The Seattle Mariners are often forgotten about when discussing Major League Baseball teams. They have yet to win the American League pennant and have only won three division titles in their forty-two seasons. Yet with all-time greats such as Ichiro Suzuki and Ken Griffey Jr in their primes, the Mariners have yet to make the playoffs since their record-breaking 2001 season, which you guessed it, ended in heartbreak. So how exactly does that happen? I believe that there are at least five problems that can attribute to their mediocrity, and how they can improve. Let’s break it down, shall we?
The biggest problem with the franchise seems to be their lack of depth. It’s great to have players like Felix Hernandez in their prime but baseball is a team game, this is not an effective strategy as a team is only as strong as their weakest link. An example of this can be seen through the current Los Angeles Angels. As they have phenomenal players in Mike Trout and Shohei Otani, but the rest of the team is mediocre at best. Whether it’s in baseball or television, a group of stars benefits from a great group of supporting players. This has been a rooted problem in their system.
Another problem is found when looking at the Mariners through the farm system. For a championship calibre team to form, a core consisting of at least three stars coming up through the system for the organization to build a team around. For the New York Yankees in the late 90s, their core consisted of Jeter, Pettite and Posada. For the Cubs, it was Bryant, Baez and Schwarber (Rizzo came up through the Padres system). For the Royals, it was Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas. For the Houston Astros, they have Altuve, Correa, Springer and Bregman. All of these championship teams have had the same formula to establish their legacy into baseball history. However, there has been no core of at least three stars to come up through the Mariners system at the same time.
Looking back at their past draft picks, it is easy to see where the team has gone wrong Of their 46 first round picks, only 21 came to the major leagues. With most prospects, they would leave the Mariners after their six years is up. When you think of players like Jason Varitek and Alex Rodriguez, the Mariners aren’t exactly the first team that comes to mind, despite Seattle drafting them both during the first round. Keeping players in Seattle is difficult especially when the team around them is not performing as great as they should be.
Looking at the on field product over the past seventeen seasons, the Mariners have been consistently mediocre. In the American League West since 2002, they only finished in second place just three times. This is in an era where the American League West had a division of only four teams with Houston moving over after the 2012 season. As the Athletics, Angels and Rangers have experienced memorable Octobers during this time, the Mariners have unfortunately been watching this all from the sidelines. For Seattle, they have consistently been poor over the last seventeen years at producing offensively.
A big factor could be that Safeco Field is a pitcher’s ballpark, but on the road, they seem to do worse. Since 2001, they have been in the bottom five teams in the American League in terms of runs scored every year except five. In order to score runs, players need to be on base. Unfortunately for the Mariners, they were in the bottom five in the American League for On Base Percentage (OBP) for every season except six. This is very important as On Base Percentage was the driving force for their rivals the Oakland Athletics to rebuild once their big stars have left their team for free agency. As Seattle is also a small market team, the “Moneyball” strategy could be effective if they aspire to get back to October baseball.
As for the pitching and defence, it has been inconsistent, to say the least. With the exception of generational pitcher in Felix Hernandez, his fellow members of the pitching staff have not been the best. Looking at the teams Runs allowed (RA) and Earned Run Average (ERA), it has been all over the place. In 2013, the Mariners finished with a record of 71-91 with their RA being 12th and ERA 13th in the American League. However, in 2014, the Mariners finish with a record of 87-75 and with the RA and ERA being 1st among the American League. In 2015, they go back down to 11th and 12th just to come back up in 2016 being 6th in RA and 3rd in ERA. With pitching being such an important part of baseball, this inconsistency is not healthy for a team that wants to go back to the postseason.
The final problem I wanted to look at is the fan base itself. For the Pacific Northwest region, there are only three professional sports teams; the Mariners, the Seahawks and the Trail Blazers. As the Mariners play the majority of their season with no other team in the region playing, there should be no problem trying to bring in fans. The attendance is average compared to the American league but has not averaged over 30 000 fans a game since 2007. Attendance and the fan base isn’t exactly a huge issue but it is worth mentioning considering that they are in a region with almost no competition and a good chance that Portland could be getting a baseball team very soon. Not to mention that ticket sales are where teams seem to get their profits from, so more fans can help bring better players to the organization.
Overall, the Mariners organization is not a lost cause. Every small market franchise goes through playoff droughts. There have been longer playoff droughts than the Mariners’ seventeen-year skid. If they are able to draft correctly and keep those players, produce more on offense and have consistent pitching they will get out of this drought. As they are currently one of two franchises who have yet to go to the World Series, it is safe to say that the fans have been patiently waiting for a turn around to come sooner rather than later.
There have been changes in the last couple of months and I will update at a later date.