Although the Seattle Mariners’ 2015 season has been a huge disappointment and the team will miss the postseason for the 14th consecutive year, the Mariners general manager (GM) job is a plum assignment that’s certain to have many suitors. Why? First, it’s only one of 30 such jobs in the world. There’s more to it though. Seattle’s a great market, ownership has been incrementally increasing player payroll – thanks to its regional sports network deal – and the major league roster has talent players.
Sure, the new GM will have plenty of work to do to turnaround the franchise. Seattle has areas of need at first base, catcher, center field, one corner outfield spot, number-two starting pitcher, and in the bullpen. But, it’s not an insurmountable task by any stretch of the imagination and the team could be a contender within a year – assuming the right moves are made. To see how quickly a team can turnaround, Mariners fans can look at divisional rival Texas Rangers as a possible prototype for a Mariners revival.
After winning 90 or more games for four consecutive seasons, the Rangers fell on hard times in 2014 by losing 95. Coming into 2015, few viewed the team as a postseason contender. However, they’ve already exceeded their 2014 win total with three weeks remaining in the season and now they’re in a hotly contested pennant race.
The roster needs addressed by the Rangers after 2014 were similar to what the Mariners will need to fix in 2016. GM Jon Daniels added three catchers, a center fielder, a number-two starting pitcher, and bullpen depth. Plus, his designated hitter/first baseman Prince Fielder returned from neck surgery. The moves made by Daniels and the return of Fielder have made the team competitive in September.
It’s important to note that the position players added by Texas were a smorgasbord of performers with varying degrees of skill, age, and experience. The best “addition” to the 2015 squad was Fielder and Rule 5 draftee Delino DeShields has delivered value while splitting time between left and center field.
As you can see, only Mike Napoli has performed well above league-average and he’s only been in Texas since August. Josh Hamilton’s return from the Los Angeles Angels earlier this season received a great deal of fanfare, but his contributions – like most of the new additions –have been made on a limited basis.
The biggest improvements that Texas made since the end of last season were two starting pitchers who were acquired via trade – Yovani Gallardo and Cole Hamels. Gallardo arrived via a January deal with Milwaukee and Hamels was a late July addition from Philadelphia. Getting Hamels helped offset the loss of ace Yu Darvish – lost due to season ending elbow surgery in March. The nice part about the Hamels deal is that he’s not a “rental” and is under contract through at least 2018, with a 2019 team option. Throw in starter Derek Holland who returned in August after missing four months with a shoulder injury and the Rangers have a competitive starting rotation going into the last few weeks of the regular season.
Daniels added many new arms to his bullpen via trade, free agency, and his minor league system. The most successful newcomer has been homegrown player – rookie Keone Kela from Seattle’s Chief Sealth International high school. Despite the attempt to retool the bullpen, Rangers relievers have ranked near the bottom of the American League in fielding independent pitching, left-on-base percentage, plus strikeouts and walks per-nine innings.
In no way am I criticizing any of the player moves made by the Rangers. I’m merely pointing out that most of their deals have been game changers. Regardless of the bullpen’s mediocrity and the moderate upgrade of position players, Texas is in the playoff hunt on Labor Day. Couldn’t the Mariners make similar additions and be in the same position 365 day from now?
As I said earlier, the Mariners will have to do a lot of work to remodel the team’s roster. But, the following table illustrates that there are six position players with 250 or more plate appearances who are above league-average in at least one of the offensive categories highlighted in yellow. Plus, young shortstop Ketel Marte looks like a 2016 contributor. That’s a good starting point for the new GM.
|C||Mike Zunino (40-man)||24||112||386||11||.174||.230||.300||.530|
|SS||Chris Taylor (40-man)||24||37||102||.170||.220||.223||.443|
|UT||Jesus Montero (40-man)||25||25||78||2||.200||.231||.347||.577|
|OF||James Jones (40-man)||26||8||14||.000||.143||.000||.143|
Once the offense finally got on track, the Mariners pitching became their weakest link when it fell apart during the second half of the season. Regardless of its poor 2015 showing, the pitching staff can be greatly improved by Opening Day 2016. First of all, the starting staff will be anchored by Felix Hernandez and will have the young arms of Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, and Mike Montgomery in the mix for rotation spots or as trade bait. Adding a number-two starter better than Hisashi Iwakuma will position the 2016 starting crew for success.
|Mike Montgomery (40-man)||25||4||6||4.60||16||90.0||4.68||1.433|
|James Paxton (15-day dl)||26||3||3||3.70||10||58.1||4.29||1.303|
|Danny Farquhar (40-man)||28||4||5.75||7||1||36.0||5.06||1.611|
|Charlie Furbush (15-day dl)||29||1||1||2.08||4||21.2||3.74||0.646|
|Tyler Olson (40-man)||25||1||1||5.40||4||13.1||6.37||2.100|
Like the Rangers, Seattle’s bullpen certainly needs an overhaul. But, it’s not completely barren with Carson Smith, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Charlie Furbush under team control for next season. Whether all three – or any of the current relievers – are on the Opening Day roster or used in deals to upgrade the team, the new GM will have assets at their disposal during the revival process.
The hot stove will burn brightly this winter when it comes to discussing how the Mariners new GM could or should remodel the team’s roster. Maybe it’ll take more than one season to get the team back to the postseason, but the team’s newest executive will inherit players who can help return a winning team to Safeco Field.
I’m not saying that the Mariners have to follow the Texas prototype. Perhaps, the team will hire Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine, who Prospect Insider Jason A. Churchill reports is normally mentioned as a top-10 candidate for GM jobs. Regardless of who Seattle hires, the Rangers have proven that a franchise can bounce back within a relatively short amount of time when its roster already has major league ready players – like the Seattle Mariners.
In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team and is now a contributor at HERO Sports also. During baseball season, he can be often found observing the local team at Safeco Field.
You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins