There are four teams not named the Astros in the AL West. And all four chasing Houston in some shape or fashion.
Fangraphs currently projects the Mariners to win 81 games in 2018. How about the Astros, you may ask? How does 97 wins sound?
Pretty good, right?
Do I sound like a broken record?
Well, yes. And, no, I will not apologize for it.
Despite the sixteen-game difference in the projected win-loss column, it would be irresponsible to overlook the Mariners. While Seattle may not be the creme of the crop in the AL West, they are certainly a team that could surprise people. Projections can be wrong. Somehow, the Orioles have made it a habit to beat the projections a few times in recent history.
With that pitching staff.
Back to the Mariners.
Seattle is a club built to win now. Arguably, they had the most to lose when they failed to sign Shohei Ohtani. Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager and a slew of other players are not exactly spring chickens. James Paxton is already 29-years old. The window to win with that core group of players is closing. Heck, the window may already be closed for Hernandez.
Thus far in the off-season, the most notable acquisitions by the Mariners have been Dee Gordon, Juan Nicasio and Ryon Healy. Gordon, whom they acquired in a trade from the fire-sale Marlins earlier in December, will apparently be Seattle’s new center fielder. Like everyone else, I am curious to see how that works out. But, hey, Gordon in center field isn’t that outlandish.
Nicasio fills a need in the bullpen. He can even start if a situation arose; however, I would advise against that idea as Nicasio is much better as a reliever than a starting pitcher. Healy was acquired in a trade with the Athletics and figures to be the favorite at first base. The nearly 26-year old slugger had a impressive rookie debut — 132 wRC+ in 72 games — in 2016, yet only posted a 100 wRC+ in 149 games in 2017.
The Mariners are a prime example of a “top-heavy” club. Their core players are good. In fact, good enough to win. Alas, the a good chuck of their major league roster isn’t considered up to par. And the minor league system is quite barren. Sorry, Seattle, but little help is coming. Combine this with the Mariners’ inability to move some of their better players due to age, performance and/or contract, and you have a perfect storm of forced contention. Until some of these contracts end, the Mariners are essentially required to go all-in with the group they currently have under contract. They cannot truly rebuild.
That’s where not signing Ohtani truly hurts Seattle.
In theory, Ohtani could’ve pushed the Mariners to the mid-eighties in terms of projected wins. That’s on the fringe of the Wild Card. Ohtani also would’ve been a long-term asset for general manager Jerry Dipoto to build around. Not only is he not on the Mariners, he signed with a division rival in the Angels. The swing of franchise fortune is quite obvious.
In terms of concern to the Astros, the Mariners will continue to be a tough opponent. If a few things break right for Seattle, they could force themselves into the Wild Card race. The same thing was said last season, though. But injuries actually decimated the roster. The absence of Drew Smyly in 2017 stands out in this regard. He’s now a member of the Cubs. Oh, Smyly also didn’t start a regular season game for the Mariners. Not once in his one season there. Crazier things have and will happen in baseball, but this is still quite noteworthy.
Per the Depth Chart projections on Fangraphs, the Mariners have a Bat rating of 20.1, which is the 14th-best in baseball. So, a middle of the pack offense. Enough to win with if there was a quality pitching staff. Unfortunately for Seattle, they’re ranked 19th overall in Pit rating at 13.2. If you take their projected WAR of 33.3, that is, again, the 14th-best in baseball. Simply put, the Mariners are talented enough to win some games. They could stay on the fringe of the Wild Card race if certain breaks go their way. Alas, there probably isn’t enough talent on the roster to compete for AL West supremacy next year.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs**