Mariners won’t be ready by Opening Day

 

Jerry Dipoto didn’t wait very long to make his first significant move as Seattle Mariners GM. His acquisition of right-hander Nate Karns, southpaw C.J. Riefenhauser and outfield prospect Boog Powell signals the start of what’s likely to be a busy offseason for the new GM. But, that doesn’t mean that Dipoto will completely overhaul his roster.

As Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill pointed out during his offseason primer, the Mariners 2015 roster was good enough to contend for postseason play. Obviously, things didn’t work out for Seattle, largely due to a lack of depth that prevented the club from overcoming injuries.

Despite the Mariners disappointing 2015, any team that starts star players like Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager and a stable of young arms like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, and Mike Montgomery can become a contender in one offseason. That’s assuming the GM can infuse enough depth to survive the rigors of a 162-game season, plus a month of October baseball.

Even if Dipoto succeeds in building in needed depth in the minors and on the big league roster, the Mariners won’t be ready to win on Opening Day. Seattle will face in-season challenges – every team does. Even the best organizations have to go outside of their organization for help after the season starts. Look no further than last season’s final eight playoff teams to see what I mean.

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The two teams with the fewest moves were holdovers from the 2014 postseason and happen to be from the “Show Me State.” Both the World Series champion Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals each added just two players from their original group. The Cardinals added two role players, while the Royals were more aggressive by adding starting-level players Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto for their pennant push.

Conversely, the most active teams – the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays – didn’t appear in last year’s playoffs. Rangers GM Jon Daniels never lost faith in his team despite starting the season without ace Yu Darvish and rotation mate Martin Perez. To make matters worse, Derek Holland went on the disabled list after his first start of the year. It seemed like 2015 wouldn’t be the Rangers’ year, but Daniels was undeterred.

To the surprise of many, the Rangers GM added Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels, plus relievers Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson at the July 31 trading deadline. Some rationalized that adding Hamels might help Texas in 2015, but Daniels was actually looking towards 2016 when he’d have Darvish to pair up with the Philly southpaw. They were wrong.

Texas was seven games behind the first-place Houston Astros on the day they dealt for Hamels. The Rangers would go on a tear that helped them leap-frog the second place Los Angeles Angels and eventually catch Houston to win the American League West division. Daniels added several other players like former Ranger outfielder Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli. But, the Hamels deal has to be viewed as the point that the Rangers’ season turned around.

Toronto certainly made the biggest splash in July with the acquisitions of both Troy Tulowitzki and David Price in deadline deals. The “Tulo” deal was made even more dramatic because the Blue Jays included starting shortstop Jose Reyes in the trade package.

By being so aggressive, the Blue Jays made it clear to their fans and the rest of the baseball world that they intended to go deep into the postseason and they did just that by cutting down the New York Yankees’ six-game lead to win the American League East division and reaching the League Championship.

The New York Mets added four new players, but the deadline acquisition of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes certainly was the headline grabber. Cespedes’ performance didn’t warrant the MVP conversation that invaded blogs in August, but there’s no disputing that his performance played a big role in the Mets winning the National League East division.

It’s natural for fans to scream for these kind of deals when their team struggles out of the gate. Sure, several teams made major moves that changed the course of their respective seasons. But, that’s not the only way that playoff teams improved during the season.

The Mets made a splash with Cespedes. But, they also benefited greatly from minor league call-ups, as did the Chicago Cubs and Houston. Conversely, other teams – like Texas and Toronto – got relief from players returning from the disabled list.

It’s easy to overlook or forget about minor leaguers or players on the disabled list – out of sight, out of mind. But, minor call-up or players returning from injury can be difference makers.

Take a look at players who were either on the disabled list or in the minors on Opening Day, but went on to earn a postseason roster spot. There are some impressive names on this list, aren’t there?

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It’s easy to forget that Addison Russell wasn’t on the Opening Day roster. It’s tougher to forget that his teammate – Kris Bryant – started the season in the minors after his agent Scott Boras questioned why his client wasn’t going to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. Both players were tremendous additions, as was Kyle Schwarber. Does anyone think that the Cubs would have reached the National League Championship Series without these three players?

The Mets young starting pitchers were the foundation of the team’s first winning season since 2008, but it’s important to note that two starters – Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz – started games in the World Series despite the fact that they didn’t break camp with the team in April. It’s tough to imagine the Mets playing in the Fall Classic without Syndergaard and Matz.

The same applies for returning players from the disabled list. Daniels’ acquisition of Hamels was a great move, but where would Texas have been without Perez and Holland returning to the roster in July and August respectively? They probably wouldn’t have traveled to Toronto in October without those two. Having Marcus Stroman during the home stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs was a great boost for Toronto.

Getting significant value from rookies and players returning from the disabled list is akin to making a trade. When teams add rookies like the Cubs and Mets did, it’s essentially the equivalent to a mega-deal – only cheaper.

Okay, there’s a lot of moving parts need to come together during any successful playoff run. But, what about the Mariners going into 2016?

Seattle’s been behind the player development power curve for years, so you’re not going to see players like Syndergaard, Bryant, or Houston’s Carlos Correa as Seattle call-ups in 2016. It’s more likely that the club will derive their minor league depth via the offseason trade and waiver market with less-notable players like Riefenhauser, Powell, and pitcher Cody Martin. That increases the likelihood of having to make in-season adjustments.

It should be encouraging to Mariner fans that their new GM is well-versed with making in-season adjustments – just like this year’s postseason contestants. In 2012, he traded for pitcher Zack Greinke and he reloaded his bullpen by adding closer Huston Street and fellow reliever Jason Grilli, helping propel the Angels to a major league best 98-win season in 2014.

I’m not saying that the Mariners won’t be good on Opening Day, but their roster won’t be ready for the postseason – no major league roster will be. All teams encounter injuries and possible sub-par performance from players.

Last year’s best teams overcame those challenges, while the Mariners didn’t and that’s why they weren’t even a fringe contender. The fact that the Mariners now have a GM capable of adapting to misfortune improves the likelihood of the club ending their 14-year postseason drought.

 

 

 

 

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. During the baseball season, he can be seen often observing the local team at Safeco Field. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins
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