It was October 2008, the Seattle Mariners had just finished off the first 100-plus loss season of a ball club with a $100 million dollar payroll in Major League Baseball history. Bill Bavasi had just been fired as General Manager and the Mariners hired a man by the name of Jack Zduriencik from the Milwaukee Brewers organization to be their new GM.
In 2009 the M’s won 85 games and expectations for 2010 were high. In December of 2009 Zduriencik went out and acquired Cliff Lee from the Philadelphia Phillies, signed Chone Figgins to a four-year deal, traded for Milton Bradley and signed Eric Byrnes to a one-year deal. Seattle returned to 2008 form and lost 101 games while watching Ken Griffey Jr. play his final games in a Seattle uniform. The lone bright spot in 2010 was Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young award.
In October 2010, Eric Wedge was hired to replace fired manager Dan Wakamatsu. The baseball world was rocked on November 10, 2010 when long-time M’s broadcaster, Dave Niehaus, unexpectedly passed away. The M’s lost 95 games in 2011 and the rumblings of Jack Zduriencik’s job security started getting louder.
2012 featured King Felix throwing a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays on August 15th. One of the Mariners greatest players, Ichiro Suzuki, was traded to the New York Yankees in July of that year. When the dust settled yet another fourth place finish in the American League West with a 75-87 record.
Eric Wedge had health issues that forced him to miss several games in 2013 and eventually led him to stepping down as the Mariners manager before the season was over. Wedge was more than likely getting fired anyway. The M’s struggled, yet again, and lost 91 games. The drum beat calling for the firing of Jack Z was too loud to ignore but he was still called to lead the club into 2014.
The Mariners hit the jackpot before last season as All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano decided to sign with the M’s for $240 million over 10-years. The Mariners won 87 games while narrowly missing the playoffs and had high hopes for 2015. This led to extending Jack Z’s contract for another two-years.
The Mariners signed Nelson Cruz to a four-year deal this past off-season to compliment Cano and Kyle Seager. With a strong rotation and bullpen returning, the M’s were several experts’ World Series pick before the season, but World Series aren’t won on paper. October baseball will have to wait another year as the Mariners struggled from the start in 2015. They reassigned hitting coach Howard Johnson mid-season and brought in Mariners great, Edgar Martinez, to try to turn things around for their hitters. After continuing to struggle the M’s organization decided to relieve Jack Zduriencik of his duties as General Manager. The Mariners currently sit nine games under .500 and effectively out of the postseason picture, again.
So, where do the Mariners go from here?
The first order of business will be for President, Kevin Mathers, to hire a new General Manager. Mathers has stated he would like to find his new GM by mid-October. Some of the possible names the Mariners could look at are Kevin Towers, former Arizona Diamondbacks GM, Kenny Williams, former Chicago White Sox GM and Dan O’Dowd, former Colorado Rockies GM, according to Tacoma New Tribune Mariners Insider, Bob Dutton. You can read his full article here.
The Mariners have a solid core of Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager signed for at least three more years. The M’s know they need to take advantage of the window they have to win with the core they have in place. Manager Lloyd McClendon still has a job, but his status could be determined after the new GM is hired. Edgar Martinez has proved he not only knows how to hit but can teach it as well. Since the All-Star break the Mariners are scoring 4.65 runs per game. They sit at 3.87 runs per game for the season and haven’t been shut out in a game since the All-Star break.
The Mariners problems the last several years, and what led to the end of Jack Z, was not developing their younger players. Dustin Ackley, former #2 overall selection, was traded to the New York Yankees at the trade deadline this year. Mike Zunino has struggled badly this year, hitting under .200. He was sent down to Triple-A Friday after Zduriencik was fired. Nick Franklin was traded last year, Brad Miller has been okay at times and Jesus Montero has never lived up to the former Yankee top-prospect billing. Danny Hultzen is another top draft pick that has been held back due to injuries.
The young player that has excelled during the Jack Z era is Kyle Seager. The Mariners signed Seager to a 7-year $100 million dollar contract before this season, locking in the Gold Glover at third for years to come. James Paxton has struggled with injuries and Taijuan Walker has battled injuries as well. Those two have shown they can compete on the big league level. Ketel Marte who was called up in August is an interesting piece moving forward for the Mariners. He is a switch-hitting shortstop with speed. He has been atop the lineup for most of his time in the big leagues. He is slashing .290/.362/.387 through 25 games. They have been in desperate need of a leadoff man since Ichiro started his decline. If Marte can continue to stay disciplined at the plate and continue to improve at shortstop, they could have that leadoff man they have been searching for.
