It’s Almost Hilarious How Bad The Mariners Are At Adding To The Big League Club

Earlier in the week, I wrote about a bunch of former Mariners and talked about how they’re doing on their new teams. Some are doing great, some are having terrible seasons, and a lot of them are in the squishy middle.

I’ve also spent all season writing about how bad most of the new Mariners are, as well as how bad a bunch of longtime Mariners have been. It’s truly mindblowing how God awful this offense is. And yet, here we are, in first place in the division – thanks to an elite pitching staff – and we’re talking about this team making deadline deals in hopes to bolster our playoff chances.

But, are we sure we want THIS group of front office people making those decisions?

Who are the biggest offseason players we brought in to try to turn things around after a disappointing 2023? Mitch Haniger, Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver, Luis Urias, and Luke Raley. They’ve all been terrible except for Raley, who has been good. Not great, not a difference-maker. Just, not the fucking worst like those other four guys.

So, let’s go back to the trade deadline last year; who did we bring in? Dominic Canzone and Josh Rojas. Canzone has flashed competence, but has mostly been wretched. Rojas has been good. Not great, not a difference-maker. Just, not the fucking worst.

You can come back and tell me that you need good players like Raley and Rojas, and I won’t argue with you. But, every hitter on the Mariners who isn’t the fucking worst is good. Just okay. Julio has been good. Cal has been good. Ty and J.P. have had their moments. Dylan Moore has been fine. Right now, I would lump all of those players together; they’re all the same. They’re all just kinda meh.

We can keep going backwards. Who did we bring in ahead of 2023? Kolten Wong, A.J. Pollock, Tommy La Stella, and Teoscar Hernandez. Three pieces of shit and one good player.

In 2022 – when we finally broke the curse and made it back to the playoffs – we brought in Jesse Winker, Adam Frazier, Carlos Santana, and Eugenio Suarez. Winker was a colossal bust, Frazier was a dud, Santana was mostly bad (with a precious few bright spots), and Suarez was good (until 2023, when he was bad again).

In 2021, we brought in Abraham Toro at the deadline; a total and complete nothing. We also traded for Jake Bauers, who was even less than nothing. That wasn’t much of a year for trades or free agents, because we were still in rebuild mode.

But, just look at that track record! Who are the veteran players we acquired who were worth a damn?!

There’s an argument to be made that – when it’s all said and done – Josh Rojas will have been the best of the bunch, if he isn’t already. A journeyman, soon-to-be 30 year old infielder; THAT is the best veteran acquisition we’ve made on the hitting side of things in the Jerry Dipoto Era.

And this is the leadership group we want to entrust with our ballclub next month at the trade deadline.

You wonder why I’m so nervous about what’s going to happen?

Don’t get me wrong, this team has nailed pitchers. Luis Castillo, A+. Robbie Ray, B-. Damn near everyone in the bullpen? Gold stars all around! And, I would give them kudos for the players they’ve drafted, or otherwise fostered from very young prospect status. Julio, Cal, J.P., the rest of our starting pitchers, Munoz, Brash … that’s a core you can write home about.

Which brings me around to my ultimate point: maybe this organization should do what it does best. Maybe they should stick with their own prospects that they’ve developed and nurtured over the years. Maybe it’s smarter to be more patient and wait for them to be ready for the Majors.

Because whenever we try to go out and get some veteran help to have a positive immediate impact? It seems to end in total and complete failure. No one ever plays up to the backs of their baseball cards. No one is a sure thing, unless that “sure thing” is to come to Seattle and suck ass. Doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, on the cusp of the Major Leagues, or smack dab in the middle of your prime; odds are, if you come here, you’re going to turn into a turd.

So, maybe skip that step. Because it’s not going to work out anyway, and it’ll come with the added detriment of also giving away potentially-useful players to other teams. Fuck it, the Mariners are mediocre. But, making a bunch of trades to blow up your farm system is a surefire way to ensure we’re not only bad now, but for years to come.

Stick to your guns! I’m starting to get used to the 54%. It’s all we deserve.

There Was A Mariners Hullabaloo

Mariners fans were Big Mad this week, after the end-of-season press conference with Jerry Dipoto and company.

They kind of downplayed how big of a failure the 2023 season actually was. They made excuses. They tried the silver lining tact. There was something about the goal not being Going All In On A World Series, but to win 54% of your games over a 6-10 year span (the idea being, if you average a 54% winning percentage, the good seasons will out-weigh the bad seasons, and odds are you’ll see a World Series appearance somewhere in there as a result). And, probably the most insulting thing of all was the (presumably) joke about them doing the fanbase a favor in asking for even more patience than we’ve already expelled over the last … all the years of the Mariners’ existence.

Quite honestly, it’s something you’d think I’d be furious over. It’s something you’d think I’d be on here – moments after the press conference’s conclusion – ripping the organization new assholes left and right. But, I dunno. It’s hard for me to get mad at this stuff anymore. It’s pointless. It’s like being mad at whatever a politician says in a press conference or at a debate or something. Jerry Dipoto is a consummate politician, so I inherently don’t trust whatever he says, charming and affable as he may be.

Like that line about how the Mariners’ payroll in 2024 is going to go up. Yeah, no duh, because the contracts already on the books are set to increase (Julio, Castillo, etc.). They say something like that, and it’s supposed to placate the masses, making us believe, “Oh, they’re going to go out and spend more money!” That’s not to say they won’t – they very well might – but it’s a completely empty statement in reality.

Of course, we thought they were going to go out and spend more money last offseason, and look at what happened: Kolten Wong, A.J. Pollock, Tommy La Stella. What was their excuse? “We actually did the bulk of our offseason moves during the 2022 season, extending Julio and Castillo.” What a crock.

It’s political speak. The whole press conference was theater. Poorly executed theater that likely backfired on them when it came to soothing the fanbase. It’s more baffling than anything; they’ve reached the level of politician who believes he’s never going to be ousted from office: saying whatever they want, not really giving two shits about PR. Did they really think their comments were going to go over well? Did they really think the idiotic points they made weren’t going to overshadow the larger narrative?

So, why am I not mad like everyone else? Because I don’t care about what they say; I care about what they do.

The time to be mad isn’t now. Well, it is, but the reason to be mad is for what happened that led to this premature conclusion. Looking back at all the shitty moves (or non-moves) that led to lineups populated by Mike Ford, Sam Haggerty, Jose Caballero, Dylan Moore, Josh Rojas, and Dominic Canzone. Looking back at the loss of Paul Sewald as a very real catalyst towards torpedoing the end of the season (I have to admit, I was wrong about that one; though I still contend we should’ve gotten more for such a stud reliever). Looking back at all the free agents we could’ve had, the trades we could’ve made, and thinking this roster was ready to truly contend for a World Series back in April.

But, at some point, you have to let it go. 2023 is done. Now it’s time to look to 2024 and what this organization can do to improve its product on the field.

On some level, I get what Jerry Dipoto is trying to do here. We’ve all been burned a lot of times by the big albatross free agent contract. Sometimes it works out, at least in the short term; the Rangers are immediate examples of that. But, oftentimes you’re getting that player past his prime, and you’re stuck with that player long after he’s a useful cog.

