Which Mariners Player Would You Want From Prior Eras To Be On Today’s Team?

Jay Buhner was on the Brock & Salk show yesterday, and they asked him, “Who on this year’s team would you want for those Mariners teams you were on?” It’s a fun question to debate, but it’s just pure fan service. I mean, it’s not like it could ever happen, so in a sense it’s completely masturbatory.

Far be it for me to turn down such an opportunity!

Jay Buhner said he’d want to play with either J.P. Crawford or Cal Raleigh. That’s hard to argue with. I mean, I absolutely will, because how could you not take a pitcher? Those mid-90’s teams had the very best version of Alex Rodriguez at short stop, which means you’re bumping J.P. to second or third. Which is fine.

I will say that if I were to take one hitter from today’s Mariners and put them on the 90’s squads, no one would be cooler than Cal Raleigh. I like Dan The Man Wilson as much as anyone, but the dude was a black fucking hole in the playoffs. But, you put Cal on that lineup with A-Rod, Edgar, Buhner, Griffey, Blowers, Tino Martinez/Paul Sorrento? With Cal’s penchant for the dramatic late in games and late in seasons? That’s just beyond an insane lineup.

But, it’s silly. Either you take Andres Munoz and swap out Bobby Ayala’s worthless ass, or you take Luis Castillo and pair him with Randy Johnson, to further crush it with the rotation. Don’t sleep on adding another elite starter to the 1995 team. If we have Castillo in there, maybe we don’t have to go 5 games in the ALDS against the Yankees. Maybe we are better able to line up our rotation against the Indians in the ALCS. Can you imagine Castillo in there instead of Tim Belcher or Andy Benes?

That being said, the Mariners were shut out twice in the 1995 ALCS; indeed, in all four losses we scored 2 runs or fewer. So, maybe Cal would’ve been just the ticket.

As for those early 2000’s teams, I don’t think there’s any question: you put Luis Castillo in that rotation with Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, and Paul Abbott, and you throw Aaron Sele off a fucking cliff. Talk about a guy who was built for the regular season! That guy was a fucking trainwreck in the playoffs! Just fucking murdered us against the Yankees in back to back years; 16 innings across 3 starts, giving up 12 runs. And that’s JUST against the Yankees! For as worthless as Arthur Rhodes was in those series, I’ll take another ace, thank you very much.

But, let’s get back to the title of this post: who would I want from back then to be on today’s team?

Well, as much as I love a great pitching staff, and as tempting as it would be to add Randy Johnson to this group, that’s probably unnecessary, especially when you factor in how challenged this team is offensively.

It’s a clear 3-man race between A-Rod, Griffey, and Edgar. I would say Ichiro and Buhner are definitely honorable mentions, but the 2024 Mariners need more pop than Ichiro is capable or willing to provide, and more of a batting average than Buhner could possibly bring to the table.

The knock against Griffey and A-Rod is that they play two of the positions we’re strongest at. That being said, just move J.P. to second or Julio to right and call it a day. Of course, the knock against Edgar is that he plays no position, but I mean come on. Garver fucks off and it’s a complete 180 at DH.

Part of me feels like I’m over-thinking this. Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the best baseball players of all time. OF COURSE you take The Kid! I guess I’m a little wary because of his post-season numbers. They’re not great! Then again, none of the three are really all that spectacular. Edgar gets all the credit in the world for what he did against the Yankees in 1995, but his career numbers in three ALCS’s are pretty putrid (.156/.239/.234).

You know what? Fuck it. I want A-Rod here. Jorge Polanco is SO FUCKING BAD. Shit-can him, move J.P. to second. I feel like the upgrade of prime, Mariners-era A-Rod over Polanco is better than the upgrade we’d get with Griffey over take your pick in the outfield. Raley is obviously your third guy, probably platooning with Dylan Moore. So, Griffey over Haniger? Don’t get me wrong, that’s a pretty big leap too.

You know, it really says a lot about how shitty the 2024 Mariners lineup is that there are so many colossal black holes you’d love to swap out for Hall of Famers.

Just give me Ichiro, Griffey, Julio, Seager, A-Rod, J.P., Olerud, Raleigh, Edgar, with a bench full of Buhner, McLemore, Wilson, and Nelson Cruz, and throw them together with today’s pitching staff plus King Felix, Randy Johnson, Jeff Nelson, and Mike Jackson, and let’s go win a World Series!

