It’s Been A While Since The Mariners Haven’t Had A Third Baseman

By and large, Mariners fans have been spoiled through the years, in this one very specific area. Third baseman is a weird spot on a team. It’s one of the few true power positions, but it also requires a level of athleticism and defensive ability to where you can’t just throw any old hulk over there. He’d get eaten alive by too many hot shot grounders. That’s what seemingly makes it one of the toughest spots on the team to fill. You need that athleticism, you need a strong arm, and you ideally would also have some semblance of extra base-hitting ability.

With second base, you can hide athletic infielders who don’t have the arm or the pop. With first base, obviously they’re almost exclusively lacking in athleticism, but they generally come with more power. A competent third baseman who has all three facets of the game is kind of a unicorn! And yet, with few exceptions, the Mariners have been pretty well stocked at the position dating back to the mid 90s (and maybe beyond).

Eugenio Suarez, Kyle Seager before him, then there was Adrian Beltre, David Bell, Russ Davis, Mike Blowers, and way back in the day, a young and fit Edgar Martinez.

The last time we didn’t really have much of anything at third base, you have to go back to 2010 and the first half of 2011. That’s when we had a year of Jose Lopez, and half a year of Chone Figgins (before Seager got the call-up and promptly took over). I don’t know if you remember those days, but they were terrible! And, unless something huge happens soon, I think 2024 is going to look a lot like those days.

I don’t care what anyone says, Luis Urias stinks! Even at his very best, in 2021, he had a 112 OPS+, which is better than average, but by no means great. Josh Rojas appears to be his platoon partner over there – at least, on paper – but he’s only valuable if he’s hitting for a high average. Neither one has extreme power numbers; Urias is probably better than Rojas in that regard, but I can’t imagine – as a righty – he’s going to have much success hitting in Seattle.

Who else are we looking at? Maybe Dylan Moore, maybe Sam Haggerty; the usual suspects of suck.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the moment the Mariners traded Suarez, they were punting on the third base spot. Not that I have tremendous confidence Suarez will bounce back in 2024, but I have WAY more confidence in that than I do the Mariners having a competent third baseman currently on their roster.

If we don’t see the third base spot hitting in the bottom third of the order, it’ll be both a surprise and probably a total breach of judgment. Just be prepared for a humongous black hole in that spot.

It’s frustrating to know this now, and it’s not even Spring Training yet. If the Mariners somehow hang around contention, they MIGHT make a deadline deal for an actual third baseman. But, they could save us a lot of headaches by just doing a deal with someone NOW! Let’s get ahead of it, before we’re all booing every single third baseman we see.

My Thoughts On The New Rules In Baseball

I should probably go ahead and start out by saying that I have not yet watched nor listened to a baseball game since the new rules were implemented in Spring Training. And I didn’t get a chance to make it out to a minor league game last year. I can’t remember if the rules were in place the last time I did go to a Rainiers game; I vaguely remember a pitch clock running, but I don’t remember the umpires being sticklers for adhering to it. This was the year Kelenic started in AAA – so that would’ve been 2021 – and from what I recall they were just starting to sprinkle it in.

Anyway, I suppose my thoughts could change as I start watching games and as the season progresses. But, from what I’m hearing, and from what I know the rules represent, I think I’m like the majority: overwhelmingly in favor of them.

Pitch Clock

I’m decidedly NOT a baseball purist. I don’t think I’m any kind of sports purist, but I’ll be honest, I’m especially a fan of speeding things up.

Now, clearly, I’m no athlete. But, my friends and I used to play a considerable amount of baseball in my backyard (the baseball was a tennis ball, the bat was thick and plastic, the strike zone was a towel thumbtacked to the fence, foul balls over the fence/house were outs, you could throw the ball at a baserunner to tag them out), and as a pitcher who took pride in his craft (and kept copious notes of his stats throughout the “seasons”), I was a big fan of taking the ball and throwing it, with very little in-between nonsense.

It’s not that I necessarily hate it when a pitcher futzes with his gear, or when a hitter fidgets with his batting gloves. But, taken as a whole, you can see the clear difference in game play. We’re shaving off 30 minutes of bullshit! If your OCD brain can’t function between pitches without doing 15 ritualistic things, then maybe you don’t belong in the Major Leagues. Somebody posted a video to Twitter that featured nearly 3 minutes of down time between pitches; that’s clinically insane!

It’s also not like I was always thinking “games are too long”, but you knew it when you were watching it. Some pitcher loses the strike zone for an inning, and all of a sudden you’re sitting there for 45 minutes before the next team’s up to bat. You had hoped to be finished and in bed before 10pm, and all of a sudden it’s pushing 11pm with no end in sight.

