Seattle Mariners: All-Time Greatest Team

Seattle Mariners (1977-Present)

American League (1977-Present)

American League Champion: Never

World Series Champion: Never

The Seattle Mariners were a direct result of what happened to the Seattle Pilots in 1970. When baseball rushed their expansion plans at the insistence of the Kansas City Royals, this left the Pilots in a very precarious financial position. When they were allowed to move to Milwaukee, to avoid bankruptcy, the city of Seattle demanded another opportunity to acquire a team in the coming years. That opportunity came in the American League expansion of 1977. By that time King County had built the Kingdome, a multi-purpose indoor stadium that was already the home of the NFL Seattle Seahawks. Financing seemed adequate, so this time, unlike 1969, Seattle was ready for Major League Baseball.

Unfortunately for Seattle, the Mariners’ early years were a mess. The Mariners’ management did not produce a winning team for the first 15 seasons of their existence. In 1991 they finally went 83-79 but promptly fired their manager and fell back to 98 losses in 1992.

The signing of their #1 Draft Pick, Ken Griffey Jr., in 1987 was the start of a rise to respectability. However, the most important decision was the one that brought Lou Piniella in to manage the team in 1993. In his first season, the Mariners had their second winning record. By his third season they won their first American League Western Division title. They would win two more of those, and also a Wild Card spot,  before Piniella would exit after the 2002 season. In 2001 the Seattle Mariners won 116 games, tied for the most ever in a regular season (Chicago Cubs, 1906). The four playoff appearances during Piniella’s reign are still the only four times the team has appeared in postseason play.  

By the middle 1990s the Mariners were no longer happy with the Kingdome. They requested that the community build them a baseball only stadium. If they didn’t, team ownership threatened to leave. In 1995 there was a ballot initiative on the King County ballot to fund a new stadium, it failed. Suddenly the realization that Seattle was going to lose their team, which had just presented them with their first American League western Division title, seemed very real. It’s then that the Washington State Legislature stepped in and authorized public money to fund the project. Construction began on Safeco Field (now T-Mobile Park) in 1997, and it opened in 1999. It was an outdoor stadium, with real grass, but had a retractable roof to protect fans from the weather.

Ownership of the team changed hands for the 5th time in 2016. A group called Baseball Club of Seattle are the new owners, with John Stanton and Chris Larson making day to day decisions. The team seems to be on better financial footing than in the past. On the field they surprised the baseball community by winning 89 games in 2018, indicating a resurgence to respectability. It didn’t last. In 2019 they’re on target to have their poorest season in eight years. Attendance, also is on the decline. From 2001 to 2003 they surpassed the 3 million mark in attendance, but with the fall out of contention the fans have quit coming. This year for the first time since 2013 they will fall short of 2 million. Like many of the small market franchises, survivability is not a given. For now they seem safely settled in the Northwest, but a few more bad years could see another threat for Seattle to lose the team.

A final note on the Mariners. Despite the fact that Seattle is one of only two franchises that has never participated in a World Series, the team has produced some excellent front line talent. Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, and Edgar Martinez are already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Ichiro Suzuki and Felix Hernandez will be as soon as they are eligible. Alex Rodriguez has the numbers of an all time great, but due to other issues is a questionable candidate for the Hall. Nobody questions Rodriguez’s accomplishments on the field, his peak was the best of the bunch, including Ken Griffey, while he was in Seattle. Why this hasn’t translated into more championships is a puzzle. Their one big opportunity came in 2001, when they won a record 116 games during the regular season. Even with all those wins they could do little in the postseason. It took them five tough games to down the 91 win Cleveland Indians in round one, then they were bounced out of the playoffs by the 95 win New York Yankees in five games in the ALCS.

Even when they had the best pitcher in the American League they couldn’t put together competitive seasons. The Mariners have not lacked in talent but have been unable to translate it to team success. They have become the franchise that couldn’t. Couldn’t win with Rodriguez, couldn’t win with Griffey, couldn’t win with Hernandez. They sit now in the Division with the Astros, who seem poised to be good for years as well as Mike Trout’s Angels. The future of the Mariners does not look any more promising than it’s past.

