With the Seattle Mariners’ season in the rear-view mirror and the postseason underway, it’s time to publicly own my preseason picks for the team.
A few my predictions were on the money, while others were complete duds. I’m sure I’ll hear about the miscues and not the gems – that’s fair. After all, being ribbed goes with the territory when you attempt to be an MLB fortuneteller.
Corey’s Brother Bounces Back – Wrong!
No, Kyle Seager didn’t rebound from a lackluster 2017 as predicted. Instead, he had the worst season of his eight-year career. The 30-year-old could still hit the long ball, but his declining OBP illustrates that reaching base became problematic for the former All-Star.
|Kyle Seager’s Stats (2016-18)|
Throughout the season, Seager’s struggles were a hot topic with local sports talk radio and on social media. His exorbitant salary only fueled frustration with the masses.
The only MLB third baseman making more in 2018 than Seager’s $19.5 million was Josh Donaldson ($23 million). Even more unsettling for the Seattle fan base, there’s another two years and $38 million remaining on Seager’s current deal.
Where Seager and the Mariners go from here is unknown. His salary and poor performance make a trade difficult. That’s assuming management wants to move the former Gold Glove winner.
There has been no indication they do.
All Good Things – Right!
When the Mariners signed 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki late in Spring Training to replace an injured Ben Gamel, multiple parties – including me – blasted the move. I and others suggested the icon’s second tour with the team wouldn’t end well.
Unfortunately, the skeptics were correct. In 15 games and 47 plate appearances, Ichiro collected just three walks and nine all singles with his final appearance as a player coming on May 2.
While Ichiro’s 2018 season was forgettable, his career is not. There’s no disputing he deserves to be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
America Discovers Big Maple – Right!
Prior to the season, I suggested the immense talent of James Paxton would gain national recognition in 2018. That prediction became reality when the southpaw threw a no-hitter against the team from his native country – the Toronto Blue Jays.
Tossing a no-no wasn’t the only positive development for Paxton. Early in the season, “Big Maple” was making a case for Cy Young Award consideration. Unfortunately, his performance regressed to a degree, plus there were two trips to the DL due to a back strain and a bout with pneumonia.
Despite those setbacks, Paxton managed to finish in the top-10 in numerous categories among AL starters with 150-innings pitched.
|Big Maple’s Career Year|
Going into next season, Paxton could be a dark horse pick for the Cy Young Award by some pundits.
It’s amazing what throwing a no-hitter and having an eagle land on your shoulder can do for your national profile.
Zunino Is For Real – Wrong!
After watching Mike Zunino seemingly figure out his offensive issues during the previous two seasons, it seemed reasonable to forecast continued success for the former Florida Gator in 2018.
To be clear, I wasn’t suggesting Zunino had to repeat his 2017 career-year. If the 27-year-old simply produced an average of his 2016-17 slash lines (.238/.327/.497 and 122 wRC+), that would be a success story for both team and player.
As we all by now, Zunino fell significantly short of those milestones with his offensive production declining in every meaningful category.
|Zunino By The Numbers|
|MLB Catcher Avg||.232||.304||.372||84|
Where Zunino – and the Mariners – go from here will be worth watching during the offseason. Management appears to value the former first round pick’s skills as a receiver and game caller. That said, it’s plausible the team looks elsewhere for a less expensive option with similar defensive skills.
Same Old Felix – Right!
Sadly, the stat line of former ace Félix Hernández continued trending in the wrong direction. It got so bad manager Scott Servais assigned the 32-year-old to the bullpen in early August. Quite a fall from grace for the team’s 2018 Opening Day starter.
|The Decline Of The King|
King Félix’s tenure as a reliever lasted just one game due to an injury to Paxton and he did pitch better once reinserted back into the rotation. Still, the former Cy Young Award winner’s post-exile production was similar to that of a number-five starter; not the ace he once was.
What Félix can be for the Mariners next season – the final one of his current contract – remains an unknown. But history does not favor the King.
Eddie Will Be Steady – Right!
