gonzales.
Those names, along with other young talent, is why Servais said he’s “pumped” about next year.
Of course, the Mariners will have to add. Servais emphasized that Wednesday. To that end, Dipoto has already acquired established right-hander Rafael Montero from the Rangers to beef up the bullpen, a constant source of distress for this team.
All that said, the Mariners’ record last year (27-33) had them on pace to win about 73 games in a full season. Give what it takes to historically make the playoffs, they’d probably have to add at least 12 wins to that total. Do you have those pieces right now?
It would be fun for fans to hear an emphatic yes. The realistic answer is less encouraging.