Catcher:

Seattle has never had a star catcher. Dan Wilson (1994-2005) is an obvious choice here. He was a good backstop, Bill James rates him a B+,  who hit like a catcher. He was selected to the All Star Game once, in 1996, and was the Mariners regular catcher in their 116 win season. 

First Base

Alvin Davis (1984-1991) is the best player to play first base regularly for the team. He was Rookie of the Year in 1984, when he was 23. He had some good seasons after that with lots of walks and medium range power. He did not age well, and was through by age 31. He’s the choice, unless we decide to move career DH Edgar Martinez (1987-2004) over there. Martinez was a DH in 1,403 of his 2,055 games played. He came to the Big Leagues as a third baseman and only played first base 28 times. He’s going to make the team somewhere, looks like it’s at First.

Second Base

The numbers say Robinson Cano (2014-2018) is the best second baseman in Mariner history. There’s a big asterisk next to that, due to his suspension in 2018 for PED use. Next in line would be Bret Boone (1992-1993, 2001-2005). Boone had his own steroid controversy, but his was a lot less credible than Cano’s. Jose Canseco, in his book, accused him, but Boone denied the allegation. This is one where we believe the accused, and therefore think Boone’s numbers are legit. Bret is the son of longtime Major League catcher Bob Boone, and the grandson of longtime Cincinnati Red Ray Boone, His brother is former Big Leaguer, and current Yankee manager, Aaron Boone. One of the most prolific baseball families in history. If we want to go with somebody who avoided the drug controversy altogether there’s Harold Reynolds (1983-1992). Reynolds was a two time All-Star who led the league in stolen bases in 1987 and triples in 1988. A Gold Glove in the field, he’s been a baseball TV personality since his baseball retirement at ESPN and the MLB Network. Not sure where to go here. The formula we use rates them Cano, Boone, Reynolds, in that order, with Cano and Boone significantly ahead of Reynolds. We’ll hold our nose, and pick Robinson Cano (2014-2018)

Third Base

By the metrics we use, Kyle Seager (2011-Present) is already the 6th best player in franchise history. He’s played third base over 95% of his time. What’s the problem? Where do we play the halfway performer,  Edgar Martinez (1987-2004). As much as we didn’t like the choice, Martinez is in the Hall of Fame, and by the formula we use is the second best player in franchise history. He has to go somewhere, and since he spent way more time at third base than first base (564-28), the hot corner seems to be the logical place to put him. However, Seagar was a more productive player than the choice at first, Alvin Davis. So we will keep Seager at 3rd and Martinez over Davis at 1st.

Shortstop

Alex Rodriguez (1994-2000) had a second and third place finish in the MVP voting during his years at shortstop in Seattle. He should have won it in 1996 when he hit .358, with 36 home runs and 123 RBI. Later, with Texas, he would win two Gold Gloves at short. His best years were the equivalent of any other Mariner, including Ken Griffey and Ichiro Suzuki. It ought to be mentioned that Alex Rodriguez played for 3 teams in his career, he has made all three of those teams Greatest Team lineups, including the stacked New York Yankees line-up.

Left Field

Raul Ibanez (1996-2000, 2004-2008, 2013) was the best Mariner who’s primary position was left field. The dilemma is what to do with the #2 rated right fielder? Jay Buhner (1988-2001) is the third best outfielder in Mariner history, but he only played left field 16 times (1,357 games in right). He was a Gold Glove in right, and finished in the top 20 in the MVP vote nine times, three times in the top ten. Pretty sure he could handle the position.

Center Field

Expectations when Ken Griffey Jr. (1989-1999, 2009-2010) entered the League were astronomical. He almost met them. While not Willie Mays, he finished his career as one of the 10 greatest center fielders of all time. A First Ballot Hall of Famer. A marvelous player. 

