It isn’t easy being a Seattle Mariners fan these days. To follow baseball in general, a fan has to have a great deal of patience given that the season is so long. If you think about it, a baseball fan can realize fairly early in the season that his or her beloved team may not be relevant until at least the following summer.
That is a long time to wait for success, particularly when the Seattle Seahawks are right across the street and NFL people are suggesting that the ‘Hawks are a Super Bowl contender. No wonder the seats at Safeco Field are empty.
And yet, hope springs eternal, right? At some point the team has to mature and contend, right? Or is that just wishful thinking? Fans remember the glory days of Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Randy Johnson, “Refuse to Lose” in 1995 and the magical 116-win season of 2001. For some, those are increasingly painful memories as the losing seasons continue to pile up, but they are an ongoing reminder that a baseball team from Seattle can be relevant.
With that in mind, here are three reasons the future is still bright for the Mariners.
The pitching staff
Despite the offensive challenges, there is reason to remain very optimistic about the pitching. Felix Hernandez is still an ace. Hisashi Iwakuma has had a great season and is under contract for 2014.
Then there are the highly touted youngsters, who are finally making appearances at Safeco Field. Taijuan Walker has been solid, and though he will be shut down for the season, there is reason to believe he may be in the rotation next spring.
James Paxton has also arrived, and if Danny Hultzen can somehow get healthy, the Mariners may have what has been projected to be a devastating rotation. Add in young bullpen arms like Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps and Yoervis Medina, and the Mariners could have a very talented pitching staff.
Granted, there is work to be done before all of those arms come together.
A young core
Fans have been patiently waiting for the young core of hitters to develop and become a unit. There have been signs of growth in 2013, though this team has yet to really show that the lineup can be truly formidable.
Kyle Seager has had a very good season. Justin Smoak has been up and down a bit, but overall has been a pleasant surprise. Brad Miller looks like a keeper. Dustin Ackley appears to be making a comeback. Mike Zunino and Nick Franklin have both shown flashes of excellent potential.
Add in prospects like Abraham Almonte, and the Mariners could have a lineup that makes some noise in 2014. Again, the key word is “could.”
What else is there to do but hope? Sure, the Mariners could certainly use a quality free-agent bat to balance out the youth. Perhaps the Mariners bring Kendrys Morales back, or maybe they let him go to a team that is willing to overpay.
The bottom line is that this lineup has the potential to be very good. They may just need a spark.
It would be nice to be relevant on a regular basis. However, baseball economics are such that Seattle may continue to be in the lower half of the payroll list. Bud Selig will continue pointing to the Oakland A's and Pittsburgh Pirates and argue that there is balance in baseball.
However, the fact remains that payroll in baseball is like raffle tickets. If you buy just one ticket, you could win on occasion. The reality is that the person who buys a stack of raffle tickets every year is consistently going to have more chances at winning.
That said, baseball does go in cycles, both in terms of team success and franchise leadership. The 2014 season will likely be a crucial year for general manager Jack Zduriencik. If the Mariners don't start winning, Jack Z may eventually be looking for a job. At this point, maybe that is a reason for optimism.
This culminates in the final reason that the future is still bright in Seattle. At some point, fans have to hope the team will finally arrive. Maybe the fans should continue to rebel with their feet and stay away from Safeco Field. Perhaps it is time for the Mariners to be sold to an owner who actually has a vested interest in the team.
Until that happens, fans have to stay positive. There are still some reasons for optimism. For the Seattle Mariners, the future is still bright, even if that brightness is sometimes dampened by a few clouds.