2018 Record: 89-73
Third place, AL West
Team ERA: 4.13 (17th in MLB)
Team OPS: .722 (20th in MLB)
What Went Right
For a while, almost everything went right for the Mariners. At one point they were 56-32 and looked like they were locks for the postseason. One of the key reasons for that success was Edwin Diaz, who saved a whopping 57 games and struck out 124 hitters in just over 73 innings with a 1.96 ERA. Mitch Haniger followed up his solid first season with the Mariners with an even better one; hitting .285 with 26 homers and driving in 93 runs with eight steals for good measure. Nelson Cruz had his lowest batting average as a full-time player at .256, but the 38-year-old was still able to post an .850 OPS with 37 homers. Jean Segura hit .304/.341/.415 and drove in 63 runs while stealing 20 bases; solid numbers from the shortstop position. Wade LeBlanc had the lowest ERA of any starter on the staff, and the crafty left-hander posted a solid -- if not spectacular -- 130 strikeouts in 162 innings.
What Went Wrong
The Mariners were great over the first 88 games. They were not over the final 74, and the longest playoff drought in all of baseball -- and major sports -- lives on. Robinson Cano hit well, but also was hit with an 80-game suspension that really showed off the lack of depth in the lineup. The Mariners gave up quality prospects for Dee Gordon to hit at the top of the lineup, but he was a bust with a line of .268/.288/.349, and his 30 steals weren’t enough to compensate for the lack of quality anywhere else. Kyle Seager followed up a below-average 2017 season with an awful 2018 campaign where he registered just a .673 OPS in 630 plate appearances. Felix Hernandez’s fall was even worse with a 5.55 ERA and 1.400 WHIP in 155 2 / 3 innings. Mike Zunino showed flashes of brilliance in 2017, but did no such thing in 2018 with 150 strikeouts and .669 OPS in 113 games.
**When James Paxton was on the mound, he once again looked like one of the best southpaws in baseball with an 11.7 K/9 ratio and 1.091 WHIP. Once again, however, Paxton was forced to miss time with various injuries and illnesses, and the fact that the 160 1/3 innings he threw in 2018 were a career high tells you everything you need to know about his track record. The rates are always going to be great; Paxton has swing-and-miss stuff that would make all but a few hurlers in the game jealous. The question is whether or not he’s going to stay healthy enough to ever put up an elite fantasy year. Considering he turns 30 in November, it’s fair to believe it just might not happen.
**Cano’s season goes down as a disappointment because he missed so much time, but when he was on the field, he looked like there was plenty of life left in his bat. He hit .303/.374/.471 in his 348 plate appearances, and his 10-homer, 50-RBI season translates to a 20 and 100 line if he would have not been hit with the suspension. Cano turned 36-years-old on Monday, but everything we saw on the field in 2018 suggests he can still be a very valuable fantasy player.
**If Mike Zunino played any position but catcher, he wouldn’t be worth discussing. Not many 27-year-olds who have a career average of .207 in over 2,000 plate appearances are. And yet, because Zunino is a catcher -- and because he was so good, borderline dominant at times in 2017 -- here we are. The fact of the matter is that the former first-round pick has ridiculous raw power, and when he does make contact, the ball explodes off his bat. He just doesn’t make contact enough to take advantage of those gifts, and his approach went backwards in 2018. The chance to get a 30-homer catcher on your fantasy roster should be appealing, but you better prepare for the risks that come with it.
**There were moments last season where Marco Gonzales was the best starting pitcher on the Mariner staff, and some of those moments occurred even when Paxton was healthy. There were also times where Gonzales was a replacement-level starter. Just check out these ERA’s by month: 5.02, 2.30, 4.02, 1.78, 10.35, and 1.71. And if you were curious, he made at least four starts in all of those months. The former St. Louis Cardinal is going to turn 27 next in February, and if he can show more consistency, he has a real chance to be relevant; particularly in AL-only leagues.
**It wasn't that long ago that Hernandez was one of the best fantasy pitchers in baseball, and certainly one of the most reliable. The fact that he's no longer near that mark now despite being just 33-years-old is surprising, and borderline sad. He still will flash the brilliance that made him a Cy Young award winner, but not often enough to consider him a viable fantasy option. It'd be wonderful to see a rebound; you just shouldn't count on it at this point.
**Just how good can Haniger be? Saying he was Seattle’s best player in the 2018 season is an understatement, and it’s fair to point out that it was his first ever season of playing more than 96 games. He’s probably older than you think -- he turns 28 in December -- but it’s a young 28, and his ability to make adjustments throughout the year was impressive. He may not be a fantasy superstar, but he’s going to be deserving of a high draft-pick/auction bid in your league next year. It’s not insane to think he’s going to be better in 2019, either.
Team Needs: The Mariners will be able to bring back every hurler in the rotation if they choose, but it’d be a surprise if they didn’t try and acquire a starting pitcher; be it through a trade or free agency. If Cruz does leave, there’s an obvious need at DH, and they could also look to upgrade their outfield and first base. There are certainly things to like about this roster, but if they’re serious about contending for a playoff spot in 2019, they’re going to have to make a few additions to the lineup and rotation to do so.