The Mariners’ Non-Julio Outfielders Scare The Bejesus Out Of Me

When I talk about the Mariners having holes (multiple), part of what I’m talking about is this. Look no further than the non-Julio components of the Mariners’ outfield.

As I’ve talked about, a Julio playing at an MVP level would compensate for a lot of struggling on this team. But, the fact that we can have this conversation of someone with his level of talent going above and beyond – and STILL only end up right around 83-88 wins – is really the problem with our roster construction as it’s presented today. With the pitching we have, and complementary hitters like Cal Raleigh and J.P. Crawford giving us their best, you’d think it wouldn’t be so hard to fill out this roster and go chase a championship. But, here we are.

I know I’ve been lamenting third base, and the Mariners’ need to go out and get a Matt Chapman to help Band Aid over the lack of offensive production on this roster, but that’s not our only problem area, or questionable position group, or whathaveyou.

As things stand right now, we’re looking at Mitch Haniger being our regular Right Fielder; can’t really say “everyday” there because he’s going to require built-in off-days in order to stay healthy (in addition to the off-days already part of the schedule). And that’s only until he inevitably lands on the IL; another reason we strip him of the “everyday” moniker.

In Left Field, we have some split of Luke Raley and Dominic Canzone, though you really can’t say it’s a proper platoon, because both hit left-handed. If you want to round things out, you could probably add Dylan Moore to the mix, for more of a right-handed presence, but we’ll see where he ultimately ends up helping out most, especially considering the aforementioned quagmire that is third base.

Let’s say it’s some combination of the four: Haniger and Moore from the right side, Raley and Canzone from the left. Who’s happy with that?!

I’m already on record as having my reservations about what Haniger has left in the tank, even when healthy. I’m willing to let that go, for now (pending the start of the regular season, because if he struggles to open the year, you better believe I’ll be yapping again) and just assume Haniger will be fine. He’ll be some semblance of what he was before. What was that? I’m not talking his very peak of 2018; rather, someone who’s a little streakier, can carry an offense at times, but can also get lost at the plate. When Haniger is going good, this team should win a lot of games. When Haniger is going bad, we’ll need someone to step up and pick up the slack.

Dylan Moore is Dylan Moore. VERY occasional power, low-to-terrible batting average, so-so on-base percentage, pretty good on the basepaths (though he’s in his 30’s now, so we’ll see what that means for his stolen bases), and competent defense. The more you’re needing to play Dylan Moore, the worse your chances of winning (because that means other guys aren’t producing, and so you’re forced to start someone who’s supposed to be a utility guy).

In a lot of ways, this season hinges on one of either Raley or Canzone being above replacement-level. Otherwise, expect left field to be yet another black hole.

If we got Luke Raley to replicate his 2023 season – even if it’s just the same 118-game span – I think I would take that in a heartbeat. I don’t expect him to play the full year, just because I don’t think he’ll be good enough, and will likely spend some time benched to work on some things, so getting around the same amount of games, with that production (19 homers, 23 doubles) would be a boon for the middle of our lineup. If we get that out of him, with Haniger being great sometimes, with Ty France hopefully improved, with Polanco and Garver doing their things, that’s a lineup that can do some damage! A lot of “ifs” there, though.

Canzone would need to take a considerable step up in his development. I would say his production in 2023 – admittedly in just 59 games – was sub-replacement-level. He had glimpses of power, but his batting average and on-base numbers took a nosedive. And he never gives you enough defense to be worth the crater he is at the plate.

But, the team obviously likes him enough to ship off Kelenic, and to only bring in a guy in Raley who’s probably a platoon partner for someone (be it in the outfield, or as a timeshare with Ty France if he continues to flatline). Canzone apparently had some nagging lower body injuries last year that hampered him. We’ll see. With experience, with good health, with a vote of confidence, maybe he starts to make good on his potential.

I can’t say I’m holding my breath, though. I think this non-Julio outfield has a chance to be an unwatchable disaster. And, with all the other question marks on this team, we most likely won’t go down as one of the worst Mariners offenses of all time, but it’ll be painful to have to suffer through. Just, brace yourselves now. I know with this being Spring Training, we all want to look on the bright side and hope for the best. But it’s okay to splash our faces with a cold dose of reality.

