In case you were unaware, the Seattle Mariners haven’t played post-season baseball in 17 years. Okay, we all know that. The real question worth discussing is how they stop it from becoming 18 years.
Now, there is no magic formula to get a team into the playoffs. It takes talent and a good portion of luck to make it happen. However, the Mariners have to add significant upgrades to their roster for luck to even play a role.
Seattle is a team that has holes in their starting rotation, as well as in center field, catcher, first base, left field, and if they don’t re-sign Nelson Cruz, DH. It will be nearly impossible for GM Jerry Dipoto to fill all these holes this off-season without a serious financial boon from the ownership group.
The Mariners finished this year with a payroll at around $161 million. The team has consistently tried to stay around this mark over the past few years, plus or minus $10 million. For Dipoto to fill all the holes listed above, he would likely require a commitment to go right up to the luxury tax threshold, which, in 2019, is set at $206 million.
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It is hard to fathom the Mariners allowing such a spending spree. Instead, we must assume that Dipoto’s operating budget is going to be somewhere between $160-$170 million. The team has roughly $20 million coming off the books after the season ends, a large chunk of that belonging to Nelson Cruz.
Seattle can also clear up roughly $10 million by non-tendering contracts to guys like Nick Vincent and Erasmo Ramirez. In addition, Denard Span is unlikely to be in the fold for 2019. If the Mariners execute his option and are able to trade him, they could save roughly $4 million versus if they just decline the option.
Thankfully, guys like Marco Gonzales, Mitch Haniger, and Edwin Diaz are still pre-arbitration eligible. However, guys like James Paxton, Mike Zunino, and Jean Segura are headed for raises for the 2019 season.
All in all, the raises in arbitration would effectively wipe out the gains from non-tendering Vincent and Ramirez.
The best estimate we can levy on October 2nd, 2018, is that the Mariners will enter the off-season with somewhere between $20-$30 million of money to spend. It isn’t enough to go crazy but is enough to fill several of their holes.
A surprise trade of somebody like Mike Leake, Dee Gordon, or Jean Segura could change things quickly. However, for now, we can only assume the Mariners want to stay right where they are in their payroll structure, thus limiting what they will do in free agency. Hooray.