This is the thirteenth edition of Hope for the Hopeless, where we will take a look at the first ten fourteen teams in the league eliminated from playoff contention, and examine what their fans can be optimistic about after a disappointing 2013 season. Next up: the Seattle Mariners.
I can't believe there was this sentiment that the 2013 Mariners were contenders at midseason. The house of cards collapsed and the team is well on their way to 90 losses. But honestly, the Mariners have at least taken a step in the right direction despite their silliness at the trade deadline.
Case in point, look at Seattle's lineup on Tuesday against the Tigers. The only players 30 or older in the lineup were DH Raul Ibanez, who is having an unexpectedly great year, and right fielder Franklin Gutierrez, who has played in just 34 games this year and needs to prove he's worth a starting role somewhere next year. The next oldest players in that lineup were 26-year olds Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak. Down the stretch, the Mariners are going with the Astros line of thinking - it's better to lose young than to lose old. This isn't the Opening Day lineup that had three players 30 or older hitting in the first four spots of the order.
As the season has gone on, Jack Zduriencik has learned his lesson. Michael Morse was traded to the Orioles. Jason Bay was released. Endy Chavez was stripped of his starting role. Brendan Ryan was shipped to the Yankees. The catching duo of Henry Blanco and Humberto Quintero immediately lost playing time once Mike Zunino came off the DL. Ibanez, Gutierrez, and Kendrys Morales are the only older players getting any significant playing time, and all three will be free agents after the season (assuming Gutierrez's option is declined). Of the team's rotation, the only "old pitchers" still getting starts are Hisashi Iwakuma, who is signed through next year and is excellent, and Joe Saunders, another guy who will be a free agent next year pending an option. Aaron Harang was released, and the team is giving starts to James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer, and before being shut down, the magnificent Taijuan Walker.
And really, that's all people were clamoring for the Mariners to do all year. The club is 16-28 over the months of August and September this year with their younger roster. They were 24-31 in April and May and 26-26 in June and July with their older roster, so why not take just a smaller step back and give playing time to guys that could help you for years in the future as opposed to months, like Brad Miller, Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, Mike Zunino, and Nick Franklin? Throw those guys in with a young core at the major league level that has already shown they can produce, like Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager, and you've got yourself a nice batch of pieces to build around.
I think the most important thing going forward for the Mariners is determining just what in the Hell to do with Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero, who have had their share of issues at both AAA and the majors and might not be part of that solution. You don't want to stick with young players failing and not adjusting for too long, and they might be at that point with Smoak (though perhaps not Montero quite yet).
Six months ago, I posed an open-ended question about Seattle's rotation being the best in the American League. That group has collectively posted a 4.28 ERA this season, which ranks tenth in the AL. So yeah, I just just a little bit wrong in that regard. But if you excise the horrendous ERAs posted by Harang and Saunders this year, the rotation's ERA drops all the way to 3.19. A rotation of Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma, Ramirez, Walker, and Paxton could actually be one of the best in the AL next year, and that may make the holes a lot less deep for the offense.
The main issue for the Mariners is their division, as the Rangers, Athletics, and Angels always seem to put together solid major league rosters, while the Astros will be much-improved going forward. Seattle's in good shape going forward with a young club, but I'm not really sure they have a distinct advantage over any other team in the division. That kind of purgatory is an ugly place, but the benefits of being there with a young team vastly outweigh the benefits of being there with an old team.