The Mariners wound down their 2016 season last weekend with a ten-game improvement over 2015 but no postseason excitement. Here are three reasons for hope next year.
The Mariners took a step towards ending their 14-season hiatus from the playoffs in 2016 but still fell a few games short of postseason glory. Despite their frustrating losses to the lowly Oakland A’s in their final two games of the year, the Mariners still finished ten games over .500 at 86-76. They played meaningful baseball until game 161 under a new manager, general manager, and owner.
As the Blue Jays, with their beer bottle hurling, racial slur yelling fans (complete with a full contingent of bandwagoners from Vancouver) prepare to take on the AL West Champion Texas Rangers in the ALDS, let’s look at three positives from the Mariners’ 2016:
1. A Top-Tier Offense
It seemed early this season that the Mariners would be content with hitting solo home runs and standing around on the basepaths. At times, slugging homers was enough for an offense that finished second in the American League in long balls and scored the third-most runs in the league, but the team improved their other run-producing skills as the season wore on, too.
Right fielder and designated hitter Nelson Cruz had yet another great season, slashing .287/.360/.555 with 43 home runs and 105 RBIs. Second baseman Robinson Cano managed to top his career-high in home runs with 39. He was vintage Cano, as good as he was during his ten-year career in the Bronx.
Third baseman Kyle Seager made an impressive leap from a solid offensive contributor into a run-producing cornerstone this year. He clobbered 30 home runs and drove in 99, delivering the best slash line of his career: .278/.359/.499. Cano is 33 and Cruz is 35, but Seager is in the natural prime of his career at age 28. This triumvirate should continue to put the team on their backs in 2017.
2. Improved Player Development
It’s only been one year, but already we’ve seen the Mariners management brain trust, led by player development expert Jerry Dipoto, show signs of competence. Fans can crow and point fingers because of the success of ex-Mariner Mark Trumbo and the trade of Mike Montgomery, but overall, there were plenty of signs of good things to come for the future of the Mariners. The Tacoma Rainiers, their AAA affiliate, won their division in the Pacific Coast League. Several other Mariners affiliates succeeded in their minor league seasons as well. Players on these teams are being developed in winning systems by capable coaches.
Dipoto also drafted Kyle Lewis this year, widely regarded as one of the top hitting prospects in the game. He blew out his knee but he should be ready to for next season. For more proof of improved player development systems, look at the success of Mike Zunino after his return to the big leagues and how players like Dae-Ho Lee and Nori Aoki rediscovered their swings in AAA after struggling in the big leagues.
3. Veteran Leadership
In his comments after the season finale at Safeco Field last weekend, Robinson Cano said he was most impressed by how the Mariners played “as a family.” The Majors’ oldest team, the Mariners benefited from having a solid core of veterans helping rookie big-league manager Scott Servais steer the ship. Cruz, Cano, and Felix Hernandez held this team together this year, not only by playing through injuries and producing, but also by helping younger players through the ups and downs of the season. With their leadership core intact, the Mariners have fewer holes to fill for 2017.
Mariners Improving in 2017?
The Mariners already improved by ten games in 2016. Another year of Dipoto and a new collection of role players will help them win even more games in 2017. It might not be a hugely entertaining offseason with Dipoto manning the personnel decisions, but a few more players in the right places and the Mariners don’t give away those three games they needed to make the playoffs next season.