The Seattle Mariners recent run of bad seasons--and possibly their playoff drought--may soon come to an end. In fact there is a very good chance the team will be competitive in two years. For many reasons the Mariners are nearing the edge of the playoff desert they have been wandering for ten years. The Mariners brim with resources justifying fans' optimism.
The current roster, the front office headed by Jack Zduriencik, and the team's farm system should provide hope. Each slide details an aspect of this potential ascent in the American League West.
The Seattle Mariners front office has been rebuilding the team from the ground up since 2009. While much of that is invisible at the Major League level, it will soon be visible. The farm system is turning out quality pitchers and soon quality hitters.
The foundation is complete. The house will be finished soon despite appearances indicating otherwise. I borrow this metaphor from Tony Blengino who used it to describe how much of team building is invisible to fans before the team is complete. I think it is sound and describes the Mariners' situation right now.
Zduriencik played a large part in the Milwaukee Brewers resurgence last decade. As a director of scouting in Milwaukee, Zduriencik helped bring to Milwaukee the talent that sent the Brewers to the playoffs in 2008. The Brewers remain competitive, powered by young players like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, both drafted during Zduriencik's tenure in Milwaukee.
Along with Zduriencik came Tony Blengino. Blengino helped Zduriencik in Milwaukee through his involvement in amateur scouting. Blengino now heads the Seattle Mariners' Department of Statistical Research. Zduriencik created that department in Seattle.
Zduriencik and Blengino have now been applying their methods for the better part of three seasons. Some of the results are visible, especially in the form of young players currently on the Mariner roster drafted or traded by Zduriencik.
The modern Major League Baseball competitive environment shifts rapidly. Teams can change from bad to good and good to bad in one season. A rapid climb by the Seattle Mariners to the top of the American League should shock no one. It might not be expected but it shouldn't be shocking.
When intelligent front offices are involved, transitions from bad to good are common. Recent examples include the 1991 Atlanta Braves, the 1991 Minnesota Twins, and the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. These three teams went from last to place to first place in one season.
The Mariners went to the playoffs their first season with Pat Gillick as general manager in 2000. Pat Gillick turned other teams into playoff contenders right away, including the Baltimore Orioles of the late 1990s and the Philadelphia Phillies a few years ago.
The Mariners front office is smart. They can get the team back to the top in short order if they put their minds to it.
The Mariners active roster as of today has an average age of 29 for hitters, 27 for pitchers.
The 2007 Tampa Bay Rays had a batter age of 26 and pitcher age of 27. The 1990 Atlanta Braves had a batter age of 27 and a pitcher age of 26. The 1990 Minnesota Twins had batter and pitcher ages of 29 and 27, respectively. Those three teams were terrible. Those three teams went to the World Series one year after the seasons mentioned.
The Seattle Mariner player-average ages are right in line with other teams that grew into success rapidly. The top talent on the team, Ichiro aside, is all very young. Felix Hernandez is 25. Michael Pineda and Blake Beaven are only 22. Dusting Ackley is 23. Justing Smoak is 24. Michael Carp is 25. Greg Halman is 23. The Mariners are grooming these players to be the core of the team.
The players mentioned should age well, pushing the Mariners to success in the next few years.
Fans of good pitching
Seattle Mariner fans are getting used to good pitching. They should stay used to it.
Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, and Blake Beavan are 25, 22, and 22 years old, respectively. Hernandez is one of the best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball. Pineda looks like a candidate for that level of success. Pineda's ERA of 3.53 and his strike-out-to-walk ratio of 3 spanning 130 rookie innings point to great things to come.
Beavan has not thrown nearly enough big league innings to make any sort of assertion like what I say about Pineda. Beavan has been strong in his 33 innings pitched this season, putting up an ERA of 3.24 with a strike-out-to-walk ratio of 2.5. Those numbers are impressive considering those are Beavan's first 33 inning pitched in the majors.