You want to build from within, first and foremost. You want to draft and develop well, you want to call those guys up as early as is practical, and you want to get the most out of those guys when they’re still cost-effective. You want to reward the very best of those guys with long-term deals and cement them as the core of the team. Looking, again, at Julio, at Cal, at the bulk of the starting rotation by season’s end, and a good chunk of our bullpen.

You also want to take your chances on trades, to supplement that core. But, you don’t necessarily want to blow up the farm system as a result. You want to make sure you keep your very best prospects, while trading away the more expendable ones. You want to bring in guys with more than a year of club control, but also guys who have proven to be great at the Major League level. It’s okay to take some chances on guys who have mastered the AAA level, but the problem with that is for every Mitch Haniger, it seems like there’s 4-5 Abraham Toros. And it also seems like the Mariners have a penchant for seeking out those AAAA-type players, over legitimate Major Leaguers who have a better chance to help right away (and not necessarily a year or two from now).

The Mariners do have a plan. It may not be the plan that most fans like, but they do have a vision for how to build this roster. But, you still have to execute. No one cares how the sausage is made; they just want to have a delicious meal when it’s time to eat.

What the Mariners can’t do is what they did last offseason. They can’t put their focus on the fringes of free agency, on past-their-prime platoon partners for guys like Dylan Moore and Jarred Kelenic. Why we were putting so much emphasis on Moore being a near-everyday player is beyond me; anyone could see that plan was flawed from the very beginning. We did get a good start out of Kelenic, but he eventually fell back into old patterns, and by season’s end was totally sapped of all his power. 7 of his 11 homers came in the month of April. 10 of his 11 homers were hit by May 22nd. He had exactly 1 extra-base hit after his return from the IL. The injury and resultant layoff probably had a lot to do with that, but what’s his excuse for June and July?

Again, I’m not the kind of guy who needs a bunch of high-priced free agents, but the Mariners HAVE to bring in someone this year. I say that like it’s a guarantee, knowing very much that it’s not. They don’t have to do anything! With the way that press conference went, I get the vibe that they’re going to double-down on what they did last offseason.

But, the point is, I’m not going to get mad about it until next year. Let it play out. See what they end up doing. If our worst nightmares come to fruition, we largely do nothing, and suffer another season without the playoffs, then I think we have to have a serious conversation about the direction of this team. We can’t sit around and wait for the next wave of prospects to arrive from the minors. That’s 2-3 years away from being a viable option. That’s 2-3 years out of the primes of guys like Julio, Cal, J.P., Castillo, Kirby, Gilbert, Brash, and Munoz.

That’s 2-3 years, frankly, I don’t want to wait for this team to be a World Series contender in the World Series.

It’s not impossible to get there in 2024. But, the organization can’t blindly hope for positive regression and Major League-level development. They need an infusion of talent at the bottom of the order, on the bench, and in the bullpen. They need to take some of the load off of the rotation and this team’s young crop of superstars. They can’t have this razor-thin margin of victory. They can’t leave it to the Fun Differential gods, a crazy-good record in 1-run games and/or extra innings. They can’t just run it back and hope for different results. You can have a limited amount of hope for guys to improve. Maybe Miller and Woo take a step forward. Maybe Ty France re-finds his swing at Driveline. Maybe Suarez is able to lean into a few more homers. But, that can’t be the whole plan.

Unless they’re being extremely literal about that 54% crack. Because at 88 wins, they fucking NAILED it this year.

We’ve seen the Mariners come a game or two short a lot over the last 10-15 years. More than any fanbase deserves, considering we’ve never even sniffed a World Series appearance. Perennially winning 54% of their games is a great way to see us invested to the bitter end (emphasis on bitter). But, it’s not something I’m particularly interested in seeing come to fruition, at least in the literal sense.

The Mariners Wrapped Up A Limp, Syphilitic Trade Deadline By Trading For A DFA’d Reliever

Meanwhile, the Astros re-acquired Justin Verlander, and pretty much everyone in the playoff race got better than the Seattle Mariners.

I don’t even know what to say. I’m flabbergasted. I can’t comprehend what it is the Mariners are doing. For anyone wondering, here’s the total breakdown:

  • Kolten Wong (2B) DFA’d by Mariners after being unable to find a trade partner
  • Eduard Bazardo (RP) acquired from Baltimore after being DFA’d, for minor leaguer Logan Rinehart; he’ll start out in Tacoma for now
  • PTBNL or Cash acquired from San Francisco for A.J. Pollock and minor league nobody Mark Mathias (and also cash)
  • Josh Rojas (UTIL), Dominic Canzone (OF), and Ryan Bliss (INF) acquired from Arizona for Paul Sewald
  • Trent Thornton (RP) acquired from Toronto after being DFA’d, for minor leaguer Mason McCoy

Thornton joined the club last night, along with Rojas and Canzone. Wong and Pollock being given the ax were the easiest moves of the week and the team gets no credit for moving on. Rojas is a player on the decline at this point, and platooning him with Caballero seems like a nightmare. It also seems like Dylan Moore had been playing extremely well of late, and I wonder where he’s been after his 2-homer game.

Replacing Sewald with these nothing relievers seems like a total slap in the face. It’s discouraging to say the least that the majority of the young guys we’ve called up so far this season have been kind of disasterous, but the bullpen REALLY doesn’t feel like the strength it’s been the last couple years.

Not for nothing, but this would’ve been a prime opportunity to re-acquire Kendall Graveman. I’m just saying.

What you’re really telling me with this trade deadline is it all boils down to one guy: Canzone. The relievers are meaningless, but also probably bad. The utility guy is a utility guy, who probably isn’t any better than Moore or Haggerty (or Wong for that matter). The minor leaguer won’t be ready for a year or two, if ever. So, we’re banking this whole trade deadline on Canzone, a guy just breaking into the Major Leagues, who is a coin flip at best. Sure, he’s hit at every minor league level, but that means nothing, especially once you get called up to play in Seattle. See: Abraham Toro.

If we were going to shoot our wad on one guy, why didn’t we just trade Paul Sewald for one guy? One ESTABLISHED guy who could actually make an impact immediately and down the line?

Also, what does this mean for next year? Are you telling me the Mariners are going to give Teoscar a qualifying offer? We’re going to bring him back? Then what? Is he going to DH? What if Canzone – by the grace of all that is holy – actually pans out? It’s him and Kelenic and Julio? I guess that’s a good problem to have, but if he doesn’t pan out, then we’re absolutely no better than we were this time last week. In fact, we’re considerably worse. Because I have to believe there’s a better than good chance that Teoscar walks after this season, to try to re-establish his value in a more hitter-friendly environment. We get a whatever draft pick for giving him the qualifying offer, and that’s it, huh? That’s better than whoever we could’ve gotten in a trade right now?

The other thing you’re telling me is that you’re passing the blame fully on the players. I understand they get a share of the blame. They have to. Too many of our “core” guys have underperformed at the same time. But, the organization is totally passing the buck on their role in this whole mess. Bringing in Wong and Pollock and La Stella and Hernandez. Every offseason move last year was a FUCKING DISASTER! None of those guys panned out. All but one were actively worse than a replacement-level player, and Teoscar certainly wasn’t the kind of middle-of-the-order hitter we desperately needed.

So, what did we do? Traded for a bunch of replacement-level players. Great.