Going For It At The Trade Deadline Is Scary As A Mariners Fan

I grew up in the shadow of the Heathcliff Slocumb deal, let’s not forget. That was a pretty dark day in general for the Mariners’ organization. July 31, 1997. The team was great … for the most part. The offense – especially the power numbers – was off-the-charts elite. Griffey in his prime, Edgar in his prime, Buhner in his prime, A-Rod in his mother fuckin’ prime! That lineup, 1-9, there will never be one like it again in Seattle.

We also had a starting rotation big three led by Randy Johnson in his prime, Jamie Moyer in his prime, and Jeff Fassero in his relative prime. You know what’s ironic about the 1997 Mariners? If I told you we had all of those players at the peak of their abilities, and told you the reason we lost in the first round of the playoffs WASN’T necessarily the bullpen, you’d think I was a God damn liar. But, in Game 1, Randy got torched for 5 runs in 5 innings, and Mike Mussina limited that hall of fame offense to 2 runs over 7 innings. Game 2, more of the same, as Moyer couldn’t get out of the 5th, giving up 3 runs, and the offense was largely shut down. We won game 3 behind a dynamic Fassero start (8 innings, 1 run). But, then the offense was once again eaten alive by Mussina in game 4 (7 innings, 1 run).

Now, granted, that bullpen did us no favors in the first two losses. Bobby Ayala gave up 6 runs in Game 2; Mike Timlin gave up 4 runs in Game 1. But, the bullpen, all year, was the problem. So, on July 31st, we made a pair of moves to try to shore up our weakest element of the team.

Jose Cruz Jr. was our next hotshot prospect to be called up, only to be sent to Toronto for the aforementioned Timlin, and lefty Paul Spoljaric. Spoljaric was a total and complete bust, however Timlin proved fairly effective as an 8th inning high leverage guy. Cruz ended up not amounting to much in his Major League career, but I’ll always wonder if leaving the friendly confines of the Kingdome somehow stunted his growth.

The real nightmare deal of that deadline was the Slocumb trade, who we got from the Red Sox in exchange for starting pitcher Derek Lowe and starting catcher Jason Varitek. Both of them are in the Red Sox Hall Of Fame, if that tells you anything. Meanwhile, Slocumb is still haunting me, both in my sleep and in my waking life.

It’s exactly THAT kind of deal that gives me tremendous pause every trade deadline.

You could argue the 2024 Mariners are a lot like the inverse of the 1997 Mariners. An elite collection of starting pitching, the likes of which we may never see again. A bullpen that’s good, not great, led by some really terrific back-of-the-bullpen guys. And a lineup that is just the fucking worst. We’re currently poised to win the A.L. West just the way we are, but we could obviously use a little offensive help to get us over the finish line.

The real kick in the pants about that 1997 season is the fact that the new bullpen pieces didn’t really do much of anything to solidify those later innings. I don’t believe for one second that the players we acquired made any difference in us winning our division that year; we got there on the back of our offense and starting rotation.

The same is likely to be true in 2024; if we get to the playoffs, it absolutely won’t be because of any player we get at the deadline. It’ll be on the back of our pitching staff. Oh sure, maybe a trade acquisition might have a big hit or two, but in the grand scheme of things, he won’t be the difference-maker. And he certainly won’t put us over the top and into the World Series!

There have been a variety of deadline deals throughout the years. Randy Johnson to the Astros (was only mitigated by the fact that it precipitated an all time run of greatness for the Mariners from 2000-2003), Freddy Garcia to the White Sox (bringing back a collection of crap), and one of the great Chef’s Kisses of the Bill Bavasi Era: 2006, separate deals with the Cleveland Indians, sending out Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo within a month of each other for some hot garbage. Choo and Cabrera went on to have long, fruitful, All Star careers; the guys we brought back did nothing and 2006 ended in misery (as so many years did between 2002 and 2021).

Seeing those players go on to have tremendous careers for other teams is EXACTLY the reason why I’m so paranoid about the Mariners making any sort of Win Now move.

The Mariners have totally re-stocked their farm system with a collection of exciting, young prospects. 5 players in the top 50 of all of baseball, according to some people! Thinking about one or more of those guys going somewhere and being in another team’s Hall Of Fame gives me panic sweats.

Logically, I understand how stupid it is to want to cling to all of these guys. They’re not ALL going to turn out to be amazing big leaguers. I also understand that at some point, you have to push your chips in; you can’t keep waiting around forever for these prospects to develop into bona fide stars at this level. Because, as you keep waiting, the guys who are here now will eventually move on, because we WON’T be able to afford to keep everyone. And, let’s face it, this is an organization that’s starved for some success.

