The Seattle Mariners head into this season with a similar outlook to last season: stay the course and continue the promising rebuild. Last season, this goal led to some promising developments within the team over the course of the 2020 season.
First, center fielder Kyle Lewis broke out with a strong start to the season and eventually, he finished with an .801 OPS (On base + Slugging Percentage). His strong performance garnered him unanimous American League Rookie of the Year honors.
Also, despite finishing in the bottom 10 in team ERA and OPS, the Mariners worked their way up from the basement of the AL West in 2019 (68-94 record) to third place, finishing with a 27-33 record. They went 8-2 against their division rivals in the Texas Rangers and only finished two games behind the Houston Astros, who made the playoffs as the runner-up in the division, meaning the Mariners were only two games away from breaking their 19-year playoff drought.
This offseason, the main headlines came from the front office as President Kevin Mather, who had been with the organization for 25 years, resigned after he made insensitive comments about special assignment coach Hisashi Iwakuma and prospect outfielder Julio Rodriguez and their ability to speak English during virtual meetings at a Rotary Club in February.
Chairman John Stanton will take over as the acting CEO and president until a replacement is found.
As the team attempts to move on from this turmoil and prepare for the 2021 season, here is a look at the team the Mariners will field this season.
Despite finishing with the seventh-fewest team ERA in 2020 with a 5.03 ERA, the Mariners’ pitching staff showed some promise. Marco Gonzalez pitched like an ace with a 7-2 record and an ERA of 3.10. Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn finished with winning records as starting pitchers with a 4-3 and a 4-1 record respectively. Rafael Montero, who went 8-for-8 in save opportunities with the Rangers last season, steps in as the new closer after the team had three different closers including Taylor Williams, Yohan Ramirez and Yoshihisa Hirano.
One big change for the 2021 season is the return of former starter in James Paxton, a former Mariners prospect and starting pitcher who spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons with the Yankees. After struggling with the Yankees in the shortened 2020 season, Paxton resigned with the Mariners this offseason. In Paxton’s final two seasons with the team in 2017 and 2018, Paxton went 12-5 and 11-6 with respective ERAs of 2.98 and 3.76. He is looking to regain his pre-2020 form and shore up a young and raw rotation that struggled last season.
The lineup last season was full of youth as prospects began their MLB careers and veterans were on their way out. Aside from Lewis, catch Austin Nola finished with an OPS of .903 in only 29 games played. Third baseman Kyle Seager, who could possibly be traded this season, batted an OPS of .788 as he played all 60 games. First baseman Evan White made his debut last season, batting an OPS of .599 with a .176 batting average but drove in 26 runs along with hitting eight home runs.
This season will see three changes to the lineup. First, with Nola now on the San Diego Padres, Tom Murphy, who had an OPS of .833 in 2019 and missed the entire 2020 season with a fractured foot, will take over at the catcher once again for the Mariners. Also, Mitch Haniger, who was an all-star in 2018 for the Mariners after an OPS of .859 with 26 home runs and 93 RBI, returns after missing most of the 2019 season and all of 2020 with various surgeries. Lastly, prospect outfielder Taylor Trammell, who was traded for Nola in midseason in 2020, will make his MLB debut this season for the Mariners as the team looks to see promise from Trammell, one of their six top-100 MLB prospects.
Scott Servais enters his sixth season as the manager for the Mariners. The team has changed drastically under his watch as back in 2018, the team won 89 games with stars such as Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz and Ichiro. All these players are not on the active roster anymore but Servais is helping oversee this promising rebuild. While Servais has not been the manager they had hoped would end the playoff drought over the last few years, maintaining that stability and allowing him to work with the team through this rebuild would be the best course of action until Servais proves otherwise.
Just like last season, 2021 will be another season to make progress during this promising rebuild. With star prospect outfielders in Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez still being transitioned from the minor leagues to the active roster, the team must play the long game before results start showing. As long as the youth develops and the front office isn’t hasty to start winning, this will be another successful season long term.
Record prediction: 73-89