The 2017 Major League Baseball season came to an end earlier this month with the Houston Astros crowned as World Series Champions. The Astros along with the Los Angeles Dodgers were the two participants in this year’s Fall Classic as they each one 100 games. But the modern version of MLB’s Playoff format is different from your father’s version as parity is now the king which has seen teams who were not overwhelmingly dominant like the Astros and Dodgers were in the regular season qualify and win it all. More than ever it is a free-for-all to qualify for the playoffs as of the ten teams that made the postseason here in 2017, five of those clubs failed to qualify last year. This group was highlighted by the Minnesota Twins who lost 103 games in 2016, and became the first team in MLB history to make the playoffs immediately following a 100-loss campaign. The additional wild card spot as well as the luxury tax are two features that MLB has recently implemented in order to even the playing field. And since 2008, all but three MLB teams have failed to make the postseason with the Seattle Mariners at the top of this very short list.
You have to go back to 2001 to find the last time in which the Mariners were able to make the playoffs. That year Seattle tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most single-season wins in Major League Baseball history with 116. However things would not work out for the M’s in the postseason as they were eliminated by the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series in six games. Each of the next two years would see Seattle win 93 games, but fall short of qualifying for the playoffs. And since then the opportunities have been few and far between in regards to the Mariners ending their streak.
The Mariners were consistently inconsistent this year as they finished 78-84. Injuries in the starting rotation as well as an overall lack of pitching did them in. The Mariners team earned run average of 4.46 was eighth in the American League, while their 62 quality starts were 13th. No Mariners starting pitcher made at least 30 starts this season, while starting pitcher James Paxton led the club in victories with just 12. Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings are right around the corner and for Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, he’ll head to Orlando knowing that he must bolster the team’s pitching staff going forward, while also coming to grips with certain things.
At the age of 31, starting pitcher Felix Hernandez is not the dominant force that he once was as he is beginning to break down. In 2014, Hernandez led the American in earned run average (2.14) for the second time in his career. But after Hernandez won 18 games for Seattle in 2015, his career begun to spiral downwards. Over the last two years Hernandez has only combined to make 41 starts compared to the 31 that he made in 2015. Hernandez is the Mariners all-time leader in strikeouts with 2,243, but he can no longer be counted on to be a front line starter.
There will be quality pitchers on the free agent market during the winter which includes Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta as well as Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish, but will Dipoto have the flexibility to spend the money?
The Mariners already have more than $113 million committed to salary next season, but they need another arm in their starting rotation as well as another bat for their lineup.
The Mariners offense was a middle of the road unit this year in the American League. Second baseman Robinson Cano is still a quality hitter, while designated hitter Nelson Cruz continues to defy the odds at the age of 37 as he led the team in home runs (39), and runs batted (119) which also led the American League. The M’s also have some additional pop in their lineup in the form of third baseman Corey Seager who belted 27 homers, while driving in 88 runs this past season. But this pop didn’t prevent the Mariners from being seventh in the A.L. this is past season in runs scored (750), while they were 10th in home runs with 200.
With an ownership change by the Miami Marlins, it has become common knowledge that they are open to trading outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton led the National League in home runs this past season with 59 as well as runs batted in with 132 en route to being named as the N.L. MVP yesterday. But with Stanton set to earn $25 million in base salary for next season, the Marlins could be ready to shop him instead of keeping a star player on a team that is a perennial loser.
The Mariners and Dipoto need to make a splash in order to show the rest of the American League West that they are serious about contending in 2018, as well as reigniting their fan base. The City of Seattle has rallied around the Seahawks of the National Football League in recent years as well as the Sounders of Major League Soccer. Both the Sounders and Seahawks have won league championships during this decade and the M’s cannot afford to fall any further behind them.
Pulling out all of the stops to acquire Stanton would be huge for the Mariners, but will all parties be open to it as Stanton has already let it be known that he won’t accept a trade to the Boston Red Sox or St. Louis Cardinals.
The Mariners can also go the route of signing Japanese baseball player Shohei Ohtani who has starred in recent years in The Land of the Rising Sun as both a pitcher and hitter. And the Mariners organization once had success in signing a Japanese player as outfielder Ichiro Suzuki was one of the best players in the franchise’s history.
But anyway that you slice it the Winter Meetings next month will kick start a very important stretch for the Mariners. By far the M’s have the longest current playoff drought in Major League Baseball, while they along with the Washington Nationals are the only franchises to have never appeared in the World Series. Parity and the luxury tax have made it easier for clubs to get to the postseason, but that party has yet to reach the Pacific Northwest.