The bottom line is, if a deal ends up resulting in this team winning it all – even if the player(s) we get in return don’t affect the outcome all that much – no one will care about who we lost. We’ll just remember the good times of finally getting this monkey off our back.

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!

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 Treated Us To The Ultimate King Felix Weekend, Losing 2 Of 3 Through No Fault Of The Starting Pitching

Felix Hernandez was honored by the Seattle Mariners with an induction into the team’s Hall of Fame over the weekend. Of course, you know I had to be there.

The King and his loyal subjects …

It’s weirdly comforting to see the 2023 Mariners aren’t all that different from those M’s teams of 2005-2019.

Let’s get the baseball part out of the way, because as the title states, the Mariners lost 2 of 3, and they did it in the most Mariners way possible. Just to ramp up expectations that much more, the M’s came out on fire on Friday to win their 8th in a row, by a score of 9-2. You scoff, but I still say they should’ve figured out a way to save some of those runs for the next two days!

Saturday and Sunday were both extra innings nailbiters. Saturday was the big Hall of Fame induction ceremony day, which meant it was the MOST Mariners evening when it came to honoring Felix, right down to George Kirby pitching 9 shutout innings, only for our closer to blow it in the 10th. Sunday’s pitching performance wasn’t quite as impressive, but the game was still tied 2-2 in the 9th, with Munoz once again giving up a late run to potentially suck on the loss, only for Dominic Canzone to bail him out with a game-tying homer. But, then we opted to let Trent Thornton pitch to an impressive lefty – who had just robbed us of a homer in the previous inning – instead of walking him and setting up the double play. He gave up a 2-run bomb, and that was that. 5-3.

Let’s get back to Felix.

Everyone falls all over themselves praising the Mariners for how they handle these events. I dunno, I think they’re on cruise control at this point, though there were some nice touches. My main gripe was the fact that not only were John Stanton and Chuck Armstrong in attendance, but Stanton took it upon himself to handle the bulk of the talking, after Rick Rizzs did his usual stellar job introducing everyone. Why is Stanton even there at all? Why does he have to be on the field? Why is anyone from the front office on the field? No one wants to hear from these guys. No one cares what these guys have to say. No one is THERE for these guys! We’re there for Felix, and the other stars who stopped by to honor him. We’re not there to listen to John Stanton in his extreme monotone drone on and on.

It’s especially poorly-timed coming just two weeks after a trade deadline where this team did pretty much nothing. They CERTAINLY weren’t going to add to the payroll. Now we have to sit there and listen to the representative of this tight-fisted ownership group talk at us? I don’t blame the fans for wanting to boo! But, the Mariners’ organization shouldn’t have put us in that uncomfortable position.

This is what these billionaires don’t get: we don’t like you. Unless you lead this organization to a championship, stay your ass in the shadows. It’s not safe for you out among the rabble. If you get in front of a podium, we’re going to boo the shit out of you. Stanton, to his credit, never stopped talking to let the boos take hold. Keeping the focus strictly on Felix was the smart move, because we can’t rightly boo our hero, now can we? But, nothing that Stanton said couldn’t have been said by Rizzs. We LIKE Rizzs! More importantly, he gets paid to speak for a living! He has tone and inflection in his voice! Stanton should’ve felt lucky to be sitting on the same field as someone as great as Felix, but he had no business whatsoever getting behind a plugged-in microphone and verbally holding us hostage for 10 minutes.

It was cool to see who showed up. Edgar and Dan, of course. Ichiro, naturally. Then Jaime Moyer of all people! What a treat! And the big get: Ken Griffey Jr. What a great guy! The best all-time Mariner coming to help induct the second-best all-time Mariner. The surprise of the event was having Adrian Beltre give his congratulations via video, and then stop the show by walking out onto the field to give Felix a big ol’ bear hug. Just outstanding!

So, as I alluded to, I didn’t go to the game on Friday. They weren’t giving anything away, as far as I can tell, and the big event was a fireworks show afterwards. No thanks. But, I made it a point to go to both Saturday and Sunday’s games.

I ended up stopping by Sluggers around 3pm for a couple beers before meeting up with some friends. We got into the stadium in plenty of time to get more beverages and sit in our seats for the ceremony. We had seats in the 300 level near the Lookout Landing bar in the far corner, but unfortunately it was reserved for a private party, so we couldn’t partake of their services. Instead, we opted to be the oldest guys in The Pen for the last few innings, which was … an experience.

