What do you call a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 20 years? What’s the label you give a franchise with the longest postseason drought in the four most lucrative American sports leagues?
How about this? The toast of the town. At least that’s how it’s shaping up to be.
This has been one of the most disappointing sports seasons for Seattle in recent memory. The Seahawks are 3-8, the Huskies went 4-8, the Sounders and Storm both fell the early in the playoffs and the fledgling Kraken are in seventh place of their eight-team division.
If you’re a sports fan in the Emerald City, you’re looking at the losing as a disappointment. But if you’re the Mariners? You’re looking at it as an opportunity.
No, I don’t think many — if any — members of the M’s’ organization are rooting against their fellow Seattle teams. In fact, manager Scott Servais sounded the siren for the Huskies before the Apple Cup.
Still, there is a chance for the Mariners to take over the city in a way it hasn’t seen in a long time. And they’re sure as hell are going for it.
Any doubts about whether the M’s were going to make significant roster upgrades disappeared over the past few days. First they traded for former Padres second baseman Adam Frazier, whose WAR of 4.0 would have been second for Seattle last season. Then came the whale in the form of last season’s American League Cy Young winner, Robbie Ray.
Ray’s five-year, $115 million contract signaled that Mariners ownership — not known for spending over the past few years — are willing to fork over significant cash to try to win. And why wouldn’t they?
Last season’s Mariners team stunned most pundits by rattling off 90 wins. It was a 22-victory improvement from their last full season (they went 27-33 in 2020), and most key pieces are returning. They also may have the best farm system in baseball, which could (should?) lead to the acquisition of more proven big-leaguers.
No more stepping back for this team — only stepping up.
Perhaps he was just saying what you’re supposed to say at an introductory news conference, but Ray seemed particularly giddy to be in Seattle on Wednesday. He mentioned how Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger emphasized the passion he felt from the fan base during their end-of-the-season playoff push. He brought up the meeting he had with Servais, general manager Jerry Dipoto and assistant GM Justin Hollander, which appeared to seal his future as a Mariner.
“We sat down and talked about the direction of the team and talked about the vision for the future,” Ray said. “And man, they just really sold me on it.”
A couple things must be mentioned here. First, the Mariners have been the masters of the tease the past several seasons. After going 12 games above .500 and narrowly missing the playoffs in 2014, they finished 10 games below .500 the following year. After finishing 10 games above .500 and narrowly missing the playoffs in 2016, they finished six games below .500 the following year. Sixteen games above .500 in 2018, then 26 games below in 2019. And here we are after a 90-72 record in 2021 — a year that Baseball Reference’s Pythagorean win-loss formula said they should have finished 76-86.
Second, the imminent lockout is going to put transactions on hiatus. We don’t know how long the expected work stoppage will last, meaning we don’t know when Dipoto’s full plan will come to fruition. Could be more big moves, could be a few smaller ones — could be a long time before anything.
But right now it appears the seeds are being planted. Right now it seems the Mariners could be primed for a Seattle takeover, and not one that only lasts a season.
You never know what’s going to happen with the other teams around here. Maybe Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will come back next year and have an MVP-caliber season. Maybe the transfer portal will revitalize Huskies football. Maybe the talent-rich Storm and Sounders will surge back to the top of their leagues and the Kraken will find their footing.
But this town is the Mariners’ for the taking if they want it.
Haniger was right. The energy at T-Mobile Park at the end of last season was exhilarating. Mariners fans have been toyed with too often to show up like that every game, but history shows that when the M’s convince people that they’re contenders, attendance figures soar.
We could start to see that energy every night. Up to the Mariners to make it happen.