The dirty little secret here is the Mariners are doing the same thing they did LAST time Shohei Ohtani was up for bids: they’re clearing the decks financially, in order to get beaten by some other team that’s going to blow him away with an insane offer. Then, once we’ve lost that race, we’re going to have no one else we’re able to aquire to fill that giant void.

What a fucking shitshow. That’s the Mariners for ya. We got who we got and we’re going to die with what they’re not giving us at the plate. Fun.

Do The Mariners Have What It Takes To Get To 90 Wins?

And, more importantly, is 90 wins enough to get the Mariners in the playoffs?

As we sit here, the Mariners have played 89 games out of a 162-game season. Doing my very best mathematics, I believe that means there are 73 games left to go. In those first 89 games, the Mariners have gotten to 45 wins. I know we talk about pre- and post-All Star Break as the first and second “halves”, but as you can clearly see from my math above, we don’t actually have half of our games remaining. We have considerably less than half. And yet, somehow, we have to find a way to double our win total just to get to 90 wins, in 16 fewer games. Which, as I noted above, might not even be enough to get us in the playoffs.

The Mariners have dug themselves an annoying little hole here. Let’s take a look at the damage before we assess the likelihood of pulling out of this nosedive.

The Mariners are 45-44, in third place in the A.L. West. We had been in fourth place for most of the season, until this 7-2 stretch to close out the first half led to us taking a game lead over the Angels. But, we’re 4 games behind Houston and 6 games behind Texas. That’s not completely insurmountable, but obviously a tall order.

As for the wild card spots, we’re squarely in the thick of it. There are 8 teams (not counting the current division leaders) in the running for 3 spots. Currently, those spots are held by the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Astros. Since we know the Mariners are 4 games behind the Astros, that means we also know the Mariners are 4 games out of the final wild card spot. There are two other teams ahead of us as well: the Yankees are 3 games better, and have a tiebreaker over us thanks to winning 4 of 6 in our season series; the Red Sox are 2 games better, and are currently leading the tiebreaker advantage by having beaten us 2 of 3 times so far.

I should also point out, for tiebreaker purposes, that both the Blue Jays and Orioles have a 2 of 3 advantage so far. The Angels lead our season series 4-2, the Guardians have already won a tiebreaker advantage over us 4-3, and Texas has a 5-1 advantage. Currently, we have an edge over the Rays 2-1 (probably meaningless, since they figure to have a far-and-away better record than us by season’s end, and will likely win their division), the Astros (a significant 5-2 lead, with 6 games to go), and we’ve yet to play the Twins, which feels important if – indeed – the Mariners have decided to start playing more competent baseball.

So, there’s kind of a lot to overcome. It’s never easy, is it?

To get to 90 wins, the Mariners will have to go 45-28, or win at a .616 clip the rest of the way. That’s very nearly winning 2 of 3.

I mean, it’s not impossible, but it also leaves us with a razor thin margin for error. Is this team capable of going 45-28? Sure. If the pitching holds up (meaning: both it performs well, and doesn’t suffer any more catastrophic injuries). If the hitting turns itself around. It’s not like we’ve gotta turn into a completely new team; we just need to do a little bit better than we’ve been doing all year. Maybe a new bat helps. Or maybe we’re not able to find that difference-maker, but a guy or two already on the roster starts playing to his expected abilities.

There are some built-in challenges we have to overcome as well. Bryan Woo almost certainly won’t make it to the end of the season. He has a hard innings limit, and I don’t think there’s a way for us to manipulate that without risking his arm long term. My hope here is that he’s able to bridge the gap between Marco Gonzales’ IL stint. But, I haven’t heard any news about Marco in quite some time.

There’s also the Bryce Miller factor. This IL stint for a blister issue might be the best thing for him and us. I believe we have a little more leeway with Miller as far as an innings limit is concerned, but at some point his season is likely to end before we get to the playoffs, even if it is in September. There doesn’t appear to be any guarantee that Marco comes back, but even if he does, there’s a strong likelihood we may need another starter at some point. That means any number of Quad-A guys in Tacoma (like Tommy Milone, for instance, or Darren McCaughan), or maybe we give Emerson Hancock the ball (who surely has innings issues of his own, not to mention a shaky start to his AA season).

Does all this mean the Mariners might need to bring in another starter? I doubt we’ll do that – unless someone gets hurt in the next three weeks – but you never know.

Gun to my head: what do I predict?

I think the smart money is on the Mariners NOT making the playoffs. What needs to happen for this to come to fruition is simple: the Mariners need to continue playing the way they’ve played all year. We will, at some point, make a trade, but I can’t imagine it will be for any sort of high-impact bat. I think it’ll be one of those hedge moves. Maybe it’s a guy with club control – where we can shed Wong and/or Pollock – of the Abraham Toro variety. Maybe there’s an aging Carlos Santana type to be had for cheap. But, what’s working against us is the simple fact that there are so many good teams looking for improvements (11 out of 15 teams in playoff contention the American League alone, with another 8 out of 15 in the N.L. all within just a half-game of the post-season, not counting the Padres and Cubs, who have losing records but positive run differentials). So, either the Mariners have to over-spend in trade to get someone who might not even be enough to get us to the playoffs anyway, or we settle for someone on the fringes and hope for the best.

Conversely, what needs to happen for the Mariners to right the ship?

We need Julio, Eugenio, and Cal to all pick up their games significantly on the offensive side of things. We need Teoscar, Ty, Jarred, and J.P. to just be who they’ve been and no worse. We need a little more out of second base, whether that’s Wong getting hot or Caballero being more than just a walk machine. And then we just need a bat to be in that middle range of Teoscar/Ty/Jarred. Like a Mike Ford, or a Tom Murphy, or an A.J. Pollock, or TBD.

But, the majority of this stretch run needs to be dominated by our stars: Julio, Eugenio, and Cal. Those are our monsters, and it’s about time for them to be unleashed.

On the pitching side of things, no notes from our starters, other than: no more injuries. As for the relievers, I want to see some unsustainable hot stretches from our back-end-of-the-bullpen guys. Brash, Munoz, and Sewald. No more blown saves. No more back-breaking homers allowed. Just zeroes, by whatever means necessary.

I believe in Julio. I think he has a helluva second half in store. I’m less bullish on Suarez or Raleigh. And the bullpen kinda scares me a little bit.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to root like crazy. That doesn’t mean there’s a small, simple part of me – buried deep down, underneath decades of insufferable Mariners play – that believes in a playoff run. If it happens, it’ll be up there with the ’95 comeback. But, I’m bracing myself for disappointment. This is the way.

The Mariners Need Teoscar Hernandez To Be Great

Writing about an individual before the season has even started is the ultimate kiss of death for the weak-willed motherfucker.

If you wanted to put the 2022 Mariners in a nutshell, you’d say that they got to where they were because of their pitching, but ultimately failed to go any further because of their hitting. A 1-0 loss in 18 innings to end our playoff run isn’t a perfect microcosm of that team, but it’ll get the job done.

After this most recent offseason, I think it’s safe to say the 2023 Mariners will go as far as their pitching will take them, and ultimately fail to go any further because of their hitting. That’s not a reason for dismay, necessarily, because an argument can be made that their pitching is set to be even better this year, while there’s always a chance for the hitting to also be improved.