I’m So Ready For Julio Rodriguez To Dominate For The Mariners

Julio Rodriguez appears to be a consensus fifth in the American League MVP race according to Vegas (behind top guy Aaron Judge, then Juan Soto, Corey Seager, and Yordan Alvarez). It’s gotta be exciting for these guys, because Shohei Ohtani is in the National League now, so somebody else can finally win for a change!

Fangraphs has Julio seventh in all of baseball for projected WAR with 5.6. ZIPS has him third in all of baseball at 5.7 WAR. Pretty much wherever you go, there’s Julio, projected right there among the very best players in baseball.

This is interesting to me, because while Julio was clearly the best player on the Mariners last year, I wouldn’t say he had a GREAT season. He was definitely hotter than the sun in July and especially August, but other than that he had long stretches where he struggled, especially in the first half, but also down the stretch in September.

Now, clearly, a struggling Julio is A LOT different than a struggling Ty France, or a struggling Taylor Trammell (which is pretty much his entire career). Even when he’s having a tough time, he’s still awesome. He’s still a presence. He’s still a guy other teams have to fear. And, of course, he’s going to give you great defense regardless. He’s still going to play hard and make some moves when he does get on base. He’s going to find ways to contribute.

But, his slash line in 2023 was down across the board compared to his 2022 rookie season, which is why his WAR fell from 6.0 to 5.3. Again, still great! He finished 4th in MVP voting last year, but no one voted him higher than 3rd.

It takes quite a special season to win the MVP award. The Mariners have had exactly two MVPs in their history: Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997, and Ichiro in 2001. Griffey that year was the leader of the most fearsome offense baseball had seen since the ’27 Yankees. And Ichiro entered the Major Leagues like a house on fire, leading the team to a 116-win season. THIS is what I would like to see from Julio. And 2024 is no better time to make that happen.

There’s a lot of hype that the Mariners have improved their offense this year. I’m still in a “I’ll believe it when I see it” mode of thinking. Regardless, I would say no one is expecting these Mariners to blow the doors off of the 2023 variety. It’s all “cautious optimism” and probably a marginal step up.

If you want to see significant improvement from this team, it has to be twofold. First, the depth has to be stronger. The bottom of the order MUST be better. I’m not saying we have to be lights out 1 through 9 in the order, but we can’t have the bottom 4-5 batters completely stinking up the joint like they did for most of last year. If we can see some competence, if we can have more professional at-bats, if we can even just make better and more productive outs, I think it’ll make a world of difference.

But, even that hinges on the second part: we need our stars to be super.

We need J.P. to continue to dominate at the top of the order. We need Cal to continue being a power machine. We need our veterans – Garver, Haniger, Polanco – to step up when they’re healthy. Ideally, we need this Driveline experience to hit the jackpot with Ty France. And, more than anything, we need Julio to play at an MVP level. Not just good with some elite stretches, but consistently great throughout the year.

Even if it’s just the veterans playing AS good as they were last year, and some semblance of improvement from the bottom of the order, I think we could really make some hay with an MVP Julio.

That’s kind of what I’m banking on here, if I have any hope whatsoever of the Mariners making it back to the playoffs. I’m expecting the starters to be great. I’m expecting them to figure it out in the bullpen. But, I’m also expecting the offense to be a dud yet again, costing us winnable games and seeing us ultimately falling short of a wild card berth.

However, if we get MVP Julio? Then, I’ll be willing to suspend my disbelief. I’ll be willing to go all in on this team with its cheapskate ownership group. I’ll be willing to hope that we can somehow put it all together for a magical playoff run.

Now is the time! He had his Rookie of the Year campaign. He had his Sophomore Slump. Now, it’s time for the MVP trophy. Now, it’s time to take that next step into the stratosphere. Be the envy of everyone, and the face of baseball, as you were destined to be!

