Hope for the Hopeless: Seattle Mariners

This is the thirteenth edition of Hope for the Hopeless, where we will take a look at the first ten fourteen teams in the league eliminated from playoff contention, and examine what their fans can be optimistic about after a disappointing 2013 season. Next up: the Seattle Mariners.

I can't believe there was this sentiment that the 2013 Mariners were contenders at midseason. The house of cards collapsed and the team is well on their way to 90 losses. But honestly, the Mariners have at least taken a step in the right direction despite their silliness at the trade deadline.

Case in point, look at Seattle's lineup on Tuesday against the Tigers. The only players 30 or older in the lineup were DH Raul Ibanez, who is having an unexpectedly great year, and right fielder Franklin Gutierrez, who has played in just 34 games this year and needs to prove he's worth a starting role somewhere next year. The next oldest players in that lineup were 26-year olds Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak. Down the stretch, the Mariners are going with the Astros line of thinking – it's better to lose young than to lose old. This isn't the Opening Day lineup that had three players 30 or older hitting in the first four spots of the order.

As the season has gone on, Jack Zduriencik has learned his lesson. Michael Morse was traded to the Orioles. Jason Bay was released. Endy Chavez was stripped of his starting role. Brendan Ryan was shipped to the Yankees. The catching duo of Henry Blanco and Humberto Quintero immediately lost playing time once Mike Zunino came off the DL. Ibanez, Gutierrez, and Kendrys Morales are the only older players getting any significant playing time, and all three will be free agents after the season (assuming Gutierrez's option is declined). Of the team's rotation, the only "old pitchers" still getting starts are Hisashi Iwakuma, who is signed through next year and is excellent, and Joe Saunders, another guy who will be a free agent next year pending an option. Aaron Harang was released, and the team is giving starts to James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer, and before being shut down, the magnificent Taijuan Walker.

And really, that's all people were clamoring for the Mariners to do all year. The club is 16-28 over the months of August and September this year with their younger roster. They were 24-31 in April and May and 26-26 in June and July with their older roster, so why not take just a smaller step back and give playing time to guys that could help you for years in the future as opposed to months, like Brad Miller, Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, Mike Zunino, and Nick Franklin? Throw those guys in with a young core at the major league level that has already shown they can produce, like Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager, and you've got yourself a nice batch of pieces to build around.

I think the most important thing going forward for the Mariners is determining just what in the Hell to do with Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero, who have had their share of issues at both AAA and the majors and might not be part of that solution. You don't want to stick with young players failing and not adjusting for too long, and they might be at that point with Smoak (though perhaps not Montero quite yet).

Six months ago, I posed an open-ended question about Seattle's rotation being the best in the American League. That group has collectively posted a 4.28 ERA this season, which ranks tenth in the AL. So yeah, I just just a little bit wrong in that regard. But if you excise the horrendous ERAs posted by Harang and Saunders this year, the rotation's ERA drops all the way to 3.19. A rotation of Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma, Ramirez, Walker, and Paxton could actually be one of the best in the AL next year, and that may make the holes a lot less deep for the offense.

The main issue for the Mariners is their division, as the Rangers, Athletics, and Angels always seem to put together solid major league rosters, while the Astros will be much-improved going forward. Seattle's in good shape going forward with a young club, but I'm not really sure they have a distinct advantage over any other team in the division. That kind of purgatory is an ugly place, but the benefits of being there with a young team vastly outweigh the benefits of being there with an old team.

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.

Hope for the Hopeless: Seattle Mariners

In our Hope for the Hopeless series, we take a look at all of the teams in the league that finished under .500, and examine what their fans can be optimistic about after a disappointing 2012 season.

The Mariners are…well, I guess "getting there" would be an apt description. The best damn pitcher in baseball (Felix Hernandez) is the new face of the franchise after Ichiro Suzuki was dealt in July. Hernandez is only under contract until 2014 (hitting free agency at the whopping age of 28….that's just not fair), and Seattle would be wise to lock him up again and build their team around him.

Speaking of the rest of the team, what high points are there for the future? Well, this is a pretty young team. The only free agents they're looking at losing are a trio of relievers and starters Hisashi Iwakuma and Kevin Millwood. Neither of those two are young and in Seattle's long-term plans, but they were both cheap and effective in 2012, and another low money short term deal for both could work out well. The rotation was largely ineffective past throse three, but Erasmo Ramirez has come on strong lately and will be a good complement to Hernandez in the rotation.

Offensively, the Mariners are actually not terrible, and they're still a young team. Third baseman Kyle Seager looks like a star in the making at age 24, and center fielder Michael Saunders has flaws, but is adequate enough considering the state of the position in the league today. John Jaso has been a revelation behind the plate, but second baseman Dustin Ackley has taken a step back. 

Seattle's offense also features a pair of young players that are immensely talented, but just can't put it together: DH Jesus Montero, and first baseman Justin Smoak. Each is showing good pop this year, but just cannot get on base to save their lives. 

The Mariners farm system is heavy on the pitching side of things, mostly due to the dynamic trio of Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton. Hultzen was solid in AA, but struggled with his control in AAA, Walker was great considering he spent nearly the entire season as a 19-year old at AA, and Paxton was solid in AA. Seattle also has infielder Nick Franklin knocking on the door (.896 OPS in AA, struggled in a midseason callup to AAA).

The Mariners did improve in the second half of the season, but that was mostly due to them feasting on weaker teams who were playing even worse than Seattle did in the first half. There's defintely hope here, with four fantastic prospects potentially reaching the majors at some point in 2013…but given the lack of success by a lot of Seattle's elite prospects in the majors in 2012, penciling the Mariners in for vast improvements right off the reel in 2013 might be a little aggressive.

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.