Each series against a playoff team serves as a quality test for any football club. The Atlanta Braves are heading to T-Mobile Park for a three-game match against the Mariners this weekend not just the World Series Defenders, but a team that is once again among the MLB elite.
Atlanta (86-51) has the fourth-best MLB record, having won seven of their last 10 games. Enter the Braves lineup with 121 burners wRC + Since August 1, good for the 3rd best player in baseball. Ronald Acuna Jr. & Co have scored at least seven games in four of their last five matches. The cast was brave too, ranking 9th in the FIP Since 1 August.
As a team that has just reached the top of baseball and is trying to do so for the second consecutive season, the Braves provide the Mariners with a unique blueprint in building a championship rival, one that is already being put into action in the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle, of course, is a team that hasn’t breathed the top of the game since 2001, a playoff drought that will almost certainly be over within a month. The Mariners (77-60) are 8-2 out of their last 10 games and sit behind the Rise team in First place in the American League. They are outpacing fourth place by five games.
It’s not necessarily an apple-to-apples comparison between the Atlanta powerhouse and a fledgling Seattle franchise, but there are still some notable, applicable takeaways from how the Mariners reverse the Braves’ list-building tactics.
The front office in Atlanta has been announced for its primary domestic closure of the institution in the extension of long-term contracts. The strategy is simple yet widely seen as innovative: buy years of player control of the club for instant cash while saving money at the back end of the deal with the expectation that these players will continue to improve.
He started in 2019 with Acuña (eight years, $100 million) and continued with Ozzie Albies (seven years, $35 million), Austin Riley (10 years, $212 million) and Michael Harris (eight years, $72 million). Atlanta then used agency and free trade to build that small core with notable additions like Matt Olson, Charlie Morton and Kenley Janssen. The Braves currently rank ninth in gross salary of $181.8 million, still light years behind the Dodgers ($265.6 million), but comfortably above the league average of $148.8 million.
There’s no reason why the Mariners, who are currently ranked 22nd on the payroll at $114.9 million, can’t reach similar numbers this coming season or by 2024 at the latest.
Atlanta’s strategy is not at all alien to Seattle General Manager/Chief Baseball Operations Jerry DePoto. Remember, the Mariners signed Evan White to a six-year, $24 million contract extension in 2019. The deal didn’t progress well in Seattle, but that number is still marginal to the foundation’s bottom line (not to mention there’s still plenty of time) to come back. White is back with Seattle controlling the club until 2028). And even if White never discovered it, it could be confirmed as a good operation in hindsight given his Golden Glove-winning defense.
At the start of the 2022 season, Seattle’s flamethrower Andres Muñoz closed For four years, worth only $7.5 million. Contrary to White’s contract, the Muñoz deal is already aging to perfection like an old Walla Walla cabernet.
The Mariners also made the wise, if not rational, decision to lock up Julio Rodriguez in a massive long-term extension that could run into 2037. It would cost the franchise money for the next few seasons, those Julio was set to make relatively peanuts, but It would ideally provide the club tens of millions during its heyday as long as the Seattle phenomenon continues its meteoric rise.
And while the Mariners lineup isn’t loaded with young stars like the Braves, the rotation has already proven arms like Logan Gilbert and George Kirby that would certainly qualify as early candidates for an extension. Emerging prospect Emerson Hancock may not be far from them. There should be a significant financial extension for Luis Castillo along with a short-term deal for Mitch Hanegger as two additional internal options to increase the payroll.
Even the most optimistic Mariners fans wouldn’t try to argue that the Mariners did indeed join the Braves alongside the rest of baseball’s top contenders (although a case can be made when speaking strictly of the Seattle pitching crew), but they are ready their way.
And over the course of this upcoming three-game series, in front of an expected raucous crowd at T-Mobile Park, Seattle’s beloved M has the opportunity to prove that the gap continues to narrow.