|Robinson Cano (Wikimedia Commons, user EricEnfermero)|
With that said, the Mariners are closer to the playoffs than they have been in over a decade. Sure, there were a couple fluky winning seasons sprinkled in, but 2014 does not look like a fluke. The Mariners did not beat their expected win total by an absurd amount like the ill-fated team that convinced Bill Bavasi the Mariners only needed Erik Bedard to win the World Series. They also aren't as asymmetric as the surprising 2009 squad that tried to push the extremes of pitching and defense with a worst-case result spitting out in 2010 (and 2011, and 2012 for that matter too). The offense is still bad, but not 2010-2012 bad.
I am interested to see how the M's offseason unfolds. It seems hard to predict for many reasons. Do free agents see Seattle as more of a destination now? Possibly. How much money do the Mariners have to play with as the Root Sports TV money comes in?
Most importantly, where exactly will the Mariners upgrade the team? The team can improve, but (thankfully) there aren't many glaring holes. Jack Zduriencik might have to get creative - or might not if a guy like Victor Martinez decides that he wants to be teammates with Robby Cano and guide the Mariners back to the postseason.
If the season started tomorrow, this is what the Mariners lineup would look like:
- C: Mike Zunino
- 1B: Logan Morrison
- 2B: Robinson Cano
- SS: Brad Miller/Chris Taylor
- 3B: Kyle Seager
- LF: Dustin Ackley
- CF: Austin Jackson
- RF: Michael Saunders
- DH: Ji-Man Choi? Jesus Montero?
- Bench: Willie Bloomquist
- Bench: Jesus Sucre
- Bench: James Jones/Stefen Romero
And the pitching staff:
- Felix Hernandez
- Hisashi Iwakuma
- James Paxton
- Taijuan Walker
- Roenis Elias
- Joe Beimel
- Dominic Leone/Yoervis Medina
- Carson Smith
- Danny Farquhar
- Tom Wilhelmsen
- Charlie Furbush
- Fernando Rodney
The Mariners have a hole at DH, but they did all of last season too (sad, but true). The Mariners return, rather literally, the entire 2014 team. There is already a logjam in the bullpen! Willie Bloomquist returns from the DL, for whatever that is worth, and a full season of Austin Jackson could be interesting too. Plus, a full season of the Chris Taylor/Brad Miller shortstop monster that emerged near the end of last season could be fun too. There are reasons to think that the 2015 Mariners are already in position to challenge for the playoffs.
So what do they do? What would you do?
On one hand, a marginal upgrade could go a long way because the Mariners project to be in that magical range where one or two wins make all the difference in the world. Two more wins in 2014 and they make the playoffs over the A's - or, even more tantalizing, just one more victory OVER the A's and the M's get in the playoffs. So, upgrading the bench, or getting a steady number 4/5 starter, could actually make a worthwhile difference. I've usually argued against money spent in these marginal areas, but not with where the Mariners are at now.
On the other hand, the roster is already in nice shape. A massive move is the only way to really upgrade the team in a significant way, and that kind of move might push the Mariners from fringe playoff contenders to fringe championship contenders. However, that would cost the M's the farm. Would you mortgage the future like that? Especially if the future is guys like Paxton, Walker, and Miller - contributors already in the majors? King Felix and Cano aren't getting any younger...
Jack Zduriencik generally works methodically, which is the kind way of saying he takes long enough on deals for other teams to complain through the media about the Mariners. Maybe that will play to the Mariners favor and someone falls in their laps. Maybe it doesn't, and they miss out on some major moves. Who knows?
All I know is that the Mariners don't have to worry about signing any of their own free agents this winter, and they already have a roster that should keep them in the playoff hunt. That could mean they lay dormant this offseason or have time to get really creative. It will be hard to dial out a disappointing offseason scenario, but there's plenty of room for how exciting it could be.