To put it politely, there’s a lot of room for variance among the bottom third of the lineup. But, I think we’re all banking on the upper two-thirds to be as advertised. Julio Rodriguez is going to play like a superstar. Ty France is going to be steady while he’s healthy, and he’s going to slowly break down over the course of the season as he leads the league in being hit by pitches. Eugenio Suarez is going to lead the team in homers and strikeouts. Cal Raleigh is going to be one of the most valuable catchers in the game. And Kolten Wong is going to bring veteran at-bats to every game he plays in. Even if the bottom third stinks, it’s going to give us occasional bouts of competence (at the very least), and when you wrap it all up, that should make the Mariners – with the pitching we’ve accumulated – playoff participants for the second year in a row.

There’s a real wild card here who could make all the difference. For once, I’m not talking about the impending breakout season of Jarred Kelenic. No, this time I’m talking about our lone major hitting addition this past offseason: Teoscar Hernandez.

Last year, we were saddled with far too many games featuring a massively-underperforming Jesse Winker, and a wildly-disappointing Abraham Toro, with precious too-few games from Mitch Haniger. That’s just a lot of turmoil for an outfield (Toro obviously played a lot of second base as well, but he was also a utility outfielder at times), which we had hoped was going to be one of our biggest strengths. Hernandez will hopefully stabilize things a little bit.

He’s a two-time Silver Slugger who’s averaged over 20 homers in every non-COVID season the last five years. Easily his best season came in 2021 when he hit a career high 32 homers, while slashing .296/.346/.524. That’s the ceiling. At least, for now.

He’s also in his age 30 season, heading into the final year of his contract. He just lost an Arbitration case with the Mariners, meaning he’s only getting $14 million instead of the $16 million that he wanted. With the way free agents are racking up the dough with these contracts nowadays, he’s in line for a massive payday after this season. So, he has all the motivation in the world to overcome the marine layer in Seattle and play his absolute best ball of his life.

And, frankly, the Mariners need it.

Our margin for error is razor thin, when it comes to competing with the Astros for the division. We need everything to break right, up to and including Teoscar and/or Julio playing like the MVP of the American League. But, given how injury luck can strike, along with the natural variance of the game of baseball, it also wouldn’t shock me if the Mariners weren’t quite locks to even make a wild card spot. Getting the most out of Hernandez would go a long way toward ensuring we don’t come up a game or two short at the end.

The worst case scenario for all involved is for Hernandez to hit the IL for a significant portion of the season. That’s going to – depending on the injury – drastically reduce his value in free agency, while at the same time severely hamper our ability to compete this season.

The best case scenario for all involved is for Hernandez to jack 40+ homers, hit around .280, and knock in 90+ RBI, followed by some other team overpaying for his services next offseason (or, if the Mariners do sign him to an extension, then he turns into a young Nelson Cruz in his prime).

With Teoscar in that group of guys at the top of the lineup, crushing the ball like he’s never crushed it before, we could really do some damage this year! There’s nothing more fearsome than a talented player in contract year. If you can factor that in with more DH days for Ty (to rest his body), with more familiarity by Suarez when it comes to facing A.L. pitching, and with a skyrocketing career trajectory by Julio, there’s no telling how far this team can go. It’s not necessarily about winning the division (though, that would be most delightful), it’s about getting hot come playoff time and riding our pitching to a World Series championship.

Can The Mariners Overtake The Astros In 2023?

As we get closer to the start of Spring Training – which commences in a couple weeks – it’s looking less and less likely that the Mariners will make a big, impactful move to improve this year’s team. Although, to be fair, the Winker/Suarez deal came down in mid-March last year, so it’s not impossible for something huge to come down the pike. Nevertheless, we can only render judgments on things as we know them today.

And today, we have a team that added Teoscar Hernandez, Kolten Wong, Trevor Gott, and A.J. Pollock; they lost Mitch Haniger (Giants), Kyle Lewis (Diamondbacks), Jesse Winker (Brewers), Abraham Toro (Brewers), Adam Frazier (Orioles), Carlos Santana (Pirates), and Erik Swanson (Blue Jays), among others. Feels like a wash to me. We’re REALLY banking a lot of our hopes and dreams on Hernandez and Wong coming to Seattle and continuing their relatively high-quality play. I get why we made these moves – Haniger is an injury waiting to happen, Winker and Toro were busts here, Frazier and Santana might be over the hill – but I can see a world where Winker bounces back when fully healthy, and where Haniger manages to keep his body right and not succumb to some more atrocious injury luck.

The justification for not spending a lot in free agency, or taking a lot of money on in trades, is due to our extending Julio Rodriguez and Luis Castillo in the middle of last year. Somehow, those two get lumped into our Hot Stove tally sheet by the Mariners, mostly to play down the complaints that the M’s are fucking tightwads, but that’s neither here nor there. They are who they are.

I’m not as up in arms as a lot of fans are. For the most part, I think the Mariners are building the right way. I’m already on record as saying I hate these big-money deals for outside free agents (the Robinson Cano conundrum). And I understand the farm system took a hit in the rankings – thanks to guys graduating to the Majors, and other guys getting traded away in the Castillo deal – so there’s not a ton of value left to jettison. It’s smart to not completely gut our minors just to bring in one more guy, especially if we’re not necessarily One More Guy away from winning a World Series. What I take issue with is the fact that there were mid-tier free agents out there who we could’ve signed to mid-level free agent deals – knowing we needed at least one more outfielder, as well as someone to rotate at DH – and we opted for A.J. Pollock. I think that’s going to burn us; I hope I’m wrong.

At some point, we have to move forward with the team we’ve been given. Which brings us to the question at hand: can the Mariners overtake the Astros in 2023?

This question assumes, of course, that the Mariners and Astros are the two best teams in the A.L. West, and by “overtaking the Astros”, it means the Mariners will win the division. For the sake of argument, then, let’s just further assume there’s no huge surprise team among the Angels, Rangers, or Athletics (who I would expect to finish in that order at the bottom of the division, though there’s always the chance the Rangers make a leap).

I’ll start with this: I haven’t kept great tabs on the Astros’ wheelings and dealings this offseason. I’m just taking it for granted they’re going to be at least as good as they were in 2022. Meaning: they’re probably good enough to win over 100 games. Last year, the Astros won 106 games, and were 16 games better than the Mariners. So, that’s the gap I’m talking about. Can we make up 16 games on them?

Well, for one thing, since we only play them 13 times – down from the usual 19 – there are fewer opportunities to gain ground in head-to-head play. But, as we’ve seen pretty much since the Astros joined the American League, that actually means there are fewer opportunities for them to beat our brains in. In my mind, that can only be a good thing for the M’s.

There are two, MAYBE three major things that I’m pointing to as reasons for optimism. The big two being: Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez. As much as I loathe including them as part of our overall spending this offseason, I do think there’s a legitimate argument to be made in favor of the Mariners picking up some wins in 2023.

Recall we traded for Castillo on July 30th last year; this year, we get him for the full season! (I should point out that this post also has to assume that everyone I write about stays healthy all year, or at least the vast majority of the games, for all teams involved; of course, the M’s could overtake the Astros if their top five guys all go down with ACL tears). Castillo was a 1 WAR player for the Mariners over the final two months; he counted 3.1 WAR for the Reds. What difference will he make at the top of our rotation every 5-6 days (depending how deep of a rotation we opt to go with to start out) for a full six months? I think that’s pretty significant.