It’s easy to blame the most egregious cases. I don’t know how Boston fans tolerated Nomar Garciaparra all those years. I know, in recent times, it’s been a nightmare having to sit through Diego Castillo on the mound; a guy who seemingly never makes it through an inning in under 20 pitches, with 45 hat twists in between. But, clearly, it’s just about everyone, all game long, contributing to the runaway boredom.

I’m a pretty big fan of the Mariners; I’ve been following them religiously since 1995. And even still, it’s hard to stay engaged through all 9 innings! I’m usually right there in the beginning, then I lose focus through the middle innings, before making a return towards the end. I don’t think that’s uncommon. When there’s nothing else going on; when it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and you might find yourself nodding off for an hour or so in front of the TV, the pace of baseball becomes nice white noise to soothe your restful mind.

But now, when you know you probably only have two and a half hours before it’s over, there’s more urgency. There’s fewer opportunities to turn your focus to your phone, or whatever else is on TV. If you step away to make dinner, you might now find 3-4 innings have gone by!

There’s only a couple of instances where I’m not as much of a fan of the new pace of play.

The first has to do with the rhythm of the broadcast. Now, the shorter games can also be a good thing here, if you have announcers who are boring/annoying. But, when you’ve got good ones – when you’ve got Aaron Goldsmith and Mike Blowers, for instance – you don’t mind spending 3+ hours with them, because they’re so entertaining and good at their jobs. You want to hear their stories, you want to learn what facts they’ve dug up for that game, you want to laugh at their jokes and just be in their company. So, that’s a bit of a bummer. There’ll be a learning curve, I’m sure. Plenty of cliffhangers to stories that have to wait until the next half-inning. But, that’ll work itself out. And, most importantly, it isn’t the end of the world, nor a deal-breaker.

My other gripe is going to be one that I’m just going to have to deal with, and that’s actually attending the games. I don’t go during the work week. If I did – or if I retired and had season tickets – then yeah, getting out of there and back home by 10pm would be a very ideal scenario. But, when I go, it’s an event. I get a group of friends together, or I’m there with my sweetheart, and we’re there to have a good time! We want alcoholic beverages, we want to try all the different kinds of foods, maybe we want a souvenir, and I know that I want to enjoy myself as I keep score in a scorecard. I never want those games to end! Now, if you go to a game, and concessions don’t have their shit together, you’re bound to miss a significant chunk of the game because you were stuck in line! Not for nothing, but with the Mariners being as good as they are, you know there’s going to be a drastic increase in fan attendance, which is only going to further strain the understaffed concessions booths. And you better be on your toes for that seventh inning, because alcohol sales are going to be over before you know it!

I’m never going to be fully happy going to games unless they manage to go into extra innings. But, again, that’s just something I’ll have to deal with.

No More Shift

I’ll admit, I didn’t hate the shift as much as some people. Part of me feels like hitters should be able to knock the ball the other way, or otherwise take a bunt when they’re clearly giving it to you. But, mostly, I actually like pitching and defense. I like it when guys throw 7+ innings of shutout ball. I like the strategy of taking advantage of a particular hitter’s pull tendencies. I think all of that is very interesting, and it makes spray hitters that much more valuable.

But, it’s also REALLY discouraging to see a hitter whip a ball straight up the pitcher’s ass – where it used to glide over the mound and second base, into the outfield without even the semblance of a play from the short stop or second baseman – only for it to be easily scooped up by a guy standing right there and thrown to first for an easy 6-3 put-out. And it’s rather pathetic to see all of these left-handed batters roll over to the second baseman who’s positioned halfway between the infield dirt and the outfield wall.

Then, I think about what the shift has meant to certain hitters. Corey Seager’s Brother Kyle Seager, for instance, might’ve been a perennial All Star. He came into baseball just as it was starting to be widely implemented, and by the end he was a shell of his early self and couldn’t keep his average above .250 to save his life. From 2011-2016, he was a .266 hitter; never had an average below .258. From 2017-2021, he was a .231 hitter; never had an average above .249. To make up for it, you really had to swing for the fences, which only increased your strikeouts (leading to that Three True Outcomes era we all loathed).

How many careers were derailed because of the shift? Conversely, how many middling pitchers were sustained? It’s not even that, though. Clearly, pitchers have outpaced hitters in natural ability over the last 20 years. Getting steroids out of the game helped. But, these guys are throwing in the upper 90’s with ease. They’re throwing nasty change-ups and sliders as secondary pitches, and the hitters can’t keep up. So, it only makes sense to throw the hitters a bone in this regard.

I say that as, again, a guy who loves pitching. A few more seeing-eye singles won’t make a whole helluva lot of difference for the really elite pitchers. But, maybe we get some of the duds out of the game a little quickler.

