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The Seattle Mariners are coming out of a rebuild that began after the 2018 season. It started with a bang. A few, actually. James Paxton was shipped to the Bronx, Mike Zunino to Tampa, and we all know about the deal with the New York Mets.

A year ago we saw the first significant signs of the club crawling out its rebuilding stages toward contention. They fell just shy of a playoff berth in 2021, but it was another step in the right direction, nonetheless.

But the Mariners are not the only club primed to go from ‘rebuild’ to ‘contender’ soon, and as early as 2022.

When I look at clubs of this ilk, I think of a handful of factors in terms of how good a shape they’re in for the future.

  • Financial Situation
    – Payroll flexibility based on perceived limits
    – Ownership’s perceived financial commitment
  • Farm System & Young talent
    – I don’t care about org and individual rankings here, I care about how the system can help the big club, considering the roster’s current needs and weaknesses
    – How many young players (that don’t qualify as prospects) are there with extended club control that carry impact upsides?
  • Current Core
    – How good is the current core?
    – Core trend: Aging players maybe leaving prime or already near the end? Younger core still trending toward peak? How many established core types are there already?
  • Recent Trends
    – How well did the team/some of the young key and core perform in 2021?
    – What’s the trend and ETA of the better prospects, especially those nearing the majors?

Looking around the league, here are the clubs that appear to be in a similar place as Seattle, having underwent a rather large-scale rebuild, now showing major signs of becoming a consistent contender — and their Big Four Factors.

But first, here are some examples of clubs that broke out of their rebuilds in recent seasons and who do so over the next few years.

2020: Chicago White Sox
The Sox won, 63, 73, 76, 78, 67, 62, and 72 games from 2013-2019 (.424). then went 35-25 in 2020 (.599) and won 93 games this past season. The breakout in 2020 led to a Wild Card loss, but it clear they were ready to unseat the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians in the American League Central, and they did that in ’21.

The Sox are in very good shape in terms of payroll (60 grade), thanks to the club’s masterful work in trades (Lance Lynn, for example), and avoidance of potentially payroll-crippling contracts (largest deal is Yasmani Grandal‘s 4/$73M deal that expires after 2023.

Their farm system (30 grade on a 20-80 scale) is now one of the worst in baseball, but the roster (70) is littered with young impact players, such as SS Tim Anderson, 3B Yoan Moncada, OF Eloy Jimenez, budding star Luis Robert, and RHPs Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease.

2021: Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays actually made the postseason in 2020, but in a 60-game season at 32-28 and an extended playoff slate. The real breakthrough was winning 91 games (.562) in 2021 and setting themselves up for a division title run in 2022.

Toronto’s payroll situation is very good (70), despite three players earning $20 million or more annually. Until Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette starting getting paid what they’re worth, the Jays won’t have a single worry about a payroll squeeze.

2023: Texas Rangers
After the signings of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager the Rangers are committing to winning again, but unless they’re really aggressive with pitching the rest of the offseason, 2022 won’t be a year they compete all season. Next year is a legitimate possibility, however, and I don’t believe they’ll be a bad team in ’22 — I’d assume some pitching/run prevention additions before the start of the year and about a .500 club.

The Rangers have never been elite spenders in terms of team payroll, but they have been top 10 four times, 2012-2015, and while contending maintained a top-half payroll. The belief in the industry is they’ll ultimately return to top-10 status, and they maintain tons of flexibility (70) after the two big signings.

The roster still isn’t good (40), at least as of January 22, so there’s a ways to go before real damage will be done on the field. The farm system (55) is solid, however, and included near-ready talents such as RHP Jack Leiter, 3B Josh Jung, and C/1B Sam Huff. Texas is going to be good at some point relatively soon.

2024: Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles might have the game’s best position player prospect and best pitching prospect in Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez, and certainly are among the elite farms (80) in the game. They also have a few pieces on the big-league roster in Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle, and Trey Mancini, but there’s no real chance at legitimate contention in 2022, and 2023’s chances might be dependent largely on free agency, which is why ’24 seems most likely for them.

Also contributing to that time frame is the fact their best talents are indeed those prospects, including RHP DL Hall, OF Colton Cowser, and LHP Gunnar Henderson. That’s going to take a few years to sprinkle about the 26-man.

The current state of the projected 26-man (40) is very 2020 Mariners in that some kids are starting to show up, there are a few established players, but other than John Means there’s very little happening in rotation success, though Jorge Lopez has mid-rotation upside if he can throw more strikes.


2022

While none of these clubs are going to peak this coming season, there’s a real chance for each of them to produce a legitimate breakthrough in the win column, and ultimately contend for at least a Wild Card spot, regardless of whether or not the new CBA results in expanded playoffs.


Detroit Tigers

2019: 47-114 (.292)
2020: 23-35 (.397)
2021: 77-85 (.475)
Payroll: 72
Young Talent: 71
Current Core: 51
Recent Trends: 62
Overall: 65

Detroit is in terrific shape and have added Javier Baez to the mix this offseason. Their young guns — Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal — haven’t young much yet, but Spencer Turnbull and Michael Fulmer have, and Baez fellow newcomer Tucker Barnhardt, Akil Badoo (108 wRC+), Miguel Cabrera and Jeimer Candelario (119) will get help from the farm soon.

A.J. Hinch already has proven he’s good with younger players and Year 2 could be a rather large breakthrough for the Tigers. The young talent is among the elite in baseball and there’s as much payroll flexibility as GM Al Avila will ever need to build a winner in Motown.

Seattle Mariners

2019: 68-94 (.426)
2020: 27-33 (.450)
2021: 90-72 (.556)
Payroll: 70
Young Talent: 73
Current Core: 49
Recent Trends: 63
Overall: 65

The roster overall still has holes, but the core (Mitch Haniger, Marco Gonzales, Robbie Ray, J.P. Crawford, Ty France) is being joined by budding youngsters with massive upside.

Jerry Dipoto has lined up extensive payroll latitude with the arrival of many of the club’s best prospects (Jarred Kelenic, Cal Raleigh, Logan Gilbert, Julio Rodriguez) — including a wave of arms that could contribute as early as 2022 — and an abundance of hungry players looking to earn time (Abraham Toro, Luis Torrens, Kyle Lewis).

Miami Marlins

2019: 57-105 (.352)
2020: 31-29 (.517)
2021: 67-95 (.414)
Payroll: 61
Young Talent: 63
Current Core: 43
Recent Trends: 54
Overall: 53

Miami has starting pitching — perhaps to spare, which could come in handy over the next several months — but the lineup needs even more help than that of the Tigers and Mariners. They didn’t make any significant additions in November, but expect a few lowkey bats added to the mix, and maybe even an impact trade involving a starting pitcher that lands a middle-of-the-order hitter.

Kim Ng has operated with impressive discipline, considering how often other clubs are calling about trading for pitching, but don’t expect her to be quiet all winter. There is some money to spend, and the Marlins can make a move in the oddly-vulnerable National League East. Still, and depending how the club proceeds once the lockout is lifted, there’s a chance it’s a year early to expect the Fish to truly contend for the first time in a full season since 2009.

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 and spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio. He now serves as the Executive Copy Editor at Data Skrive, a tech company that manipulates data to provide automated content to clients including the AP, BetMGM, USA Today, and ESPN. Find Jason's baseball podcast, Baseball Things, right here.

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