The 2020 Seattle Mariners don’t need to be a playoff contender, but they do need to take significant strides towards their stated goal of playoff contention by 2021. Thankfully, there is a nice example of how to do this for them to look at.
A lot of Mariners fans are trying to force a comparison between recent rebuilds like the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros. But these aren’t good comparisons. For the Astros, they didn’t have to break down to zero because they were already there.
The Astros began their rebuild as the undisputed worst team in the game. What they did was simply refuse to add any free agent talent for a few years. The Mariners had the trade chips to start their rebuild on step 2, avoiding the ugly 3 straight 100 loss season route.
The Cubs comparison could be a bit better, but the Cubs are still the Cubs, with insanely deep pockets and the best executive in the game at the helm of their rebuild. Atlanta, Chicago, and Philadelphia are often used as examples, but they all fall apart to some degree.
And while no two rebuilds are alike and there is no one size fits all approach, the best outline for the Mariners to follow may actually be a team not many are talking about; the Cinncinatti Reds.
If you follow us on Twitter (@sodomojoFS), you probably are familiar with this comparison, as it is the one we reference the most. But this rebuild isn’t complete which is why it tends to be ignored by most. But the Mariners may only be about a year behind the Reds, and their situations are pretty similar.
First, Cincinnati and Seattle are mid-market clubs. Second, the team has been decent for stretches of the past 10 years (Cincy even made the playoffs as recently as 2013). Both teams have upper-level farm systems, with troublesome contracts still on the books, and some quality young bats to build around.
The last sentence actually refers to the 2019 Mariners vs the 2018 Reds, but the statement holds true. GM Jerry Dipoto is entering this off-season in a similar place as last years Reds. But what makes the Reds off-season of last winter the prototype for the Mariners this winter? To understand that, let’s look at some moves.
The Reds made 4 key roster moves last off-season. The first, trading Tanner Rainey (a relief prospect) for Tanner Roark. Roark was the extra man in the Washington Nationals rotation and only had 1-year of club control remaining. Roark was a solid, mid-rotation arm with little upside, making his addition an odd one for a team with no real chance to compete in 2019.
However, Roark pitched well enough for the Reds to flip him in July for prospect Jameson Hannah, a solid Top 12-15 prospect with a chance to be an everyday player. Trading a relief prospect for a potential everyday centerfielder? Yes, please.
Next, they handled one of their contract issues in one of the most interesting deals of the entire off-season. They traded Homer Bailey, Josiah Gray, and Jeter Downs to Los Angeles for Matt Kemp, Kyle Farmer, Yasiel Puig, and Alex Wood. This is very much a “buyers move” as Puig and Wood were both rentals, and Matt Kemp was almost always going to be released at some point.
The Reds got little to no production from Wood this season and did indeed release Kemp. Puig was solid for Cincinnati, but his real value comes a little later in this story. The key here is that the Reds made a move specifically to get better in 2019, without any guarantee they’d be better in 2020 for it.
Next, they traded Shed Long, and a Competitive Balance A pick for Sonny Gray. When acquired, like most of the acquisitions, Gray was on the last year of his deal. However, Cincinnati believed they could get the best out of Gray and signed him to a 3-year extension shortly after the deal was announced.
All this aggressive mindset got the Reds was a number 1 starter and 4 bWAR players on a cheap, team-friendly deal. Rock-solid.
Finally, they signed solid MLB piece Derek Dietrich to a minor league deal and reaped the rewards early in the season.
Oh, and remember Yasiel Puig? All they did with him, a player they weren’t going to keep after this season, and package him with a top prospect and acquire Trevor Bauer, another number 1 starter to pair with Sonny Gray in a winnable division in 2020.
None of the deals made a lot of sense for a cellar dweller on paper. And yet, they all greatly improved their team in 2019 and gave them the best chance possible to win in 2020 without completely emptying out the farm system.
The Cincinnati Reds didn’t wait for “their window to line up with the market” because there is no such thing. The Mariners cannot refuse to pay market value for Gerrit Cole just because “it’s a year too early”. It is absolute nonsense.
Seattle has set an aggressive timeline for when they want to compete. And as such, they cannot take the approach of the Astros and White Sox; they can’t afford to wait and see if you’re young guys hit.
Because expecting most of your top prospects to not only reach the big leagues by 2021 but be impact players immediately upon their arrival is absurd. The Mariners need to be aggressive this off-season, not when they after next season. If nothing ever materializes, that is fine. You don’t need to force things. But you CANNOT be afraid to add pieces that make sense.
Be bold, be the Reds, and try to build a contender for 2020 as best you can. Be smart, but be aggressive. Hope is not a form of action. The farm system needs help from MLB players not in the organization to make this goal a reality. And if Dipoto is unable to start making that a reality this winter, it won’t become one.