With the Mariners on the brink of mathematical elimination, we turn our attention to the 2019 season. Without question, Jerry Dipoto has done the same.
Only July 6, the Mariners rewarded Dipoto with a multi-year contract extension for his mostly successful retooling of the Mariners’ roster. I say “mostly” due in part to the hiccups that have occurred along the way, but that’s to be expected of most general managers.
What Dipoto inherited in late 2015 was an absolute dumpster fire from an entire organizational perspective. The Major League roster was decent at best, at least offering a few pieces to build around. The farm, on the other hand, was an entire mess.
Dipoto has utilized the players Jack Zduriencik left behind to build a competitive Major League roster over the last three years. Zduriencik-acquired pieces such as Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte have been flipped for All-Stars, and a top Jack Z-era starting pitching prospect in Edwin Diaz has been converted into the best closer in all of baseball.
Some lingering pieces from Zduriencik’s regime have kept Dipoto’s hands tied, such as Mike Zunino and Robinson Cano’s 10-year, $240 million contract. Still, he’s done a nice job with what little he’s had to work with.
If the Mariners win six of their final nine games this season, Dipoto will have built a 90-win ballclub out of scraps. Such a result would land a team in the postseason, potentially with a division title, but not this year, and not in this division.
After an awful meltdown over the Summer, it’s impressive that the Mariners still have a realistic opportunity to reach the 90-win threshold. Though the Mariners greatly overachieved to start the 2018 season, the prospect of a more sustainable season should be inspiring to Dipoto and company.
But it’s also scary, because it greatly increases the chances of Dipoto wanting to mostly stand pat during the upcoming offseason. His reasoning for this will be simple: the current group of players got them to roughly 90 wins, which would be good enough for a playoff spot in most seasons, so why can’t they do it again?
The problem with that line of thinking is that, firstly, the American League was pretty awful across the board this year. Aside from a late surge from the Rays and the Athletics’ insane turnaround, there were five playoff-caliber teams in the American League for most of the season, and the Mariners were one of them.
The Mariners’ early success could potentially be equated to the lack of serious competition surrounding them, making the inevitable improvement of lower tier American League teams something the Mariners organization should be very aware of.
In short, the Mariners cannot just stand pat. The teams around them will get better and the American League will likely be more competitive this upcoming season.
Most of the American League will retool with eyes looking toward playoff contention, and the Mariners should absolutely do the same. Even if they reach 90 wins this season, they still weren’t a playoff team and should not go into the 2019 offseason acting like they were.
There are still many holes in the Mariners’ roster, allowing them great opportunities to get better. However, with very little prospect capital available to trade, the Mariners will have to dip into the free agency pool way more than they have in the past. This goes against what Dipoto has done historically, but it’s necessary for him to realize that is the best path for the organization to go for this team to contend.
I don’t want to hear that this current roster will be able to repeat what they’ve done in 2018, which, in the end, was nothing. If some faces don’t change and a real, noticeable improvement isn’t made throughout the roster, this team will ultimately regress. That is the nature of baseball.