BY Steve Rudman 04:09PM 03/01/2014

For credibility, Mariners need 20-win upgrade

One gambling website predicts a 10-game improvement for the Mariners over last season, but the new projection of 81 wins won’t land the club in the playoffs — again.

The Mariners need 27-year-old Justin Smoak to finally reach his potential. / Wiki Commons

According to Las Vegas sportsbook Bovada.com, the Mariners are destined – or doomed – to finish 2014 with about as many wins as losses. If you’ve followed the ball club for any length of time, that amounts to more yawn than progress. Bovada.com listed for the first time last week the club’s over/under for wins at 81.5 and placed its odds to win the AL West at 7-1, behind Texas, Oakland and Anaheim. They are 28-1 to win the World Series.

Rounding down (it’s always advisable to round down when considering the Mariners), an 81-win season would represent a 10-game uptick over 2013 when the Mariners parlayed an $80 million payroll into 91 losses.

Fangraphs.com has a slightly more optimistic outlook, forecasting a final record of 83-79. But a 12-win improvement, while good (even amazing, relative to the Mariners), isn’t good enough.

Fangraphs.com projects that the L.A. Angels will win 85 and the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers 84 each, leaving Seattle in fourth – same as last year – ahead of only the Houston Astros. If not for the shift to the AL West of the Strohs, the Mariners would be working on their fifth consecutive last-place finish and eighth in the past decade.

Such an ending would extend to 13 the number of years without a playoff appearance and would likely cost lame-duck GM Jack Zduriencik, who has been re-tooling the franchise since the fall of 2008, his job.

A 90-win year, on the other hand, would probably purchase Zduriencik an extension. Ninety wins would also represent a 19-game improvement over 2013, and that should be doable — if the Mariners improve on last year’s record of 19-29 in one-run games, don’t lose 15 times in extra innings, don’t suffer 13 walk-off losses, don’t drop 27 games in their opponents’ final at-bat, and hit better than .228 (third-worst in MLB) with runners in scoring position.

Two years ago, the Boston Red Sox finished 69-93 and last in the AL East, 26 games behind the New York Yankees. A year later, they went 97-65, a 28-game improvement, and won the World Series with former Mariner farmhand David Ortiz winning the MVP award.

That’s a remarkable, one-year turnaround, but not unprecedented. Since the start of divisional play in 1969, six teams have executed greater improvements, led by the Arizona Diamondbacks’ surge from 65 wins in 1998 to 100 victories in 1999, a 35-game turnaround.

Team From To Gain Skinny
D-Backs 65-97/ ’98 100-62/ ’99 +35 Doubled payroll: $32.8 to $70.1 mil
Orioles 54-107/ ’88 87-75/ ’89 +33 Major trades, hired F. Robinson as mgr.
Rays 66-96/ ’08 97-65/ ’09 +31 Have won 90+ for 4 straight years
Athletics 54-108/ ’79 83-79/ ’80 +29 Hired Billy Martin to replace Jim Marshall
Braves 65-97/ ’90 94-68/ ’91 +29 Hired Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine won 20
D-Backs 65-97/’10 94-68/ ’11 +29 Have played .500 each of past 2 years

None of the six won the World Series as Boston did, but the 1991 Atlanta Braves made it there and the 1999 Diamondbacks reached the NLDS.

Even the Mariners have a significant season-to-season turnaround in their largely bleak history. In 1992, Bill Plummer’s only managerial campaign, the club went 64-98, prompting Plummer’s lightly lamented ouster. Under new manager Lou Pinella in 1993, the Mariners finished 82-80, an 18-game improvement.

The 1911-12 Washington Senators were the first to follow a 90-loss season with a 90-win year, going from 64-90 in 1911 to 91-61 in 1912. A similar turnaround didn’t occur again until 1961-62 when the Minnesota Twins went from 70-90 (1961) to 91-71 (1962).

After that, it took more than a decade for a third team to follow 90 losses with 90 wins, the White Sox accomplishing the feat by posting a 90-72 mark in 1977 one year after going 64-97.

Since the 1977 White Sox, managed by former Seattle Angels skipper Bob Lemon (1966) and featuring future Mariners Jim Essian (1982) and Richie Zisk (1981-83), performed the 90-90 reversal, 15 teams have done it, including the Cubs, Giants and Diamondbacks twice each.

Years Team From / To Behind The Turnaround
1977-78 Brewers 67-95 to 93-69 Led AL in runs, hits and home runs
1983-84 Mets 68-94 to 90-72 Rookie Dwight Gooden won 17 games
1983-84 Cubs 71-91 to 96-65 Ryne Sandberg won NL MVP award
1990-91 Braves 65-97 to 94-68 Bobby Cox replaced Russ Nixon as mgr.
1992-93 Giants 72-90 to 103-59 Dusty Baker replaced Roger Craig as mgr.
1997-98 Cubs 68-94 to 90-73 Sammy Sosa went from 36 HRs to 66
1996-97 Giants 68-94 to 90-72 Giants banged 172 HRs (Bonds 40)
1998-99 D-Backs 65-97 to 100-62 Added Randy Johnson, Cy Young winner
2000-01 Astros 72-90 to 93-69 Jeff Bagwell 39 HRs, Lance Berkman 34
2005-06 Tigers 71-91 to 95-67 J. Leyland replaced A. Trammell as mgr.
2007-08 Rays 66-96 to 97-65 5 pitchers had double figures in wins
2010-11 D-Backs 65-77 to 94-68 Scored 731 runs, Ian Kennedy went 21-4
2011-12 Orioles 69-93 to 93-69 5 players had 20 or more home runs
2012-13 Red Sox 69-93 to 97-65 853 runs, led AL in on-base and slugging
2012-13 Indians 68-94 to 92-70 4 pitchers had double figures in wins

The Mariners have teased customers for years about the emerging talent in their farm system. That has become tiresome rhetoric. It’s time for all talk about their young players and prospects (half of the American League’s MVPs in the past 20 years have been 26 years old or younger) to cease and for the Mariners to break their playoff drought.

The predicted 10-game improvement by Bovada.com won’t get it done because a .500 year or even a winning year isn’t sufficient. But a 20-game improvement, as more than a dozen teams, including two last season, have demonstrated, could get it done. It isn’t an unreasonable expectation. It’s also necessary to preserve the little credibility the Mariners have left.


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    I’m hoping for a .500 record and third place finish. But Jack Z. needs to continue adding parts. The current roster still has some holes in it.

  • Will

    Mariner credibility? There’s no need to say much more.

  • Tian Biao

    Part of me is hoping for another disastrous year, which would oust Z and maybe Howie as well, rather than a middling, tepid, just above .500 season that sort-of preserves the jobs of guys like Smoak, Ackley, Maurer, and the rest of these so-called prospects, and preserves Z’s job for another year as well. My prediction: I will get half of my wish – another disastrous year – and when the smoke clears, Z will be gone, but Howie will still be standing, arrogant and impervious, and it won’t be his fault.

    • jafabian

      Another poor season wouldn’t oust Lincoln but might Jack Z. I say might because it would depend on how his contract is written up. If the club is committed to him and would pay him anyways if they release him they’d probably keep him. And besides, they haven’t had the best of luck in picking a GM since Gillick left.