Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais officially closed the doors on the 2017 season today, but unlike in seasons past, it's tough to slam the Mariners for their shortcomings.
The narrative all summer long was one of sympathy for a team riddled with injuries. The Mariners tied a major league record using 40 pitchers, including 17 different starters. Only two teams in the last 60 years used more than 17 starters in one season.
Throw in the injuries to position players, and you get the idea - a season lost.
But it's time to pull that sympathy train into the station, just as Dipoto and Servais did at their season-ending press conference.
Truth is, this team isn't that far away from a playoff spot, not winning the division. In fact, Dipoto was brutally honest about the Mariners contending for the AL West title, saying they have a long way to go to bridge the gap between where they are today and where the Houston Astros are as division champions.
Servais even admitted his team isn't "nipping at the Astros' heels," adding, "it's going to take some luck."
It's also going to take some pitching - and lots of it.
The Mariners don't have the luxury of, say, the Washington Nationals, whose starting rotation looks more like a Ferrari compared to the Mariners' Plymouth Duster that was in and out of the shop all summer.
Dipoto said the Mariners have to take a different approach to pitching next season. He called it a "wolf pack mentality," meaning pitching by committee. The Mariners can't rely on Felix, James Paxton or any other starters to eat up a lot of innings. He wants to use a "pack" of pitchers throughout the season to help lighten the workload on the starting rotation.
Did bad baseball contribute to the Mariners' sub-500 record? Sure it did. Servais admitted as much, from the veterans to the young guys.
What about the core of this team? Go around the infield. Seager, Segura, and Cano are solid, but there's still a revolving door at first base with Danny Valencia likely headed to free agency.
Dipoto did a nice job retooling the outfield with better athletes. We used to be able to count on one hand the great catches out there in one season. This season, you needed a spreadsheet to keep track. That group should stay intact with the exception of Jarrod Dyson, who will likely leave as a free agent.
The one guy you can't include in a group is Nelson Cruz. He stands alone. He's arguably the best free agent signing the Mariners ever made - tip of the cap to former GM Jack Zduriencik. Cruz ranked second on the team with a .288 average, behind only Segura, but he also played 30 more games than Segura.
In three years in Seattle, Cruz has done nothing but rake. His batting average over those three seasons was .292. He also averaged 42 home runs in that time. He's 37 years old and shows no signs of slowing down as he enters the final year of his contract.
He's easily the Mariners' MVP this season.
A number of guys deserve a nod for MGP - Most Grittiest Player. In my mind, Guillermo Heredia edges the competition. According to Dipoto, Heredia played with a dislocated shoulder all season. He said Heredia's shoulder popped out four different times during the season and each time Heredia put it back in place himself.
Most improved player goes to Mike Zunino. His monster June put him back on the map. In 124 games this season, Mike-Z hit 25 homers and 25 doubles. He finished the season hitting a career-best .251. You don't need much else from your catcher.
Looking back, it's really a minor miracle this team hovered around .500 until the final week of the season.
For that, Dipoto, Servais and of course the players deserve credit.
The injuries were more than excuses. They made the quest for a playoff spot almost a Mission Impossible, and even though the season self-destructed, the off-season assignment has no doubt been accepted.