One way to definitely not make your fans feel better about a season in which their team’s growth flattened out instead of turning into the juggernaut promised is to tell them that’s the plan all along. But that’s what Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto felt was the best salve for the sting of the M’s puking away a playoff spot, and the AL West, in the last month of the season and especially in the last week when they had the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros on their field. That was on the back of getting the Rangers foot right up to their colon the previous week in Texas, which really put them behind the eight ball.
Let’s let Dipoto take it away first:
The headline here is the sheer audacity to ask Mariners fans for patience. A fanbase that has never seen a World Series in the Pacific Northwest. A fanbase that hasn’t even seen an AL West championship in 23 years. And for half of that stretch, the AL West was just four teams. You’d think a division crown would just land on a team every so often, but not the M’s. This is the history that on the back of Dipoto is asking for patience. There probably shouldn’t be a more impatient fanbase than the one in Seattle, and they’d be right to feel that way.
But let’s take Dipoto’s numbers for a spin. 54 percent is 87 wins. That’s what he’s saying a team should aim for over a 10-year span, essentially. Say, let’s look at what the Astros have done the previous 10 full seasons, y’know, the team that the Mariners have to compete with directly. For the last 10 spins of 162 games (go sit down, 2020), the Astros have averaged 89.3 wins. Slightly above Dipoto’s 87-win target. But that also includes two seasons when the Astros were still at the early stages of a rebuild and won 51 and 70 games. The past eight seasons, the Astros have averaged 96.5 wins. Dipoto’s 87-win target isn’t getting anywhere close, and only did when the Astros dipped to 90 wins this season, 16 less than last year. Anyone think the Astros will flatline the next two years to bring that average back to 87?
Kick over to Texas, who have spent the past two winters signing or trading for Cory Seager, Marcus Semien, Jacob deGrom, Jordan Montgomery (who was dominant in a playoff start yesterday that no Mariners pitcher will get this season), and Max Scherzer. Now, Dipoto can mock the Rangers for the return on investment that his counterpart Chris Young in Arlington got for Scherzer and deGrom, but the Rangers are also still playing. And those signings and those dollars don’t exactly scream of an organization that is aiming for 87 wins as a baseline. Dipoto’s stated aim doesn’t seem to outdo his two closest competitors.
But what we can say for sure is that certainly, the M’s ethos for the season was to come in right at that 54 percent window back in March. The M’s were coming off two 90-win seasons, and with probably the deepest pitching staff in MLB. But they clearly had holes in the lineup all over the field. In the corner outfield spots, at second, and were white-knuckling that Eugenio Suarez, turning 30, could hold it together for another season at third. They sort of made up the DH spot as they went along.
Their solution was to trade for Teoscar Hernandez, who combined turning 30 with the more punishing hitting environs of T-Mobile Park to flatten out. Dipoto caught a break when Jarred Kelenic put it together for the first time in left, but he also got hurt and there wasn’t a Plan B. 2nd base was basically a wasteland all season, and both France and Suarez started to look their age a tad (though hardly horrible). To be fair to Dipoto, the second base class wasn’t exactly inspiring last winter, and none of the big four shortstops really wowed, though they would have been an upgrade with kicking JP Crawford over to 2nd.
When Dipoto finishes his autopsy of this season, he’ll probably point to the entire pitching staff spitting the bit in September. George Kirby was the only starter to keep his ERA under 4.00 in the season’s last month, and Matt Brash was the only reliever manager Scott Servais could trust. When they got their dicks knocked in the dirt by the Rangers in Texas, they gave up 19 runs over three games. They gave up 13 runs in the two losses to the Astros in those two losses in Seattle in the last week.
But it’s Dipoto who anchored the back of the rotation in two rookies in Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo who were not really ramped up to go through a full season. The fifth starter’s spot was something of a mess all season. It’s not a huge shock everyone ran out of gas. Sure, Woo and Miller will be stronger for it in 2024 and beyond, but this was a season that the Ms could have made real noise. Similar in the pen, where Andres Munoz only had one full season in the bigs. Justin Topa never did despite being 32. Same goes for Gabe Speier. And ditto Tayler Saucedo. This is how a modern pen is constructed–picking up guys off the scrapheap, have them focus on one pitch they throw well, run them into the ground, rinse, repeat. But it works better when there’s at least one or two guys out there who have negotiated all this before. Again, not a shock it all went in the tank in September.
The Mariners are still some $40 million below the tax threshold, without looking at having to raise it too much to keep everyone here around. Hernandez is a free agent but probably won’t do that much better than the $14 million he made this season. France is in his second year of arbitration and will see a bump from his $4 million. But that’s it. This is a team that will get to underpay Julio Rodriguez for years in relation to his production thanks to an extension. There’s room to play with.
But not in Dipoto’s 54 percent world. And this is what the expanded playoffs do to organizational thinking. With the playoffs being pretty random, there are no guarantees. The Dodgers can win over 100 games per season for a decade and may end up with their one kinda World Series. Atlanta looks great and will be for years, but nothing is for sure. Except both teams have more World Series titles in the past 10 years than the M’s do in their entire existence.
The Mariners don’t have the Dodgers TV deal or the real estate deal that Atlanta has (though they do get about $100 million a year from their TV deal, so world’s smallest violin and such). Most other teams will aim to “just get in and see.” It’s hedging your bets as policy.
But that’s not what fans want. The fans want maxed out. The fans want teams they’ll remember forever. Perhaps no team is screaming out for Shohei Ohtani more than the Ms, and they’re also the one team that could probably shrug off Ohtani not being able to pitch until 2025.
But snagging the big fish doesn’t really jibe with a 54 percent outlook. Even if that outlook is going to have the M’s staring up at the Rangers and Astros same time next year.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social
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