Coming in at 25th out of 30 in our organizational rankings are Jerry Dipoto‘s Seattle Mariners. And they are very much belonging to Jerry Dipoto. While the Seattle GM has been the butt of many jokes for his seemingly whimsical take on the use of trade as a means of talent aquisition, Dipoto has crafted this Mariners bunch that has been in a win-now window for the last few seasons. While Dipoto was handed an aging, under-performing team when he took over a few years back, they are now an aging, mainly competitive team. But a closer look at the current state of the Mariners’ organization, and things sure seem headed for a cliff.
Robinson Cano, 35, and future hall-of-fame secondbaseman, was solid if unspectacular last season (112 OPS+ good for 3.7 WAR). But that was below average production for peak Cano, and one has to wonder at his age when he is no longer an asset. With Cano guaranteed $24M per year over the next 6 years, his contract is likely headed into Pujols level badness.
The next best hitter, Nelson Cruz, is 38 years old. How long can the former PED user maintain his stellar offensive production? I’d hate to even consider this, but Cruz’s skillset profiles similarly to that of now unemployed former superstar slugger Jose Bautista, whose career fell off the precipice in his mid 30’s. It’s hard to see the Mariner’s getting value from either of these two stars in two years.
On the bright side, Jean Segura, 28, showed his offensive breakout in Arizona two seasons ago was no fluke, posting 3.2 WAR from the shortstop position. He is signed long term, as is Mitch Haniger, 26, who broke out last season, posting 3.0 WAR on the back of a robust 126 OPS+ over only 369 at-bats. Dan Vogelbach, who offers a nice combination of power and patience, can flat out hit and might have an opening in the upcoming post-Nelson Cruz era, as he is strictly DH only. Mike Zunino, 26, also broke out, as the elite pitch-framer socked 25 homeruns and posted an excellent 123 OPS+ and 3.3 WAR in 2017. Kyle Seager is 30 but should provide a steady bat to complement this young offensive core for the next few seasons. Hmmm, as I write this, I’m starting to convince myself that this ranking is too harsh on the Mariners.
But listen, before we talk about what is unarguably the very worst farm system in baseball, there are holes in the pitching staff as well. James Paxton has pitched at an elite level the last season and a half, but he has constantly struggled with injuries. And after him? King Felix hasn’t pitched like a king in a long time, and it’s pretty clear that his best-case scenario right now is learning to re-invent himself a-la-late-career CC Sabathia. Mike leake misses barrels but not bats, and can be relied on for average production but nothing more. The back of the rotation figures to be rounded out by Erasmo Ramirez, Marco Gonzales, Rob Whalen, Ariel Miranda and Andrew Moore. Those pitchers have back of the rotation ceilings, and the Mariners will be fortunate if two of the above lot can hold down the back of the rotation with fortitude. The lack of depth here is the obvious achilles heel of this Mariners squad, and with the Mariners unwilling to dabble in the depressed Lynn/Cobb/Arrieta market this spring, it doesn’t portend well for their financial flexibility going forward to remedy this situation.
The bullpen looks strong, but will have to shoulder a very large load. Edwin Diaz misses bats, and rebounded down the stretch after a rough start to his 2017. Juan Nicasio, Max Povse, Nick Vincent, David Phelps, james Pazos, and Nick Rumbelow round out a nice stable of power bullpen arms, which is not-so-ironically, the one area of depth down on the farm as well. Speaking of….
Minor League Talent
While the farm has some really interesting power relievers like Art Warren and Matthew Festa, Jerry Dipoto has unequivocally raped the Mariners farm down to it’s bare bones. With such a dearth of quality starters on the MLB roster (other than James Paxton, who else really excites?), a Luiz Gohara would sure look nice. Oops. Too bad, Dipoto traded him and Shae Simmons for Mallex Smith, and quickly flipped him for Drew Smyly in a quest to win in 2017. Bummer.
While 2017 2nd round pick Sam Carlson, drafted out of the Minnesota prep ranks, is literally one of the only high end arms in the entire system, there aren’t a ton of impact bats coming either. 2016 1st round pick Kyle Lewis has hit when on the field, but his early career has been plagued by serious knee injuries, clouding what is otherwise a solid everyday RF profile. 2017 1st rounder Evan White out of Kentucky should move quickly, but some scouts don’t love his meager power projection at firstbase, though he plays it to a solid 70-grade. Maybe 17 year old Julio Rodriguez signed out of the Dominican last summer pans out, but the toolsy project is just a lottery ticket. Braden Bishop should arrive next season as a quality speed/OBP fourth outfielder.
There just isn’t enough in the farm system left to survive the natural attrition due to age and injury that is bound to occur over the next few years. With aging sluggers at the top of the talent chart, a dearth of pitching depth throughout the organization, and some bad contracts on the books, the Dipoto era of competing to win now can go on for only so long. By 2020, look for the Mariners to be on a steep downward trajectory, when you would surmise a complete tear-down to occur. The problem is, as discussed with a few of the last bottom-feeders in these rankings, delayed rebuilds often impede the ability to execute a quick turnaround. For all of these reasons, the Seattle Mariners come in 25th out of 30 MLB Organizations.