Last week, Carlos Correa, superstar shortstop and the top player on most free agent rankings, shocked the baseball world by signing a three-year deal worth a little over $100 million to join the Minnesota Twins. There’s a ton to unpack here. Questions have to be raised about the changes in agents, the length of the contract, the decision to join a team that lost 89 games and finished dead last in a cold weather and unfriendly hitting ball park.
For Seattle Mariners fans, the biggest question that has to be answered is…Did the AL West just open up a year earlier than we all expected?
The Houston Astros, for all their flaws and transgressions, have been the class of the American League for the past seven seasons. Four division titles, two wildcard berths, three seasons with over 100 wins, three AL championships, and a 2017 World Series title. If you take out the shortened 2020 season, the Astros have averaged 96 wins since 2015. This run has had many incredible heroes and talented players, but the run will always be connected to the dynamic duo of Jose Altuve and Correa; and now their shortstop, their captain, has left them.
The Astros, and the AL West crown, are now vulnerable. I would not have made that statement last week. I assumed Correa was returning, but that 7.2 WAR and Platinum Glove talent is gone, and there is no Trevor Story to soften the blow. Is Jeremy Pena really ready to take over at shortstop? What does Justin Verlander have left in the tank? The same questions can be asked of Brantley, Altuve and Gurriel, all on the wrong side of thirty.
The Astros will be good, but they have legitimate questions now. That is not something they’ve had to really deal with during their run…on the field at least. The Seattle Mariners have questions too, but they also have put together a ball club that has incredible potential.
The Mariners needed a front of the rotation pitcher, and got 2021 AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray. They needed to find more consistent offense, so they went out and acquired All-Star talent in Adam Frazier, Jesse Winker, and Eugenio Suarez. Their first wave of young potential stars are all almost called up to the bigs now, and that led to a competitive 2020 team, and a magical 2021 season that resulted in 90 wins.
Most importantly, the M’s are about to have two superstar level prospects join the club full time this summer in Julio Rodriguez and George Kirby, and they’re bringing a different level of talent (and hope) than this team has seen in a long time.
The pitching looks better.
The hitting looks better.
The Mariners will be better.
Is it enough though?
If you asked me today, I’d guess the AL West standing would end up looking like this:
1. Houston Astros 93-69
2. Seattle Mariners 91-71
3. Los Angeles Angels 85-77
4. Texas Rangers 80-82
5. Oakland Athletics 61-101
Houston’s loss of Correa will cost them a couple of games, while the Mariners rise in talent/acceptance of natural regression on luck and bullpen gives us one more win than last season, but likely gets Seattle into the new Wild Card Series. The M’s are close, and as Jerry Dipoto stated last week, this team is not done being built, and will likely continue to be tweaked through July. If the M’s are close, they’re going to go get another high level bat, or a front end of the rotation arm. They do that, they can catch the Correa-less Astros and win the West in 2022.
The Seattle Mariners have been building towards legitimate contention ever since 2018. The process has been anything but smooth, but it has also led to results. The slow climb is how most championship teams are built. The Mariners tasted success in 2021. They need to taste champagne in 2022.