2020 Record: 27-33
Third Place, AL West
Team ERA: 4.98 (23rd)
Team OPS: .679 (28th)
What Went Right
The Mariners are in full rebuild mode, and while Seattle missed the playoffs for the 19th straight season, there were certainly some glimpses of hope. Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism was the season Kyle Lewis put together. The 24-year-old had a September to forget (.147/.270/.280), but still posted an .801 OPS, bashed 11 homers and stole five bases and is the favorite to take home the AL Rookie of the Year. Dylan Moore came out of nowhere to hit .255/.355/.496 in 159 plate appearances, and he was able to add 12 steals and hit 8 homers after signing on as a utility infielder the previous season. The strength of the team, however, was the starting pitching. Marco Gonzales was outstanding; registering a 64/7 K/BB ratio that helped him post a 3.10 ERA in 11 starts. Justus Sheffield showed why he was considered one of the better pitching prospects in baseball not long ago with a 3.58 ERA and 48/20 K/BB ratio. Justin Dunn, Nick Margevicius and Yusei Kikuchi all finished with earned run averages above 4.25, but all three had moments that suggest that they can be starters at the highest level.
What Went Wrong
Lewis, Moore and Kyle Seager -- to a lesser extent with Seager -- were fine with the bats. The rest of the offense was awful, especially after Austin Nola was traded from Seattle to San Diego in a multi-player deal. Evan White and Shed Long formed one of the worst right sides of any infield in terms of offensive production, and neither hitter was able to post an OPS above .600. Daniel Vogelbach showed that his first half with the Mariners in 2019 was a fluke, and was designated for assignment after an ugly .094/.250/.226 line 18 games. Mallex Smith was also outrighted off the roster after hitting .133 with a .348 OPS in 47 plate appearances, and recently elected free agency. And while the starting pitching was fine over the truncated season, the bullpen was not. Only one reliever for Seattle that made over 10 appearances had an ERA below 4.00 (Yohan Ramirez, 2.61), and the closing position was mostly a revolving door as the Mariners failed to make the postseason for the 19th consecutive season.
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** J.P. Crawford still has yet to appear in more than 100 games in a season, but after 853 career plate appearances, it’s probably fair to call him what he is. Crawford hit .255 and got on base at a decent .336 clip, but it came with a .338 slugging mark, and he had just 11 extra-base hits in his 232 plate appearances. Crawford is a solid defensive shortstop and he is willing to get on via walk, but unless he makes significant swing changes, he’s not going to provide enough offense to be a fantasy relevant shortstop.
** One of the players that Seattle acquired from the Padres in the Nola deal was Ty France, and he was one of the best hitters on the Mariners in his limited time with the club. In 94 plate appearances after the deal, France hit .302/.362/.453 with a couple of homers and 13 RBI. He also had an .868 OPS with the Padres in his 20 games, so it was a solid season all-around for the 26-year-old. France also has crushed Triple-A pitching, and while he struggled in 2019 with a .696 OPS, the offensive upside is palpable. France may play in a utility role for Seattle this coming season, but one way or another he should get enough plate appearances to offer some fantasy upside.
** There was a time when Dee Strange-Gordon was a player you drafted knowing that he was going to help you win a category. That time is not now. Strange-Gordon hit just .200 with a .482 OPS in 33 games with Seattle this year, and he had just one extra-base hit in 82 plate appearances. He also stole three bases, and even though that was a significantly shortened campaign, it’s clear that he is not the threat he once was. The Mariners are obviously not going to bring back Strange-Gordon on a $14 million team option, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be fantasy relevant going forward. Time can be pretty cruel.
** White was signed to a six-year, $26-million extension before playing a single inning in the majors, and it was pretty much a disastrous season for the former first-round pick. Only Miguel Sano struck out more than he did in the American League, and while he was on pace to hit right around 20 homers, that’s just about the only positive offensively. He’s already one of the better defenders at first, however, and it’s worth pointing out that the sample size was small and White likely would have been able to work on some things in the minors if that was a possibility. He could be a rebound candidate, but because of his position, it’s going to be hard to justify a draft pick on him in anything but AL-only formats.
** Mitch Haniger ended up missing the entire 2020 season due to injuries to his back and a second core surgery. Managers general manager Jerry Dipoto told reporters after the season that the team still expects the 29-year-old to begin the season as the team’s every day right fielder in 2021, and we’ve seen how productive he can be when he’s healthy. A player that hasn’t played since June 6 of 2019 will bring big risk, but there’s still reward left in Haniger’s right-handed bat, as well.
** Seattle has one of the best systems in baseball now, and the Mariners decided not to call up two of their top prospects in Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert. Kelenic looks like one of the best outfield prospects in baseball right now, and you can make an argument (this writer would) that he belongs at the top. Gilbert also has top of the rotation upside, and both likely make their debuts with the Mariners early in 2021. Even if both start out in Triple-A to manipulate service time, they both are worth late-round consideration because of their respective abilities.
Key Free Agents: Strange-Gordon ($14 million club option, $1 million buyout).
Team Needs: The Mariners appear to have things headed in the right direction, but this is still a team that needs a lot of help to compete in the AL West, even if there’s a 16-team playoff again in 2021. To do so, Seattle needs to add plenty of bullpen help, another starter, and a bat or two. Those things are unlikely to happen, however, and Seattle likely sticks with its young core again next spring.