After flirting with the end of their playoff drought (baseball’s longest at 17 seasons), the Seattle Mariners have made the decision to blow up their squad and head back to the drawing board. It’s a move that makes a great deal of sense for the franchise, with Houston Astros maintaining a stranglehold on the division, the Oakland A’s always capable of outplaying expectations (a la the 97-win campaign in 2018), the Los Angeles Angels clinging tightly to baseball’s undisputed best player, and even the Texas Rangers putting together a potentially solid young core.
The M’s have seemingly made everyone on their current roster available, moving massive contracts like Robinson Cano and Jean Segura, as well as controllable stars on decent wages like Edwin Diaz and James Paxton. With so much movement and inconsistency in Seattle heading into 2019, it’s tough to really pinpoint anyone for a breakout campaign because there very are few roster guarantees.
As a Yankee fan, obviously I’m big on Justus Sheffield as a pitching prospect. But at the moment he remains just that, a prospect. While he’ll more than likely crack the rotation at some point in 2019, there’s no telling whether it’ll be early in the year or if he’ll be a September call up with little exposure yet again this season. I’m also partial to outfielders Mitch Haniger and Ben Gamel, as well as Mike Zunino behind the plate. But once the Mariners get a whiff of the trade market around each of them (especially Zunino) there’s no certainty that they’ll stick around in Seattle past July.
So my attention turns to the newest Mariner, Yusei Kikuchi. No, you say Kikuchi…sorry that was my sole dad joke for this article. In all seriousness the man has been a great pitcher throughout his pro career in Japan, and comes to the Mariners just now entering his athletic prime at 27 years of age. His talents to those in the know cannot be overstated, but to the casual member of the baseball fan base, he’s a relative unknown. 2019 will provide him with an opportunity to shine in an other wise bleak Seattle summer.
Kikuchi isn’t necessarily a perennial ace in his current incarnation. His strikeout numbers aren’t anything crazy and he frequently projects as a solid second or third in a winning team’s rotation. With the Mariners ensemble of unprovens, the Japanese-born starter will be a massive bright spot early on.
2019 will be the end of an era for the Marniers organization, the Japanese, and all fans of the game; unquestionable Hall of Famer, Ichiro Suzuki just inked a contract that will see him play in the club’s opening contests, hosted in Japan, and then call it quits shortly there after. It isn’t hard to believe that the dawn of Yusei’s career, intersecting with the setting of Ichiro’s could produce something magical. And with a dreadful outlook for the remainder of the year, it appears Seattle desperately needs a bit of magic…