Also recall that Julio Rodriguez was effectively worthless in the month of April last year, as he was getting his footing at the Major League level. Now he’s an All Star who should play at a very high level from Day 1. Having that experience last year can only boost him that much more in year two (let’s hope there’s no Sophomore Slump!). You can also say something similar about Cal Raleigh; he was officially demoted to Tacoma for a short spell before injury thrust him back to Seattle, where he FINALLY turned it around. I’m a little more concerned about his effectiveness this year; he’s still pretty boom or bust at the plate. But, let’s just say he SHOULD be as good as he was in the second half last year, and if we get that for a full season, it’ll be a nice lift for this offense in the months of April and May.

Finally, as a little bonus, I’ll just quickly add that the training wheels are officially off of Logan Gilbert, and the experience he’s had through two seasons will hopefully propel him towards one of those upper rotation slots. If he’s not a second ace on this team, I would expect him to be at least an effective #2. His career trajectory to date has been remarkable, and there’s still room for him to get better. We’re just getting into George Kirby’s second season, where it’s expected the training wheels are very much still on (considering he pitched a lot more as a rookie than the team expected going into last year). But, his ceiling looks to be even higher than Gilbert’s, so as long as these guys don’t have any major setbacks, you’re talking about one of the best rotations in all of baseball, starting on Day 1.

Is that enough? The bullpen will have to continue being lights out. The offense will have to continue being timely with their hitting and cluster luck. If everything goes according to plan, and we don’t run into a bunch of guys having career-worst seasons, I think there’s an okay chance. Maybe a 66.67% chance the Astros win the division, with a 33.33% chance the Mariners prevail. That’s not amazing, but considering it’s usually a 99.99% chance the Astros dominate, I’ll take it.

Who Is A.J. Pollock?

Well, he’s a new Mariners outfielder, having just signed a 1-year, $7 million deal with incentives that can bring it to $10 million. I don’t know what those incentives are yet, but I’m guessing they’ll be relatively attainable if he just does what he’s supposed to do.

According to … statistics, he apparently crushes left-handed pitching. If we just go by last year, he was a monster against lefties, and he was pretty mediocre against righties. It should also be noted that almost exactly 1/4 of his plate appearances came against lefties, which pretty much checks out. There are lots more right handed pitchers in baseball than lefties. So, 1/4 of the time, he’s elite. 3/4 of the time he’s somewhere between 2022 Jesse Winker and Jarred Kelenic.

I think those comparisons are relevant to my overall feeling about this signing, because I remember everyone with fingers and an Internet connection telling me that Winker’s greatest attribute was his ability to mash right-handed pitching. Even if he struggled against lefties, you could platoon him and be fine. What happened? Well, for starters, the Season From Hell happened. But, he also weirdly hit much better against lefties and struggled (compared to his previous norms) against righties. I’m not saying it’s going to flip-flop with Pollock the way it did with Winker (that might actually make it a genius move, if true), but I’m just saying beware of making assumptions about guys who have had successful track records.

A.J. Pollock is 35 years old. Sure, he had a 3.1 WAR season in 2021, but last year it was 0.4 (largely due to those platoon splits). He hasn’t been an All Star since 2015 (his Major League debut was in 2012). Last year was also his first in the American League, after being a career National Leaguer; that matters, and everyone pretends it doesn’t. It’s also my understanding that he’s been injury prone of late, which is what happens to most guys in baseball in their mid-30s.

I will say this: the price isn’t outrageous (what IS outrageous is the fact that this is the highest-paid position player free agent we’ve signed in the Jerry Dipoto era; that feels insane to me, even if I’m not the biggest fan of overpaying for free agents based on past success that’s never likely to be replicated). You pay $7 million for a part-time outfielder with some upside still left in the tank. You pay for his leadership, you pay for his production to just remain level with what it’s been in the last couple years, and you cross your fingers that he stays healthy.

But, this move only SORT OF works if he does just that: plays to an expected level, or better. However, you’re still going into the season with the expectation that he’s going to have a platoon partner. How often does THAT work out? How often do both guys pull their weight?

You might like your chances if switch-hitting Sam Haggerty was his partner, except Swaggerty has even MORE stark platoon splits, and his are also in favor of going against lefties. You might settle for a Dylan Moore partnership, but we all know what Dylan Moore is at this point, so don’t make me pull the Dennis Green video again. Also, don’t even try to talk to me about Taylor Trammell or Cade Marlowe, because those are non-entities. Can a guy named Cade succeed at anything?

The expected move – at this point, barring future moves – is to pair him with Jarred Kelenic. And yeah, I get it. He’s awful against lefties. He’s significantly better against righties. But, that’s just compared to how bad he is against lefties. In reality, Kelenic is terrible against EVERYONE. Now, obviously, no one’s sitting here looking to give up on a 23 year old who was once projected to be a crown jewel in our organizational prospect rebuilding effort. But, we’ve seen a decent sample size out of him; over the last two years, it kind of adds up to one full season. Therein, you’re looking at: .168/.251/.338. You saw him look solid towards the end of his 2021 season, only to regress HARD at the start of 2022. He, again, improved towards the end of last year (ever-so-slightly), but fool me twice, you know?

This is a Mariners team coming off of their first playoff appearance in two decades. There are … expectations. We’ve seen a number of lateral moves towards our 2023 roster (Teoscar Hernandez for Mitch Haniger in right, Kolten Wong for Adam Frazier at second, some addition by subtraction in getting rid of Winker and Abraham Toro), but I don’t know if any of these are going to vastly move the needle when it comes to actual wins on the field. A.J. Pollock feels very in line with those other guys; you kind of expect him to play well, but it also wouldn’t shock you in the slightest for him to faceplant as soon as he puts on a Mariners uniform (that goes for Hernandez and Wong as well).

You don’t expect Pollock to only appear in a quarter of these games; he’s not going to be limited exclusively to facing lefties. As long as he’s healthy and productive, he should start against EVERY lefty, and enough righties to put him in a 50/50 timeshare. I think that’s the best-case scenario for him. If he’s thrust into a full-time starting role, I’m guessing we’ll see drastically diminishing returns. But, even at a 50/50-ish split, that’s putting A LOT of trust into Jarred Kelenic figuring it out in his third Major League season, when he’s looked absolutely lost at the plate for 99% of his time in the bigs thus far. For a team that’s expecting a return trip to the playoffs? A team that would ideally like to compete with the Astros for the division title? I don’t think that’s smart.

But, then again, I don’t have a lot of answers here. I’m a guy who doesn’t want to hand over the keys to 50% of the left field job to Jarred Kelenic, but I’m also a guy who doesn’t want to give up on him either. I guess I’d like him to be a guy who goes into this season as a backup outfielder, who slowly builds up his confidence at the plate over sporadic playing time, until he commands starting time through his achievements. Otherwise, this would be the third year in a row where he’s essentially handed a starting job in this lineup, without actually having to prove he’s capable in regular season, Major League baseball games. What has he done to EARN it, other than be good in the minors, and have one hot Spring Training?

