Klaus: Seattle’s window for success is closing
Ryan Klaus | Friday, April 7, 2017
Coming off perhaps its most memorable conclusion ever, baseball finally returned Sunday with a slate of Opening Day games and series that continued throughout the week.
Of course, as is the case with any league’s opening week, there are almost an unlimited number of stories to follow with all 30 teams — at least for the time being — technically being contenders.
Could the Cubs win the World Series again? Their championship resume may be spotty, but they do have a history of going back-to-back when they do win titles.
Could Bryce Harper be MVP-good again? An egregious extrapolation of his .429 batting average through his first two games suggests yes.
Could Edwin Jackson somehow be picked up by another MLB team — what would be the 33-year-old’s twelfth team in his career — that somehow finds itself sufficiently desperate for starting pitcher depth? Well, that already happened, after the Orioles agreed to a minor league contract with Jackson on Thursday. Yet, with all of the fascinating teams and individual players to follow, my pick for the most interesting storyline in early 2017 is the Seattle Mariners for several reasons.
Since setting Major League Baseball’s record for most regular season wins in 2001, the Mariners have failed to make the playoffs once in the last 15 years, a drought that is the longest of any of the four major North American team sports. In recent years, the Mariners have been frustratingly stuck in the middle — not bad enough to reap the rewards of a full rebuild, yet not good enough to actually clinch a postseason berth. After a good start last season, Seattle faded down the stretch and finished in second place in the AL West with 86 wins, three games out of a wild card spot.
Outside of their recent inability to overcome the playoff hurdle, 2017’s edition of the Mariners is inherently interesting because of the massive overhaul that their roster underwent this winter. After the Mariners narrowly missed the playoffs in 2016, second-year general manager Jerry Dipoto made more of a footprint in the MLB trade market this offseason than any other front office executive; when Seattle opened the regular season against the Astros on Monday, their roster was comprised of ten new acquisitions. While it remains to be seen whether improvement will materialize (general consensus around baseball is that Dipoto’s moves have not made the team decidedly better), it will undoubtedly be interesting to watch how the transactions manifest themselves.
In addition to the compelling quantity of roster turnover, the implicit sense of urgency surrounding Seattle is equally captivating. The Mariners are not only playing under the pressure of having to rectify an extended playoff drought, they are doing so with a top tier of players that are almost exclusively on the wrong side of 30 years old. Felix Hernandez, the undisputed face of the franchise for the last decade, had a noticeable decline in performance last season and now sits above the 30-year-old threshold. Offensive leaders Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano are 36 and 34, respectively. Even Kyle Seager, long considered the organization’s potential up-and-coming star, will turn 30 in November.
Simply put, the competitive window for the Seattle Mariners is undeniably closing. The resulting urgency, combined with Seattle’s extended playoff drought and unprecedented roster overhaul, should make the Mariners a captivating team to follow for any baseball fan in 2017.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.