I went with my fiance for the Sunday game. Even though we got to the stadium prior to the gates opening, my hopes of getting the bobblehead were initially dashed thanks to the crazy lines to get inside. People were wrapped around like it was still Saturday night! So, we went to an outdoor bar next to the Seahawks’ stadium and sat outside until the lines died down. To my surprise, when we got in they still had some bobbleheads left over! Which was nice, because I was dreading having to go on eBay and buy one at an inflated mark-up.

It was super fun to see Felix again, and to celebrate his brilliant Mariners career. It’s one of the shames of our collective sports experiences that he never got a chance to start in the post-season, but I’ll always cherish the fact that he was always a Mariner, and that I got to enjoy his excellence every five days for so many years.

Felix & Me …

The 2023 Mariners Look Awesome As Fuck!

There’s a way this all goes FUBAR. Any number of injuries to key players – Julio, Cal, Castillo, Gilbert, Kirby, Munoz, Sewald, Teoscar, Ty – and let’s face it, the Mariners are in a world of hurt. Of course, you can say that about any contending team and be right; the season from hell can strike at anytime, when you least suspect it. I’m not sitting here saying the Mariners are so good they can withstand a tsunami of IL stints; no team’s that good.

But, assuming the Mariners have just the average amount of injuries, just the average amount of underperforming players, just the average amount of good and/or bad luck, we’re talking about a team that’s good enough to go all the way. I’m not saying they will. But, they’re one of a handful of teams who can. And that’s not something we’ve been able to say for over two decades.

So, what makes a legitimate championship contender?

I think you need a true #1 ace starting pitcher. Which isn’t something the Mariners had in the Pat Gillick years (which is why I think those teams ultimately failed). Luis Castillo – regardless of how well he kicks off this season – is a true #1 ace starting pitcher.

Behind him, you’ve got a former Cy Young Award winner, and two other starters who are entirely capable of joining him. There’s an argument to be made that Castillo isn’t even the best starter on the team. The aforementioned Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray has some awesome stuff, and is a bulldog strikeout guy, but I’m not even talking about him. Logan Gilbert is absolutely gnarly out there on the mound, often dominating his opponents; and I’m not talking about him either! George Kirby could be the very best of all of them one day, and he’s just getting going in his Major League career. That’s four legitimate ace-type pitchers in this rotation, with a guy in Marco Gonzales who will eat innings and keep you in ballgames more often than not. What more can you want from a rotation?

What else do you need? Well, an elite bullpen, of course. That’s something those Randy Johnson teams in the mid-90s always lacked (which is definitely why all those teams ultimately failed). Ace starting pitchers are very important, but they don’t do you much good if you don’t have the ‘pen there preventing comebacks. And even though there’s every chance this bullpen could fall apart by sheer randomness, I don’t believe for one second that it’ll actually happen. If there’s any part of this team where the Mariners are truly deep, it’s in the bullpen. Not to mention, their scouting department and coaching staff have seemingly found the secret sauce to keep this train chugging along forever.

What else? It sure helps when you have a superstar in your lineup. A true, bona fide MVP candidate. That’s Julio. He not only leads with his bat, and his glove, and his baserunning, but he leads with his demeanor and personality and the confidence he instills in those around him. When you know you’ve got Julio in your lineup, the makeup of the entire team changes. More importantly, when the opposing pitcher knows there’s a Julio coming up, it can make all the difference in how they take on those other guys. A healthy, dominant Julio lifts all boats.

You also need additional pop in your lineup. Winning baseball teams have to score runs, and extra-base hits are still the best way to do so, regardless of the rules changes. Teoscar and Eugenio and Ty and Cal all give you that in spades.

The Mariners don’t have the most fearsome lineup in baseball, but they have just enough. Combined with the pitching – which should be Top 5 in all of baseball – that’s a combo that can take us into the playoffs no problem. It’s also a combo that can do some real damage once we get there.

What’s the final piece to the puzzle? Management. Coaching. Scott Servais and company. He absolutely doesn’t get the credit he deserves, at least from a national perspective. For some reason, even a segment of the Mariners fanbase likes to shit all over him, but I don’t get it. He’s amazing! He’s the best manager we’ve had since Sweet Lou, and his winning percentage backs that up. What’s more, if he does what Lou never could – gets us to a World Series – then I don’t think there’s any doubt about it: Scott Servais – if all goes according to plan – will go down as the best manager in Seattle Mariners history.

Sure, Servais is still 300-some-odd wins behind, but Lou had the advantage of walking into a situation that already had three Hall of Famers on the roster! Griffey, Edgar, and Randy were already locked and loaded; who couldn’t win 800+ games with three future Hall of Famers?!

