Don’t look now, but the Seattle Mariners are on top of all of Major League Baseball.
OK, so that’s because the Mariners and the Oakland A’s are the only teams that have played games that counted so far, with Seattle sweeping the two games the teams played in Japan last week. But still, given the expectations for this season, that’s a better start than anyone anticipated.
This is the season of the dreaded “step back,” as Mariners executives like to put it. In layman’s terms, this is the season Seattle finally committed to rebuilding.
For 17 years the Mariners have been stuck in a rut of mediocrity. Seattle hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001, giving the Mariners the longest active postseason drought of any team in the country’s major professional sports leagues. Last year looked like the year the drought would come to an end, but the Mariners fell short despite winning 89 games. With a team that overachieved based on run differential and a roster populated largely by older players on the downside of their careers, the Mariners decided it was finally time to start from the ground up.
A big chunk of the players who comprised the core of last year’s team are gone. Closer Edwin Diaz and second baseman Robinson Cano were traded to the New York Mets. Ace pitcher James Paxton was shipped off to the New York Yankees. Shortstop Jean Segura was sent to Philadelphia, while catcher Mike Zunino was flipped to Tampa Bay. And designated hitter Nelson Cruz was allowed to walk as a free agent, signing with Minnesota. Only four of the 10 players who were in Seattle’s starting lineup for the 2018 season opener were in the lineup for the 2019 opener, and one of those players was Ichiro Suzuki, who played just 15 games before moving into the front office last season, then officially retired after the games in Japan this season.
Seattle’s roster is largely a collection if players cobbled together just to make it through the season in one piece. The hope is that the prospects acquired in the offseason trades — players like pitchers Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn, shortstop J.P. Crawford and outfielder Jarred Kelenic, who are starting the season in the minor leagues — will help the Mariners emerge as a healthy and competitive franchise within a couple of years.
But those players aren’t going to be much help this season. Most predictions and projections have the Mariners winning in the range of 75 games and finishing fourth in the AL West, and those are the type of numbers and position Seattle fans are all too familiar with. But while this year’s team isn’t expected to be very good, there at least appears to be a long-term plan in place.
Seattle has its home opener Thursday against the Boston Red Sox. So with the season beginning in earnest this week, what’s your mindset about the 2019 Mariners? Let us know here:
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