Do the Seattle Mariners have a strategy for putting together a winning ball club? Or, is the franchise stuck in a cycle of mediocrity that will continue on for several more years?
The Mariners have been the subject of ongoing rumors, particularly when it comes to high-profile free agents like Carlos Beltran, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz and Jacoby Ellsbury. Whether the Mariners can land any of these players is yet to be determined.
Even if the Mariners can somehow lure a free-agent bat to the Pacific Northwest, it isn’t certain whether this fits with the long-term plan. This brings us back to the original question. Is there a plan?
Over the last few years, the strategy seems to have been about building from within. You draft quality players, focus on player development, emphasize pitching and defense, and augment with a few key veterans. After a few years, the youngsters are supposed to develop into a strong core that is under club control for a number of seasons.
Unfortunately, the plan does not seem to be working.
Kyle Seager is the one bat that seems to be developing, but the jury is still out on Dustin Ackley, Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin and Justin Smoak. Michael Saunders appears to have hit his ceiling in terms of potential. Brad Miller looked good in his first year, but so did Ackley when he first came up.
Perhaps Ackley, Franklin and Zunino have breakout seasons in 2014, and maybe someone like Abraham Almonte can solidify a spot in the outfield. However, the fact remains that the offense in general has progressed very, very slowly.
There is great hype attached to young pitchers like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, but there is no guarantee that they will turn into bonafide stars. In many ways, the Mariners are really banking on the development of their young pitching.
Is developing a young core still the primary plan? Or, have the Mariners figured out that this strategy is not really working? Has Jack Zduriencik been given the green light to overpay for free-agent bats?
Now that Chuck Armstrong is departing, it will be very interesting to see if the blueprint for success changes at all. There is also the ongoing question of how Nintendo wants to run this franchise. Will the company look to build a winner, or simply maintain a profitable division?
Recently, Buster Olney of ESPN suggested that the Mariners are a “free agency sleeping giant.” He wrote that Seattle has a beautiful ballpark, loyal fans and the potential to commit a lot of money to payroll due to TV revenue. Therefore, the Mariners could be big spenders and use that revenue to reestablish relevancy.
This is a nice thought, but based on the last few seasons it doesn’t seem like free agents are terribly interested in the Emerald City. If the Mariners have truly chased veteran talent, they obviously have not been particularly successful with their sales pitches.
One assumes that the Mariners have some sort of plan, but at this point the exact steps are a bit of a mystery. We will know more in the next few weeks as free agents start coming off the board.
A sleeping giant? Right now, the Mariners just appear to be sleeping.