6,935 days. 228 months. 19 years. That’s how long it’s been since the Seattle Mariners played a playoff game.
And that’s the longest postseason drought in all of professional sports. It’s been so long that a kid who was born in 2001 – the last year the Mariners made the playoffs – would’ve graduated high school last year.
Finding hope for the Seattle Mariners
The Mariners are the Cleveland Browns of Major League Baseball. They’re the laughing stock of professional sports. Think about all the terrible teams in pro sports – the Detroit Lions, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Minnesota Timberwolves, – they have all made a postseason appearance more recently that the Mariners.
And here’s something even more mind-blowing: The Mariners were the best team in baseball the last time they made the playoffs. And not only were they the best team in baseball, they were the best team in history, tying an MLB record with 116 wins.
So how did the M’s go from a record-setting 116 wins to an equally as record-setting 19-year playoff drought?
A lethal combination of terrible trades, failed draft picks, and half-assed attempts at rebuilding.
Previous General Managers Bill Bavasi and Jack Zduriencik never committed to rebuilding. Bavasi spent $114 million on sluggers Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson in the 2004-2005 offseason, and shipped future All-Stars Adam Jones and Chris Tillman to Baltimore for the often-injured Erik Bedard in 2007.
Zduriencik misjudged numerous top prospects, tried to keep the big-league team a float by signing washed up players like Jack Cust and Corey Hart, and ultimately tried to save his job by dropping $297 million on Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz in 2014 and 2015.
But this time is different. Current GM Jerry Dipoto has seen enough. The Seattle Mariners missed the playoffs by one game in 2014, three games in 2016, and 2018 was the last straw. On June 10, 2018, the Mariners had the third best record in the American League, at 41-24. But the team collapsed like a skyscraper in an earthquake, going 31-34 in the second half of the season, finishing eight games behind Oakland in the wild card race.
With a roster full of aging stars like Cano, Felix Hernandez, and Nelson Cruz, Dipoto decided it was time to tear things down and start from scratch. He dealt ace James Paxton to the Yankees, sent Cano and the flame-throwing closer Edwin Diaz to the Mets, and shipped star shortstop Jean Segura to the Phillies.
Dipoto decided that it was time to rebuild the roster organically, through the draft and farm system. He decided it was time to suffer through a few more years of agonizing pain, with the hope that he could build a strong foundation. Bavasi and Zduriencik built a foundation on sand, spending big money on free agents who didn’t fit the roster, while never addressing the root of the problem.
Mariner fans have been through years of abuse, and impatience in Seattle is growing like a teenager who just hit puberty.
But for the first time in a long time, the Seattle Mariners have a glimmer of hope. It’s proven that rebuilding can be incredibly successful. Just look at the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs.
In 2013 the Cubs were one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball, finishing with a humiliating 66-96 record. But losing was part of the Cubs master plan. They finished in last place but picked at the top of the draft, and built a star-studded roster with tons of young talent. By 2016 the Cubs had a core group of stars including top draft picks Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Javier Baez. Those shrewd draft picks led the Cubs to a successful rebuild and ultimately a World Series Championship.
Fast forward to 2025 and the same could be true for Dipoto and the Mariners. In the last three years, Dipoto has used numerous top picks on starting pitchers – specifically tall right-handers. The M’s drafted 6’6” righty Logan Gilbert 14th overall in 2018, along with two other 6’4” righties – Isaiah Campbell 76th overall in 2019 and Emerson Hancock 6th overall last year.
A strong pitching staff is at the core of any good baseball team. The old football cliché states that defense wins championships, and the same is true in baseball. Pitching wins championships. No matter how good your offense is, you can’t outscore a pitching staff that gets lit up. At least a true championship contender can’t.
And that’s why it’s so exciting to see Dipoto building the Seattle Mariners around pitching. There’s no doubt in my mind that Gilbert is the Mariners future ace. I believe he’s a future Cy Young winner, too. In his first professional season, Gilbert blew through three levels of the Mariners farm system, finishing the season with double-A Arkansas. He struck out 165 batters in 135 innings, had a miniscule 2.13 ERA, along with a .95 WHIP.
What really excites me about Gilbert is his 6-foot-6 frame and explosive delivery. He’s got picture-perfect mechanics and strong command of four pitches: a mid-to-high 90s fastball, a wipeout slider, a looping curveball, and a fading changeup.
I’m almost equally as high on Campbell, who played four seasons at Arkansas and really came into his own during his senior season. Campbell dominated the SEC last year, striking out 125 batters in 118 innings, while finishing with a 12-1 record and a 2.13 ERA.
Just like Gilbert, Campbell has four pitches in his arsenal. He fires a fastball in the mid 90s, a hard slider in the mid 80s, a curveball in the high 70s, and a hard-biting splitter, a pitch that breaks into the dirt as it reaches the plate.
Both Gilbert and Campbell have electric, efficient, and most importantly repeatable mechanics. Good mechanics are instrumental because they allow a pitcher to throw with better velocity, better command, and ultimately good mechanics help ensure long-term arm health. A pitcher with clean mechanics is much less likely to have career-threatening injuries like a torn-labrum, torn rotator cuff, or a torn UCL. And that’s why I believe Gilbert and Campbell have exceptionally bright futures.
Dipoto drafted Hancock out of the University of Georgia last year. Hancock exploded onto MLB scouts’ radar in 2019, when he struck out 97 batters in 90.1 innings, with an excellent 1.99 ERA. He throws a sizzling fastball anywhere from 94-99 mph, a sharp slider, and a plus changeup. I watched film on Hancock, and what really stood out to me was his fastball. It looked effortless. It seemingly jumped out of his hand and exploded towards the plate.
His fastball and breaking ball give Hancock a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but I also believe he comes with much higher risk than Gilbert or Campbell. One thing I noticed while watching him was the ball looked flat coming out of his hand.
In the Majors, it doesn’t matter how fast a pitcher throws if his fastball is straight, or flat. Major League hitters could hit a missile, so it’s imperative that pitchers are deceptive, and create movement on their pitches. Hancock lacks deception and his fastball is straight. He has a bland delivery, and that makes him more susceptible to giving up hits.
Former New York Met Al Leiter suggested that Hancock should tweak his mechanics and add “some tilt” to his delivery. I completely agree. What Leiter really means is Hancock needs to add a weight shift to his delivery. Pitchers with great mechanics transfer their body weight through their pitching motion, and that’s what Hancock lacks. He floats towards the plate and loses energy. An improved delivery could help Hancock be more deceptive, and maybe even help him add a couple more miles per hour to his fastball. Either way, Hancock has a ton of potential – but if he doesn’t improve his mechanics, he has potential to be a bust.
Even with Hancock’s bust potential, I’m tremendously hopeful about the future of the Mariners pitching staff. I think Gilbert, Campbell, and Hancock have the capacity to dominate batters just like the New York Mets’ fire-balling trio of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler.
Picturing a rotation led by Gilbert, Campbell, and Hancock gives me hope for Mariner baseball that I haven’t had for years.
Even from 2014 to 2018 when the Mariners were fringe wild card contenders, I wasn’t exceedingly hopeful. The team was built around a bunch of overpaid older players, and a true contender is built around a mix of young talent and wily veterans.
This feels different. This feels like it could be the start of something special. Rebuilding – if done the right way— is proven to be successful. And this is the Mariners first authentic attempt at rebuilding the right way, organically, through the draft.
It’s been an eternity since the Seattle Mariners made the playoffs. It’s been a torturous 19-year drought. Mariner fans are dehydrated and their throats are parched.
But three young flame-throwers are on their way to quench Seattle’s thirst, and bring rain to alleviate the drought.