In preparation for a 2020 season that may or may not happen, I’ve been going around the major leagues and writing a few mean words about each team. For this edition, I’ll head out West to mock a team that has become synonymous with not making the playoffs: The Seattle Mariners.
A brief history of the franchise
Between 1995 and 2001, the Mariners were among the best teams in baseball. They had stars like Ken Griffey, Randy Johnson, and Ichiro Suzuki, and in 2001, they set the record for most wins in a single season with 116.
That’s the good news. The bad news is just about everything else in the team’s 43-year history.
The Mariners have never won the World Series. They’ve never even made it to the World Series. Even playoff berths have been rare with only four postseason appearances in team history. The last time they made the playoffs was 2001, which means that Mariners’ most recent playoff appearance is now eligible to vote. To further put that into perspective, the Seattle SuperSonics basketball team has made the playoffs more recently than the Mariners, and they left town eleven years ago.
But hey, the shortened season and expanded playoff field might just be the break they need!
MLB's latest proposal is for a 48-game season, according to Jeff Passan. During #Mariners 18-year playoff drought, they would have made playoffs 4 times if season ended after 48 games: 2002, 31-17, ALW champs. 2003, 31-17, ALW champs. 2016, 28-20, ALW champs. 2018: 29-19, 2nd WC.— Larry Stone (@StoneLarry) June 5, 2020
What happened in 2019
As you probably surmised, the Mariners did not make the playoffs in 2019. Instead, they finished in last place, which is not an uncommon result for the Mariners. They’ve finished at the bottom of their division 14 times, or 33% of the seasons they’ve ever played.
The 2019 team wasn’t the worst in franchise history, but at 68-94, they sure weren’t good either. Like most bad teams, the root cause seems to be a dearth of good players on the roster. Unless you’re a Mariners fan, I bet you can’t name the team’s lone representative in last year’s All-Star Game.
To help out those shrugging or guessing “Ichiro,” the correct answer is Daniel Vogelbach - a first baseman/designated hitter who batted .208 on the season. To his credit, Vogelbach seems to be an especially pleasant fellow, to the point where one of his teammates named his son after him. So that’s nice.
Why did Yusei Kikuchi name his son after teammate Daniel Vogelbach?— Corey Brock (@CoreyBrockMLB) September 3, 2019
"I want Leo to grow up with a big heart and soul like Vogey," Kikuchi said.
On their budding friendship and how their bond has helped both of them.
Scott Servais is entering his fifth year as Mariners’ manager. You’d think a manager wouldn’t be able to survive a fifth year out of the playoffs, but Servais has put up winning records in two of his four seasons. Considering this is the Mariners, that’s a Wall of Fame worthy resume.
Stuck in the craw
The Mariners are expected to start J.P. Crawford at shortstop in 2020. Phillies fans will remember Crawford as a one-time top prospect who fell out of favor to the point that he was deemed an acceptable loss just to get rid of Carlos Santana.
Gabe Kapler: “The losing is bad, but we’ve tried everything we could to turn it around.”— The Smarty Jones (@TheSmartyJones) September 11, 2018
“What about using J.P. Crawford?”
“Oh no, let’s not be ridiculous now”
While I don’t like that they jettisoned a young player simply because he didn’t get along with Gabe Kapler, Crawford has yet to make the Phillies regret trading him.
It kind of looked like the Crawford thing was starting to happen last June, as he was batting well over .300 and making spectacular plays in the field. But then he endured an awful slump at the plate that saw him bat under .200 in each of the final three months of the season.
Least valuable player in 2019
The Mariners’ worst player in 2019 was arguably pitcher Felix Hernandez, but since he’s moved on to Atlanta, I won’t say anything negative about him (yet). Instead, I’ll focus on outfielder Mallex Smith.
Before the 2019 season, the Mariners traded for the young speedster thinking they were getting a dynamic player who led the American League in triples. But upon reaching Seattle, he took a big step backwards. His defense at the beginning of the season was so poor that the Mariners actually had to send him to the minors to work on it.
That’s appalling defense from a big league outfielder. A complete lack of situational awareness, not knowing who was on second and what he is capable of. I’d bench Mallex Smith for that. https://t.co/GJXV46AVpC— Dan (@DanClarkSports) April 10, 2019
By most reports, Smith turned that problem around and actually became a plus defender by season’s end. Unfortunately, his performance at the plate didn’t make a similar rebound, and his on-base percentage dropped almost 70 points from the season prior. He was dangerous when he got on base, and led the league in stolen bases. But as the old saying goes, you can’t steal first base.
What to expect in 2020
Based on their lack of big moves this offseason, the Mariners’ front office didn’t seem especially determined to end the postseason drought in 2020. Considering they finished 39 games out of first and 28 games out of a wild card spot, that may have been a prudent decision. Perhaps the chaos of a short season will propel them into an unexpected postseason run, but considering the team’s history, I wouldn’t bet on it.