I didn't even mention Jason Vargas. He has been a solid back-of-the-rotation pitcher. Vargas is 28 and not likely to improve but he should be able to maintain his current level of performance, a level which would keep the Mariners strong assuming the continued success of Hernandez, Pineda, and Beavan.
As stated in the previous slide, fans are getting used to good pitching. The farm system looks to keep up with demand. On top of Daniel Hultzen, just drafted out of the University of Virginia, the Seattle Mariners have a promising crop of minor league pitchers. Taijuan Walker and Mauricio Robles stand to break into the rotation in the next few years, Robles before Walker.
Pitchers aren't the only crop on the Mariner farm. Nick Franklin and Alex Liddi could form the left-side of an infield that already has Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak. Current Mariner infielder and former hot prospect Kyle Seager might get lost in the shuffle given the expectations placed on Ackley and Franklin.
However the rotation and infield fill out, the Mariners have reason to expect good things for years to come, starting soon and continuing long into the future.
Winning isn't all about the winning team. A win implies a loss and a winner implies a loser. The Seattle Mariners are in a good position to reverse their current relationship with the win-loss equation due to their fortunate baseball-alignment circumstances.
By that I mean the Mariners are in a small division and one lacking richer-than-Croesus teams.
The division also only has four teams. Just by existing the Mariners are in fourth place. One could say Major League baseball is subsidizing playoff appearances by AL West teams by keeping the division small. The Mariners' proximity to the summit increases their chances of a successful ascent.
Given rumors about realignment including scenarios that would expand the AL West, the Mariners need to act quickly to capitalize on their situation.
A number two pick
This is the weakest basis for optimism but it could pay off big in the next few years. The Seattle Mariners look to have the fifth or sixth overall pick in next year's amateur draft.
I include this argument for near-term Mariner success because the team knows how to draft. Dustin Ackley was selected with the second overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft.
The player selected first by the Mariners this past spring, Daniel Hultzen, is highly touted. Hultzen was drafted out of a big college baseball program, the University of Virginia. If he pans out he won't spend much time in the minors and he could be a strong addition to the Mariners rotation by 2013.
Remember again that in 2013 Felix Hernandez will only be 27!
Another Dustin Ackley Photo
Dustin Ackley is the greatest source of near-term-success speculation who doesn't pitch or ride a desk. Ackley is an excellent-hitting second baseman.
Ackley compares very favorably to other great second baseman. Consider Ackley's “triple slash” of batting average/on-base percent/slugging percent. His is .312/.377/.565! Maintaining those number for many seasons buys a player a first class ticket on the Hall-of-Fame train. I don't think it is reasonable to assume continued success at that level for anyone based only on half a season. Even if we lower Ackley's numbers by .030 to .282/.347/.535 he still compares well to the following players.
Ryne Sandberg's career triple slash is .285/.344/.452. Sandberg's age 23 triple slash is .261/.316/.351. Of course Sandberg had a decent year as a 22 year old, putting up a slightly better line, .271/.312/.372.
How about Craig Biggio? His age 23 his triple slash is .257/.336/.402. Biggio's career triple slash is .282/.363/.433.
Look at Joe Morgan. I know, I know, this is pushing it but hey, the sky's the limit in this sort of drill. His triple slash at age 23 is .275/.378/.411. His career triple slash is .271/.392/.427.
If Ackley comes anywhere near the numbers of those second basemen the Mariners' chances of immediate success will be mightily improved.
During ages 23 and 24 combined, Smoak banged out a .220/.313/.379 triple slash. Those numbers aren't impressive like Dustin Ackley's but they are still worth painting in favorable colors.
Smoak is young. He might have been put in a full-time job sooner than desired because the Mariners didn't have any other options when he arrived. Those numbers are low because Smoak is still in the learning-on-the-job phase of his career. Smoak has also had a few nagging injuries of the kind that negatively impact performance without resulting in trips to the disabled list. His age along with a much improved pain situation next year could see Smoak turn into a good hitter in the next couple years.
In general the Mariners youthful, talented core of players supported by smart decision makers should start putting wins on the board soon.