It’s been a surprisingly quiet start to the offseason for Jerry Dipoto and the Seattle Mariners—almost a little too quiet.
This may be indicative of how much stronger the Mariners appear to be going into this offseason compared to where they were last year. Strength comes in many forms, and while the roster they exited 2018 with was better suited to be competitive the following year, the decisions the Mariners have made over the last 12 months have ultimately put them in a position of power to build a roster capable of competing for more than just a second wild card spot for the upcoming decade.
Typical for heading into the second season of a rebuild, the Mariners are weak in several key areas from a Major League roster standpoint. Pitching is the most well-documented area of need for them, both in the bullpen and rotation, but they could also use a few positional tweaks as well. Thankfully, there is at least some glimmer of hope for an answer at each and every position they need to address.
At first base, Evan White is expected to take a big step and legitimately push to make the Opening Day 26-man roster. That likely won’t happen in the end, though White may very well be with the team once things shake out with his service time by the start of May. Kyle Seager‘s strong finish to the 2019 season has suddenly washed away many of the questions about Seattle’s third base situation for now, while Shed Long is set to take over full-time starting duties at second if the Mariners are successful in trading Dee Gordon this offseason.
Major League Baseball’s best catching tandem may very well reside right in Seattle with the dynamic duo of Tom Murphy and Omar Narváez, but that’s not the only position the Mariners are seemingly stacked at. Despite significant injuries to both Mitch Haniger and Domingo Santana, the Mariners have a great amount of depth in their outfield between the two aforementioned names as well as Mallex Smith, Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley, and Braden Bishop. That’s not to mention that two of their elite prospects, Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic, are also outfielders.
That depth could help the Mariners address some other needs as well, as both Haniger and Santana, or even someone like Lewis, could net them something of use on the market. That brings me to the Mariners’ biggest strength of all…
They have ammunition. And not only do they have ammunition, but they have the depth to supplement the pieces they lose without skipping a beat. That’s the most significant part to all of this. If they so desire, the Mariners have the pieces to go out and get the ace many of the team’s fans are pounding the table for. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they should just yet, but it’s hard not to find solace in the fact that they absolutely can get anyone they want now. That wasn’t possible even a year ago.
I think the hardest thing for Mariners fans to wrap their heads around is that it’s not hard for the team to get back to where they were before Jerry Dipoto stripped everything down last year. You can very easily be a middle-of-the-pack team with thin wild card hopes. The difference between those teams from years past and the club they’re attempting to build now is that this team can actually make the next step when they need to.
The mid-2010s Mariners teams that fell just short of playoff contention on more than one occasion didn’t have the means to go out and get the complementary pieces they so desperately needed, let alone a superstar. They had a massive chunk of payroll wrapped up in a handful of players, leaving Dipoto to pick at the bottom of the barrel to build a contender on nothing more than hope.
Seattle is now about league average in terms of payroll, which will only get lower as the financial burdens of Jay Bruce, Robinson Canó, Dee Gordon, and others officially slide off the books in the next year or so. They can go build a solid group around a young core through free agency, and have the prospect depth to make a big trade or two without bleeding themselves dry. None of that was possible during the 2010s.
These differences in outlook will be put on full display this offseason, as the Mariners will look to complement an already exciting group of young players with pieces they feel can help them along the way. Will the Mariners go out and get that ace this offseason? Probably not, but they can go out and get whatever they need and be in great position to recover from the losses they do take.
So, yes, they may be weak at the Major League level right now. But from an organizational standpoint, this is the strongest the Mariners have been in years, and that could set up for a very exciting offseason ahead.