Without even including the Cubs and Astros winning the last two World Series, Major League Baseball has seen several droughts end in the last handful of seasons. The Pirates had their first winning season in over 20 years while also making the playoffs in 2013. The Royals broke the longest playoff drought in MLB in 2014. That "longest drought" title was passed on to the Blue Jays, who broke their drought the next season.
Next up: The Mariners. They still haven't made the playoffs, so they hold the longest drought in MLB (2001 was their last playoff season).
It's probably a bit unfair to put the drought on the shoulders of the 2018 Mariners, especially since most of them haven't been around for more than a few years, but that's life. Eyes on the Mariners this season will be there monitoring to see if the drought will fall.
Let's take a look at what appears to be at least a slightly uphill battle.
2017 record: 78-84 (negative-22 run differential)
2018 depth chart: Click here
2018 schedule: Click here
2018 team Fantasy outlook:
- Dee Gordon, CF
- Jean Segura, SS
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Nelson Cruz, DH
- Kyle Seager, 3B
- Mitch Haniger, RF
- Ryon Healy, 1B
- Mike Zunino, C
- Ichiro Suzuki, LF
Healy is questionable to make it back for the start of the season due to mid-February hand surgery. Dan Vogelbach would take his place in the lineup if he's not ready.
The rotation questions
Paxton is awesome and will be whenever he takes the hill in 2018. The latter part of that sentence is a big deal, though, because Paxton set career highs last season with just 24 starts and 136 innings pitched. He can be a legitimate No. 1 starter, but it needs to be the case for at least 30 starts and as close to 200 innings as is realistically possible in order to the Mariners to contend.
Felix was last full-on "King Felix" in 2014, when he finished second in Cy Young voting. In 2016, he pitched to a 106 ERA+ in 25 starts and regressed to 98 (a 4.36 ERA) in just 16 starts last year. He battled shoulder and later biceps issues during the season with his fastball velocity dipping to below 91 miles per hour on average in the second half (his 2014 fastball was generally between 93-94).
Heading into his age-32 season, Hernandez isn't overly old, but his arm has a ton of mileage on it. Among active starters only CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon and Justin Verlander have more career innings pitched.
I can't help but feel like there's at least one more good season in Felix, but the odds of it happening don't seem great.
Leake was very good after coming over in a trade from the Cardinals, especially with an eye-popping 27 strikeouts against two walks. He's fine to be counted on as a mid-rotation starter, but not more.
Ramirez also seems well-suited for his spot as a four.
The five spot, no matter who it is, carries lots of question marks.
This seems all about Paxton's health and Hernandez's ability to bounce back. If both make at least 30 starts and Hernandez pitches well, there's a real possibility this is a top-five AL rotation -- especially if Iwakuma starts to resemble his old self in stretches.
If Paxton can only manage a dozen starts while Hernandez keeps getting worse, though, it will get ugly.
The Dee Effect
After adding Segura to great success last offseason, general manager Jerry Dipoto went out and grabbed Dee Gordon this past offseason. He'll move Gordon to center field and the speedster will hit leadoff.
Now the Mariners have two established table-setters with good base-stealing ability to hit in front of the powerful middle of the order. Seeing Gordon and Segura combine to steal 70 bases and score 200 runs isn't out of the question here.
Still, being an infielder for his whole career and moving to center field could bother Gordon. My hunch is it doesn't, but keep an eye on him early. A failed transition would mean the team being desperate for outfield help (notably center) and too full of infielders.
The aging nucleus
We've already mentioned Hernandez and how he should probably be viewed as older than his actual age due to all the tread on his tires.
What about Robinson Cano? The future Hall of Famer took steps backward last season at the plate.
2016: .298/.350/.533, 138 OPS+
2017: .280/.338/.453, 112 OPS+
He was a bit down in 2015 before a monster 2016 season, but seeing a dip back at age 34 heading to his age-35 season (which is 2018) has to be concerning that it's the start of an age-related decline.
Basically, Cano is awesome, but he's not good enough to beat the clock. No one is.
What about Nelson Cruz? He hit .288 with a 146 OPS+, 39 homers and 119 RBI last year. Sure, he doesn't have to play defense, but he's heading into his age-37 year. There's only so much that will be left in his tank at some point.
Even Kyle Seager turns 30 this season.
There simply are not many more years the Mariners can head into a season as a hopeful contender with this group being the main nucleus before they realize it's time to start tearing it down and going younger.
There is upside, though
I don't think Dipoto is wrong to keep giving it a go with this group right now. Getting good and healthy seasons from Cano, Cruz, Hernandez and Paxton is a decent possibility and if that happens, there's a real chance the playoff drought is broken.
We're talking about a lineup that looks like it could be very good, a rotation with a solid middle portion needing good luck with health in the top two spots and a bullpen led by a top-notch, young closer.
Sure, the Mariners won only 78 games last year, but they didn't get full seasons from Paxton or Felix in the rotation. Cano was down. Segura only played in 125 games. Mitch Haniger, who was outstanding to start the season (.342/.447/.608 when he got hurt on April 25) only appeared in 96. And Gordon wasn't even on the team.
It takes an optimistic point of view for sure, but you can squint your way to 85 wins here (not the way Costanza was squinting mailboxes into squirrels, but legitimate squinting).
SportsLine has the Mariners winning 80 games and with a 21.6 percent chance to make the postseason. It'll take some over-performance to break the drought, but that's where the squinting comes in. It's possible.