Here I am, sitting at home and watching Jeopardy thinking, ‘How can I justify writing a Mariners story right now?’
The Major League Baseball season ended about a week or so ago, and if you aren’t a Chicago Cubs fan, you are probably watching basketball or football or that recent political event that probably occupied your mind as well.
In the baseball world, however, it’s time to start looking ahead to 2017. The Seattle Mariners were insanely close to the postseason this year. It came down to a one or two game difference — and one would think there is plenty of room for optimism heading into the winter months.
I had a flashback to one of my favorite television shows — It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia — when Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton) goes on a rant insisting he hasn’t “peaked” and is yet to be in his prime as a human. I would love to link the YouTube video of the clip for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, but for whatever reason, it reminded me of the Mariners heading into the offseason. The M’s have peaked. They missed the playoffs barely in 2016 and it might be a while before they can smell October baseball again.
THE MARINERS ARE GETTING OLD
Hisashi Iwakuma didn’t have a spectacular season despite respectable numbers at 16-12 with a 4.12 ERA in 199 innings pitched. He turns 36 in April and he isn’t even the most suspect of the arms in the rotation. Felix Fernandez is starting to look like a pitcher who has been logging 200-plus innings his entire career. King Felix is looking more like a disgruntled uncle annoyed he doesn’t have the right to a throne after finishing 11-8 with a 3.82 ERA in only 155 innings. Hernandez will also be 31 in April.
The aging problems don’t simply start and end in the starting rotation, either. The middle of the order is starting to subscribe to the AARP magazine as well.
Robinson Cano. Nelson Cruz.
Together, they combined for massive production last year with 82 home runs and 208 RBI. Cano just turned 34 and Cruz 36, so can they really produce like that again? Insane numbers. They BOTH had incredible seasons but Mariners fans can’t expect that again … can they?
WHY THE MARINERS CAN STILL COMPETE
For the sake of argument, let’s assume ‘Disgruntled Uncle Felix’ and Iwakuma win a similar amount of games as they did last year and can keep the M’s competitive in their respective 25-ish apiece starts. Conservatively thinking, Cruz and Cano hit 30 home runs each and drive in 70-90 runs each. They still have a chance in the AL West, right?
Let’s look a little deeper on that 25-man roster.
James Paxton throws 97 seemingly (pun intended … referencing his four-seam fastball) whenever he wants and he’s finally emerging into the prime of his career. Then there is golden boy Taijuan Walker who has been everything from their next ace to the subject of trade deadline deals, injury prone, a broken mess and everything in between. Walker, still only 24 years old, went 8-11 with a 4.11 ERA in 2016.
Ketel Marte is personally my favorite player on M’s squad and Marte, only 23, still has a bright future ahead of him. Lost in the rookie class of great shortstops, he is solid defensively and will be a great table setter for some of those guys almost old enough to be his dad.
WHAT THE OFFSEASON MAY BRING
Rumors are already swirling about the Mariners signing free agent to be Dexter Fowler to help solidify the outfield. Personally, I like Leonys Martin just fine, but maybe he can move to a corner outfield position if Fowler moves to the Pacific Northwest.
A safe bet with every team, every offseason is that they will add some pieces to the bullpen. The bullpen in the offseason is like the retail industry during the holiday season, so I’m sure the M’s will tinker with their bullpen a little bit in some capacity. The starting rotation seems fine to me, but they WILL need to find an upgrade at first base.
I guarantee … yes … I just blasted off a guarantee — the Mariners will upgrade from Adam Lind at first base this offseason. To connect to a story I wrote a while back, Dan Vogelbach got his chance late in September to help the Mariners, but he isn’t quite ready to assume the day-to-day duties and will likely open the season with AAA Tacoma. This offseason, the Mariners will add a first baseman. I promise.
Peaked? Have the Mariners peaked? They haven’t even begun to peak — and when they do — the AL West will feel it. Yes, the Mariners are getting old, but they have 2017 to still be in the conversation of a playoff team. The offseason will be a critical one, but every winter is.
I expect a dip in numbers from Cruz and Cano, but I also expect some of the other guys to step up. I haven’t mentioned Kyle Seager yet — only to mention that I’m not going to mention him. I’m not a huge Seager fan, but he puts up numbers. You can’t argue with that.
Enjoy the offseason, M’s fans. Go Ducks, Go Beavers, Go Seahawks!