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Seattle Mariners Season Preview: Lengthy Playoff Drought Won't End Anytime Soon

Editor's note: Welcome to SI's MLB preview. Click here to view every team's outlook in 2020, including predictions, projections and, yes, a preview of the 2030 preview. Click here to read the Mariners fantasy preview.

No team in major U.S. pro sports has gone longer than the Mariners without making the playoffs. Not the Cleveland Browns, not the Sacramento Kings, not the Buffalo Sabres. It’s not entirely fair that the drought has lasted 18 years: The Mariners had two 93-win seasons and five others of 85 or more, any of which might have earned a postseason berth. They haven’t been a Marlins-like laughingstock—in fact, they had two of the century’s signature stars in Ichiro Suzuki and Félix Hernández.

Both Ichiro and the King are gone now, the former into retirement (for real this time, after playing his final game last March at age 45) and the latter to Atlanta to salvage his career. In addition to going through a true rebuild for the first time in a decade, the M’s have lost their familiar identity. They can’t sell wins, and they can’t sell legends.

What they can sell is the future, with two top-25 prospects in outfielders Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic. Neither is likely to play in Seattle this year, but no team has a better pair of minor league hitters. Up-and-comers who will contribute in 2020 include first baseman Evan White (.838 OPS in Double A) and a trio who had cups of coffee in ’19: outfielder Kyle Lewis, lefty Justus Sheffield and righty Justin Dunn.

After years of poor drafting and development, Seattle’s staff—aside from Marco Gonzales—is among MLB’s worst. The Opening Day roster will likely include just two pitchers, reliever Dan Altavilla and starter Taijuan Walker, developed by the team. (The oft-injured Walker, traded to Arizona in ’16, came back to Seattle in February.) Should veterans like Walker or righty Kendall Graveman flourish, GM Jerry Dipoto will look to cash them in for prospects. For another year the playoffs remain out of reach in Seattle, where the rebuilding has begun. — Joe Sheehan

Projected Record: 54-108, 5th in AL West

After a 13–2 start in ’19, Seattle finished with just 68 wins. And this team—with a talent-starved rotation and question marks surrounding its best hitters—isn’t starting 13–2.

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Key Question: Will the Mariners Trade Kyle Seager Before They Win 20 Games?

Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto loves cooking up spicy trades. Dipoto’s Hot Corner will be open for business hours before the competition, with an Early Bird Special discount for any team willing to take on Seager’s contract. — Matt Martell

Player Spotlight

Moving Up: Shed Long Jr., 2B/OF

As a rookie Long, 24, played leftfield and second base. His bat and speed are for real, and more seasoning in the field will go, uh, a long way.

Moving Down: Mitch Haniger, OF

The All-Star outfielder, who missed most of ’19 due to a ruptured testicle, had sports hernia and microdiscectomy surgeries this spring.

Watchability Ranking: Avert Your Eyes

The Mariners are not the worst team in baseball. (Well, not necessarily.) Nor are they the most hopeless: They can see their future, or at least see part of it, even if they’re certainly not there yet. But in terms of the product on the field right now? Just close your eyes and wait for 2021, or Jarred Kelenic, whichever comes first. — Emma Baccellieri

Preview of the 2030 Preview

Julio Rodriguez, OF: The word you’re looking for is bombtastic, not bombastic, as there’s nothing inflated about the Dominican slugger’s power output. Rodriguez blazed through the minors to debut with outfielder Jarred Kelenic in 2021 as a 20-year-old; the two signed twin extensions in ’22. Rodriguez’s AL West-clinching, 494-foot homer was an awesome climax to the first MLB season with 32 teams divided into eight four-team divisions. We’re excited to see what he has in mind for an encore. — Craig Goldstein