Organizational Rankings: #15

Today, we keep looking at some teams that have legitimate hope, so it gets harder from here on out. And, for those of you who haven’t seen the previous parts (which are linked below), keep in mind that this is a forward looking exercise – we are evaluating clubs on their overall ability to contend for a World Series title in the future. We are not evaluating how they have performed historically. This is about the health of each organization going forward.

Rankings So Far

#30: Washington Nationals
#29: Florida Marlins
#28: Houston Astros
#27: Kansas City Royals
#26: Pittsburgh Pirates
#25: San Diego Padres
#24: Cincinnati Reds
#23: Colorado Rockies
#22: Detroit Tigers
#21: St. Louis Cardinals
#20: Toronto Blue Jays
#19: San Francisco Giants
#18: Minnesota Twins
#17: Chicago White Sox
#16: Baltimore Orioles

#15: Seattle Mariners

Ownership: B

The Mariners ownership group does three things – make sure the team operates at a profit, spends a lot of money on the franchise, and occasionally gets involved in negotiations with Japanese players. Of these three things, the first two are far more important than the latter, which has honestly been quite overblown. Yes, the ownership stepped in and gave Kenji Johjima an inexplicable contract extension last spring, but they also stepped in and convinced Ichiro to sign a below market contract extension during the summer of 2007. Johjima’s first contract was a boon for the franchise, as was Kaz Sasaki’s deal with the M’s. Overall, the net value to the franchise from ownership’s involvement with Japanese players has been positive, not negative. They’ve given new GM Jack Zduriencik near total autonomy, and offer more than enough capital to build a championship baseball club. A beautiful stadium, a massive geographic market, and well capitalized ownership give the Mariners a fiscal advantage over most franchises.

Front Office: B

What would an organization look like if it combined one of the most respected scouts in the industry with significant input from the cream of the crop in advanced analytical techniques? We’re about to find out. There’s no questioning Zduriencik’s eye for talent, as he was one of the main cogs in the machine that built the Milwaukee Brewers. Upon his hiring, there were some fears that the Mariners were hiring another Gillick/Bavasi old school type, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Since the new administration took over, the M’s have hired Tom Tango (inventor of half of the cool stuff here on FanGraphs), created a Department of Baseball Research to be staffed by sabermetricians, replaced their advance scouting with a video database, and then showed how to put the new found intelligence in the organization to use, collecting significant undervalued assets, hiring an analytical coaching staff, and building a depth of talent that should allow the Mariners to surprise most people this season while simultaneously building for the future.

Major League Talent: C+

Much like the Orioles, the national perception of the Mariners ’09 roster is based more on incorrect generalities than an actual look at the talent on the team. Yes, they lost 101 games last year, but no, that doesn’t really matter when it comes to projecting 2009. This is a .500ish ballclub for the upcoming year and one with a significant core of young talent – Felix Hernandez, Brandon Morrow, Jose Lopez, Jeff Clement, and Franklin Gutierrez are building blocks under team control for years to come, and are complimented by high quality veterans such as Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, and Erik Bedard. Yes, there are some lingering lousy contracts from the past administration, but only Silva and Johjima extend beyond 2009, and the Mariners have more than enough capital to overcome $15 million in wasted salary.

Minor League Talent: C+

The top end of the Mariners farm system is brimming with both upside and risk. Carlos Triunfel could be a +4 win player on talent, but he’s several years from the majors and is mostly projection at this point. Greg Halman has Alfonso Soriano upside, but is a lot more Juan Encarnacion today. Phillippe Aumont flashed his first round arm in the WBC, but he’s only thown 60 innings in low-A ball as a pro. There are no sure things on the farm, so while the team has a lot of talent, the bust potential is very high across the board. They’ve compensated for that risk by compiling significant depth, including adding players such as Mickael Cleto, Mike Carp, Jason Vargas, and Ezequiel Carrera in the J.J. Putz deal, and Garret Olson in the Aaron Heilman deal. The team has significant risk at the top end, but also a much stronger than recognized middle group (the Mariners #6 to #15 prospects are probably in the top five in the game for that range), and having that much quantity is a good way to offset some of the risk involved with the high end guys.

Overall: B-

I fully expect most of you to believe that this is a prematurely optimistic estimate of the front office. That’s fine – I’m actually more concerned that this rating is too conservative, honestly. They’ve combined the best of the scouting world with the best of the sabermetric world and get to play with a top ten payroll to boot. They have to dig out of a bit of a hole left by the Bavasi regime, but the hole isn’t as big as you might think, and a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done. Despite being buried by the national consensus, the team has a 15% or so chance of winning the AL West this year (seriously), and the 2009 team will likely be the least talented one that Zduriencik puts on the field for the foreseeable future. Things are looking up in Seattle, and given their resources and the direction of the front office, the Mariners are poised to make a big leap forward.

Oh, and one final note – I fully expect the “you’re a biased Mariner fan” claim to show up early and often in the comments section. Just so you’re aware, though, the historical complaint about my writing from Mariner fans have been that I’ve been too pessimistic about the team. So, while it will be nice to be accused of the opposite kind of bias for once, how about we try to rise above analytical laziness and discuss the organization’s strengths and weaknesses and get away from statements about the credibility of an author who writes something you might not agree with?

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.