Have you seen the time-lapse video that illustrates the construction happening in downtown Seattle?
In January of 2015 Ricardo Martin Brualla began gathering the photos taken by a high-definition camera installed at the top of the Space Needle to turn them into a video. This January he published his time-lapse, which condenses three years down to 3 minutes and 55 seconds. It’s hypnotic watching high rises ascending faster than a squirrel scampering up a tree with a dog in hot pursuit. A friend likened it to watching someone play the computer game SimCity.
But before those buildings went up, something first had to come down. And that brings us to the Seattle Mariners. Seattle’s 2018 season concludes Sunday, and the time has arrived for the Mariners to tear things down.
Let me begin by saying the Mariners had a good season. People may have a hard time recognizing that because of the sequence of events, but 2018 should be labeled a success. Seattle will finish the season having improved by at least nine games from the previous campaign, and the Mariners’ win total will be their greatest since at least 2014, and perhaps since 2003. That’s better than anyone predicted in March.
Nevertheless, this offseason Seattle needs to conduct a warehouse sale, complete with the Mariner Moose standing on the Corner of Edgar and Dave spinning a placard saying, “Everything must go!”
This is hard for me to say because it runs contrary to everything I believe about roster construction. Good teams build around their best players, they don’t trade them away. But Seattle’s organization has reached a state where, if it wants to avoid suffering through another decade without postseason play, it needs to cash in every chip it has.
Edwin Diaz just had one of the greatest seasons in major-league history by a relief pitcher? Thanks for letting us bear witness, but we have to let you go. James Paxton has become a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter? Thank you for your contributions, but we have to see what we can get for you. Mitch Haniger had an All-Star season at the plate? Sorry to do this, but we have to prioritize our future.
That’s because as things stand, Seattle has no future.
This is an old team. Seattle didn’t have a single everyday player who was younger than 27 years old this season, and no position player who appeared for the Mariners this season was under 25. Of the 10 players with the most plate appearances, five were 30 or older.
The story is similar with the pitching staff. Seattle had five pitchers eclipse 150 innings this season, and three of those are 30 or older with a fourth being 29. The 24-year-old Diaz is the only pitcher on the staff under 25 who threw more than four innings.
Given the overall age of the team, it’s hard to see how this group will collectively perform better next season than it did this season. Combine that with the fact Seattle greatly outperformed its run differential this season and there’s a serious chance of a major free fall in the standings.
This could be solved by reinforcements from the minor-league system, but there’s no help on the way. Baseball American has Seattle’s farm system ranked dead last among Major League Baseball’s 30 teams, and none of the Mariners’ top prospects appear ready to step into contributing roles.
Kyle Lewis, the Mariners’ consensus No. 1 prospect, had an indifferent season between Single- and Double-A, and it looks like he may have been ruined by the terrible knee injury he suffered playing for the Everett AquaSox two years ago. Evan White had a decent season at Single-A, but he still profiles as a glove-first first baseman with little power. Pitchers Sam Carlson and Logan Gilbert combined to throw zero pitches for the organization this year because of injury/illness. The best season was had by Julio Rodriguez, a 17-year-old outfielder who hasn’t even made it to the U.S. yet. Some of these players could end up helping the Mariners, but it won’t be anytime soon.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto can try to prop up his aging group for another year. But each year, with the core players getting older and the trade assets in the organization being expended, that task becomes harder. Dipoto can try to remove the Band-Aid one hair at a time, keeping the roster intact and stringing out the inevitable decline over a period of seasons. Or he can rip it clean off by trading players like Diaz, Paxton and Haniger, who have value to other teams now, in exchange for prospects who have a chance to be the foundation of a competitive team in five years. It’ll hurt, but hopefully that pain will be temporary.
So when the final out is recorded Sunday at Safeco Field, it’s OK if the Mariners take a moment to celebrate the season they just had. It may not feel like it, but it was one of the best campaigns in the franchise’s 42-year history. So by all means take a day, a week, heck even a couple months.
But when it’s time to get back to business, I urge them to bite the bullet and begin a complete tear down. The hardest part of this process has arrived, and it’s best to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.