I dunno. The Mariners aren’t done, and won’t be set until we get closer to April. I’m still half-expecting a big move between now and Spring Training. But, so far, I’m not exactly bursting with enthusiasm for the moves to date. I guess I’m just waiting to find out who’s set to disappoint us in the 2023 season. It’s not always the people you expect!

Gun to my head, though, I’m expecting A.J. Pollock to disappoint.

The Mariners Traded For Kolten Wong & Added A Reliever

I’m a little behind in my Hot Stove updates, but to be fair these things tend to come crashing down in waves, so this relative trickle of moves has come as a bit of a shock.

So far, we’ve brought in Teoscar Hernandez via trade, sent Kyle Lewis for some change of scenery in exchange for a utility player, and more or less declared that the top tier free agents are not going to be targets for us (which I’m more or less okay with). The Mariners have a history of being quick to act at this point in the offseason, so it’s a little surprising to see the relative inaction.

We brought in right-handed reliever Trevor Gott, who’s under team control through 2024. His numbers don’t inspire a ton of confidence, but the Mariners have worked magic with relievers in recent years, so I could see our coaching staff unlocking his full potential. I don’t want to get too high or too low about this guy until he starts showing up in regular season games, so for now I plan on forgetting all about him until next April.

We also, not for nothing, signed Casey Sadler to a minor league deal, which is exciting! He was hurt for the entirety of 2022, but he was one of our very-best relievers (in an already-elite bullpen) in 2021, so if he can get somewhere close to that, I’d be thrilled.

The big news of the last couple weeks was the trade for second baseman Kolten Wong. Like Teoscar Hernandez, Wong is signed through 2023. So, this time next year, we very well might have these two holes to re-fill yet again. But, in the short term, things look promising.

The good thing about trades like this is that they don’t really cost you a whole lot. Hernandez cost us a good reliever and a low-minors prospect. Wong cost us two Major Leaguers who we all grew tired of by season’s end: Jesse Winker and Abraham Toro.

If you’re the Brewers, I think you’re pretty happy with this deal. As I said, Wong’s only under contract for one more year. So is Jesse Winker, but Winker’s upside at the plate (especially in the friendlier confines of the National League Central) is an automatic upgrade if he can return to full health and approach the type of player he was as recently as 2021. Toro is the real prize for them though, because he’s under club control through 2026, he plays multiple positions in the infield and outfield, and he’s already accumulated a number of clutch hits in his Major League career. Consistency at the plate is what he’s lacked thus far. If they can either turn him into a hitter with fewer holes – or find a way to unlock his power potential – they’ll have a real gem on their hands. Both guys, most certainly, needed a change of scenery out of the arms race that is the A.L. West.

As with most of these types of deals, the likeliest outcome is that Winker is toast, Toro will never be anything more than a frustrating utility guy, and Wong will come to Seattle and disappoint.

I’m not as high on the return as other Mariners fans. It’s not that I think the deal isn’t fair, it’s just I’m not sure about the player. Wong is 32. His career-high in homers was 15 last year. His career batting average is only .261, and I feel like both of those numbers are going to take a severe hit in Seattle. I guess he finds a way to get on base fairly regularly, and his defense has traditionally been better than average. But, I hear injuries largely hampered his mobility last year, which seems like a clear sign of aging. Best case scenario has him as a moderately more effective player than Adam Frazier. But, there’s a good chance he’s just as bad or worse.

Where do these moves have us in relation to last year’s team? When you factor in the loss of Haniger (who signed a lovely deal with the San Francisco Giants, finally cashing in on his Major League Baseball skills), it kind of feels like a wash so far. Obviously, the moves aren’t done yet. It feels like there’s something major set to roll down the pike any time now, involving a number of highly-rated prospects for an impact Major Leaguer. But, for now, I don’t think I see this Mariners team as any better than last year’s. Last year was fun and all, but this is the time to make significant strides towards trying to win the division.

What I’d Like To See The Mariners Do This Offseason

It’s impossible to predict the fluctuation of outcomes from individual players year over year. A guy might’ve had a great 2022, then all of a sudden goes in the tank due to injuries, private personal matters, or just total randomness. Baseball can be INFURIATING in that respect.

That being said, there doesn’t appear to be quite as many holes to fill this offseason as usual. Coming off of back-to-back 90-win seasons – the latest being a playoff run into the ALDS – that’s a good problem to have. It’s also one we’re not used to experiencing, as Mariners fans. I almost don’t know what to do with myself!

The starting rotation, for instance, looks to be set, barring trades. My hunch on the order goes like this:

  • Luis Castillo (R)
  • Logan Gilbert (R)
  • Robbie Ray (L)
  • George Kirby (R)
  • Marco Gonzales (L)

Is it perfect? No. But, I think the top end is good-to-elite, and I think the two lefties are solid innings eaters. The depth beyond those five guys is a little suspect, as I don’t know if any of our upcoming minor league starters are ready to ascend (or will even be with the club, since they present as our biggest trade chips), but we at least should have Chris Flexen around as a long relief arm/injury replacement starter.

I would say the bullpen is largely set too, though of course there’s room to tinker. We’ve got the following arms under contract (among a host of others):

  • Andres Munoz
  • Paul Sewald
  • Erik Swanson
  • Matt Brash
  • Diego Castillo
  • Penn Murfee
  • Matt Festa

We probably need another left-handed reliever or two, but that’s what Spring Training is there for. We go out and find underappreciated rejects and turn them into monster relievers. I’m sure there are guys out on the scrap heap looking to turn their careers around in Seattle.

The major holes are where you’d expect: the everyday lineup.

Right off the bat, Mitch Haniger, Carlos Santana, and Adam Frazier are all free agents. That’s your starting right fielder, DH, and second baseman. Then, there’s the whole Jesse Winker fiasco, so you’re probably looking at a need to replace your left fielder.

Coming at it from the other direction, we look solid-to-great at center field (Julio), third base (Suarez), first base (France), catcher (Raleigh), and short stop or second base (Crawford).

Internal depth pieces include Kelenic, Toro, Lewis, Haggerty, Moore, Trammell, and Torrens. I don’t think we should be confident in any of those guys. I like Haggerty a lot, but I wonder if he’ll get exposed the more he plays. I like Kyle Lewis a lot, but he can’t stay healthy with his chronic knee issues that probably prevent him from playing everyday outside of DH (and, considering how bad he was at the plate this year, you have to wonder if he even has value with his bat anymore). Trammell, Toro, and Torrens all look to be Quad-A players not to be trusted with starting jobs. And Kelenic is the real wild card in all of this. Highly touted, highly regarded throughout his minor league career, but definitely stalled out at the Major League level. Is it possible for him to figure it out? Of course. But, will he do so in a Mariners uniform? That’s a huge question.

It’s frustrating to see so much of the outfield in flux, because that looked like our area of greatest strength. It was supposed to be Julio, Lewis, and Kelenic for the next 5-10 years. Now, it looks like we’ve hit on 1 out of 3.

I’d love for Mitch Haniger to stick around, but clearly he too can’t stay healthy. The smarter play feels like we should let him move on to another team. Which is a tough pill to swallow, because he’s exactly the kind of guy you want. Works hard, plays quality outfield defense, hits for good average and power when he’s healthy, great teammate. But, if he’s spending more time in the training room than out on the field, that’s not a guy you can count on.