Regardless, the key to a great manager is the culture he builds. Both have/had winning cultures, though Servais is much more a man of this particular time. He – much more often than not – pulls the right levers when it comes to bullpen and lineup decisions. In a lot of ways, that has to do with trusting those around him. He has the right group of assistant coaches, and he listens to the analytics team who provides him the information necessary to make him look smart day-in and day-out. He isn’t some old timer coaching with his gut. And that shows up just about every year he’s been in charge. The Mariners, in his tenure, have often outperformed projections and the talent they had on the roster. That’s quality management to a T. He’s a major asset to this team’s ability to win baseball games, and one day he’s going to lead us to a championship.

I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a new Mariners season. Usually, I’m just hoping they can entertain us until football season, while dreading the inevitable (that we’ll be out of it by June). Not this year. Fuck the other sports; it’s time to go all in on the Mariners.

What’s funny is that I don’t think the 2023 Mariners will be the best team we see over the next decade. I think we’ll manage to get even better, very soon. But, I also have this weird feeling that instead of everything breaking bad, it’s all going to break in our favor. Houston will be the team that struggles with injuries. Houston will be the team that loses an inordinate amount of games to the eventual division winner (Seattle). The Mariners, meanwhile, will enjoy a second consecutive season of unprecedented health in the starting rotation. The Mariners will continue to be among the league leaders in 1-run games, and we’ll continue to win at an insanely improbable rate.

I’ve got the Mariners at 98-64, four games ahead of Houston for the division.

I’ve got the Mariners cruising to the ALCS.

I’ve got the Mariners winning in 7 games.

And, yeah, I’ve got the Mariners against the Padres in the World Series, where we’ll do to them what we weren’t able to do in the regular season: we’ll sweep them in four games.

Even if I’m wrong and this isn’t our year, don’t worry, because that time is coming. The Mariners will win a championship before the calendar flips to 2030. What’s crazy to think about is the very legitimate possibility that we might, in fact, win multiple titles by then.

And if we don’t? Well, print this out and tape it to your fridge, because apparently my words have the power to jinx teams to an unfathomable degree.

My Favorite Seattle-Based Athletes, Part 2: My Top 10

You can check out Part 1 from yesterday.

For the record, this isn’t in any particular order. Though, I will say – spoiler alert – that the top five listed here comprise my favorite five, which I’ll get around to writing about tomorrow. Sorry to really drag out this flimsy concept!

My Top 10

  • King Felix
  • The Big Unit
  • Beastmode
  • Bam Bam Kam
  • The Reign Man
  • The Glove
  • Young Zeke
  • Tui
  • Reg-gie
  • Steve Largent

Look, not everyone can have a cool nickname or shorthand. But, for the first – I dunno – 25 to 30 years of my life, Steve Largent was my favorite athlete of all time. When you’re a kid just getting into sports, you gravitate towards the very best players. And, in the late 80’s, that guy was Largent for me. He had every wide receiver record at the time of his retirement (eventually surpassed by Jerry Rice, among others), but nothing’s ever going to top this sequence of events with Mike Harden. What’s insane is that Largent didn’t even miss a game after that cheap shot in week one! Talk about tough as nails.

I don’t know of a great way to rank all the amazing Husky wide receivers through the years, but anecdotally the first name that comes to my mind is Reggie Williams. He started playing with us a year after that magical 2000 season, and is sort of synonymous with my friends and I following the team religiously. There just wasn’t anyone like him. It seemed like every game he was good for at least a small handful of big plays. And, as it turns out, it was pretty much exclusively thanks to his natural-born ability, as he was never really able to parlay his college dominance into NFL success. I’ll save that for some bitter old-time Jags fans who were underwhelmed by him on a regular basis after being a top 10 pick in the NFL draft. But, as far as Huskies go, there were few better.

One of those guys would be Marques Tuiasosopo. All I need to talk about is 300/200. Against Stanford. 300 yards passing, 200 yards rushing. For the longest time, he was on an all-time list of only his name, until very recently when Malik Cunningham did it with Louisville in 2021. Tui led us to an 11-1 record in 2000 and a Rose Bowl victory over Drew Brees and the Purdue Boilermakers, and I still contend if we had a college football playoff system, that Husky team would’ve made some noise! Maybe even won it all! Just a fun guy to watch on a weekly basis though, especially when you consider how good the Pac-10 was back then, as well as how many times he pulled games out of his ass late.