Finally, a prediction that easily exceeded my preseason expectations. Not only did Edwin Díaz become a consistent performer out of the bullpen, he was one of the baseball’s best closers.
Díaz was dominant force for Seattle. He either led MLB relievers or finished second in most meaningful statistical categories this season.
|Díaz Bringing The Heat|
Whether Díaz will ever be as good as he was this season is a conversation for another day. But there’s no denying the native of Puerto Rico established himself as one of the best in baseball this year.
The Offense Delivers – Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
Of all my misses, this one surprised me the most. I assumed the rotation would be the Mariners’ downfall, but their sluggish offense played a significant role in the club blowing a massive lead in the AL Wild Card race.
|M’s 2018 Offense|
At best, the Mariners finished mid-pack in MLB rankings, which is somewhat disappointing when you consider numerous NL clubs (the ones that let pitchers hit) finished ahead of them.
Sure, losing Robinson Canó to an 80-game PED-related suspension was a devastating blow to Seattle’s lineup. But the offense proved to be impotent even after the eight-time All-Star returned to action.
|M’s Offense After Cano’s Return|
|After Aug 14||4.1||40||.247||.310||.395||97|
After Cano rejoined the team, the Mariners averaged 4.1 runs scored/game during their final 42 contests. Only the Rangers (3.8) and Orioles (3.6) were worse in the AL during the final six weeks of the season.
Seager and Zunino weren’t alone when it came to struggling at the plate. Only six players with 250-plus plate appearances finished the season with a wRC+ above the league-average of 100 – Canó, Nelson Cruz, Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, Denard Span, and Ben Gamel.
I say “only” because Cano missed half the season, Span didn’t join the team until Memorial Day, and the team sent Gamel to Class-AAA Tacoma when Cano returned from his suspension.
We’ll do a deeper dive into the Mariners’ offensive woes at another time. The bottom line is I completely whiffed on this one.
Kuma Returns – Sadly, Wrong!
Predicting Hisashi Iwakuma would return from shoulder surgery to pitch for the Mariners this season was wishful thinking more than anything else.
Iwakuma is a fan-favorite with a reputation for having a strong work ethic and being devoted to improving at his craft. How couldn’t I pull for a guy like that?
In reality, it was always a stretch to believe Kuma could return and contribute, especially with his history of shoulder problems. At least the 37-year-old returned to throw out a ceremonial first pitch before a September home game.
Hopefully, the franchise finds more opportunities to honor Iwakuma in the future.
Buyers Beware – Right, But
It wasn’t exactly daring of me to predict general manager Jerry Dipoto being active prior to the MLB non-waiver trade deadline. Making trades is the way of the JeDi. Heck, the third-year GM made a significant move by Memorial Day acquiring Span and Alex Colomé from the Rays.
Other Dipoto pickups included Sam Tuivailala, Zach Duke, Adam Warren, Cameron Maybin, and Kristopher Negrón. The newcomers delivered mixed results and weren’t enough to get the Mariners into the postseason.
What was different and unexpected about Dipoto’s approach was his willingness to add players with limited or no club control.
In the past, Dipoto might may have added one rental player. Maybin, Warren, and Duke are pending free agents and the team holds a $12 million option on Span with a $4 million buyout.
M’s Improve, But Not Really – Right!
I said the Mariners would be better, but the postseason was out of reach. Moreover, I suggested they’d win 82 games and could reach 85 with a little luck.
It turns out they were luckier than I expected by winning 89 games, but my prediction rings true. The Mariners improved, but not really.
Sure, Paxton’s no-no, the emergence of Haniger, the career resurrection of Wade LeBlanc were several of the feel-good chapters in the Mariners’ season. Nevertheless, the overall story was a disappointment — again.
Opening Day Will Be Awesome – Right!
As an insurance policy against 100% failure, I always throw in a no-brainer. Of course, Opening Day was awesome. How could it be any other way?
If all goes well, next season’s sure-fire pick will be one certain to bring joy to Mariners fans everywhere…
The induction ceremony of Edgar Martinez into the Baseball Hall of Fame will be wonderful.
Wouldn’t that be something?
My Oh My….