I’m already at the point where I think Winker needs to go, but his value has taken such a sharp hit this year, I don’t know what you’d get in return. The smart play might be to get rid of him anyway, because his attitude and alleged lack of work ethic might be a bigger detriment than whatever good we might squeeze out of positive regression, but I can see why the organization might want to avoid having to replace BOTH corner outfield spots. There’s also the chance that, you know, his severe surgical injuries might have hampered him just a bit. So, maybe he’s on the short list for a bit of positive regression.

Even though the Mariners are in the best spot they’ve been in since 2001, it’s not like this is an EASY fix. Two outfielders, one middle-infielder, and one big bat to DH and maybe help out in the field on occasion.

I think the middle infielder is the key. I think we have to sign one of the big bats that hit the market in free agency to either play short stop (and move Crawford over to second) or second base. From there, I think you take a shot in free agency at a quality outfielder, but more likely will have to make a trade for that guy. Then, as for the other outfielder, I think you maybe find someone to platoon, with the other platoon partner being an internal candidate (either Kelenic, Haggerty, or Moore, whoever produces best in Spring Training). As for the DH, find some vet akin to Carlos Santana (only maybe slightly younger and more spry) who can fill in at first base in a pinch, to give France regular days off to DH in his place.

The Mariners should have a decent amount of money to play around with, so I’m hoping there’s at least one big splash. The trade candidates can be guys with 1-2 years left. Maybe we can flip Winker for someone else’s problem, in a greener pastures sort of situation.

The big story this offseason is where will Aaron Judge go. He’s going to get half a billion dollars, easy. Is that someone I’d want in a Mariners uniform? I dunno, how well did it go the last time we signed away a former Yankees superstar?

Here’s the deal: I would be thrilled if the Mariners signed Judge to play right field. As we all would. In the short term, pairing him with Julio and the other guys on our roster is only going to make them the most formidable pairing in baseball. But, there’s a reason why his numbers have been so insane with the Yankees, and that’s because he plays half his game in Yankee Stadium. Hitting homers there is as easy as breathing. If he moves to Seattle, expect a DRAMATIC downturn in his number of homers. He hit 60+ this year? You might bank on him hitting 40+ with the Mariners. I’d say the 30-40 range is more likely. And that’s assuming he stays healthy.

Of course, long term, I think that contract will be a disaster. What worries me is if it’s a disaster from the start. Think Albert Pujols when he joined the Angels. He went downhill almost immediately, and they had to endure a decade of his creaky knees.

I’d rather put that money into a short stop who’s a better long-term fit, and then trade for a value bat in the outfield. That’s easier said than done, obviously. But, I will say that now that we’ve had this success, and we’ve got a lot of our core locked up, Seattle is a more attractive place to come and play. Obviously, it’s not perfect. There’s a lot of travel involved. The home park isn’t easy, especially in the colder months. But, locating the right guys who fit our dynamic and what we’re trying to do offensively will be critical to getting over the hump.

As Napster guy said to Facebook guy in The Social Network, “The wild card isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Winning the division and getting a top two seed.”

2022 Seattle Mariners: In Memoriam

It’s fun to look back at my prediction post to see what I thought about the Mariners heading into the season. Long story short: I was right about some guys, VERY wrong about some guys, and I had this team pegged as an 84-win squad who would go on to miss the playoffs once again.

It’s funny how this season ebbed and flowed. We started out 11-6, which kind of gets lost in the shuffle in the narrative to this season, because the next stretch was so terrible. As late as June 19th, we were infamously 10 games under .500 at 29-39 (meaning in that span of almost two months, we went 18-33). Then, amazingly, we finished the year 61-33 (winning at a .649 clip), including a 14-game winning streak to close out the first half. This was a year removed from another 90-win Mariners team who had a pretty shabby record in May/June before turning it on the rest of the way. The main difference is that we had three wild card teams to go along with three divisional winners making the playoffs in each league. So, this time around, 90 wins was just enough.

There are so many fun storylines that came along this year, with the top being Julio Rodriguez. He’s a superstar! He’s the superstar we’ve been waiting for since Ken Griffey Jr. left. He hits for average (.284), he hits for power (28 homers, 25 doubles, 3 triples), he steals bases (25 against 7 caught stealing), he plays tremendous defense in center field, and he’s by all accounts a fantastic leader and teammate. He’s everything you could want in a 6-WAR player, and oh by the way, he also had an absolutely atrocious month of April before figuring out how to play at this level. Meaning he did all he did in 5 months, which is absolutely incredible. He’s your American League Rookie of the Year, and unlike the last Mariners ROY (Kyle Lewis), he figures to play at a high level for many years to come (hence the humongous mega-deal he signed during the season).

You know who else was a really cool story? Cal Raleigh! He struggled in 2021, and was off to another rough start in 2022, to the point where he was briefly sent back down to Tacoma to work on some things. He ultimately was forced to return due to catcher injuries, but this time he made the most of it. He doesn’t hit for much average, but he was among the best catchers in the game with his power (27 homers, 20 doubles, and one improbable triple) and he obviously has a great defensive game (both in handling pitchers as well as throwing runners out and pitch-framing). As far as Pleasant Surprises go, he’s way up there for me and a lot of Mariners fans.

Another guy I wasn’t expecting a ton from was Eugenio Suarez. I wondered – as did many people – if his best days weren’t behind him. Instead, he was probably the best version of what he can be: a 4-WAR player who hit 31 homers, 24 doubles, and 2 triples. He also played very good defense at third base, and is amazingly an upgrade over what we had with Kyle Seager over the last few years. His batting average isn’t stupendous, but his on-base percentage is very good.

One more pleasant surprise before we get to the guys we expected to be good, and that’s Sam Haggerty. It’s a rough go that he wasn’t able to make it to the playoffs – suffering a major injury in the final week of the regular season – but as a bench guy, he finished with 2.2 WAR. It got to the point that he forced his way into an almost-everyday role on this team (bouncing around from various outfield AND infield spots) through sheer grit and talent. I don’t know what his role is long-term, but he’s one of those guys every playoff team needs: someone who hits for average, plays amazing defense, and will steal you a money bag in a pinch.

We got Ty France and J.P. Crawford through almost a full season intact, and they produced about as well as you’d expect, with 3.0 and 2.8 WAR respectively. I think you’d still look to improve at one of the middle infield spots this offseason (potentially moving J.P. over to second), but you have to like what both of these guys give you, as far as leadership and production go. Ultimately, you wonder how both of them will handle the rigors of a full season (as nagging injuries seem to creep in and sap their effectiveness as the season wears on), but for now I have no complaints.

Finally, pour one out for Mitch Haniger and Carlos Santana. Both were on the final years of their respective deals (Santana was a trade acquisition who didn’t hit a lot, but when he did, they seemed to be in the biggest of moments). Santana is probably washed as an everyday bat, while Haniger proved once again that he can’t stay healthy for a full (or multiple) season(s). I would say Haniger was great while he was in there, but even with his 1.4 WAR across 57 games, he still went in the tank for long stretches (and didn’t really give us much in the playoffs).

As far as pitching goes, there are plenty of kudos to go around. Logan Gilbert led the squad in WAR with 3.2. He built on his impressive rookie season with an even better one, throwing 185.2 innings in 32 starts. It looks like Gilbert is going to be a workhorse for many years to come.