Isaiah Thomas followed a succession of great Husky basketball players, but how could you not root for a guy of his size and ability? I’ll be honest, he’s on this list because of this, one of my top three favorite singular plays in Seattle sports history. I mean, it’s up there with The Tip and the Beastquake, but I’ll be honest, the one I keep coming back to and rewatching on YouTube is the Cold Blooded call from Gus Johnson in the Pac-10 Conference Tournament Championship Game. It’s just unfortunate that the program hasn’t even come close to getting back to that level of play.

The Supersonics were the model sports franchise in Seattle for the longest time. From the 70’s through the 90’s, they were consistent winners. Regularly in the playoffs. Made the finals three times – winning once in 1979 – and had our lone world championship until the Seahawks won it all in 2013. Clearly, there were a lot of tremendous players to wear that uniform, but none were better than Gary Payton. He was the heart and soul of all those 90s squads, and I’d put him up there with any Seattle sports all time great, Griffey, Largent, you name it. He made a name for himself with his unrivaled defensive ability, but over time he really developed a strong offensive game. He was one of the more potent post-up guards in the league, and eventually he even found his 3-point stroke. Things became a lot more challenging for him once he lost his partner in crime in Shawn Kemp, but he still did his best to keep this franchise afloat. Also, he makes this list for being one of the best shit-talkers in the history of mankind.

My Favorite Seattle-Based Athletes, Part 1

Ahh yes, we’re in one of those dead periods of the sports calendar (unless your team happens to be in the Super Bowl, or you’re super-jazzed by what they’re doing with the Pro Bowl nowadays); it’s a struggle to find things to write about. So, to kill some time, I thought I’d write about my favorite Seattle athletes, both college and pros.

These aren’t necessarily people who were born and/or raised in the Seattle area (although, they could be). These are people who played their respective sports – either in college or as professionals – in Seattle. We’re talking Seahawks, Mariners, Supersonics, and Huskies. For this exercise, I went through each team and picked my favorite five guys. I’ll write a little bit about each, then we’ll narrow it down to a top ten overall, then we’ll see if we’re able to rank those. I don’t expect this to be easy.

I should point out – for frame of reference – that I didn’t really start getting into sports until 1987 or 1988, with the 90’s being my heyday. I got into the Seahawks first, then the Sonics in the early 90’s, then the Mariners in 1995, and it wasn’t until I started going to UW in the fall of 1999 when I truly became a Husky fan. This isn’t a ranking of the All Time Best Seattle Athletes. These are just MY favorites. If they’re not your favorites, I don’t care. Go start your own blog; they’re not too hard to make.

Mariners

  • Felix Hernandez
  • Randy Johnson
  • Ken Griffey Jr.
  • Ichiro
  • Alex Rodriguez

Spoiler alert: Felix and Randy are making my Top 10, so I’ll write more about them later. It feels corny as hell to have Griffey in my top five favorite Mariners, but I don’t know how you leave him off. He balled out in the outfield, making insane catches and throws, and he was one of the best home run hitters of all time. You couldn’t take your eyes off of him when he was doing whatever it was he was doing, even if it was just chuckling with teammates in the dugout. I would say over time, the bloom came off the rose with Ichiro, but those first few years, he was a force of nature. You couldn’t believe what you were seeing out of this magnetic little guy, with his cannon of an arm, and his ability to beat out seemingly-routine grounders. Eventually, he became a slap-hitting singles guy who never dove for balls and whose arm stopped being challenged by baserunners. But, for a while there, he was all we had. A common theme going forward is going to be how tough I had it trying to pick a fifth favorite. Edgar was just boringly amazing. Buhner was certainly a terrific personality. And there were plenty of quietly-excellent guys around the turn of the century. But, A-Rod was a guy who could do it all, at least as long as he wore a Mariners uniform. Power, speed, defense (at the most premium defensive spot on the team), great eye, great average. We somehow brought in a guy who could legitimately push Griffey as the best player on the team. Say what you will about his exit from Seattle, but even then, it was fun to root against him on other teams.

Seahawks

  • Marshawn Lynch
  • Kam Chancellor
  • Steve Largent
  • Russell Wilson
  • Richard Sherman

Spoiler alert: Lynch, Kam, and Largent are all making my Top 10. The Seahawks were tough in a different way, because I could’ve gone 20 deep in this preliminary list; it was difficult to limit it to just five. Cortez Kennedy, Shaun Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck, Joey Galloway, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett, Ricky Watters, Brian Blades, Bobby Wagner, Michael Sinclair, Jacob Green, Lofa Tatupu, Walter Jones, Doug Baldwin. You could go on and on and on. But, in spite of recent schadenfreude, Russell Wilson was still a super fun quarterback to watch and root for on a weekly basis. In his prime, he would regularly pull our asses out of the fire late in games, and even late in plays as he’d avoid the pass rush in order to make some insane throw down field. Sherm ended up landing my fifth spot simply because of his personality. You could always tell what kind of shit he was talking even if he wasn’t mic’ed up on the field. If teams had the misfortune of trying to challenge him, they’d often find that plan thwarted real quick. Even later in his career – after quarterbacks by and large stopped throwing his way – it was always comforting knowing half the field was closed for business.

