Rebuilding projects take time, especially in baseball. In other sports, players are often ready to contribute to the team right after they are drafted. More is known about them and it's easier to project what kind of player that they will become. In baseball, a number one pick isn't a crapshoot but it is an educated guess to an extent that far exceeds what it's like to be a number one pick in the NBA or NFL.
So as you can imagine, projecting any players picked after first gets exponentially tougher. For better or worse, the Mariners top pick has mostly come in the top three under Jack Zduriencek and company, and it looks as though it will again in 2013. Perhaps the Mariners will even get the number one overall pick for the first time since 1993, the year they drafted Alex Rodriguez.
As we've hit the halfway point, the Mariners are 34-47 while the Padres (30-50) and Cubs (29-49) vie for the worst overall record in baseball currently but the M's are not far behind. Seattle could potentially have the worst record in the majors by the time the All-Star break gets here. However, the question isn't whether or not the M's could turn their season around but if they even should.
Seattle isn't mathematically eliminated from the playoffs but they are absolutely in every sense of the word, eliminated from the playoffs. Think about this: If the Mariners even wanted to finish the season at .500, they'd have to go 47-34 in the second half. The only teams in baseball with 47 or more wins right now are the Yankees and Rangers. On which planet are the 2012 Mariners as good as the 2012 Yankees or Rangers? And that's only to get to .500, not to make the playoffs. To make the playoffs they'd have to channel the 2001 Mariners and then amp them up on steroids.
Therefore, since we know that the Mariners aren't going to make the playoffs this year, should we root for wins or losses for the long-term success of the franchise? If recent drafts have told us anything then the answer might be that it doesn't matter.
At this point, the only thing that matters with the Mariners record is where they finish in the draft standings. Will it matter if Seattle tops Oakland for third place in the division? Will it matter if they did miraculously finish at .500? While you could make arguments for morality, chemistry, and momentum, none of those are tangible like the player that the Mariners will receive in next years draft compared to the one that they could have had.
Take 2009 for instance, when the Mariners won the last series of the season in 2008 and instead of picking Stephen Strasburg, probably more talented than any pitcher in the league, they were left with Dustin Ackley. Now, that's not to say that we can make strong arguments right now for or against either player, because their futures are not yet determined, but it could definitely set an example for when it's right to lose.
Under the guidance of GM Zduriencek, the Mariners have now had four drafts and they can say with confidence that they've been among the best in the majors during that time in that category. Recently, John Sickels of Minor League Ball put Taijuan Walker (5th), Danny Hultzen (7th), Nick Franklin (16th), James Paxton (57th), and Brad Miller (91st) in his Top 120 Prospects List. (Not to mention IFA Victor Sanchez at 111th and Carter Capps as an honorable mention.)
That's where the beauty of drafting in the top three twice and having the sandwich pick for Walker and the compensation pick for Franklin have made the Mariners future as bright as it's been in twenty years. The only major strikeout that the M's have to "answer for" is Steve Baron at 33 in 2009 and signing Josh Fields from the 2008 draft when they didn't really have to, but the depth and talent of the farm system is all thanks to this front office.
However, "your future" and prospects don't determine wins and losses of today. Wins and losses determines wins and losses, and the Mariners sure have had a lot of losses under this management. At some point, this teams future is going to have to be it's present. So, when should we demand that? Is now too early?
You'd think that in year four, the rebuild would be somewhere around R-E-B-U and that the team would start to show some more signs of life at the major league level. Afterall, this team has put a lot of it's stock in players like Ackley, Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero and Kyle Seager. They were all once part of the future and now they are part of the present, so why aren't the Mariners winning? Certainly, this organization has to be held accountable for the failures of Smoak and Ackley to start hitting, right?
They also instilled players like Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi as guys that could be viable back-end rotation replacements for Doug Fister and Erik Bedard, but they have been/were among the worst starters in baseball. I even have to ask myself if the Mariners were built to be a .500 team this year or if they were built to be a team that could simply field 25 men for 162 games as they transition to the next round of future franchise cornerstones. And that's the real heart of the matter: The future still isn't here yet.
For Seattle to have three top 25 prospects and potentially six top 100 prospects in baseball is something unlike what they have done before and not only are those players not in Seattle yet, they shouldn't be expected to. Walker is only 19 and has shown over the last month that he's not ready. Hultzen is pitching professionally for the first time this season and has not yet adjusted to AAA hitting. Franklin was just promoted to AAA and is also struggling. Catcher Mike Zunino is going to be a top 40 prospect going into next season, probably, and can't be forgotten as a guy that could arrive right around the same time that Walker and/or Miller do.
When you look around at the organization as a whole, you'll see just why they are at R-E-B-U in a rebuild project and might even be further than that. Seattle has one of the best farm systems in baseball, stocked not only with high-level talent like Walker but with depth that shows that even if Smoak struggles or if Beavan can't be a major league starter, there's a few guys ready to take their place or will be ready soon. This is exactly quite an exciting time to be a Mariners fan, just as long as you aren't looking at the major league scoreboard.
So as the second half of the season starts shine over the horizon, should we win or should we lose? Scrape for a respectable season to show that the team actually is getting better, or root for the players to do really well in losses while winning every Felix Hernandez start?
I say... just root for Mariners. Whether that's the team for you, or just the players with the name on their jersey, just root for Mariners. The future is going to be just as bright with a major league win as it will with a major league loss, because the majority of players that will turn this franchise around are either in the minors or just starting to scratch the surface (like Montero) in the majors. And whether or not the M's pick 1st, 2nd, or 43rd, they've shown a high-level of ability to grab elite talent.
Apply shades to your face. I say this future is still quite bright.