In a world that seems increasingly able to spin news any which way it wants, it’s hard to figure out how to sell the Mariner’s offseason as anything short of a massive disappointment. Stuck with an aging core of stars, a thin farm, and an increasingly competitive division, the Mariners needed a decisive move towards contention in 2018, through the addition of major league stars in free agency, or 2021, through the sell off of their most valuable assets to replenish their farm system. Instead, the Mariners signed Juan Nicasio, and watched their coveted target Shohei Ohtani not only go elsewhere, but to the thrice-dammed Angels, their most bitter rival.
Please hold your applause.
In a typical baseball offseason, we would be near the finish line. The majority of stars would be off the market, a few holdouts and veterans looking to make a comeback would linger, and the Mariners would be stuck with a roster that both my back-of-napkin math and Fangraphs agree is about an 81-win team. But, this is not a typical baseball offseason. The combination of next year’s historically talented FA class, and baseball teams either full on colluding to depress wages or just thinking everyone else is colluding has led to a good old fashioned stand off, with no one seemingly willing to fire the first shot.
This has, potentially, created a good old fashioned market inefficiency, and one the Mariners can and should take advantage of. Baseball players want, and should get, every last dollar they can possibly extract from baseball owners, but they also want to know where they will play baseball, move their families, and live in 2018. While the dream of a Yu Darvish/Jake Arrieta top-shelf, huge money acquisition is probably still a fantasy, the Mariners are still a team with glaring holes in its rotation at every single level. From Lance Lynn to Bartolo Colon pitchers of every tier of talent and cost are available right now, waiting for someone to act.
On the most recent episode of The Wheelhouse, Jerry Dipoto’s official podcast, Dipoto stated that the team was focusing now on “who to invite to Spring Training”, implying that the team has moved on from the MLB free agency market. Typically executive speak should be taken as potential half truths, or smoke screens. Deception, bluffing, and coyness are all classic tactics of the free agency signing period. But in his third offseason we’ve seen enough to know that deception and bluffing are not the typical Dipoto way of doing business.
Jerry clearly feels confident and comfortable enough to be as open, honest, and transparent with the public as any baseball executive I can remember. Whether you feel that is a strength or a weakness is open to debate, but given the evidence we have to work with it’s reasonable to assume he’s telling the truth, and the team has no immediate plans to jump back into the FA market.
This is, in my opinion, a wild oversight. The Mariners are not selling, and if they aren’t selling they’re trying to compete. If they’re trying to compete they currently have a roster that is two full steps behind the Angels, and three to four behind the Astros. The grand vision for the offseason clearly went kablooey when the team failed to acquire Ohtani, but unique circumstances in this market may have allowed them an opportunity to sneak 2-4 precious wins through the backdoor while everyone else is sleeping.
If they can’t make it happen, fine. I can handle that. There exists no scenario I can foresee where the 2018 Mariners are anything but longshots for a playoff berth. However if they fail to act swiftly, and show the willingness to alter plans to fill glaring needs when the market potentially throws opportunities to do so into their laps, that shows not only a lack of execution, but a lack of vision. That I find unforgivable for, as you may have heard, the team that has the longest active playoffless streak in major North American sports.
That may sound harsh, and I’m clearly one of the bigger critics of the team and ownership currently regularly writing about the team. If I am wrong my request to the Mariners is the same as it has always been: Show me.