Supersonics

  • Shawn Kemp
  • Gary Payton
  • Detlef Schrempf
  • Sam Perkins
  • Nate McMillan

Spoiler alert: Kemp and Payton are in my Top 10. You’ll notice the top four listed here were the top four in minutes played in that amazing 1995/1996 season (and that all five were on that team in major roles). The fifth guy came down to Mac-10, Ray Allen, Dale Ellis, Hersey Hawkins, and Rashard Lewis, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Mr. Sonic. For a lot of reasons, but I’ll never forget how banged up he was in those Finals against the Bulls. Yet, he came back and played a critical role in our winning games four and five. I’ll always believe that a healthy Nate would’ve propelled us to the upset to end all upsets against those juggernaut Bulls. Detlef was a consummate pro and a perfect complement to Gary and Shawn’s theatrics. And Big Smooth – for that nickname alone – very nearly made my Top 10. Just a stud of a big man who drained threes like nobody’s business (at a time in league history where that was an extreme rarity, unlike today where it’s the norm).

Husky Basketball

  • Isaiah Thomas
  • Jon Brockman
  • Nate Robinson
  • Brandon Roy
  • Matisse Thybulle

Spoiler alert: only IT makes my Top 10 from here. If I had to pick a second, I’d go with Brockman, who was a great all-around forward under Romar. He got better every year in a complementary role, and as a senior really picked up and led this team in ways we wouldn’t have expected from him as a freshman. Nate Rob was super flashy and fun to watch. Roy probably had the best game of all of them, but was one of those boringly-excellent players (who, unfortunately, could never stay healthy as a pro). And Thybulle really got unlocked under Mike Hopkins, in probably the only good thing he’s done as a coach of the Huskies. Honorable mention goes to Terrell Brown, for being super fun to watch game-in and game-out last year.

Husky Football

  • Marques Tuiasosopo
  • Reggie Williams
  • John Ross
  • Budda Baker
  • Michael Penix

Spoiler alert: Tui and Reggie both made my Top 10. If there was a Top 11, John Ross would be in it. Nothing more fun than my friends and I screaming JOHN ROSS at the tops of our lungs whenever he corralled a 40+ yard bomb for a touchdown. My love for Budda Baker started when he flipped from the Ducks to the Huskies. Then, he proceeded to ball out for us for three of the best teams we’ve ever had, before becoming one of the pros I most wanted the Seahawks to draft. We let him go to the Cardinals and part of me has never forgiven them for it. Consider this the kiss of death for Penix’s 2023 season, as I’ve surely jinxed him. But, he might be the best and most pro-ready quarterback I’ve ever seen in a Husky uniform. As someone who stepped in right away this past season and led us to double-digit wins – including a bowl victory over the Longhorns – it’s a remarkable feat, even if he is a transfer. Penix obviously gets extra credit for choosing to return for a second season – when he easily could’ve gone pro and been at least a Day 2 draft pick, if not a sneaky first rounder – and of course for all the Big Penix Energy jokes my friends and I get to rattle off. If he parlays this into a conference title in 2023, I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s able to sneak into my Top 10 by this time next year.

Tomorrow: my top 10.

I’m Over The Huge Mega-Deal In Free Agency For The Mariners

Being a fan of the Mariners from 2005-2018 is the baseball fan equivalent of being a Vietnam War veteran. I’m still having flashbacks. There are any number of terrible free agent signings both within that period and outside of that period (for the purposes of this post, when I talk about free agents, I’m talking exclusively about the outside free agents we’ve signed to come to Seattle, not the guys who were Mariners that we then re-signed once they hit free agency), but from 2005-2018, I think the four biggest marquee free agent signings we all know and love are Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz.

Cruz, admittedly, is an absolute success story, the likes of which is rare and beautiful. On the opposite end of the spectrum, hearing the name Richie Sexson again makes me want to shut my eyes and never look at the Seattle Mariners ever again. When in reality, it was more of a mixed bag, with his power numbers holding up for two seasons, before he fell off a cliff.

