Success is a broad term that has different meanings for each team. For the Los Angeles Dodgers, it means making it to the National League Championship Series, at least. But for the Seattle Mariners, it is not only about the results and making the playoffs this year.
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For me, I think the focus is also on how we can improve from 2020 and develop players. Even the little things are important. Obviously I would be ecstatic if the Mariners managed to make the playoffs and make a run for it all, but I don’t think it is realistic. So, here are a handful of things that I would define as success in terms of the upcoming M’s season.
Finish above .500 or finish third in the AL West
Last season, the M’s finished with a 27-33 record and somehow managed to be in the playoff hunt in the final month of the shortened season. So for 2021, I don’t expect the Mariners to win the division just yet. But, I do think you can consider the season a success if the team finished with a winning record.
Seattle hasn’t had a winning record since 2018 (.549), and have only finished with a winning record three times this decade. It’s time for the team to gradually make our way up to the top of the standings, especially since the tides are turning (slowly) in the AL West.
Our AL West rivals’ farm systems are starting to deplete while the Mariners’ continues to grow. The Athletics, Astros and Angels are bolstering their teams while at their peak, but you can’t be at the peak forever. So, a third place finish or a winning record would be one way I would define a successful 2021 season.
Allow our top prospects to get a taste of the big leagues
Another key to the 2021 season is giving our next wave of prospects a taste of the MLB. Last season, it was about giving Kyle Lewis and Evan White a full season and that turned out well. In 2021, it’s Taylor Trammell, Jarred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert and Cal Raleigh’s turn.
We recently found out that Taylor Trammell will most likely start on Opening Day, so he should get to play the entire 2021 season as a rookie. Soon enough, we should see Kelenic in the outfield to also contend for the Rookie of the Year alongside Trammell.
And a little after that, Logan Gilbert and Cal Raleigh should be called up to dip their feet in the water, to help them prepare for a full season in 2022.
It’s an exciting time to be a Mariners fan and 2021 will be a big pilot season for these prospects who are going to be at the center of the new era of Seattle baseball.
Rebound seasons from Mariners players who struggled in 2020
Another factor to determine if 2021 is a successful season or not is whether players like Yusei Kikuchi, Evan White, and Justin Dunn can rebound from last year. There are reasons to believe that they can play much better than they did in 2020 either based on the sabermetrics, or the adjustments they made this offseason.
Some fans think Yusei Kikuchi was unlucky last year because his advanced metrics look a lot better than his baseline stats (5.17 ERA). In addition, Kikuchi entered 2021 Spring Training a little leaner than last year and has pitched well in Arizona, so that is exciting.
Evan White is on a similar boat as Kikuchi. The Mariners rookie won the Gold Glove which is huge for him and the organization, but his offensive numbers weren’t great. At the same time, his numbers on Baseball Savant tell a slightly different story.
Evan’s K%, xBA and xOBA were ranked in the bottom 5% of the league, but his barrel % and hard hit % were in the top 10% of the league.
Justin Dunn also had a rough 2020 and he doesn’t have any advanced metrics that make us think he will bounce back. Dunn was recently announced as the sixth man in the rotation, rightfully so, after coming into Spring Training slimmer and increasing his fastball velocity significantly. Dunn looked like an entirely different player this month.
The Mariners bullpen additions help us win more games
This offseason, Jerry Dipoto wanted to bolster the bullpen and he did. We signed Keynan Middleton, acquired Will Vest through the MLB Rule 5 Draft, traded for Rafael Montero, etc. But, 2021 will tell us whether those additions were really beneficial or not.
The bullpen in 2020 seemed to be a revolving door of different guys but I can confidently say I have a better idea of who the main-stays will be in the Mariners bullpen. This is also important because many of these bullpen acquisitions are meant to help us beyond 2021 and the critical seasons like 2022-2024.
If the bullpen makes a significant positive impact this year, it would be a huge success for the team.
The Mariners stay healthy
Last but not least, player health. The team is at a critical point and the last thing we want to a major injury to our top guys. Recently, Kyle Lewis banged his knee into the wall a week ago and is out with a deep bone bruise. Hopefully it isn’t anything too major but I am crossing my fingers for a healthy year for all Mariners players.