JAKE AND STACY

Wassell: Why I think Mariners will improve on last year’s 68-win record

Mar 6, 2020, 12:50 AM

Mariners C Tom Murphy...

Tom Murphy will be the Mariners' No. 1 catcher after hitting 18 home runs in a platoon role. (Getty)

(Getty)

Sometimes I make predictions because I have a good hunch. Other times I do it simply to get a good conversation going. The other day, I coughed up the idea that the Mariners’ win-loss record in 2020 would be 76-86. Let’s find a random 76-86 team from the recent past and talk about what a team with that record looks like.

Drayer: Is Mariners’ rotation on its way to being better than expected?

Ah, the 2015 Seattle Mariners! A season for the ages, no doubt. Actually it wasn’t, and here are a few reasons why.

They had a rotation filled with ERAs over 4. Félix Hernández was the one bright spot with an 18-9 record with a 3.53 ERA. Couldn’t that be what we’re looking at for this year’s bunch? Marco Gonzales was 16-13 with a 3.99 ERA last season. The expectation is that he’ll continue to develop so why would it be unreasonable to say he could end up right around what Félix did in 2015? As for everyone else – Yusei Kukuchi, Kendall Graveman, Taijuan Walker, Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, etc. – I wouldn’t bank on improvement with a possible exception of Kukuchi, whose 6-11/5.46 showing last year was hopefully as bad as it’ll get for him. So again, the rotation will be Gonzales, a slightly improved Kukuchi, Graveman and Walker as the X-factor and a couple of kids that are free to be as bad as is necessary to begin their careers.

Keep in mind, I’m making my predictions based on what the Mariners believe these players will turn into, not what I think they’ll be. In other words, I may think Kukuchi will be Cy Young but the Mariners look at him as a middle-to-back of the rotation guy, so the question is will he develop at the rate that the Mariners hope he will? If he does, then 2020 should be a bit better than last season.

Now to the offense. The 2015 group hit 198 home runs, including 44 from Nelson Cruz alone, a team batting average of .249, a .722 OPS and a 101 OPS+ (these are random, sorta telling stats that I’m using to get a general sense of who the team was, please don’t argue that I should have used other metrics). We’re dealing with names like Mike Zunino, Logan Morrison,Robinson Canó, Brad Miller, Kyle Seager, Seth Smith, Austin Jackson, Mark Trumbo, Cruz and a parade of Monteros, Weeks, Romeros and Bloomquists coming off the bench.

Ask yourself this question honestly: Will this year’s team be THAT much worse than them? I’ll make a one-liner prediction for all the expected starters:

• C Tom Murphy: I’ll take your .273 with 18 HRs or close to it any day of the week.
• 1B Evan White: Learn at your pace, kid. You’re rich!
• 2B Shed Long: Had a .787 OPS in 42 games last year with a little glove… OK.
• SS J.P. Crawford: It’s time, buddy.
• 3B Kyle Seager: Make us not mind that contract.
• LF Kyle Lewis: You don’t have to repeat last September but you’re the team’s next All-Star!
• CF Braden Bishop/Mallex Smith: Not expecting much here.
• RF Jake Fraley: 2019 Mariners Minor League Player of the Year. No expectations but could surprise with some reps.
• DH Daniel Vogelbach: Hopefully he’s rested his mental approach and all that power returns.

* Mitch Haniger is hurt so I’m leaving him aside, but we know what he can do when healthy.

Lineups change over the course of a season due to injury and transactions. Additionally, they’ll slump and streak just like any other team. But if things go in the general direction of what I described above, doesn’t that make you more excited than nervous? Again, I’m not talking about a 90-win team. I’m speaking of a 76-win team, which isn’t very good. I think people forget that it’s possible for them to improve and still be bad.

I’d go through the bullpen one by one but it’s such a mystery what you’re going to get out of relievers from year to year that it seems like a foolhardy endeavor to even try. Let’s take Dan Altavilla, for example. It would be shocking if he actually stayed healthy and turned his 98 mph gas into something we could rely on in the eighth inning. But then again, let’s look at the 2015 team. Positives included the Mariners squeezing a fifth year out of Tom Wilhelmsen and Carson Smith posting a 2.19 ERA. Miracles can happen. Other than that, the bullpen was atrocious. Fernando Rodney posted a 5.68 ERA and was traded a year after making the All-Star team and leading the AL in saves. Remember Mayckol Guipe, David Rollins and Rob Rasmussen? It was a disaster, and yet – 76 wins!

Now why is 76 wins in 2020 important? Well, it isn’t. There’s no rush for the team to show drastic improvement in a year where we’re going to see so many new faces. Many of you think they’re going to be even worse than 2019’s 68 wins but still believe that eventually general manager Jerry Dipoto’s rebuild will work. That’s a perfectly valid perspective. I just happen to believe that most of the players we’ll be watching have more experience that we give them credit for, and if they truly are the superstars of tomorrow, why should they have to go through a stage where they’re all terrible? Expecting Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn to be Dwight Gooden (17-9, 2.60, 276 K’s in his rookie year) right from the start is unfair, but who says that they can’t be just below league average either? Not every star player struggled mightily before they blossomed.

So with that in mind, I’m staying positive. This team will be improved from last year and Dipoto will have spared us 162 extra games of crawling before we finally walk.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom Wassell on Twitter.

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Wassell: Why I think Mariners will improve on last year’s 68-win record