Bigger Bases/Fewer Pickoffs

I don’t know who could possibly have a problem with this, because it’s all straight up fun. Stolen bases are fun! Infield singles are fun! You know what’s not fun? Watching a pitcher throw over to first five times, only for that guy to take off running anyway. Pickoffs RARELY work. No one really has a good move anymore. More than anything, they just take advantage of the carelessness of the runner, who might have guessed wrong or just wasn’t paying attention.

I wasn’t even around for them, but I miss the days of guys stealing 100 bags. Between that and the shift going away, this feels like a resurgence for speedy slap hitters, who have been all but legislated out of the game thanks to nerds who took advantage of a flawed system. I’m all for winning by any means necessary, but it’s nice to add value where you can. And if a guy can hit around .300 – with little-to-no power – while stealing a bunch of bases and scoring a bunch of runs, there should be a place for him in Major League Baseball. It shouldn’t all be lumbering bombers who strike out 200 times a year and walk 100 times a year.

The beauty of baseball is that it takes all comers. You can be short, skinny, and fast, or you can be big, strong, and fat – or, really, any body type in between – and if you can play, you can play. So, let everyone play!

It’s funny, sports leagues tweak rules all the time, and it seems like they’re constantly getting it wrong. The NFL is a major culprit in this; who remembers the disaster that was allowing coaches to throw challenge flags for pass interference? Lots of half measures and hare-brained compromises lead to a watering down of the product. But, I feel like baseball got these things 100% right. Again, we’ll see how it shakes out in the regular season. But, without going to severe extremes – like shortening games to 7 innings – they’ve managed to preserve the integrity of the game, while reshaping it for future generations.

And, oddly enough, getting back to basics a little bit. Games used to be like this way back in the day. Shorter in length, with more singles and stolen bases. We’re improving the game for future generations by harkening back to a time when it was played by previous generations!

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!

Ranking The Trustworthiness Of The Mariners, Part 2: The Non-Pitchers

Check out what I wrote about the pitchers HERE.

Now, we’ve got the position players. There were 21 pitchers on the 40-man roster, which means we have 19 players listed below. Right away, it’s a less-pleasing number – impossible to equally divide into three separate categories – and as it turns out, I can’t even come all that close to making an equal three-way split anyway. The majority of the players you’ll find below are in that medium-trustworthy category. If things break right and the Mariners are once again contending for a playoff spot in 2022, it’ll be because a high percentage of these 50/50 guys bust out and are productive regular players. If the Mariners regress away from their 90-win 2021 season, it’ll be because a high percentage of these 50/50 guys shit the bed. But, first, let’s get the bad players out of the way.

No: The Least-Trustworthy Mariners Non-Pitchers Of 2022

#19 – Alberto Rodriguez

Everything I know about this guy, I learned from this link. Given his level of experience, I think there’s an extremely low chance that he plays for the Mariners this year. That being said, it does seem like his potential is higher than some of the players you’ll see ranked ahead of him in this post.

#18 – Jose Godoy

We’re talking about the fourth catcher on the 40-man roster (technically the third, I guess, if we assume Luis Torrens has played his last game behind the plate); this guy is injury depth and that’s it. Expect him to play the vast majority of his games in Tacoma. If he’s in Seattle for any length of time at all, something has gone seriously FUBAR.

#17 – Donovan Walton

He’s a 28 year old utility player; he stinks.

#16 – Kevin Padlo

He’s another white utility player; the only reason he’s ranked ahead of Walton is that he’s three years younger. Having less experience is a drawback, but that just means maybe there’s potential there for him to surprise us.

#15 – Taylor Trammell

2021 was his first year scraping the Big Leagues and he had every opportunity at the beginning of the season to lock down a starting outfield job. He failed. He showed a little more pop than expected, but his average was abysmal. Figure he’s another trade fodder candidate.

#14 – Evan White

For someone who has been as bad as he has through the first two years of his Major League career, it’s shocking he ranks as high as he does. But, his sub-par rookie season in 2020, followed by his sub-par and injury-plagued 2021, has cost him his starting first base job. I don’t know what’s in store for his career, but for someone who signed an early guaranteed-money contract – buying out his Arbitration Years – his Mariners future is cloudy at best.

Maybe?: The Medium-Trustworthy Mariners Non-Pitchers Of 2022

#13 – Tom Murphy

I don’t know what happened. He had such a relatively strong 2019 season, was slated to be our starter in 2020 (but got injured), then was our starter in 2021 but totally faceplanted. He eventually lost his job to a rookie and that was that. I don’t know how he’s still here, but there’s a reason why he’s a bubble guy for me when it comes to trustworthiness. The only notch in his favor is his veteran leadership. Also the fact that he’s projected to be our backup catcher in 2022; maybe reduced usage will help his overall output? I don’t have high hopes.