On Gilbert’s heels came George Kirby, who had a similar rookie year this year to Gilbert’s last year: very restricted innings, yet still impressive output. What Kirby had this year – which Gilbert never got a chance to show last year – was a phenomenal playoff run. You would expect Kirby to have a similar increase in his innings next year, followed by the training wheels coming all the way off in 2024.

Luis Castillo was our big deadline acquisition, and he showed why the cost was worth it. To the point that he earned himself a long-term extension to stick around and be this team’s ace for the foreseeable future. He’s like a harder-throwing Felix with a similarly-impressive change up.

Robbie Ray was the leader of the pitchers throughout the year, but he had a number of rough patches to endure. His start was rocky as hell, until he started incorporating his 2-seam fastball. That led to improved results, but ultimately it seemed like he struggled against better teams. I don’t know what tweaks are in his future, but he’s going to need to rein in his command if he’s going to be worth the huge wad of money the Mariners are giving him over the next few years.

The rotation was wildly healthy this year, which is pretty insane. Marco Gonzales did Marco Gonzales things, finishing pretty well in line with his career norms, throwing 183 innings across 32 starts, and being about league average as you can get. Chris Flexen also did Chris Flexen things, and earned himself a nice little bump in pay in 2023 (to be this team’s long reliever, I guess, if he’s not traded at some point).

The bullpen – for the second year in a row – was this team’s heart and soul, and they needed every bit of the talent on offer. What’s interesting is that – aside from Sewald – we got it from a gaggle of new guys. Andres Munoz was the obvious breakout star, throwing 100+, with a 90+ slider. But, Erik Swanson dramatically improved his game, Penn Murfee was a nice surprise, Matt Festa was a competent arm, Diego Castillo got better once he was dropped from the highest-leverage spots, and Matt Brash was a revelation once the team demoted him from starter to reliever. If Brash sticks with relief, I think the sky is the limit with this kid, which is great news when you figure he’ll slot alongside Munoz and Sewald for the next few years at least.

It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for the 2022 Mariners, though.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Jesse Winker was this team’s biggest disappointment. He came over in that first big trade with the Reds (alongside Suarez), and everyone pegged Winker as the cornerstone of that deal. For good reason, because all Winker has done is produce at the plate in his Major League career. Especially in 2021, when he played at an All Star level.

Winker’s production fell dramatically this year. He suffered the Seattle curse. At home, his slash line was .203/.331/.294; on the road, it was dramatically higher: .232/.354/.382. 10 of his 14 homers came on the road. Ironically, the book on him was that he struggled against lefties but crushed righties; however that flipped for some bizarre reason in 2022. Across the board he was better against lefties, which is crazy to me!

The final nail in the coffin appears to be his work ethic, and his chemistry in the clubhouse as a result of that (lack of) work ethic. I’ll say this: I agree with Divish, I don’t think he looks very strong or athletic whatsoever. His defense isn’t just mediocre, it’s an outright liability. Sure, his eye at the plate is pretty strong, but you can’t build a career on crap defense and walks. That’s not going to work on a team that has a razor-thin margin for error when it comes to our offensive struggles at times. This is a team with a whole lotta alpha dogs who are in it to win it. I don’t know what Winker’s vibe is exactly – he struck me as an easygoing, comedy relief type of presence, but I don’t know if that’s totally accurate given the RBF we’ve come to witness so often – but clearly it doesn’t mesh with this team. Either he gets traded, or they try to make it work with an offseason meeting of the minds. My hunch is we cut and run, though I hope there’s at least a little value, since I think his bat would play in a friendlier offensive environment.

Adam Frazier was also a pretty significant offseason acquisition that was also a major disappointment. You bring in a guy like Frazier for his high batting average and on-base percentage. Competent defense at second and in the corner outfield is a bonus, but he’s supposed to be a regular baserunner for other guys to hit in. That’s what makes his 2022 season so befuddling, because his bat SHOULD play anywhere he goes. We’re not relying on him to be a dynamic power source like Winker, we just want him standing on first base for other guys to knock him around. He only turned 30 this year, so he should still be close enough to his prime to be effective. But, regardless, he started in a pretty deep hole and could never fully get out of it, in spite of occasional hot stretches. As I mentioned, there’s room for improvement up the middle, but that was always going to be the case. Frazier was on a 1-year deal, so we were going to have to look to fill this spot either way. Between left field and second base, we need to find at least ONE bigtime bat to help prop up this offense to get closer to league-average in scoring.

I’ll just rattle off really quickly: the other major disappointments were Luis Torrens, Abraham Toro, and Jarred Kelenic.

Kelenic had a fantastic finish to his 2021 season, which gave us all hope that he’d be here to stay in 2022. Instead, he sucked hard in the early going, spent MOST of the year down in Tacoma, had a nice little blip in the last couple weeks of the regular season, but ultimately wasn’t able to continue that through the playoffs. There’s still a lot he needs to do to be a more consistent Major League presence, and I just don’t know if he’s ever going to stick in Seattle.

Toro was a deadline acquisition in 2021 who has had a number of big hits in clutch moments, but by and large he’s been atrocious. He had to play for the Mariners quite a bit this year due to injuries and ineffectiveness around the roster, but he’s a huge wad of nothing. Time to move on.

Torrens, we thought, figured out his bat in 2021, and was supposed to be a steady middle-of-the-order type of guy, either as a backup catcher, or as this team’s DH. But, once again, he fell off the map and found himself DFA’d. He passed through without anyone claiming him, so we were able to get him to Tacoma until late in the regular season, when he returned to Seattle (with Raleigh’s injury issues) and saw an uptick in his offensive production again. I couldn’t tell you what his future holds, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the Mariners need improvement at backup catcher.

I don’t have a ton of complaints about the pitching. Again, it would be nice if Robbie Ray was better against good teams, since we clearly need him if we’re going to make it back to the playoffs. It was also disconcerting to see Sewald get beaten around so much late in the year. But, other than some minor quibbles, most of the guys who sucked (Steckenrider sure didn’t last long, did he?) were jettisoned in a timely fashion.

The overarching analysis for the 2022 Mariners is a rousing success. We made the playoffs for the first time since 2001! Even if it was last year’s playoff format, we would have made it to the Wild Card play-in game, and we would have prevailed to advance to the ALDS. So, I’m not taking anything away from the Mariners. Quite frankly, it’s insane there haven’t been more playoff teams for a while now. After a 162-game season, there needs to be proper representation! There are so many good teams in baseball who deserve a shot every year, why deprive markets of fun opportunities?

This is a team that outperformed expectations. It’s also a team that can easily keep things going, barring injuries. A couple of key additions should leave us contending for the A.L. West next year. And, as long as we don’t totally strip the farm system, there should be enough studs coming up through the pipeline – especially on the pitching side – to keep us playing at a high level for years to come.

The last time the Mariners were good, we had a nice 9-year run of success. Unfortunately, in that span, we only made it to the postseason 4 times, and never advanced beyond the ALCS. That needs to change here. Hopefully, we have the talent and the scouting to make the leap. It’s time for the Mariners – the only team to never play for a world championship – to make the World Series. Will that happen in 2023? A lot would have to go right, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Of course, the odds are super long. But, it’s just nice to have a fun baseball team to root for again. It’s been FAR too long!