As the 2019 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we’re taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has a reputation as a man who likes to make trades. And his behavior during this offseason did nothing to change that.
Half the M’s roster is newcomers, including six of the nine projected starting position players, one of the five starting pitchers and potentially more than half the bullpen. It’s a lot.
Perhaps no team in baseball epitomizes the current all-or-nothing state of the game, with the M’s just a win away from 90 last season only to launch in something resembling a full teardown this winter. Gone is All-Star type ace James Paxton, shipped off to the New York Yankees for a highly rated pitching prospect who likely won’t be on the Opening Day roster (Justus Shieffield). Gone is Edwin Diaz, who led baseball with 57 saves last season, and Robinson Cano, the Hall of Fame caliber second baseman who got popped for PEDs last season, both dealt away to the New York Mets for a highly rated Class A outfield prospect (Jarred Kelenic). Jean Segura is a Philadelphia Phillie. Nelson Cruz is a Minnesota Twin. Mike Zunino is a Tampa Bay Ray. Alex Colome is a White Sock.
That’s what 89 wins gets you in baseball these days. And it’s hard to blame Dipoto, either. What’s he supposed to do? With the Yankees and Boston Red Sox pretty much uber teams out in the AL East, and the Houston Astros in the same category at the top of the Mariners’ division, there’s one playoff spot to compete for. Was this roster going to get that done? Maybe. But is “maybe” enough to go on when it comes to the course of a franchise?
But Dipoto did do one interesting thing: He held on to his most valuable chip. Mitch Haniger has quietly (because every Mariners game seems to start at 1 a.m. no matter what time zone you’re in) been a very, very good hitter in recent seasons. He’s 28 with only three big league campaigns under his belt, but since coming to the Pacific Northwest ahead of the 2017 season, he’s slashing .284/.361/.492 with 42 homers and 140 RBIs. And here’s the kicker: He’s under contract for four more seasons. He’s not quite as good as reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich – who is? – but he could have been a Yelich-esque acquisition for someone this winter, a controllable young All-Star hitter who could be a franchise cornerstone for the next half decade. Dipoto has, so far, opted to be that franchise.
Joining Haniger in the M’s lineup will be all those newcomers: speedy center fielder Mallex Smith (40 steals in 2018) is in from the Rays, omnipresent Jay Bruce from the Mets, parrot aficionado Edwin Encarnacion from the Cleveland Indians, Domingo Santana from the Milwaukee Brewers, Omar “The Narv Dog” Narvaez from the White Sox.
But the most intriguing addition was perhaps Yusei Kikuchi, a Japanese signee who will be under team control as long as the Mariners want, as he’s got an unusual four-year team option the M’s can pick up after the 2021 season. A longtime Seibu Lion, Kikuchi is just 27 and had a couple sub-2.00 ERA seasons in Japan. The Mariners have had success with Japanese imports in the past, most notably that Ichiro guy, who at 45 will likely be on the team’s active roster for the season-opening series in his home country. That’ll be cool, but Kikuchi is the more important of the two to the team’s present and future.
And so modern baseball will be on display, for better or worse, in Seattle this season. This team might not win a lot of games, probably not as many as they did a season ago, before the all-but-total teardown. But it’s either build a team good enough to compete with the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros or figure out a fun way to plan your October vacation. That’s life, at the moment. White Sox fans can relate.
At least Seattleites can pass the time this summer by arguing the pros and cons of this list of the best Jimi Hendrix songs I made last year.
Sox in Seattle. My top 15 Hendrix songs:
15 Crosstown Traffic
14 Foxey Lady
13 Come On
11 Hey Joe
10 Purple Haze
9 One Rainy Wish
8 Spanish Castle Magic
7 Castles Made Of Sand
6 Wind Cries Mary
5 Little Wing
4 Voodoo Child
3 Bold As Love
2 Red House
1 Watchtower pic.twitter.com/vCPIjN57sZ
— Vinnie Duber (@VinnieDuber) July 21, 2018
2018 record: 89-73, third place in AL West
Offseason departures: Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Jean Segura, Alex Colome, Mike Zunino, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Romine, Adam Warren, Zach Duke
X-factor: Kikuchi is probably the obvious choice here. How he fares in 2019 won’t be of quite as much interest as how Shohei Ohtani did last year, but the potential is still there for him to be a heck of an addition. But I’ll once more refer to Mallex Smith, who stole 40 bases last season with the Rays. He also led the American League with 10 triples (tied with Yolmer Sanchez) and got on base at a .367 clip.
1. Mallex Smith, CF
2. Mitch Haniger, RF
3. Jay Bruce, DH
4. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
5. Kyle Seager, 3B
6. Domingo Santana, LF
7. Omar Narvaez, C
8. Tim Beckham, SS
9. Dee Gordon, 2B
1. Yusei Kikuchi
2. Mike Leake
3. Marco Gonzales
4. Felix Hernandez
5. Wade LeBlanc
Prediction: Fourth place in AL West, no playoffs