Watch out for the Mariners in 2016

GM Dipoto has Seattle in position to snap postseason drought

January 19th, 2016

Remember when the Mariners were the trendy preseason pick to click in the American League West a year ago?

They came up a victory short of an AL Wild Card spot in 2014, and with Robinson Cano heading into his second year with the club, along with the addition of free-agent bats Nelson Cruz and Rickie Weeks, Seattle was set to take that next step.

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Then the Mariners stumbled to a fourth-place finish, having never even shared a spot atop the division after April 12. The club posted a losing record for the ninth time in 12 years, which led to the firing of general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon, and the hiring of Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais to replace them.

And now?

Put up the warning sign: Beware of the Mariners in 2016.

Two seasons ago, the Royals ended a 29-year postseason drought. And in 2015, the Royals not only won a World Series championship for the first time in 30 years, but the Blue Jays advanced to the postseason for the first time since 1993, and an Astros team that had lost a combined 416 games the four previous seasons also took part in playoff baseball.

Now comes Seattle.

The Mariners and Nationals, who began as the Montreal Expos, are the only two big league franchises to have never appeared in a World Series. And Seattle has the longest postseason drought in the Majors, having missed out since 2001.

At the other extreme, the Yankees have been a postseason participant 11 times in the past 14 seasons, the Cardinals 10 times, and both have had only one managerial change -- the Yanks replacing Joe Torre with Joe Girardi and Mike Matheny taking over the Cards when Tony La Russa retired. Servais, meanwhile, is the eighth manager the Mariners have had since the start of the 2002 season, with Seattle having the most managerial changes in that span other than the Marlins (nine).

The Mariners have spent the offseason under the radar, passing on the big-name, high-priced free agents, but they have undertaken a major roster makeover, providing a stronger supporting cast for a solid roster nucleus and creating a quiet optimism about what can happen when the season starts.

"We had a plan of what we wanted to get done, and I feel we stuck to it," Dipoto said as he left the Winter Meetings last month.

And they didn't waste time.

By Christmas, Dipoto was looking to fine-tune a roster on which he already had made an impact with several trades and free-agent signings since his hiring in the final week of the regular season.

OK, so neither David Price nor Zack Greinke is searching for a place to live in the Pacific Northwest, but the Mariners did manage to re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma and swing trades to acquire Wade Miley from the Red Sox and Nathan Karns from the Rays to bolster a rotation that is built on a foundation of Felix Hernandez.

There was no celebration over the signing of a huge contract with a free agent like outfielders Justin Upton, Alex Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes or first baseman Chris Davis, but the signing of Nori Aoki to play left field and the acquisition of Leonys Martin from the Rangers to play center gives the Mariners more speed and a stronger defense than a year ago.

Too much, too quick? Not really.

This wasn't a helter-skelter rebuild. It was all part of a plan that Dipoto pretty much had in place even before he was hired to replace Zduriencik, whom Dipoto had been the runner-up to when Seattle hired a general manager in 2008.

"Going through the process of preparing for the interview to come in and meet with the Mariners, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do," said Dipoto. "Normally teams are winding their season down and they get together for postseason meetings. We had already been through that [before the season ended]. We already had a general [offseason] game plan."

And Seattle didn't deviate.

They might not have left the rest of baseball stunned, like they did two years ago with the signing of Cano, or created a stir in the winter months like a year before, when their moves to complement the team that came up a win shy of the postseason made the Mariners a popular pick to win the AL West.

That, however, was never part of the plan. Dipoto arrived in Seattle believing a successful nucleus was in place with the likes of Cano and Hernandez, but he also knew the Mariners needed a strong supporting group.

Enter catcher Chris Iannetta, first baseman Adam Lind, Aoki, Martin, Miley, Karns, closer Steve Cishek and a power setup man in Joaquin Benoit.

It's been a busy offseason, but without the fanfare of a year ago. There hasn't been any hype.

The Mariners do, however, have hope.