Contention is the goal

A few days back I posted this piece evaluating the Mariners after the 2020 mini-season with an eye toward readiness for 2021. As usual, the post got linked to some of the Mariners fan groups on Facebook, and as usual, more people remarked on it there than here onsite. Considering the attitude of some of those people, I'm OK with that. There are a lot of haters on Facebook.

The most comical comments, though, were the ones basically laughing at the very idea that the M's would want to contend in 2021. Look, I get it, as Mariner fans we've been conditioned to believe our team will always fail. But as a not insignificant number of fans online seem to have missed, when the rebuild commenced, the goal date for contention was 2021. No less an authority than Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto reiterated that this week. "Next year we could be really fun to watch," Dipoto said in a presser Monday. “I think we’re in a really nice position for ’21, and our goal would be to go out there and contend for a playoff spot. I don’t think that’s unrealistic.”

Dipoto indicated some tweaking remained necessary, with the bullpen being the biggest hurdle in reaching that goal. After a dreadful performance in 2020, the Seattle relief corps needs an overhaul; the ’pen compiled an ERA of nearly 6.00, third-worst among the 30 Major League clubs. Like the M's, the two that were worse, Colorado and Philadelphia, barely missed the expanded 2020 postseason largely due to consistent failures to protect leads late in games. “I’d like to add three or four guys [in the bullpen] that can stabilize the group and give us some certainty as we move toward the end of a game,” Dipoto said. “I don’t know if they’re going to be marquee names. That’s not how bullpens generally work.”

Free agency is the likely route Dipoto would take to get those three or four guys, but Jerry being Jerry, you never rule out a trade. Pending free agents include some intriguing names—Alex Colomé, Liam Hendricks, Kirby Yates—and the farm has accumulated enough of a surplus in some areas to provide some trade chips. With Mitch Haniger returning from injury, Kyle Lewis establishing himself as a marquee player, and top prospect Jarred Kelenic thought to be ready for promotion sometime in midseason 2021, one or more outfielders (e.g. Braden Bishop, Jake Fraley, Phillip Ervin, Eric Filia) could be dealt in the right trade. Or, Dipoto might spend on a free-agent starting pitcher (Taijuan Walker?) and use Nick Margevicius or Ljay Newsome as trade bait for relievers.

With the Astros starting to fall to earth, the Angels and Rangers floundering, and the A's apparently winning with smoke and mirrors, the AL West is primed for a takeover. Can the M's be augmented to be up for the challenge? The core is there, they just need a few supporting pieces.

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