Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
The Mariners weren't expected to contend in the AL West against the likes of the Athletics, Rangers and Angels. But competing against the presumed top-tier teams in the division wasn't asking too much, was it? Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik did his best to add some pop to his offense, but could only do so much when free agent sluggers like Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton opted to sign elsewhere. That left Jack Z to settle for the likes of Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Jason Bay. Did it work? Well... the Mariners have scored the third-fewest runs in the American League, so probably not.
Preseason prediction: It looks like GM Jack Zduriencik is plotting to get the Mariners into a "win now" mode. His moves definitely aren't going to make them contenders this year, but they should push them towards no longer being the whipping boys of the AL West (having Houston in the division now helps with that too). The hope would be that the likes of Morse and Morales combined with the wave of new talent that is due to arrive this year and next can put Seattle in a position to go all-in and challenge for the AL West crown in 2014. The current roster probably isn't good enough to do much better than .500, but even hitting that mark would be a big step forward for the club and give them a much-needed dose of confidence as they prepare to make a more serious run at being a winner in the coming years and possibly even give the team enough positive vibes that they won't be so rudely brushed aside by their free agent targets next winter.
What Went Right: Two of Zduriencik's offseason pick-ups actually worked out quite nicely. Morales provided some much needed power and run production from the designated hitter spot, slugging 21 home runs with 76 RBI. It was curious that Seattle didn't deal away Morales at the trade deadline, implying that the team is interested in re-signing him for next season and beyond.
Nearly all of the above could also apply to Ibanez, who continues to defy age and time. The 41-year-old outfielder leads the Mariners with 27 home runs, a .501 slugging percentage and .812 OPS. That makes up for his terrible defense in left field. According to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, Ibanez allows nearly 13 more runs than the average player at his position. But he's never been known for his defense. Seattle needed some power in its lineup, and Ibanez helped supply it.
Could both of these players be back next season? If the Mariners decide that it will never happen with Justin Smoak, Morales could play first base with Ibanez at DH. That would allow Zduriencik to pursue an upgrade in left field.
What Went Wrong: The young position players that the Mariners needed to develop into everyday contributors still haven't done so. Smoak may have hit well enough in July and August to persuade Seattle that he still has untapped potential. But his .209 average and .694 OPS in the second half could be enough to finally convince Zduriencik that it's time to move on. Dustin Ackley may be on the opposite track since returning from the minors, however. His .326 average and .853 OPS since the All-Star break, along with the ability to play center field, demonstrate enough promise for the Mariners to stick with him.
Two other players that Zduriencik brought in to try and boost the lineup didn't work out nearly as well as Morales and Ibanez. Bay was worth taking a chance on with a one-year, $1 million contract in the hopes he could supplly some right-handed power. While he did hit 11 home runs, Bay batted .206 with a .691 OPS and 62 strikeouts in 68 games before being designated for assignment. More was expected from Morse, yet he didn't do much better. He hit .226 with a .693 OPS and 13 homers. At least the Mariners were able to trade him, and get something in return.
Most Surprising Player: With Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle doesn't just have a one-man starting rotation anymore. Felix Hernandez is one of the best pitchers in MLB and is obviously the No. 1 guy. But Iwakuma was a strong No. 2 starter this season, compiling a 2.87 ERA to go with a 12-6 record. His strikeout rate of 7.5 per nine innings was second-best among Mariners starters behind King Felix, while his rate of 1.7 walks per nine led the rotation. Iwakuma is signed through 2015, which gives Seattle two excellent starters to anchor their rotation while their young pitchers develop.
Most Disappointing Player: Did the Mariners really believe Jesus Montero could be their everyday catcher? They probably had to give him a try, at least until Mike Zunino was deemed ready for major-league duty. Not only was Montero unfit for the job as a hitter, batting .208 with a .590 OPS, three home runs and nine RBI in 110 plate appearances. But his defense behind the plate stunk as well. In 26 games at catcher, Montero allowed 10 wild pitches and three passed balls. Perhaps worst of all, he was useless against the running game, throwing out only one of 24 basestealers.
Montero didn't fare much better when he was sent to the minors. But any chance at progress was thwarted when he was nailed as one of the players involved with the PED-peddling Biogenesis clinic in Miami. Montero ended up as one of the 12 players issued 50-game suspensions for violating MLB's drug policy. With Zunino now establishing himself as Seattle's catcher and Morales looking like the team's DH if he re-signs, Montero's future with the Mariners appears to be very limited.
The Future: This is where Seattle fans can get excited and what probably allows Zduriencik to hold onto his job (at least through 2014) as Mariners GM. Zunino may have been rushed to the majors, but he's the catcher of the present and future. Nick Franklin was called up in late May to take over at second base. Will he stay there or eventually move to shortstop?
Then there's the pitching. Ooh, that young pitching. Top prospect Taijuan Walker has thrown well in his first three major league starts, striking out 12 batters in 15 innings and compiling a 3.60 ERA. James Paxton has only allowed one run in two starts with Seattle. Danny Hultzen should be ready to join them soon, though shoulder issues presented a setback for him this season. Those three, along with Hernandez and Iwakuma, potentially give the Mariners a loaded starting rotation in the very near future. Now if only Zduriencik can find some hitting to go along with those arms.