This is what it looks like when your best season in 15 years has no bearing on the rest of baseball, no relevance at all, not even close. Still the team come winter is chasing five more wins or 10 more or, a few of those winters, 30. Still the team that can’t get it quite right, be it the talent or the timing or the leadership or the luck.
The team that once chased 63 wins with Adrian Beltre. Eighty-five wins with Chone Figgins. Sixty-one wins with another round of Ken Griffey Jr. Eighty-seven wins with Nelson Cruz. Seventy-one with Robinson Cano.
The circle of life for baseball in Seattle generally proceeds like a mayfly’s, too short and finally with a weak flutter and a committed nosedive, which brings us to the past four weeks in the lifespan of the Seattle Mariners.
The new idea is for major league robustness by mid-summer 2020, the start of 2021 at the latest, a conclusion that seems a touch optimistic given the plan leans heavily on every prospect being precisely what they’re projected to be, when they’re projected to be, sort of like predicting when and where the first snowflake will fall.
But, it is a plan.
In 25 days, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto traded away 10 players and got back 13. He averaged a trade every five days, the kind of frenzy normally reserved for a middle school cafeteria, and now the Mariners won’t look anything like the team that won 89 games last season. Which was the point. He also said he didn’t expect to do much more for the coming six days, at which time the winter meetings will commence in Las Vegas and Jerry by then may or may not be arm-wrestling somebody in the lobby for a little bullpen help. Lookin’ at you, Beane.
There were, yet, two ways of looking at this.
First, that Robinson Canó and Jean Segura and Mike Zunino and James Paxton and Alex Colomé would be better in their 30’s than their 20’s, that all that money would not be better spent elsewhere, that Nelson Cruz wouldn’t be missed that much, that the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Houston Astros and any other club that had a better handle on talent, timing, leadership and luck than the Mariners did would turn to dust by April, so, hell yes, ride those 89 wins.
Second, or not.
So the Mariners would start over again and for now with Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce and Mallex Smith and a boatload of prospects – Jarred Kelenic, Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, etc. – that Dipoto figured lifted the club’s flagging farm system from bottom five to top 10.
So they tank, but not a big tank, more like one of those get-well-soon tanks, the plan being that one season of inconsequence will have everybody on their feet in no time. Like a sick day. Spent at the DMV.
So when Bruce is asked if thought he’d actually, you know, get to wear a Mariners jersey, he said, “I’m pretty sure at this point. I know things change. It’s not a certainty until I get there. What I’ve been told is I will be a Mariner this year. We’ll see.”
He then added he was looking for homes in Arizona, where the Mariners hold their spring training, and in Seattle.
And when Anthony Swarzak, the reliever packaged with Bruce from the Mets, was asked the same question, he said, “Uh, yes. I get that impression. I do. As far as I understand, I am a Seattle Mariner from now until spring training.”
Presumably he meant, well, it’s hard to say. Going forward, maybe?
Really, what the past four weeks come down to, is not whether Dipoto made the right decision to move players, including closer Edwin Diaz, for prospects, or if he received enough prospects for so much of his team, but whether he and his scouts chose the right prospects. That’s the tricky part. He’s been clubbed for including Diaz in the Cano deal – “Well, if the market were higher we would have made a higher-level trade,” he said – and for not getting enough in return for Segura, but nobody really knows.
That’s for tomorrow to say.
As it stands, the Mariners have $84 million on the 2020 books, and $29 million on the 2021 books, and even those numbers are likely to be shaved. They won’t be chasing 89 wins. They also won’t be chasing the Red Sox or Yankees or Astros or Indians or a lot of other teams, not for a while. It’s a familiar path, the one cleared by more than one World Series champion over the past half-decade, the one that works as a convenient alibi when all is lost.
Anyway, here they are, the Mariners. Leaner. Younger. Livelier. Hopeful. Aflutter. Like a mayfly, mid-flight.
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