The Mariners Traded For Gregory Santos

After the last deal, for Jorge Polanco, the Mariners made a weak spot that much more flimsy by raiding from a bullpen that was already down Paul Sewald (as well as promising youngsters Isaiah Campbell, Penn Murfee, and Matt Festa, among others we’ve shipped off over the last couple seasons). The loss of Justin Topa meant that our third-best reliever (and maybe our first-most-consistent reliever) was gone. I mean, can you imagine what a bullpen would look like with Sewald, Brash, Munoz, AND Topa? Well, we had it for most of last damn year, and look at where it got us!

Well, over the weekend, the M’s made a trade with the White Sox. We gave them reliever Prelander Berroa, minor league outfielder Zach DeLoach, and a very nice 69th overall draft pick. In return, we get reliever Gregory Santos.

Berroa was a promising reliever prospect who pitched primarily in AA last year, while drinking a sip of coffee with the Mariners in two appearances. There’s some incredible stuff there, a blazing fastball, tons of strikeouts, but also a little iffy on the command. I find it extremely interesting that the Mariners – an organization prized for developing bullpen arms – would give up on a prospect like Berroa. Maybe they’re worried about his arm holding up, maybe they doubt his ability to rein in his command. Whatever it is, it feels like he was the most talented of The Pile we have on the 40-man roster today. Ultimately, the thinking is: Santos has it right now, whereas Berroa might still be another year away. And if you believe that this team is trying to win in 2024 (which I’m still not so sure they are), then obviously you like a Santos more than a Berroa.

With Santos, there’s lots of club control, and instead of being a huge maybe, the belief is that he’s a legitimate stud. My concern is his durability and his ability to generate strikeouts.

He appeared in 60 games in 2023, all with the White Sox. In 2022, he pitched in 37 games (mostly in the minors); in 2021, he pitched in 17 games (also mostly in the minors), and in 2020 he didn’t pitch at all due to COVID. So, it’s no wonder he landed on the IL late last year with arm problems; the hope is that it was just fatigue. But, the Mariners tend to be one of those teams that over-taxes their bullpen, so I don’t know if I’m jumping for joy.

As for his strikeouts, it’s not like he DOESN’T strike batters out. But, he’s not in the upper echelon of a Brash or Munoz. He averaged 9.0 stikeouts per nine innings last year; Munoz averaged 12.3 and Brash averaged a whopping 13.6! What’s interesting about Santos is that he has reverse platoon splits. As a right hander, he’s actually BETTER against lefties. It’s a sample size of one season, but still. Lower batting average, on-base, slugging. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is leaps and bounds better. While Brash and Munoz aren’t BAD against lefties, when they do struggle, it tends to be because lefties get to them. Santos might be a salve for this problem. We can mix-and-match a little more, if an opposing team has a run of lefties coming.

What sounds crazy to me is that Fangraphs or someone has projected Santos to be the best reliever in baseball in 2024. If that’s the case, then DAMN is this a good deal!

Obviously, we don’t know what Zach DeLoach is going to turn into (or Gabriel Gonzalez, for that matter, from the Polanco deal), but neither projected to be much of anything for the Mariners in 2024. DeLoach played all of last year in Tacoma, and was presumably their best and most consistent hitter, but was he ever going to crack our ever-growing chasm of Quad-A utility guys? I mean, shit, we already have Haggerty, Raley, Canzone, Marlowe, Moore, Trammell, and Clase. And that’s not even factoring in Julio and Haniger! Frankly, DeLoach going to the White Sox feels like the best thing for him. My guess is, as someone who’s already been traded multiple times, he’s not going to pan out at the Major League level. But, if he does, a place like Chicago, with low expectations and lots of opportunity for at bats, just might do the trick.

In a future post, I’m going to write about the bullpen. There’s still work to do, but I don’t know if that’s going to come from outside the organization. All those developmental coaches are going to have to earn their paychecks this spring!

The Mariners Traded For Jorge Polanco

Going to Minnesota, we have reliever Justin Topa, starter What’sHisButtFromTheGiants Anthony DeSclafani, outfield prospect Gabriel Gonzalez, and pitching prospect Darren Bowen.

Going to Seattle, we have Jorge Polanco, a 30 year old starting infielder (pegged to be our everyday second baseman) with one year left on his contract (and a club option for 2025).

