CHICAGO, September 19, 2013 — The Seattle Mariners will be playing for pride and statistics for the rest of the year. The Better Luck Next Year series yesterday looked at the Twins’ season. Now, the Seattle Mariners are examined, better luck next year.
What Went Right: The Mariners entered the year with the number two farm system according to Baseball America. The Mariners then proceeded to make one of the best uses of the farm system possible. They promoted many of those prospects to the big league club. Mike Zunino, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer, and Brad Miller all graduated from the Mariners’ top ten prospects to the big club. While it is likely that the Mariners farm system will be ranked much lower next year, this is a huge success and the exact reason you want your farm system’s ranking to dip.
Kyle Seager, a 2011 graduate of the Mariners farm system, is extremely underrated. Many prospect evaluators even say that his brother Corey, who is in the Dodgers’ farm system, will be better than him. This doesn’t change what Kyle has done though, as he has posted a .267/.340/.439 line while providing 3.5 WAR. Justin Smoak came to the Mariners in the Cliff Lee trade, and although he has not lived up to the hype he received as a prospect, he started to produce this year with a .248/.341/..414 line and 116 OPS+. While Lee is obviously providing far more value for the Phillies, it will be interesting to see if Smoak can build on this season next year.
Finally, the Mariners proved to have the makings of a very good starting rotation. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma both posted excellent seasons. Hernandez is a different pitcher than he was back in his Cy Young year, but is still very effective posting a 123 ERA+ while striking out a career high 25.6% of the batters faced while walking a career low 5.3% of the he batters faced. Iwakuma is five years older than Hernandez, having spent his early career playing in Japan, and produced an even better season than Hernandez this year. Iwakuma put up a 134 ERA+ while striking out 21% of the batters faced while walking just 4.29%.
What Went Wrong: Jesus Montero, like Smoak, came to the Mariners as a heralded prospect in a deal with the Yankees for Michael Pineda. Montero had just about the worst season a player can have (non A-Rod division). Montero got off to a slow start with a .208/.264/.327 slash line in just 110 plate appearances. On May 23, he was sent to AAA. On June 1, he tore meniscus in his knee, which required surgery. Then on August 1, he accepted a 50-game suspension for his role in the Biogenisis case.
The Mariners front office also could have traded both Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez at the trade deadline as both are free agents after this year. Morales posted a .280/.339/.455 line so far this year with an OPS+ of 126 and Ibanez has a .252/.313/.506 line with a 131 OPS+. While it is unlikely the Mariners would have gotten any top prospects in the deals it is also unlikely that either Morales or Ibanez will be back next year and there is at least a chance an acquired prospect would have helped the team.
Finally, the Mariners’ bullpen has been brutal this year with a 4.55 ERA, which is the second highest in the majors. Fortunately, as the Rays have shown, the bullpen can be rebuilt quickly and the success of relievers tends to vary so it is possible that the results will be better next year.
What to Expect in 2014: The Mariners could potentially have a very good rotation if Paxton and Walker can make smooth transitions to the majors. If the team is able to retool their bullpen and add one or two quality position players, the team could surprise next year. If the team does not make any moves it is unlikely they will score enough runs to contend.
Free Agents/Options: Joe Saunders, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, Oliver Perez
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