Let me preface by saying that there are instances in the past where I may have, internally or publicly, rooted for the Angels to lose. It’s only natural. The team is out of playoff contention, and the system incentivizes losses for better draft position. Although in baseball, teams won’t see those players for a while, it’s not only about selecting better prospects higher up in the order but also accumulating more slot money to be able to sign players down-draft as well. Tanking is “good.”
This weekend, the Angels travel up north where the sun doesn’t set to take on the Seattle Mariners. The same Mariners who have made the playoffs zero times since 2001. And as the excitement of the weekend boils down to the AL Wild Card race, the Mariners are tied for the second spot with the Boston Red Sox, who travel to face the lowly Washington Nationals. Fangraphs gives the Mariners a 30.0% chance of making the playoffs.
But this series is not only about who makes the playoffs this season or who gets a better draft position for the 2022 MLB Draft. It symbolizes so much more.
As we all know, Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto used to be the GM for the Angels. After he joined Seattle, he started a teardown of the team, becoming known as “Trader Jerry.” Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano were shipped off to New York in his most high-profile move. He was executing a rebuild.
In hindsight, the Angels probably should have rebuilt over that time as well. But in each individual season, it’s hard not to feel like you have a shot at the postseason if you possess the greatest baseball player of the past decade, Mike Trout. It would have been unpopular to tear it down, and so the Angels retooled each season, bringing in a new crop of pitchers that never seemed to work. There may have been more optimism than in Seattle, but the results never materialized.
Now, in the division, the Houston Astros remain as strong as ever, even as they may lose Carlos Correa in the offseason. The Texas Rangers have exciting prospects who may be making their way to the Majors over the next few seasons. Oakland will potentially be executing a rebuild, but they always pull something out of their sleeve anyway. And there’s Seattle.
For the past half-decade, whenever the Angels looked at the state of the division, there may not have been playoff berths, but fans could be confident that they were in better shape than Seattle. “Dipoto doesn’t know what he’s doing!” we all cried. There didn’t seem to be a direction up there. But slowly, surely, the Mariners farm system has emerged. Jarred Kelenic has bounced back after a slow start to his career. Julio Rodriguez is a top prospect. Pitchers like Logan Gilbert and Emerson Hancock are arriving soon. This farm system is ranked #2 by MLB dot com.
It’s true that very soon, the Mariners may be the class of the division. Ahead of the Angels, ahead of everyone, Dipoto got the opportunity to execute the rebuild that he couldn’t in Anaheim. I just hope that, for one weekend, we can still believe, mirage as it might be, that we are still ahead of at least one team in the division, that the Mariners postseason streak stretches a futile twenty years, that the Angels were responsible.
Because sometimes it’s easier to cling onto false belief than look in the mirror.
Title Image from Mariners Twitter