Are the 2019 Seattle Mariners Really Going to be (that) Bad?

SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 08: Fans approach the ballpark prior to the home opener between the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field on April 8, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 08: Fans approach the ballpark prior to the home opener between the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field on April 8, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /

“What are the Mariners doing? What is Jerry thinking? Same Ol’ Mariners.”

There is a very large chance you have heard someone sputter these words over the past month as the Mariners have continued to ship their franchise players out of town. Or maybe you have said these words yourself.

Either way, I understand. To win 89 games and decide to start over after a season that showed so much promise is hard. But before we begin to dive into the potential of next season, I want everyone that doubts the future of the Mariners organization and their decision to rebuild to remember:

The Mariners were 89-73 last year, but they were the luckiest team in baseball. By a massive margin, actually. Their Pythagorean win-loss record was 77-85, meaning they picked up 12 games from their expected standing (the next best was Colorado, picking up 6). Essentially, the Mariners (given their overall team statistics) should have been 8 games under .500 in 2018.

And even if the Mariners were to go all-in for 2019, could they realistically tackle the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, or even the Houston Astros? Just some food for thought.

Since the Mariners last reached the playoffs in 2001, the organization has yet to truly hit the rebuild button. Their attempts to rebuild and compete simultaneously has failed miserably.

But back to business. What if I told you that the Mariners are going to “tear it down”, but actually have a solid team in 2019?

The negative connotation of “rebuild” creates the assumption that a team will be an absolute dumpster fire for 3 years with the chance of a World Series in the years to come. James Paxton is gone. Robinson Cano is gone. Jean Segura is gone. But I do not believe the Mariners are a team destined to tank.

Will the Mariners make the playoffs in 2019? No. But even with the all-in approach many fans wanted, their chances were slim anyway.

Take a look at the Mariners lineup (as it currently stands):

C Omar Narvaez

1B Ryon Healy/Jay Bruce

2B Dee Gordon

SS JP Crawford

3B Kyle Seager

LF Ben Gamel/Jay Bruce

CF Mallex Smith

RF Mitch Haniger

DH Edwin Encarnacion

First, our new Catcher, Omar Narvaez, which Seattle recently acquired in a swap for pitcher Alex Colome. Many of you will be thrilled to hear that the 26-year-old slashed .275/.366/.429 in 280 at-bats last season. His defense may not live up to the likes of Mike Zunino, but another valuable bat in the lineup will greatly improve the Mariners offense. I’ll take Narvaez’s offensive upside over Zunino’s skills behind the plate. Upgrade or Downgrade: Upgrade.

At first base, Ryon Healy and Jay Bruce are scheduled to share duties. Though there are rumors of Ryon Healy involved in trade talks, Bruce would simply take over as the everyday starter if Healy ends up elsewhere. This would also free up left field for Ben Gamel, further solidifying the outfield. With Healy as last season’s first baseman, there should be no reason to assume Seattle will downgrade at first base for 2019. Upgrade or Downgrade: Neutral.

With the departure of Robinson Cano, Dee Gordon will man second base. Though enduring a lackluster 2018 with his bat, Dee was forced to move between second base and center field routinely due to Cano’s 80-game suspension that began in May. Dee’s inconsistency at a single position could arguably be to blame for his woes; or, a foot injury that plagued the second half of his season.

With second base now all to himself, Gordon could be in for a bounce-back 2019, helping the team’s success (and his trade value). It’s hard to argue the Mariners will experience a downgrade here. Upgrade or Downgrade: Neutral. 

More from SoDo Mojo

I’ll wave the white flag on this one: JP Crawford will not replace Jean Segura’s production at shortstop in 2019. However, this was never the expectation. At just 23, the Mariners do not want to rush his progression as a player, and may even seek out a veteran SS to hold down the fort until Crawford is ready for the majors. Shortstop will be one of the more extensive rebuild projects for the next season or two. Upgrade or Downgrade: Downgrade.

It’s hard to tell whether Kyle Seager will rebound after the worst offensive season of his career in 2018. The defensive shift put on his bat certainly didn’t help, and it will be interesting to see how he responds in 2019. However, with no change at the position, the Mariners are certainly not becoming worse from keeping Seager at third. Upgrade or Downgrade: Neutral.

One of the quieter moves Seattle made in the offseason was the $4M buyout of Denard Span’s contract shortly after the end of the regular season. While most fans will miss Span and his ability to create consistent, quality at-bats, his departure may finally give Ben Gamel the opportunity to break out in left field. Gamel was actually quite good in 2018, slashing .272/.358/.370 in 257 at-bats. One of the more under-utilized players on the team has given his talent, Gamel is a definite player-to-watch in 2019. Upgrade or Downgrade: Neutral.

Center field was a mess in 2018 for the Seattle Mariners. When Dee Gordon wasn’t displaced from the infield, Guillermo Heredia and Cameron Maybin shared time at the position (and even Mitch Haniger, at times). Now, enter Mallex Smith.

The 25-year-old slashed .296/.367/.406 in 141 games last season for Tampa Bay and perfectly fits the mold for a young star that GM Jerry Dipoto wants to build around. If he can replicate last season’s numbers, Smith in the center is a no-brainer upgrade. Upgrade or Downgrade: Upgrade.

When you have an All-Star in right field, all is well. Mitch Haniger is without a doubt Seattle’s most valuable player, and if Jerry Dipoto isn’t “blown away” by a trade offer, Haniger will be a Mariner next season. Upgrade or Downgrade: Neutral.

On Thursday, the Mariners added notable slugger Edwin Encarnacion to the lineup as a designated hitter and the likely replacement for Nelson Cruz. Though it is unclear whether he will outperform Cruz’s 2018 campaign, Encarnacion should serve as a worthy replacement (if he isn’t traded first). Upgrade or Downgrade: Neutral.

As it stands, the nine positions for the 2019 Seattle Mariners are in for two upgrades, a downgrade at shortstop, and six neutrals.

“But wait! You’re forgetting about pitching!”

You’re right. This is where the Mariners have suffered the most throughout the offseason, losing their ace James Paxton, and the lethal combination of Alex Colome and Edwin Diaz.

The reason the Mariners will miss the postseason and all but likely win less than 89 games will root from their pitching. It is the one place you can point to and argue why the Mariners are dramatically worse in 2019.

Seattle won 36 of their games by one run last season, primarily because of the masterful pitching from closer Edwin Diaz. Nobody brought as much comfort to fans as Eddie, trotting to the mound holding a one-run lead. That comfort is now gone, as the Mariners no longer have a true closer on their roster.

The acquisition of former #1 Yankees prospect Justus Sheffield will help the back-end of the rotation, but let’s face it: there is no replacement for James Paxton. And though James only saw the mound every five days, the loss of Colome and Diaz in the bullpen (along with Juan Nicasio and James Pazos) will sting in 2019.

What is promising is that GM Jerry Dipoto has prioritized bolstering the bullpen for 2019. It is only December, and there are many more deals to be made before Opening Day.

Next. The Mariners Should Buy This SP While They Sell. dark

With this information in mind, I hope that fans will acknowledge that the Mariners have yet to “burn it down.” The team will look different, sure, but tanking is not in Seattle’s agenda. The Mariners are taking a step back in 2019, but it truly isn’t as big of a step back as you’d think.