JOE FANN

Fann: Why the Mariners don’t have my blind faith just yet

Jan 6, 2023, 11:37 AM
Seattle Sports Julio Rodriguez, Cal Raleigh...
Julio Rodríguez high fives Cal Raleigh after scoring for the Mariners against the Blue Jays on July 7, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

I’ll be honest, in what is a slow news week, I’ve been having a hard time coming up with a story to write. And then our esteemed editor Brent Stecker sparked something regarding the Mariners.

Mariners’ lineup has made one very important improvement

As all good editors do – and Brent is A-1 – they invite ongoing conversation with various views and viewpoints.

He sent a Tweet on Thursday that serves as the inspiration for this story. The overall message of Brent’s post was astutely pointing out how the Mariners’ fan base “feels more angsty than ever right now” despite back-to-back 90-win seasons and a playoff series win in 2022.

As Brent astutely pointed stated: Feel your feelings. I’ve tried to urge this as well throughout the last few months while simply expressing my individual thoughts that are not gospel by any means.

His word choice was perfect regarding the current vibe among many Mariners fans: angsty. It’s certainly where I’m at, and I know many others are in that bucket as well. There’s also a faction who would love for the rest of us to chill out and enjoy what has objectively been the most successful two-year stretch in two decades.

And I’d agree with that last part, though it’s an egregiously low bar given our beloved baseball team got far too cozy with MLB’s basement.

This is undoubtedly an exciting time in franchise history with a true championship window that is only just cracking open. The Mariners won 90 games and are about to have an American League MVP candidate in Julio Rodríguez, a full year of Luis Castillo and George Kirby, other budding stars like Cal Raleigh, Logan Gilbert, Matt Brash, Andrés Muñoz and expected roster upgrades in Teoscar Hernández and Kolten Wong. That’s before mentioning roster staples like Eugenio Suárez, Ty France, Robbie Ray and others.

That’s a tremendous list. It was enjoyable just to type it out.

But I’m still unable to put blind faith in Seattle’s front office and ownership. I can’t take that “Jesus take the wheel” approach, and it will take at least one more playoff appearance to get me there.

Here’s why.

Subjectively, I think the Mariners, at least to this point, have opted for half-measures to fill out a championship-caliber roster rather than push all their chips to the middle of the table. There are still voids at designated hitter and left field. There’s still time, of course, but a meaningful trade market might never materialize and the remaining free agent pool is mostly uninspiring.

My belief is supported by the reporting of Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish, who recently shared that “multiple MLB sources have indicated that (Jerry Dipoto) isn’t operating with the payroll flexibility that was widely anticipated following a 2022 season that saw the Mariners draw 2.287 million fans (second highest since 2008) and the emergence of Rodríguez as the organization’s biggest superstar and maybe the most beloved player since Ken Griffey Jr.”

That might be a big ole nothing burger to you, but it certainly strikes a nerve for me.

Objectively, Seattle’s path to 90-plus wins and another playoff spot will be more arduous. Dipoto pointed out on Thursday on Seattle Sports 710 AM that he sees more parity league-wide than there’s been “in quite some time.” It’s a major reason why the trade market has remained so quiet. Very few teams are looking to ship off major league talent in exchange for prospects.

Dipoto: Trade market, Mariners’ DH plan, promising reports on young hitters

(Quick tangent: I don’t want to completely lose focus here, but Dipoto and the Mariners miscalculating on the trade market while missing out on every notable free agent is another valid gripe from Seattle’s fanbase.)

Last year, the Mariners were able to feast on a weak AL West while the AL East beat up on itself all season long. It’s a major reason why Seattle was able to claim a Wild Card spot. Of the team’s 90 wins in 2022, 34 (37.8%) came against the A’s, Angels and Rangers. The Mariners went 34-23 (59.6% winning percentage) in those games and 56-49 against everyone else (53.3% winning percentage).

MLB’s new schedule will trim down divisional matchups in 2023. Teams will now face division rivals 13 times instead of 19. That part is probably a zero-sum adjustment as having to face the Astros six fewer times is offset by the expected improvements of the Rangers (Jacob deGrom) and Angels (Hunter Renfroe, Brandon Drury and Tyler Anderson).

The biggest difference will be 46 interleague games, up from 20. Seattle will play San Diego four times as “natural rivals” and three times against each of the other 14 National League teams. And if Dipoto sees parity, particularly in the “middle of the pack,” then there will be far less opportunity to collect easy wins against bottom-dwellers.

I’m not trying to tell you the Mariners will regress or miss the playoffs. I’m hopeful they’ll continue to improve and even challenge the Astros atop the American League West. My point is that 90 wins isn’t a foregone conclusion, and the “angsty” vibe among the Mariners fan base is due to perceived missed opportunities, mostly for budgetary reasons.

Regardless of which side of this discussion you’re on, Brent said it best: Feel your feelings.

Lord knows I am.

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