Beltre, I feel like, gets more kudos than … whatever the opposite of kudos are, because his defense was elite, because he was best friends with King Felix, and because he settled into a role that was fairly reliable. However, he came here off of a 2004 season with the Dodgers where he finished 2nd in MVP voting. We came into it expecting 48 homers per year, and got far FAR less. As for Cano, I think we all had fair expectations for what that was. 10 years, $24 million per year. We expected about half of those years to be good, and half of those years to be in severe overpaid decline. And that’s pretty much what we got (with the silver lining that maybe we got a good trade out of the whole thing, depending on what Kelenic ends up turning into). But, regardless, it sucks that you’re investing in someone for a decade, knowing full well that half of those years will be miserable failures (only able to get out from under it by taking advantage of a know-nothing GM).

The point of my bringing those players up in this context is the fact that paying huge sums in free agency doesn’t come with a great success rate. You can say that about trades, you can say that about drafts, you can say that about lower-priced free agents. But, obviously, the cost is far less for everything else. But, when you make a huge splash in free agency, the expectation is that those players will not only come in and make an immediate impact, but they’ll be the cornerstones of your franchise. They’ll put you over the top. If you were a losing organization, they’ll turn you into playoff contenders; if you were already playoff contenders, then they’ll turn you into championship contenders.

Every year in the baseball offseason, the biggest storylines revolve around the Hot Stove. Those elite players who’ve hit free agency are the most talked-about. And, teams like the Mariners – who have relatively low payrolls, who are also coming off of a playoff run – are often expected to be big players in those sweepstakes. And the fans ALWAYS get mad when the Mariners opt to sit out the top tiers of free agency.

It doesn’t make sense, for a variety of reasons. For starters, if you just look at the history of the Seattle Mariners, they don’t make huge splashes in free agency in these situations. If you think about the four players I discussed above, those were all situations where we were trying to bail out a sinking ship. We were never in a position to bolster a team from good to great in that period. The last time the Mariners were great, they largely built up the roster in response to losing other major stars (Randy, Griffey, A-Rod), going with less-heralded all stars over those supernovas.

The other big reason why free agency doesn’t make sense is that it really ties you down to one or two major decisions. The reason why building from within is preferred over the alternative is because you have more information. You’re extending guys who have already had success here. For a team playing half its games in Seattle, that means everything. We see over and over again players come here and struggle, with the ballpark, the climate, the distance away from their offseason homes, whathaveyou. It doesn’t matter if they’re power hitters, line drive hitters, or speedy bloop hitters. So, literally anyone you bring here is a coin flip at best; why would you want to tie yourself down for 5-10 years on someone if you don’t even know if they can succeed here? If you trade for someone and they stink, you can get out of it in a year or two without major financial repercussions. Free agents have their money fully guaranteed.

I would also argue – even with the very best players – there’s a reason why they reached free agency. Aaron Judge was your 2022 American League MVP. He broke the A.L. record for home runs. He’s one of the top three most popular players in all of baseball. The Yankees have all the money and revenue in the world. If they REALLY wanted to avoid all this, if they REALLY wanted him to stick around long term, they would’ve already worked out an extension. As we saw with Julio Rodriguez, as the Angels did with Mike Trout, as countless other teams have done with their super-duper-stars, when you want someone to stick around, you figure out how to get it done before they hit free agency.

I’d be curious to know the success rate of players who sign the top 5-10 free agent contracts every year. How often are those players just as good or better than they were prior to signing? And how long before they decline? How often do those players decline right away, or within a season or two? I remember lots of horror stories from the first half of 2022, when the bulk of the uber-free agents were all struggling with their new teams. There’s a chance Aaron Judge signs a contract somewhere else and is just as good as he was with the Yankees. But, there’s a much BETTER chance he signs somewhere and is worse. But that team is stuck paying him an insane amount of money, and guaranteeing him a spot in their everyday lineup, which is the ultimate double whammy.

I don’t need that. Honestly, I don’t need that ever again. I’d rather the Mariners pay their home-grown guys. I’d rather we trade for players nearing the end of their initial contract, who are incentivized to play hard to try to earn more money. I like the way this team has been built. I don’t want them to suddenly change course and start chasing the huge names, only to have those players struggle and waste all of our time.

Frankly, I’m glad that’s the plan. It’s hard enough to get everything right with your own guys. Evan White’s contract looks like a mini-disaster at the moment. J.P. Crawford seems to have more value as a team leader and chemistry guy than he does with his bat. So, I don’t understand how we EVER get things right with outside free agency. That just seems like the crapshoot to end all crapshoots.

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!