DeSclafani is no big loss. I’m honestly relieved that I don’t have to watch him pitch for the Mariners. Seems like a guy better suited to be a back-of-the-rotation starter and NOT a long reliever like the M’s were going to use him as. I’m going to go out on a limb and say neither prospect will amount to much at the Major League level (because if either one of them do, then this trade absolutely murders the Mariners).

I would say the part that hurts the most is losing Justin Topa, who is going into the first of three arbitration years, and is earning just a million and a quarter dollars this season. He figured to be our third-best reliever behind Brash and Munoz, but I would argue – on the whole – he was more consistent and less blowup-prone than anyone in the pen in 2023. The Mariners were already in need of a pick-me-up or two out of the bullpen (as we’ve talked about ad nauseam, they’ve yet to even replace Paul Sewald, and now we’re talking about replacing Topa too), and now that job is even more important.

Quite frankly, the Mariners’ stance on this – that they can pick up any ol’ scrub off the scrap heap and turn them into ace relievers – is bordering on irresponsible hubris. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mariners’ biggest weakness in 2024 IS the bullpen (and we all know how little I think of the starting lineup, so that’s really saying something).

All that being said, it doesn’t feel like the worst deal I’ve ever seen. The money pretty much evens out (I think it was reported the M’s are sending money to the Twins to make it so). They get a couple of scratch-off lottery tickets to provide some longterm hope, and they get a valuable reliever to add to what I’m told is a strength for them. Plus, you know, the starter could be okay for them in that division (where the hitting is less fearsome than it is in the West). In turn, the Mariners get a VAST improvement over the likes of Josh Rojas, Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, et al, when it comes to plugging one of their infield holes.

We already knew going into the season that second and third base would suck for this team. Now, what this deal presupposes is … maybe only one of those spots will suck?

I’m willing to go out on that limb that Jorge Polanco will be a valuable hitter for this team when he’s healthy. One guy I’ve never met on Formerly Twitter telling me so is good enough for me! But, there’s that caveat again, right? Polanco hasn’t played a full season since 2021. The last two years, it’s been knee and ankle injuries. Something like five or six stints on the IL. Sure as shit reminds me of one Mitch Haniger; how could it not? It was pretty much the first point bandied about in the analysis of this deal for the M’s.

If I choose to see the positive in this, it’s nice to see us fill a hole with a bona fide Major Leaguer, and not just another Quad-A nobody. If I choose to see the negative in this, then it’s just another coin flip with the usual questions we have when we bring in ANY new hitter:

  • Can he stay healthy?
  • Can he hit in Seattle, or will his bat be swallowed up in the marine layer?
  • Can he withstand the pressure of playing for a new team?
  • Will he enjoy living here, which is presumably very far away from wherever he considers home?
  • How close is he to falling off of an age-related production cliff?

You can plug those questions in about ANY of the guys we brought in this offseason – Mitch Garver, Luke Raley, Mitch Haniger, Luis Urias, Seby Zavala – as well as any of the guys we’ve brought in over the last few years, and get a wide variety of answers. Inevitably, some will hack it okay, some will become total garbage. And it’s not necessarily always the ones you think. I keep coming back to guys like Jesse Winker and Kolten Wong; we were supposed to be getting – at the very least – solid veterans who could give you professional at bats. What we got, was nothing.

As with all of this offseason’s moves, I’m not holding my breath. Quite frankly, I’m not moving off of my F grade for the Mariners; I still don’t think we’re any better than we were a year ago. If I’m being generous, the Polanco deal has the potential to now put this offense over the top compared to 2023. But, a shaky bullpen was made all the shakier with the loss of Topa. And now our rotation depth – which was razor thin before – is totally evaporated. Unless our top five starters manage to stay healthy for the full year – on top of key guys like Polanco and Haniger for our lineup – there’s a good chance we’re worse across the board. Hence the failing grade.

I will say that – as with all the other trades this offseason – I mostly felt relief that we didn’t actually trade any of our young starters. But, that still isn’t going to move the needle enough for me to vastly change my outlook on this offseason.

Just once, I’d like to see the Mariners make a move that is universally lauded, rather than coming with a thousand caveats. Something tells me it ain’t gonna happen.