2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part I: Run Prevention

It’s interesting how opinions can shift. Just two months ago, I was ranting and raving about the F-grade the Mariners deserved for this offseason (not necessarily the grade Jerry Dipoto & Co. earned, but the organization as a whole, starting first & foremost with ownership). Since then, it should be pointed out, three very important personnel moves were made. We traded for Jorge Polanco to shore up second base. We traded for Gregory Santos to shore up the back-end of our bullpen. Then, we signed Ryne Stanek after it became clear Santos (and Brash) wouldn’t be healthy enough to break camp with the Mariners out of Spring Training. You’re talking about some much-needed depth, and you’re also talking about – when healthy – a team that should at least hang around.

On top of those moves, the other thing that’s happened in the subsequent two months since I wrote that post is that the Mariners have had their entire Spring Training session. We have some more information than we did before. Even though we’re all loathe to talk positively about numbers, you can’t help but feel at least a little warm and fuzzy about hitters mashing the ball, and the stuff from your pitchers starting to come around.

I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve done a complete 180 on this team. But, between the additional moves, the exhibition performance, all the pundits and analytics being more bullish than bearish on this team, and the general optimism of spring and the new season directly before us, it’s hard not to have that … whatever the opposite is of cloud your thinking. Clear? Sunny up? They’ve gone and sunnied up my disposition – without my consent, I might add – and I’m not sure how to reconcile those feelings from two months ago.

You know what I hate? Being everyone’s “dark horse”. You know what else I hate? Being suckered into this fucking team, only for them to fall flat on their asses.

So, I’m trying to shut all that noise out and just focus on what my brain tells me. For starters, I have to give the usual caveat: all of this prognostication assumes we have an average amount of health (or better). Every team deals with injuries. Even the very best teams have to endure stretches where it feels like the baseball gods are whooping them with the ugly stick. The Rangers last year – World Series champions – had a spell in the second half where it looked like they might fall apart. But, they picked themselves up, steamrolled through the playoffs, and the rest was history. But, obviously, everyone remembers the 1996 Mariners, where Randy Johnson was lost for most of the year, and we also lost a good month from Ken Griffey Jr. Teams can’t endure the loss of their two best players for extended stretches and still hope to compete. If the 2024 Mariners lose Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez, no one is going to sit there and say, “Well, that’s just an average amount of baseball injuries.” It’s debilitating!

With that out of the way, let’s get going here. Since all I want to talk about is the hitting, we’re going to save that for Part II tomorrow. Right now, let’s get into the pitching and (a little bit on the) defense (at the end).

Baseball is tricky. You can’t sit there and say, “So and so is the most important guy on this team, and without him playing great, we have no chance.” It’s not football with the quarterback position. It’s not basketball with whoever your superstar is. Baseball is too much of a team sport. Yes, you need your stars to play well, but one guy can’t do it all. If that were the case, Mike Trout would be a champion countless times over.

You can’t even pin it all on a single pitcher, though I’ll contend until my dying breath that there’s nothing quite like an ace to dominate (particularly down the stretch of a pennant race). But, with the 2024 Mariners, we’re not even close to talking about them being contenders without this pitching staff, and especially this starting rotation. They’re the straw that stirs the drink. The most important aspect of this team, by far.

I don’t think you’re going to find a more talented one through five in Major League Baseball – nor one with a higher upside – than the one the Mariners are going to throw out there this seaason. Luis Castillo and George Kirby, right now, are among the best starters in all of baseball, and Logan Gilbert isn’t too far behind. And the pure, raw stuff of Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, and Emerson Hancock (who is slotting into Woo’s spot while he starts the season on the IL with a little bit of arm inflammation) makes them more than the ideal 4 & 5 starters. There’s the kind of potential that we just saw in the first couple of seasons with Kirby and Gilbert! Now, obviously, that’s no guarantee they’re going to turn into bona fide All Stars, but if the worst thing you can say is that the guys projected to be in the back of your rotation – with mid-to-high 90’s fastballs with tons of movement and some promising off-speed pitches – are going to get hit around every now and then, that’s a pretty great problem to have.

Do you know how many teams have absolute bums in the back-end of their rotation? Do you know how many teams are relying on soft-tossing journeymen a la Marco Gonzales to simply eat up innings? Meanwhile, the Mariners have nothing but power arms fisting their way through opposing lineups; it’s outstanding!

Obviously, the knock against the rotation is the lack of depth. But, what team doesn’t have that problem? With Hancock, I’ve already listed six guys who we like. The top three guys are better than most other teams have in their ace spots; and the bottom three guys are better than most every other team’s back-end. If those other teams suffer rotation injuries, I can only imagine the drop-off in quality!

The fact of the matter is, the Mariners are uniquely positioned to withstand the injury bug every now and then. Obviously, it would be ideal if we can get through the next couple months without losing any more starters – to give our bullpen an opportunity to heal up. But, with our home stadium, with our marine layer, and eventually when we get our bullpen figured out, I don’t have a big problem ceding a few outings to a Quad-A starter every now and then. Let him five & dive and hope your offense is up to the task to win a squeaker.

Now, that bullpen does come with some questions. I think we’re all in agreement that when our studs get healthy, a top four (in whatever order you choose) of Santos, Brash, Stanek, and Munoz, is as good as it gets. Again, in all of Major League Baseball. At that point, it almost doesn’t matter who else you put out there. Saucedo and Speier are reliable-enough. Trent Thornton could conceivably be due for a bounce-back, after having a full offseason in our throwing program. And, I’m sure there are plenty of under-the-rader arms in our organization who are poised to be the next Justin Topa or Paul Sewald. Until this unit lets me down, I have to believe we have what it takes to get the job done in the bullpen.

If this team is going to get back to the playoffs, it’s going to be on the arms to get the job done. For as good as they are, it would be helpful if the defense could pick things up behind them, but we’ll see.

By all accounts, we’re going to take a serious step back defensively. Which is kind of shocking, if I’m honest. I always remember Mitch Haniger being better than average. Has he really taken such a dive with age and injury? If he has, that’s a problem, because we’re clearly not as good in left field with the loss of Kelenic. I don’t even know if Luke Raley is competent out there! We might be on the hook for Super Utility Dylan Moore more than we’d like (that is, if he’s not covering for third base).

Speaking of which, is Luis Urias the worst defensive third baseman in baseball? We’ll find out! He sure as shit seems to be worse than Suarez. And I don’t know if Rojas or Moore are much better. Also, what are we going to get out of Polanco at second?

Seems like the potential for a lot of holes. That being said, I don’t care how old Haniger is, there’s no WAY he’s worse than Teoscar Hernandez. We still have Julio and J.P. And our catching figures to be among the best in baseball as well (or, at the very least, the most underrated).

I don’t know if we can count on this defense to carry us. But, as long as it isn’t a total hindrance, then the run prevention half of this team should be among the best in the American League. Certainly good enough to get us to the post-season.

Now, will the hitting do its part? Check back tomorrow (and the rest of this regular season) to find out!

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