Right Field

Ichiro Suzuki (2001-2012, 2018-2019) didn’t have his first Major League at bat until he was 27 years old. He immediately led the American League in hits with 242. Three years later he set a Major League record when he amassed 262. He had a total of ten 200 hit seasons for the Mariners, accumulating 2,533 hits in his first stint in Seattle. Since he seldom walked, he had only one year with an On Base Percentage over .400, and his career number in Seattle was a rather mediocre .365. He did win an MVP in his rookie year in 2001, when the Mariners won 116 games. Due to his reluctance to walk, he was overrated, but a clear choice over Jay Buhner (1988-2001) in right field. 

Pitchers

In 2010 Felix Hernandez (2005-Present) posted a rather mundane 13-12 record for the Mariners. To the surprise of many, he still won the American League Cy Young Award. This was a turning point in how the baseball community rated pitchers. The SABREMETRICS people had taken over. “King” Felix has struggled the last few years, but he is clearly the best pitcher in franchise history.

Randy Johnson (1989-1998) finally conquered his control problems after four frustrating years in Seattle. When he did, he became a great pitcher. Unfortunately for Seattle they were unable to keep him much longer. In his last five seasons with the Mariners he would finish in the top three in the Cy Young vote four times, winning the award in 1995.

BALTIMORE, MD – AUGUST 5: Randy Johnson #51 of the Seattle Mariners pitches during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles on August 15, 1997 at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

#3 Jamie Moyer (1996-2006) wasn’t anything like Hernandez and Johnson. His fastball was nothing compared to the other two, but what he could do was control the strike zone. He won 20 games twice in Seattle, and 145 games overall with the team. A quality pitcher for many years.

Another pitcher who came up with Seattle, but they were unable to hang on to was Mark Langston (1984-1989). Langston went 74-67 in Seattle, a remarkable record considering how bad the team was. His best years were with the Angels, but he did enough for the Mariners to hold down the #4 spot.

Manager

The only manager to lead the Mariners into the playoffs was Lou Piniella (1993-2002). His overall record was 840-711. The next most wins for a Seattle manager is the current one, Scott Servais with 316. No controversy here.

MVP

We are going to wind up with Ken Griffey Jr. (1989-1999, 2009-2010) as the choice, but it’s not the slam dunk we originally thought. There is a case to be made for both Edgar Martinez (1987-2004) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001-2012, 2018-2019). When you look at the Mariners career leaders list you see Martinez leading in 16 offensive categories, with Ichiro leading in seven and Griffey in only four. In Mariner single season records Griffey doesn’t do much better, leading in six. Ichiro leads in eight and Martinez in nine. One explanation is that Junior was only in Seattle for 13 seasons, while Suzuki had 14 and Martinez 18. This cuts both ways. Griffey gets no credit for his years in Cincinnati, but the peak he reached in the 1990s is clearly higher than Martinez. Ichiro’s best years were also lower than Griffey, but by that account, Alex Rodriguez’ best years were better than all of them. We can eliminate ARod, because his peak performance doesn’t make up for his relatively short time in Seattle, but can we say the same for Griffey?

As we indicated, this is much closer than we anticipated. We choose Griffey because he finished in the top ten in the American League MVP vote in seven of his 13 years, he won a Gold Glove in center field in 10 of those seasons. Suzuki also won an MVP, but he only finished in the top ten in the voting three other times. Ichiro also won 10 Gold Gloves, but that was as a right fielder, which is less impressive than Griffey’s wins in center. Baseball analyst have demonstrated that the things Griffey did on offense, hit home runs and walk, are more valuable than what Suzuki did, hit singles. Griffey and Martinez’ offensive value is very close, actually Martinez is narrowly ahead, mostly due to his five extra years in Seattle, but Martinez had zero value on defense. The formula we use lists Griffey first, Martinez second, and Ichiro third, but it’s very close between the three. Our subjective judgement also is that Griffey was the more valuable of the three, so he’s the pick.   


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