The presumption is going to be that I put the Mariners at #6 because I’m a biased homer – I am well aware of that. I could spend a few paragraphs explaining how I didn’t compile this by myself and generally attempt to defend myself against the claims of bias, but I’d rather just put those words to use explaining the logic behind the ranking, and then you can think what you will.
Each organization is being graded on different aspects that affect how well the team will play going forward. Since this will undoubtedly be the most controversial ranking of the series, I’ll break down each segment.
The 2010 Mariners are not a great team. It’s pretty easy to look at the roster and find problems – they lack offense, the back end of the rotation is a question mark, the closer has had one good major league season, etc… The upgrades on the roster pushed them into 83-85 win territory in terms of true talent level. Put them in the American League East, and they’d likely be fighting the Orioles for fourth place. In the AL West, however, there are no Yankees or Red Sox, as all four teams are pretty evenly matched. So, while the team is flawed, they also have a pretty decent chance of making the playoffs. There simply aren’t that many teams in baseball that are going into the 2010 season with a roughly one in four chance of playing in October.
This team isn’t just designed to steal a division title and get waxed in the ALDS, either. The team is banking on several high variance players, and they won’t succeed without good years from the likes of Milton Bradley and Erik Bedard. That is certainly a risky proposition, but there’s no denying the upside that comes in a scenario where both stay healthy and perform near their talent levels. Their mean projections are dragged heavily down by the risk (as they should be), but the distribution of expected outcomes is not clumped around the middle – they will likely either boom or bust, and take the team with them whichever way they go. This team is not very likely to win 83 to 85 games. Instead, they’ll probably win 75 or 90. If it doesn’t work, they’ll be sellers at the deadline and go young in the second half. If it does work, though, the other three AL playoff clubs would be staring at having to defeat a team that throws Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, and Bedard in a playoff series. No one is going to sign up for that assignment.
The combination of a winnable division and a high variance roster gives the Mariners a legitimate chance at winning the World Series this year, even with a roster that has plenty of warts. They’re not the favorites, certainly, but if you ran the 2010 season 1,000 times, the Mariners would end up champions in a non-trivial amount of them. They’d also finish last a bunch of times, which is part of the risk they’ve had to accept. But we cannot ignore the fact that among the 30 MLB clubs, Seattle is more likely to win the title in 2010 than most of their competitors.
The Mariners farm system isn’t among baseball’s best. They have a couple of premium prospects in Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders, but they don’t match up with the systems that boast a lot of high ceiling guys. However, there is a reason this section is entitled young talent and not farm system.
Felix is 23. Franklin Gutierrez is 27. Jose Lopez is 26. Adam Moore is 25. Ryan Rowland-Smith is 27. Every single member of the bullpen is under 30. Simply looking at a ranking of their prospects misses the youth already on the team. They’re not overflowing with young talent like Texas or Tampa Bay, but there’s a young core to build around in place, and the guys on the farm who are legitimate prospects are generally close to the majors.
This isn’t a team that has a short window to contend. They’re likely to be even better in 2011 and beyond than they will be in 2010 – the problem for them is that is true of most of the rest of the division as well.
This is where I expect the disagreement lies, as I don’t think anything written above veers much from the common perception about the team. In terms of front office capability, financial commitment from ownership, revenues from the ballpark, and the other minor components of this section, the Mariners graded out very highly. Not just with me, but among everyone I talked to, including the other authors here on the site.
I understand that there’s a large contingency of people who believe that we should not presume intelligence until success has been displayed on the field, and that we should infer that an organization is well run once the fruits of their labor of have been reaped, and those are the people who are going to hate this ranking. I simply have a philosophical disagreement with you on how we should evaluate our expectations for the future. Just as we can separate Jason Heyward from a normal outfield prospect despite the fact that he has accomplished nothing at the big league level, I believe we can also evaluate an organization’s ability to put a winning team on the field before they do so.
The term “process” has become a cliche in referring to front offices, but quite simply, there are few better examples of an organization that is blending traditional scouting with new ways of thinking than the Mariners. The GM is one of the most respected scouts in the game, and his right hand man is an accountant who went out and hired Tom Tango as one of his first orders of business. Teams that have blended both ways of thinking into their decision-making process have been tremendously successful, and this is the path the Mariners have set themselves upon.
The Seattle front office knows how to evaluate talent, and they know how to value talent. Organizations that do both things well, and are given a payroll of $100 million to boot, win a lot of baseball games.
I knew putting the Mariners at #6 would generate a significant amount of backlash and claims of bias. But, in my estimation, when you actually look at their chances of winning in 2010, the group of young talent they can build around going forward, the quality of the decision making in the front office, and their financial resources, this is where they belong. After years of being a joke, the Mariners have made one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent history.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.