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30 in 30

30 in 30: The 2020 Seattle Mariners

Generational change hits Seattle.

Hand-operated scoreboard by Frank Fujimoto is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

30 in 30: The 2020 Seattle Mariners

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

After a year in which the Seattle Mariners flirted with 90 wins in 2018, finishing third in the AL West and first in teams who didn’t make the playoffs, they fell down the ladder. Hard. The only positive stat across the board was their record in extra inning games. Can you tell I’m digging deep to find anything that could be considered a plus?

Otherwise you’re looking at a team that went 68-94 and finished 39 games back at the bottom of the division. Sure, they play in a division that is super tough. They have the Astros winning 107 games and the A’s hitting a level of 97-win consistency that’s making me want to throw money down on them doing it for a third straight year.

This isn’t the Seattle Mariners of my childhood. At least they were competing if they weren’t getting into the playoffs. But long gone are the days of Griffey Jr.

Will the King relinquish his crown?

This team could be at risk of losing mainstay Felix Hernandez, which really could represent what decides this team’s future. Hernandez had the opportunity to run to a place like the Yankees at the peak of his career. Instead, he decided to take a long term deal, keeping him in Seattle.

That kind of loyalty is important, and we’ll see how that works out moving forward. If he wants to start, he’ll likely need to make peace with the fact that his time with the Mariners is over. A bullpen move is the most likely way to keep him at T-Mobile Park.

At the top of that staff sits Marco Gonzales, the only Seattle pitcher to work 200+ innings. That’s over 40 innings more than the next guy, Yusei Kikuchi. Mariners starters need to take a step forward, and I don’t see new additions Nestor Cortes or Kendall Graveman being the answer. Though Graveman is likely to hang out at the back of the rotation.

Offensively, they didn’t have a single guy hit .280. The top overall hitter knocked 22 homers, drove in 55 runs and had a slashline of .278./353/.460. Who is that, you ask? Catcher Omar Narvaez. No offense meant to Narvaez, but in this day and age, if your best offensive player is your catcher, you have to take a long hard look at yourself. It should also be mentioned that Navarez was dealt to the Brewers in December.

In 2018, without Robinson Cano, they excelled and missed the playoffs with 89 wins. In 2019, with Cano moving coast to coast to the Mets, they tanked. If they don’t get a big veteran presence, and build around that guy, Seattle may be sitting in the basement of the AL West for quite some time.

Generational change hits Seattle

After a huge fire sale last year, during which Jerry Dipoto legitimately was slinging trades from a hospital bed, the Mariners are looking to youth to break through the ranks and set them up to be winners for years to come. Trader Jerry became his nickname. And no, that’s not just a sub-brand of some kind of Trader Joe’s seafood line based at Pike Place.

As part of those deals that sent players like Edwin Encarnacion, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz packing, Dipoto snagged Marco Gonzales, Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Jay Bruce, and Jarred Kelenic. Bruce comes in as the immediate go-to veteran, while the others are here to build upon over the next few years.

While these may not be the Mariners I remember, there’s some excitement brewing around the potential that lies within these youngsters. Dipoto is doing something he has yet to do since joining the Mariners organization. We’re a few weeks out from Spring Training and he has yet to make a trade. This says everything you need to know about the path of the Mariners moving forward.

Infusion of youth

Sheffield and Dunn should plug directly into Seattle’s starting rotation. Both made leaps through the minors and into the September call-ups in 2019. Sheffield went 5-3 with a 2.19 ERA through 78 innings at AA Arkansas before going 2-6 with a 6.87 ERA through 55 at AA Tacoma. Including his month in the majors, he’s averaging 9 K/9 and a 2.2 K/BB ratio.

Dunn spent most of his time at AA Arkansas and managed to go 9-5 with a 3.55 ERA, 158 Ks, and 39 BBs through 131 2/3 innings. He didn’t see much action (6 1/3 innings in relief) in September, but with the direction Seattle seems to be moving, it could be worth giving him a shot.

Regardless, both should see ample playing time, whether it’s to start the season, or sometime in the summer.

Some other excitement lies around three young guys looking to make their mark. First, Evan White got a pretty sweet deal, 6 years at $24M, for a guy who hasn’t proven himself in the majors. White is expected to be one of a couple rookies who make the starting 9. With his gold glove potential, White should be a lot of fun to watch on the right side of the diamond.

In the outfield, Kyle Lewis and Jarred Kelenec could be the future. Lewis is projecting to start in LF after a September that saw him hit .268. Kelenec is still just 20 years old, and will likely start in Arkansas or Tacoma. But come summertime, don’t be surprised to see the youngster at the Major League level.

Blending it all together

While moving into a youth-first approach at certain positions seems to be the path forward, it’s still necessary to mix in the veterans, and those who exist in Seattle already should be great mentors. Jay Bruce, Dee Gordon, and Kyle Seager are solid players who will be expected to help fit the other pieces together.

It may be a season of change for the Mariners, but if they can develop some lineup consistency they’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. I wouldn’t expect them to be contenders in 2020, but this season should lay the foundation they need for 2021 and beyond.

Kevin is an actor, director, playwright, and musician who works in tech. He is die hard New England sports and an avid Tottenham supporter. His qualifications include scoring 1 point in his elementary school basketball career, 4 years of mixed little league results, and breaking his arm with a skip-it days before pre-season workouts started for Freshman football.

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