2019 Record: 68-94
Last Place, AL West
Team ERA: 4.99 (23rd in MLB)
Team OPS: .740 (20th in MLB)
What Went Right
The Mariners shifted into a rebuild last offseason, trading the likes of James Paxton, Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, and Alex Colome, so it’s not like a lot was supposed to go right this season. Still, the club got off to a 13-2 start to the season — including a cool sendoff for Ichiro Suzuki in the Japan Series — before things went south. Veteran sluggers Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion got off to solid starts before being traded as well. Marco Gonzales was the steady hand in the rotation, posting a 3.99 ERA while reaching 200 innings for the first time in his career. Tom Murphy — claimed off waivers from the Giants in late-March — and Omar Narvaez — acquired from the White Sox in the Colome trade — combined for one of the best catching tandems in the game. In various sample sizes, Daniel Vogelbach, Austin Nola, Shed Long, Justus Sheffield, and Kyle Lewis all showed enough to be considered among the building blocks for the future. Justin Dunn (who struggled in his first stint in the majors) and Evan White should also be in that mix. Perhaps the biggest win of the year is that the Diaz/Cano trade is looking very good for the Mariners, with outfielder Jarred Kelenic emerging as one of the top overall prospects in the game.
What Went Wrong
Again, it was expected that things would go wrong, but there were some notable disappointments with what was left on this roster. Mitch Haniger, the team’s best all-around player, underwhelmed with a .220/.314/.463 batting line over 63 games before fouling a ball off himself on June 6 and suffering a ruptured testicle. He required surgery and later dealt with a back issue which prevented him from returning in September. The Mariners signed Yusei Kikuchi to a four-year, $56 million contract last offseason, but he was shaky in his first season stateside, posting a 5.46 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over 32 starts. While offseason acquisition Mallex Smith led the majors with 46 steals, he struggled both offensively and defensively and even found himself in the minors for a stretch. Domingo Santana faded badly after a strong first half and was a huge liability in the outfield. Tim Beckham struggled after getting off to a hot start and received an 80-game PED suspension in August. J.P. Crawford has yet to show that he can really hit at the major league level.
*This was a lost season for Mitch Haniger, one he’d probably be happy to forget. Even before suffering the ruptured testicle — I promise this is the last time I’ll mention it — in early June, things weren’t going as hoped. He finished with a .778 OPS, down from .859 in 2018. Sort of like the Mariners, Haniger started out red-hot, but he batted just .188 over his final 45 games. His strikeout rate jumped from 21.7 percent to 28.6 percent and he also lofted the ball more often, though an increase in his infield-fly ball rate did more to hurt his batting average. The Mariners expect Haniger to be 100 percent by spring training, so it’s fair to give him a mulligan for his rough 2019. The good news is that he won’t require much of an investment on draft day next year, so he could actually be a fine value.
*After coming over from the Rays in the Mike Zunino deal, Mallex Smith was in prime position to lead the majors in steals this season. He did exactly that, going 46-for-55 in stolen base attempts, edging out Adalberto Mondesi (43) and Jonathan Villar (40). That’s nice and everything, but having him on your roster meant making a sacrifice in other categories, as he hit just .227 with six homers and 37 RBI. Smith posted a .594 OPS during the second half and hit just one homer over his final 78 games. He’s going to run if he plays, so expect him to remain mixed league relevant, but the current power environment priorities more balanced players on your roster.
*Yusei Kikuchi had the second-highest ERA (5.46) among pitchers with at least 160 innings pitched. Only Rick Porcello of the Red Sox (5.52 ERA) was worse this year. It’s hard to point to anything as bad luck, as Kikuchi had the fourth-lowest strikeout percentage (min. 160 IP) and gave up 36 homers. Only Matthew Boyd (39 HR) and former Mariner Mike Leake (41 HR) gave up more this year. Opposing batters posted a major-league high .888 OPS against him this season. It was obviously an adjustment year for him, both on an off the field. It’s fair to expect improvement as he gains more experience, but he’s going to need to miss more bats to find himself back on the mixed league radar.
*Daniel Vogelbach earned his first All-Star nod after slugging 21 homers with an .881 OPS over 85 games during the first half, but he failed to keep it going. In 58 games after the All-Star break, he put up a rough .160/.286/.343 batting line with nine homers. The former Cubs farmhand walked a ton on the whole (tied for fourth-highest among hitters with at least 550 plate appearances), but his strikeout rate took a major jump as the season moved along. Power alone isn’t enough to stand out in this current environment, so he should enter next year as a fringy option in deeper mixed leagues.
*The Mariners took a chance on Domingo Santana in a trade with the Brewers last offseason and he looked like a steal during the first half, hitting .286/.354/.496 with 18 homers, 63 RBI, six steals, and 52 runs scored through 90 games. Unfortunately, he as a non-factor during the second half, posting three homers with a .465 OPS over 106 plate appearances while missing significant time with lingering inflammation in his right elbow. He’s an interesting player in mixed leagues if healthy, but the Mariners really need to keep him in the DH spot.
*Omar Narvaez backed up what he did with the White Sox in 2018, popping 22 homers with an .813 OPS over 132 games, but Tom Murphy was the big surprise being the plate. In addition to excelling defensively, the 21-year-old slugged 18 home runs with a .273/.324/.535 battling line over 281 plate appearances. This included six homers in the span of four games in mid-August. Murphy showed some interesting pop as a prospect with the Rockies, but he struggled in his sporadic opportunities in the majors and never got an extended shot there. They are probably wishing he had. Given the playing time situation, both players make the most sense in two-catcher mixed leagues.
*For the second straight year, Marco Gonzales has been a useful pitcher in mixed leagues. He got there a bit differently this year, seeing his strikeout percentage decrease from 21.1 percent to 17 percent and his walk percentage increase from 4.7 percent to 6.5 percent. Just to put things in perspective, only four qualified starters had a lower strikeout percentage in 2019. His average fastball velocity dipped as well, checking in at 89.3 mph according to FanGraphs. Needless to say, the advanced metrics don’t truly back up the ERA, at least in comparison to last year. Gonzales a fine real life pitcher, but he’s probably back-end starter on a good team, so the appeal is limited here.
**Probably the most familiar names on this team were Felix Hernandez, Dee Gordon, and Kyle Seager, but there’s really not much to say here. King Felix hasn’t been relevant in fantasy leagues for a couple of years now. Gordon is still fast, but he probably shouldn’t be starting on a rebuilding team like this one. Seager was back to being an above league average hitter this season, but it was largely accomplished on the shoulders of a 1.116 OPS in August. He didn’t post an OPS higher than .744 in any other month.
*When does Jarred Kelenic arrive, anyway? The 2018 first-rounder is on a rapid ascent through the minors, putting up a .291/.364/.540 batting line with 23 homers and 20 steals over 117 games at three different levels in the minors this year. He reached Double-A before his 20th birthday. Look for him to repeat the level next year, but at this point he’s not very far off from making an impact in the majors. He could very well roam center field in Seattle for the next decade.
Team Needs: With Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi as the only sure things, this rotation needs at least one veteran insurance option to go along with their young and unproven pitchers. The same goes for the bullpen, as the Mariners have parted ways with a handful of veteran late-inning pitchers over the past year or so. If all goes well, they could end up being trade chips for GM Jerry Dipoto.