Wikipedia claims that they have two requirements for this honor. Either the player must spend five or more years with the Mariners and make the Hall of Fame, or be a “career” Mariner and make the Hall of Fame Ballot. I’ll keep these two rules in mind while looking at players.
Now for the numbers.
Notes on the Numbers
Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.
There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.
The Already Retired Numbers
The Mariners, as mentioned, have not yet retired any numbers.
Compared to the League
The Mariners are, unsurprisingly, tied for last in the league in every way that I can measure (using career value or value just with the team; average WAR or median WAR; and bWAR or fWAR). The only other team in the majors to not retire a number is the Rockies. However, the Marlins are technically tied with both teams in any value category, as their one retired number is for their first team president. Of the five teams with one retired number or fewer, the Mariners are the only one to debut before 1993 (The Rays, Diamondbacks, and Marlins each have one retired number).
So Who’s Next?
It’s pretty obvious who be the first player the Mariners choose to honor. Barring any exceptions to the rules, you can mark 2016 as the year: that’s the year that Ken Griffey Jr. is first eligible for (and almost certainly voted in to) the Hall of Fame. Griffey doesn’t have the “career Mariner” tag, though, having only played with the team at the beginning (1989-1999) and end (2009-2010) of his career. His time with the Mariners got him 67.5 of his 78.5 career bWAR and 72 of his 84 career fWAR, which puts him first in franchise history by both measures. He is definitely the face of the franchise.
It’s also worth noting that Griffey had his number removed from circulation, both upon his departure for Cincinnati and again upon his retirement. Basically, the team refused to reissue the number 24 to anyone (except for Griffey himself, when he came back). Many teams use this as a precursor to formally retiring numbers, so looking at the numbers the Mariners have pulled from circulation can give us an idea of which numbers might be honored after Griffey’s.
Jay Buhner’s 19 has not been given to any player since he retired after 2001. He essentially was a “career Mariner”; only 32 of his 1,472 career games came with another team (and all of those came in 1987 and 1988, before the Yankees traded him to Seattle). Both bWAR (20.1) and fWAR (26) unanimously ranks him as the fifth best hitter in team history. He’s already appeared on a Hall ballot, so the team is likely just waiting to retire Griffey’s number before they honor anyone else.
Lou Piniella’s number 14 has also been out of circulation since he left the team, which in his case, was in 2002. His ten seasons at the helm (1993-2002) are easily the most by any one manager in team history. No one else even lasted four full seasons. Piniella also presided over the historic 116-win team in 2001, as well as all four of the Mariner’s playoff appearances. I’m not sure if the team will hold managers to the same rules as players, but there’s a good chance Piniella will make the Hall anyway, so it doesn’t matter too much.
Edgar Martinez is also among those with an out-of-circulation number 11. Martinez should be a Hall of Famer, but has been struggling to get momentum in his candidacy. Thankfully, it doesn’t matter for him, since he played all 18 years of his career with the Mariners (1987-2004). Both Fangraphs (70 fWAR) and Baseball-Reference (67.2 bWAR) place him second in franchise history.
Also, Randy Johnson’s number 51 was set aside after he was traded in 1998, but it was reissued upon the request of a certain someone in 2001 (give me time, I will get to that person next). Johnson is still ranked as the Mariners’ top pitcher, with 37.4 bWAR. He was only with the team from 1989 to 1998, but he’s also a Hall-lock, so he’ll be eligible. For his career, which lasted from 1988 to 2009, the Big Unit amassed 91.8 bWAR (as a side note, I didn’t officially use fWAR for pitchers in my study, but Johnson got 46 of his 115 career fWAR in Seattle). In addition, he is a member of both the 300 win club (with 303) and the 3,000 strikeout club (with 4,875, second all-time).
Looking down the team leader boards in bWAR and fWAR would be the next best place to look. Both lists of hitters place Ichiro third all-time. He is, to date a career Mariner, starting with the team in 2001, although I have a hard time imagining him NOT making the Hall of Fame. FanGraphs credits him with 52 fWAR, while Baseball-Reference gives him 54 bWAR. I would say his number is as much a lock as the other ones that I’ve mentioned. Although he shares his number with Johnson, I can’t see the team having an issue retiring 51 twice. They would hardly be the first team to retire a number multiple times.
The unanimous fourth-place choice isn’t as safe a bet. Alex Rodriguez played with the team from 1994 to 2000, making him a candidate under the “5 Year and Hall” Rule (and I do think that he’ll make the Hall of Fame someday). His time in Seattle saw him put up 37 of his 112 (and counting) career fWAR, and 37.1 of his 105 career bWAR. Leaving the team for more money probably hurt his chances, but it’s not like he spent an insignificant amount of time in Seattle.
It’s a bit of a fall from A-Rod to Buhner (11 fWAR and 17 bWAR). The list after Buhner, though, is much more closely bundled. bWAR has Bret Boone, Alvin Davis, and Mike Cameron as the next three players; all of them fall between 19 and 20 bWAR (for reference, Buhner has 20.1 bWAR). fWAR has the same three, but in a different order (Davis-Boone-Cameron), and all between 20 and 24 fWAR (again, Buhner has 26). It seems rather safe to say that this is roughly where the players become indistinguishable in career value; that is, none of them particularly stood out from the rest enough to merit recognition like Buhner and those above him did. Any other hitters will have to come off the active roster.
On the pitchers list, Jaime Moyer follows Johnson, 37.4 bWAR to 32.4. For his career, he has 47.3 bWAR. Moyer seems lacking in his Hall of Fame case, which is important, since he only played with the team from 1996-2006 (his career has lasted from 1986 to 2010, with a year off in 1992 and a chance of a comeback next year following surgery). Unless the team decides to interpret “career Mariner” as “spent a majority of his time a Mariner” or something along those lines, Moyer likely won’t make it. (FanGraphs gives him 29.6 fWAR, with 49 fWAR for his career).
Felix Hernandez is third on the pitchers list, and the last one before a sizable fall-off (he has a 9.6 bWAR lead on fourth-place Mark Langston and counting). He came up with the Mariners in 2005 as a nineteen year old, making this his seventh season. In addition, he’s signed through 2014, meaning he should stay there for a while. For his career so far, he has 28.1 bWAR and 31 fWAR.
The current major league roster provides the last two promising candidates, although both of them are rookies. Starter Michael Pineda is 22, and having a promising rookie season (which included an All-Star Game selection). Recently called up second baseman Dustin Ackley has been highly-touted as a prospect, and is off to a great start. Both are obviously too young to seriously project right now, but they are definitely worth mentioning.
So, In Closing...
The Seattle Mariners may not have the most candidates of any team I’ve covered yet, but they definitely have the most that I actually expect to see retired soon. I’d say that the top six on this list are all near-locks to get their numbers honored as of right now. The rest of the list is comprised of varying degrees of highly promising choices.
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the Seattle Mariners in the future are, in order:
Ken Griffey Jr.-24