The Seattle Mariners officially surpassed the Buffalo Bills as owning the longest playoff drought in major American professional sports (17 years).
So general manager Jerry Dipoto was asked about this predicament as the Mariners prepare for their 2018 spring training.
“We can’t be responsible for 17 years – we can be responsible for 2018,” he said.
“If we focus on the last 17 years, you get lost in the weeds. We are focused on what we are doing now and how we move ahead. And every day that regenerates. Every day is a new day. It’s like a chart of serendipity.”
A chart of serendipity?
Manager Scott Servais thinks he might have found his new team tagline for the 2018 season.
“Chart of serendipity …” Servais laughed shortly after hearing the words uttered from Dipoto’s mouth.
“I’m going to break that out in my opening line to the team this year – as soon as I figure out what that is.”
In short, it’s that Dipoto thinks the Mariners have the ability to be MLB’s version of the drought-busting 2017 Buffalo Bills.
He created a list of needs the Mariners needed to address in their lineup this offseason – notably first base, center field and a utility player.
So enter what they view are upgrades at each — former All-Star and one of the fastest players in baseball, 29-year-old Dee Gordon, in center, a big bat from the Oakland Athletics in 26-year-old Ryon Healy at first base and 32-year-old Andrew Romine at utility.
Servais was asked about his projected new-look lineup.
“We’re going to score a lot of runs,” he said. “Our strength, for me, is our lineup and our strength is what make us dangerous. I’m really excited about our crew and the two everyday players we picked out.”
But Gordon and Healy are both making defensive shifts.
Start with Gordon.
Gordon is a Gold Glove second baseman who has never before played the outfield in the big leagues.
Except the Mariners believe his ultra speed translates well to covering ground in center field. Gordon said he’s worked with Ken Griffey Jr., as well as Mariners first-base coach Chris Prieto (a former center fielder, himself).
He said he’s spent every day since being traded from the Marlins working on converting himself to a Gold Glove outfielder.
“I thought it was going to take a little longer for me to convert over,” Gordon said. “The funny thing is it’s not about the ball in the air or the ball on the ground or the routes right now. I know I’m going to mess a few of them up, which is totally fine in spring training.
“But the biggest thing is learning how to crow hop. I know that sounds like it’s elementary, and I’ve been saying it for a while. But learning how to crow hop is hard when you finish up on your feet your whole life. So when I learn how to crow hop I think I’ll be all right.”
Servais remembered some precedent to switching infielders to the outfield.
“There was a guy who played for the Brewers whose name was Robin Yount,” Servais said. “He did it and ended up winning MVP. It happens.”
That was in 1989, after Yount began his career as a shortstop.
“(Gordon’s) goal is to win a Gold Glove in center field,” Servais said. “Will it be easy to do? No. There are a lot of really good center fielders in the league. But he’s got the athletic ability, he’s got the work ethic and he’s got a feel for the game.
“He’s going to stub his toe once in a while. It’s going to take a while to get up to speed. But plenty of range and a great arm. It’s going to be a great fit for us.”
But also in the batting order. They expect Gordon to provide a jolt of energy to the top of the lineup, after he hit .308 with a league-leading 60 stolen bases with the Marlins last year. He’s been a career .293 hitter in his seven seasons between the Dodgers and Marlins with 278 stolen bases. He has the second-most stolen bases of anyone in baseball since 2014.
And Gordon said he spent three consecutive hours one day recently texting with Edgar Martinez about hitting.
“And I’m like, ‘Oh, snap – I’m going to be so good!” Gordon said with a smile and his eyes wide.
Gordon’s press conference Thursday during the Mariners’ pre-spring training luncheon at Safeco Field was filled with laughs and jokes.
Healy called Gordon a fountain of energy.
“I just told Ryon that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that,” Gordon laughed. “I appreciate the compliment. I hope that’s a good thing.”
Healy will focus exclusively on playing first base this year in what will be his second full-time major league season after hitting 25 home runs with a .271 average in 149 games last year. He’s started the majority of his games at either third base or designated hitter the past two seasons.
“Keeping him at first base will really help him,” Servais said. “The importance of a good defensive first baseman goes under the radar and I think he’s more than capable over there. Just locking in and staying there will help his development, as well.”
Though the Mariners also have a pair of backup plans in Rule 5 Draft pick Mike Ford and Dan Vogelbach, a Triple-A All-Star last season with the Rainiers.
“For me, I still prepare to earn everything I’m going to get,” Healy said. “I don’t expect to walk into spring training and be handed the first-base job, and opening day I don’t expect to be in the starting lineup. I’m going to go earn it and I’m going to do it with my performance, my work ethic and my success.”
He’s spent part of the offseason working out in Miami with Nelson Cruz and some others.
Healy was asked how much that longtime Mariners playoff drought was a topic of conversation.
“It’s definitely not on the back of our minds – it’s in the front of the minds of everyone,” Healy said. “Something that’s not only a goal, but it’s something we see in the near, near future – as in this season.
“I think everyone is excited for the opportunity we have and the talent and the focus, not only the veteran leadership, but the young core that is already here and has some big league experience. It’s going to be exciting to watch it all come together.”
Lorena Martin, the Mariners first-year director of high performance, said reliever David Phelps (elbow surgery) is in a throwing program, and so is Hisashi Iwakuma (shoulder) although Iwakuma isn’t expected to pitch off a mound until the end of March. She also said outfielder Guillermo Heredia (shoulder) is progressing.
And the Mariners will have 31-year-old Felix Hernandez take a different approach to spring training.
Last year he threw 86 2/3 innings after 153 1/3 innings in 2016. Hernandez went eight consecutive years of at least 200 innings prior to that and Servais said that normally Hernandez works slowly into spring training, not even stepping onto a mound until almost two weeks in.
“That won’t be the case this year,” Servais said. “Felix is so talented and he’s had so much success that he had an ability to turn up the dial from like one to 100. And he could do it in the last days of spring training. It’s not the case anymore, as you get older. He will come in and be on normal schedule as far as when he throws his bullpens and workouts and working through his workouts and game situations.
“The first time he takes the mound in the regular season, he should be ready to go and throw 100 pitches and you got to do that going through spring training. He understands that it will be a little different schedule for him.”
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