Well, it’s official. The Seattle Mariners now hold the ignominious distinction—after the Toronto Blue Jays made the playoffs last season—of baseball’s longest play-off drought. (Second longest in all pro sports.) Fun times! While 14 years of crushing failure should (rightly) relegate the Mariners to local irrelevance, here are reasons for hope in 2016.
Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!
The coolest thing about the Mariners’ new general manager Jerry Dipoto is his unabashed nerdiness: He’s a believer in advanced statistical analysis! Finally, we can welcome the M’s to the cutting edge of 2003!
Jack Zduriencik was terrible, but his predecessor Bill Bavasi might be the worst GM in MLB history. So if Dipoto continues that trend of improvement, he’ll be at worst…arguably competent? Progress?
Minimal Risk, Significant Improvement
Dipoto didn’t make any splashy acquisitions in his first off-season, instead making low-risk moves for big league depth. Fans won’t be rushing out to buy jerseys of new outfielders Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Boog Powell, first baseman Adam Lind, or catcher Chris Iannetta, but they should bring consistency to spots that were black holes of awfulness in 2015.
Taijuan Walker, the Mariners’ 23-year-old ace-in-waiting, is poised for his breakout season. While his 2015 ERA wasn’t sterling, a deep dive shows he was a victim of wall-scraping home runs and runners scoring at an unusually high rate—which statistically tends to indicate bad luck, not a lack of skill. His stats suffered as a result, but his overpowering pitches and superb strikeout and walk rates indicate a star in the making.
The Mariners went from having one of baseball’s best bullpens in 2014 to one of the worst in 2015. Dipoto spent the off-season blowing up and rebuilding the bullpen, bringing in former closers Joaquin Benoit and Steve Cishek and other buy-low arms. (Although trading away young flamethrower Carson Smith could be regrettable.)
Robinson Cano’s abysmal first half of last season doomed the Mariners, but he bounced back after the All-Star Game. His batting average jumped from .251 to .331 and he belted almost three times as many homers (6 to 15, despite playing 16 fewer games). With eight years left on his $240 million contract, the Mariners need early ’15 Cano to be a fluke.
A New Dae
Sneaky signing alert! Korean slugger Dae-ho Lee belted 31 home runs in the Japan Pacific League in 2015 with a patient power skill set similar to Mariners All-Star Nelson Cruz. Plus, he’s a classic fat guy who just hits homers. If you don’t love those dudes, you don’t love life.
Seattle Mariners Home Opener vs. Oakland Athletics
Apr 8, Safeco Field, $23–$600