Starting Pitching. The Mariners have the ace needed for a postseason run in Felix Hernandez. After that is a question mark. Hisashi Iwakuma is a free agent after the season but there is reason to believe ownership wants him back since he wasn’t dealt at the trade deadline. Iwakuma struggled early in the year but has come back strong including tossing a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles on August 12th. Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, if healthy, will be in the rotation in 2016. After that, Roenis Elias who pitched well in 2014, going 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA in 29 starts, could factor into the rotation or make spot starts. Elias took a step back this season, eventually getting sent back down to Triple-A. Through 14 starts he holds a 4.20 ERA. Mike Montgomery has 16 starts this year and holds a 4.60 ERA, he started strong but got hit around his last several starts. For 2016 the Mariners need to re-sign Iwakuma and add another veteran starter or two.
Seattle had one of the best bullpens in 2014 with Fernando Rodney as their closer. The 2015 ‘pen was a completely different story. Rodney lost the closer’s job halfway through the season to Carson Smith. Injuries and poor pitching have led Lloyd McClendon to overwork the bullpen at times and it has cost them several games. Rodney got traded to the Chicago Cubs and their best reliever this year, Mark Lowe, got traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. Tom Wilhelmsen is rounding back into his 2012 form where he saved 29 games and held a 2.50 ERA. The closer should be either Smith or Wilhelmsen in 2016. Also for 2016, the Mariners need to try to bring back Mark Lowe and two or three more arms for their bullpen and find a consistent closer.
The first base situation. Logan Morrison and Jesus Montero have played first base for the M’s in 2015 and their production has been okay at times but nothing special. Morrison has hit .223 with 13 home runs in 113 games while Montero is hitting .211 with two home runs in 24 games. For 2016, the Mariners need to find an upgrade at first base. D.J. Peterson has taken a step back in the minors in 2015, so he is still a ways out from helping the big league club. Plain and simple they need more production from first base.
Second base shouldn’t be a problem. Robinson Cano should hold down second base for the Mariners until he either turns into a DH or gets traded. He started slow this season but has played well since the All-Star break.
Third base doesn’t appear to be much of an issue either. The M’s locked up young star Kyle Seager last offseason and he is having another solid year for them while playing gold glove caliber defense at the hot corner.
Shortstop might be a bit messier. Brad Miller started the year at short, was replaced by Chris Taylor. Then Miller played his way back to the starting job, only to be replaced by Ketel Marte. Clear as mud? Okay good. As I stated earlier, Marte has been really good atop the order. It will be interesting to see what the new GM and McClendon (or new manager) decide to do in 2016. Looking ahead to 2016, the M’s will have to decide between Miller and Marte for shortstop duties and the loser of that battle will more than likely be moved to an outfield position or a utility role.
The Designated Hitter slot in the lineup seems pre-ordained. Nelson Cruz signed a four-year deal in the offseason and hasn’t disappointed. He leads the league in home runs with 39 through 126 games and boasts a .317 batting average. Cruz hit 40 home runs for Baltimore last season. For 2016, keep Nelson Cruz healthy and he will produce in the middle of the order, simple as that.
How will the outfield look? The Mariners have started an army of players in the outfield this year. The mainstays have been Austin Jackson who is a free agent at season’s end, Franklin Gutierrez who is having a wonderful season hitting .319 with 10 home runs in 40 games. Nelson Cruz has also played several games in right field, when he isn’t DHing. Brad Miller and Ketel Marte have also played some outfield for the Mariners. Mark Trumbo was brought in to provide power and that hasn’t worked well, he’s slashing .242/.292/.386 with 8 home runs in 64 games. He is a free agent after the season so don’t expect him back in Seattle next year.
Before the 2016 season, the M’s really need to find a couple of outfielders who can produce. Nelly Cruz can play right field but he is best suited for DHing so they can try and keep him healthy. Miller or Marte could fill an outfield need along with Franklin Guterriez, but will his health continue to be a concern?
Another one of Jack Z’s high draft picks, Mike Zunino hasn’t panned out yet to be the power hitting catcher they were hoping for. He hit .174 with 11 home runs in 112 games before being sent to Triple-A on Friday. Zunino is a great defensive catcher but looks more like a backup catcher at this point than an everyday starter. He has shown flashes of his potential but can’t string anything together. John Hicks was called up to replace Zunino. He hit .245 with 6 home runs for the M’s Triple-A affiliate this season. He more than likely is not the answer to the everyday catcher situation, but neither is Jesus Sucre. Sucre has hit .091 this season.
For 2016, Seattle needs to try to find something that works for Mike Zunino. He’s a great defensive catcher but if his offense doesn’t improve he will be a career backup. They need to go find a solid everyday catching option that provides offensive firepower.
In conclusion, the Seattle Mariners organization has a great core but they have to improve offensively and in the bullpen this offseason. If they can, it could bring October baseball back to the city of Seattle for the first time since 2001 when they won a record tying 116 regular season games. It all starts from the top and trickles down. A new GM is the first piece of the puzzle and we should know soon who is going to try to guide the Mariners back to the postseason.