The 2019 Seattle Mariners season has come and gone, so what can we takeaway from this season that will give fans hope for next year? Another year has been added to the total of the longest playoff drought currently in American professional sports, standing now at eighteen years without qualifying. Eighteen years of constant “rebuilding,” “retooling,” “reimagining,” and everything else in between. But what makes this year feel different than the rest? They have a plan.
The team finished with 89 wins in 2018 — their best finish since 2002 — but still failed to reach the playoffs. The team was stuck in a tough spot. They had solid veteran pieces on their team such as Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, however both were leaving their prime years and would require a hefty pay day to keep on the team. They also had one of the worst minor league systems in baseball, so there was no immediate help coming their way. With how dominant their division rival — the Houston Astros — have been, there really was no other option but to completely rebuild the team and look towards the future rather than face the present.
At first, the team looked like it may exceed expectations and be ahead two years in the plan than originally thought. They had a historic start of 13–2 in the first fifteen games of the season — only the 17th team since 1900 to do so. Now six months later, and the Mariners finished with the sixth worst record in the MLB. So what happened?
The simplest way of describing the downfall of the 2019 Mariners is that they were who we thought they were. A team that lacked pitching, experience at the plate, and overall depth to keep up with the top tier teams in the American League.
But this is what we expected and there were a lot of positive takeaways where a lot of players who are expected to play key roles in the future of the ballclub performed well and may be on a faster track to the majors than originally anticipated. This has caused general manager Jerry Dipoto to become vocal about not making too many moves in the offseason and to let the kids play.
“By and large, the players that we have are the players that we want to grow forward with,” Dipoto said in an interview with 710 ESPN Seattle. “We’re growing a young core and I guess by virtue of what that requires, we have to give them the opportunity to play.”
Some key names to become familiar with are JP Crawford and Kyle Lewis. Crawford began the year in AAA Tacoma but eventually became the everyday shortstop where he showed significant strides at the plate and played elite defense. He will be entering his age 25 season and it is obvious we have yet to see his best form.
Kyle Lewis’ path to the majors took a little longer than most. Originally a 1st round pick by the Mariners in 2016, injuries have plagued his professional baseball career so far, stunting his path to the majors. But on September 10, he received the call that he was finally summoned to the big leagues, and to make his major league debut versus Cincinnati. That night, he recorded his first hit and home run in the same at bat — something most players can only dream about.
Lewis did not slow down after his debut — he ended up becoming only the fourth player in MLB history to hit six home runs in his first ten games. He will have the opportunity to be an Opening Day starter in the outfield.
Lewis and Crawford are only the beginning of the young core beginning to make their way to the big league club. The 2020 motto for the Seattle Mariners will be “Let the kids play,” and these kids will show that they can eventually make the team a contender — sooner rather than later.