Since the Mariners have evolved into a franchise that emphasizes the importance of analytical evaluation, it should be no surprise they choose to embrace and confront the only facts that matter.
Their 15-year postseason drought is the longest among all major league clubs. They are one of only two franchises that have never reached the World Series. And they possess sufficient financial might within MLB to allow for no excuses.
John Stanton sounded the call last year in his opening statement after becoming the Mariners’ new chairman and chief executive officer.
“The goal of this ownership team is to win a World Series here in Seattle,” he said, “and have a parade and celebration for that event. I think that it’s time that we have that accomplishment. … It’s our No. 1 goal.”
The Mariners’ 15-year postseason drought is the longest among all major-league clubs. They are one of only two franchises that have never reached the World Series.
Well … all owners say that, right?
But Stanton and his partners backed up those words this season by underwriting the Mariners’ highest payroll in their 41 seasons.
General manager Jerry Dipoto responded by plugging several roster shortcomings through a second straight frenetic offseason of trades, waiver claims and signings while surrendering little of the organization’s current or future core group.
“When I interviewed for this job in September of 2015 and was ultimately hired to run the baseball operation, we had pretty candid discussions about what we thought the strengths of the team were,” Dipoto said.
“The foundation with (Robinson) Cano and (Nelson) Cruz and (Kyle) Seager and Felix (Hernandez), that was the core group of players I wanted to build around.
“I mentioned to John Stanton (and others) that I thought the core was great, it was just going to require a few tweaks. Here we are 35 trades and some 100-plus players later, and I think the tweaks have put us in a pretty good position.”
The Mariners executed a 10-victory improvement last year under Dipoto and a revamped staff that included a first-time manager in Scott Servais, but saw their postseason push end in an extra-inning loss on the season’s next-to-last day.
“Sadness,” Cano summed up afterward in a quiet clubhouse. “It’s a good example for everyone here. Everyone has a feeling that we can make it, but we didn’t make it. Now everyone has to go home and prepare themselves not just to play 162 games, but make it to the playoffs.”
When the Mariners arrived nearly two months ago for the start of spring training, they found the same sign posted throughout their clubhouse at the Peoria Sports Complex.
If we’re winning, who cares about anything else?
third baseman Kyle Seager
It showed the players gathered at the plate in celebration following a walk-off victory below three words underscoring the team’s 2017 mantra: Whatever It Takes.
“If we’re winning, who cares about anything else?” Seager explained. “If you’re struggling or you’re not, it doesn’t matter. It’s whatever it takes to win that game. Throw your personal accolades and all that stuff away.
“If you’re doing what you’re supposed to do to win that day, you’re doing whatever it takes. Then at the end of the year, your personal things will be where they’re supposed to be.”
The message, with the same picture, is posted in a few locations in Spanish.
“It’s whatever it takes,” Hernandez said with a nod of his head toward the “Lo que sea necesario” version. “Whatever it takes to be in the playoffs. I think we’re looking pretty good. I have confidence in all of the guys. They’re confident, too.
“So we’re ready to roll.”
The season starts Monday in Houston, where the Mariners have won seven of 20 games over the past two years. That begins a pivotal stretch in which the Mariners play 17 of their first 20 games against American League West opponents.
A year ago, the Mariners were .500 against division opponents at 38-38, while playing .558 ball against everyone else at 48-38.
“It’s always important when you’re playing in the division,” Servais said. “That’s the goal here, to win the West. To do that, you’ve got to beat the other guys. … It’s not going to be easy.”
There already are hurdles.
The Mariners learned Friday that left-hander Drew Smyly, their top offseason pitching acquisition, will open the season on the disabled list.
Their bullpen remains in flux and one of their top prospects, first baseman Dan Vogelbach, played his way into a demotion to Triple-A Tacoma.
Dipoto emphasized repeatedly over the winter that building depth was a key aspect of his many moves. He points to a projected Tacoma rotation in which every pitcher except Chase De Jong has big league experience.
“For as long as I’m here you’ll see the depth moves will be constant,” Dipoto said. “We’ll always do things like the moves we made in the offseason.”
If the Mariners’ stable of starting pitchers is truly 10-12 deep, it should be able to compensate for Smyly’s absence much like the relief corps bridged the gap this spring while Steve Cishek, Tony Zych and Shae Simmons recovered from injuries.
Smyly’s injury aside, the Mariners enter the season reasonably healthy and potentially potent, particularly throughout their lineup.
The Cano-Cruz-Seager core returns intact for an offense that ranked third last season among American League clubs in runs scored. Elsewhere, the Mariners, at least on paper, appear to have upgraded.
Shortstop Jean Segura emerged as a breakout star last season at Arizona and, even if he regresses a bit, should easily exceed what the Mariners received last season from Ketel Marte.
Jarrod Dyson should match Nori Aoki’s production in left field while providing a significant upgrade in speed and defense. Dyson graded out last season with a 3.1 WAR (wins above replacement) rating at Kansas City. Aoki was 1.5.
First baseman Danny Valencia won’t hit 34 homers, as the Mariners received last year from Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee, but he posted a 1.4 WAR rating at Oakland while the other two combined for a flat 0.0.
The “x” factor is right fielder Mitch Haniger, whom the Mariners acquired with Segura and reliever Zac Curtis in the Nov. 23 trade from Arizona for pitcher Taijuan Walker and Marte.
Haniger was the Mariners’ best player in spring training, and his career began spiking upward once he overhauled his swing in 2014 while using Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson and Arizona center fielder A.J. Pollock as models.
“I studied mostly right-handed hitters because that’s what I am,” Haniger said. “I studied lefties, too, but for the most part, it was right-handed guys who aren’t ginormous in size but who produce a lot of power.
“That’s what I felt like I hadn’t been able to tap into.”
Haniger, 26, was Arizona’s minor league player of the year in 2016 while batting a combined .321 in 129 games at Double-A Mobile (55 games) and Triple-A Reno (74 games) with 25 homers and 94 RBIs.
“He’s been pretty impressive,” Servais said. “Every day he does something. His at-bats were good. His jumps on the bases. He’s very aggressive, but he has a feel for pitchers and what they’re doing. He’s a complete ballplayer.
“It’s fun to watch him play.”
Haniger shows signs of being a plus defender with a strong arm.
He is that rare player who possesses all five tools and, if he can convert those tools into skills, he easily could eclipse the combined 0.8 WAR rating the Mariners received last year from Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez.
It could be an interesting summer.
“To be in the playoffs,” Cruz said. “That’s the goal. As a team, we came up short last year. I think everybody is ready. We definitely have a better lineup.
It’s time to win.
Mariners manager Scott Servais
“We have more speed. We have more guys who can play defense in the outfield. We can score a lot of runs. We have more experience also. And better pitching.”
Everything they need, it seems, to do whatever it takes.
“Seattle has not won in a long time,” Servais said. “And the expectations, they’re high. From ownership and team president and the fans. They should be. It’s time. It’s time to win.”
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners