The Seattle Mariners advanced into their rebuild in 2020 and found a few building blocks in the process. However, there are still moves to be made and decisions that will determine the near future of the franchise. Club Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry DiPoto initiated the breakup over a year ago and still has a great deal of work to do after a 27-33 record and a third-place finish in the American League West division.
There are two big-money players left on the roster for 2021, third baseman Kyle Seager and starter Yusei Kikuchi. Seager has been a tricky piece for the rebuilding team to market due to a difficult clause in his contract. The lefty slugger is due $18M for the 2021 season and has a $22M team option for 2022. The thorny part is that a clause in his contract dictates that if Seager is traded, the 2022 option switches to a player option which he would be more than likely to activate no matter where he is playing. Seager is 33 and hasn’t hit above .250 since 2016. He still has low-to-mid 20’s home run power to offer, but he is a significant gamble for any team that acquires him. All that said, it looks as though Seager will ride out 2021 with the Mariners.
Kikuchi was a sensation after being posted for availability coming over from Japan. There was a lot of fanfare for his arrival in Seattle. Then he pitched. The lefty has amassed an 8-15 record with a 5.39 ERA over his first 208.2 major league innings. He’s owed $15M in 2021 and has a $13M player option for 2022. Since it’s likely that he will execute that option, the Mariners’ best hope is for Kikuchi to improve at least a tick and be a more productive member of their rotation. Otherwise, he could become an expensive situational reliever.
Bringing Home Some Hardware
The future is the name of the game in Seattle and the 2020 season revealed a few players that will be big parts of it for the team. Center fielder Kyle Lewis started the season hotter than sauna rocks but cooled off in the season’s second half to finish with .262/.364/.437/.801 slash line that produced 11 homers and 28 RBI’s and the American League Rookie of the Year award. So far Lewis has about a half season’s worth of big-league at-bats and produced 17 HR and 41 RBI’s. The 25-year-old’s next test will be a full season’s demands.
Like Lewis, shortstop J.P. Crawford started the 2020 season red hot at the plate, then cooled to a still respectable .255 average. Crawford’s real breakthrough was on the field. Highlight reel quality plays became commonplace including showcasing a powerfully dynamic throwing arm. The rest of the league took notice and Crawford earned his first Gold Glove award. First baseman Evan White signed a historic contract extension, then made the jump from Double-A to the majors. His eight homers and 28 RBI’s were encouraging. However, a .176 average and 84 strikeouts in 182 at-bats mean much more hard work is needed. But it was White’s defensive prowess that stood out the most as he was awarded the American League Gold Glove at first base.
Other players like Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, and Shed Long provided promising supporting performances. The additions of Ty France and Luis Torrens in a trade from the San Diego Padres brought more optimism. The Mariners are also hopeful that Mitch Haniger and Tom Murphy will come back from injuries to levels of production they both have achieved in the past.
On the mound, Seattle’s future is now. Marco Gonzales was 7-2 with a 3.10 ERA over eleven starts and 69 innings. Next season will start a four-year, $30M extension for the lefty and locks him into place as the top starter for the Mariners through the 2024 season and includes an option for 2025. The Mariners clearly have their ace. Justus Sheffield (4-3, 3.58 ERA) and Justin Dunn (4-1, 4.34 ERA) both continued to develop and are prepared for full season action. After Kikuchi, the last spot in the rotation is up for grabs. Lefty Nick Margevicius came over from San Diego to produce a 2-3, 4.57 ERA season. Were this to end up as the Mariners primary rotation, they would be the only such group in the major leagues with four lefty starters in regular duty.
Good Things on the Horizon
While there are good signs on the major league roster in Seattle, the team and its fans are counting on the talent coming through the Mariner farm system to bring them all the way back to contention. Outfielders Jarred Kelenic (acquired from the Mets), Taylor Trammell (acquired from the Padres) and Jake Fraley (acquired from the Rays) are all prominent in the Mariners plans and could be fixtures on the roster as early as next season. Right-hander Logan Gilbert could also make his way to the big club next season. Recent draft picks George Kirby and Emerson Hancock aren’t too far behind. The Mariners also have high hopes for catcher Cal Raleigh, infielder Noelvi Marte and outfielder Julio Rodriguez making their debuts in the next couple of seasons.
The outlook for the Mariners is much better than that of other rebuilding teams. They have young potential stars already in place and more on the way. In addition, they have a few high-priced veterans on their way out to provide payroll room for the future. Look for the Mariners to gradually gain more competitiveness and, in as little as two seasons from now, become contenders. The course is set. They just need to stay on it and keep working to improve.
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