BRENT STECKER

Mariners rebuild is complete — they were just missing Julio Rodríguez

Jul 15, 2022, 10:10 PM | Updated: Jul 16, 2022, 12:17 am
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
Julio Rodríguez celebrates with teammates after the Mariners' 12th straight win Friday. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

As the 2021 Seattle Mariners were making their push toward the franchise’s first 90-win season in 18 years, comparisons started to get thrown out.

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Comparisons to teams that had gone through rebuilds like theirs in recent years and turned into contenders.

Turned into World Series champions, in fact.

Those teams were the Chicago Cubs, who won it all in 2016, the Houston Astros, who followed as champs the next year, and the Atlanta Braves, who would climb to the top in 2021. And Seattle’s performance last year had a lot in common with that trio in the fact that they turned the corner roughly a year ahead of expectations.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto saw the similarities even before the M’s started their climb up the standings last year, as he shared on opening day in April 2021 on Seattle Sports.

“A young team is virtually impossible for the public systems to project because we don’t have enough information yet for that to happen,” Dipoto said. “… You can look back at so many of the teams that have come out of rebuilds over these last handful of years, teams like the Braves and like the Astros and like the Cubs, and generally speaking they were a year ahead of their projections.”

The 2021 Mariners followed a trend those teams set.

The Braves went from 72 wins in 2017 to winning the first of four straight National League East division titles in 2018. The Astros went 70-92 in 2014, made the jump to win an American League wild card in 2015, and have been the dominant team in the AL West since. The Cubs won 73 games in 2014, then made it all the way to the NLCS as a wild card the next year.

As for Seattle, it went 27-33 in the shortened 60-game 2020 season, which was equal to 73 wins in a regular 162-game season, then surprised everybody with their 90-72 finish in 2021 that left them just shy of the playoffs.

There is one thing all those other teams had that the Mariners didn’t, however. And that was a bonafide, undeniable, phenomenal young superstar under the age of 24 years old.

Sounds like somebody you know, doesn’t it?

That’s right, the only thing the Mariners were missing to make themselves a true contender was the player who’s been the story of their season – well, at least before this whole 12 straight wins business happened. The only thing they were missing was Julio Rodríguez, their 21-year-old phenom who has quickly established himself as Seattle’s centerpiece.

The Cubs had Kris Bryant, who debuted at 23 years old early in 2015, the year Chicago went from 73 wins to 95. The Astros had Carlos Correa, who was 20 when he arrived that same 2015 season, helping the Astros go from 70 wins to 86. And the Braves had Ronald Acuña Jr., who was also 20 when he showed up on the Braves’ roster in 2018, when they jumped from 72 wins to 90.

Oh, those three have one more thing all in common – they each won Rookie of the Year.

Rodríguez seems well on his way to following in all of their footsteps in that regard, and he’ll do something next week only Bryant also did in his rookie season, and that’s play in the MLB All-Star Game.

OK, but what does this all mean? Frankly, I think there’s an argument to be made that Mariners in some way are in better shape than those other teams were at the same point in their rebuild-to-contender progression. That’s because they jumped the gun last year, winning 90 games without their young phenom. Those other teams didn’t turn the corner until the new face of their franchise arrived.

I won’t really make that argument too strongly, however, because there is a lot to point to from last season that suggests the 2021 Mariners had a lot of bounces go their way. That wasn’t really the case for the 2022 Mariners, at least not until the last month or so, which is what makes their current run all that more exciting for those watching in the PNW.

If you really want some hope, though, stick with the Braves comparison.

Much like the M’s this year, the 2021 Braves were hit hard by injuries to key players last season, including Acuña, who missed the entire second half plus the playoffs. After 91 games, the same spot the 49-42 Mariners are at right now in their season, Atlanta owned a 45-46 record. The Braves went 43-27 the rest of the way, benefiting from a huge trade deadline and a weak division (they actually had less wins than the 2021 M’s, who as you’re well aware did not make the playoffs), and got hot at the right time to win the title.

I’m not sure if the Mariners need to go too big in acquiring more players, especially with Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger expected back from injury for the second half. They can definitely use more pitching and maybe another option at second base. And they still have a lot of work to do if they’re aiming to catch Houston in the AL West. Then again, with the third wild card in the AL this year and the M’s fighting mainly teams from the AL East that will have to beat up on each other plenty the rest of the way, they’re kind of playing with house money. Why not go for broke now and see how far it takes you?

After all, the pieces seem to be in place. Especially the most important one.

More on the Mariners from Seattle Sports

Mariners’ Sam Haggerty gave Rick Rizzs greatest gift for an announcer
Crawford nursing injury, Mariners pressing on without Santana in Texas
Mariners OF Check-In: Winker’s new stance, latest on Lewis and Kelenic
Mariners’ Dipoto looking for pitching help, open to trading for “impact”
Fann: Red-hot Mariners’ pitchers — and man behind them — deserve their flowers
Two Mariners Trade Deadline Takes: Starting pitcher, hitters to go after

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Mariners rebuild is complete — they were just missing Julio Rodríguez