#12 – Cal Raleigh

It’s funny how secure I was in our catching position heading into 2021, only to see these guys be the biggest question mark heading into 2022. Raleigh had a rough rookie campaign last year, but pretty much any experience is good experience. He handled the pitching staff well, played adequate defense, and at least flashed some potential at the plate. I don’t think he was rushed into the Majors too early, but we’ll see. It wouldn’t shock me to see him return to Tacoma for a spell in 2022, but my hope is he’ll be playing better in September than he does in April.

#11 – Dylan Moore

Moore was one of our best and most surprising players in 2020, which makes his 2021 output that much more devastating. Initially, he was just a utility guy (and a bad one at that), then he turned himself into a starting second baseman; now he’s back to being a utility guy (and a bubble one at that). I don’t know if he’s long for the Mariners; we seem to have a logjam of utility guys. 2022 is really Now or Never for him.

#10 – Jake Fraley

Depending on health, Fraley might start out the season as a starting outfielder, but I don’t expect that to last. His saving grace in 2021 was his quality eye at the plate, and the slightly improved pop in his bat. But, his average was pitifully low, and his walk rate declined the more he played. He seems like a fourth outfielder at best, and is almost certainly another trade fodder candidate. He’s keeping a roster spot warm for another guy coming up later on this list.

#9 – Julio Rodriguez

This guy! Our very best minor league prospect and someone who is a consensus Future Superstar by pretty much every minor league scout. Think Kelenic last year, only with a higher all-around upside; I would expect him to have a starting job by early May, if not sooner. But, of course, that doesn’t mean he’s destined to be elite from the jump; again, think Kelenic last year. He’ll have ups and downs. He’s rated as highly as he is, though, because it’s believed he’ll have fewer downs than Kelenic, which is absolutely thrilling to me.

#8 – Kyle Lewis

Our 2020 Rookie of the Year is a bit of a tragic injury case. Last year, he suffered the second major right knee injury of his relatively brief professional career. When he’s healthy, he’s pretty great! He would be a fantastic outfield starter for us right this very minute if he can stay upright. As it is, he might just be trade bait, or a tale of woe of what might’ve been.

#7 – Abraham Toro

I don’t really have a great idea of what the Mariners have planned for Toro. He was a significant trade target at the deadline last year, and slotted in as a starting second baseman right away. He was pretty good, but the power wasn’t there, and he sort of faded down the stretch. He doesn’t play the outfield, and there are two holes on the infield – second and third base – one of which is going to be filled by Adam Frazier. There’s lots of speculation that the M’s will go out and acquire another starting infielder, which would make Toro’s place on the 40-man redundant. Is he another trade guy? Or do the M’s believe in him more than the rest of us? I do think he has starting potential – and I’d be interested in seeing what becomes of him – but if he’s handed a starting job (and a spot in the top half of the lineup) and the Mariners fail to make the playoffs, I think we’ll be pointing a finger at Toro as a big reason why. On the flipside, if he hits, then he’s a relatively inexpensive star on a young, up-and-coming team for the next few years!

#6 – Jarred Kelenic

I still believe in Kelenic, but I can’t put him in the top tier on this roster just yet until I see him perform at a high level consistently. He has the potential, he has the drive, he just needs to put it all together at the plate. It’ll happen, but his real breakout year might not be until 2023.

Yes: The Most-Trustworthy Mariners Non-Pitchers Of 2022

#5 – Luis Torrens

Look, if this seems too high to you, just know that I hear you. I get it. Torrens over Kelenic is going to look MIGHTY dumb sooner rather than later. But, Torrens – when they gave up on him being a catcher and made him a full-time DH – vastly improved as a hitter. He was bottoming out early in 2021 and spent a spell in Tacoma, but upon his return he was nails. I don’t think the M’s can afford to have a full-time DH on their roster – they like to give guys days off by playing DH – but as a regular hitter and an emergency catcher, I like what they have in Torrens. I also think they can build his value up to be another trade candiate if the right deal comes along. His power – especially to the opposite field – is something that’s rare in this game today.

#4 – Adam Frazier

He just seems like a steady veteran presence. Someone who will start for us at second, play everyday, and hit for a reasonably high average. Also, his eye at the plate will keep his value up there on this team. On a good team, with 7 or 8 quality hitters, I think Frazier is a key glue guy. But, if we’ve only got 3 or 4 quality hitters – and Frazier is one of them – I think there will be offensive woes beyond our comprehension. Here’s hoping others step up around him.

#3 – Mitch Haniger

He’s probably the best all-around hitter and player on this team, but he gets dinged for his injury history. He made it through 2021 unscathed, which might give you solace, but actually has me on high alert. That means he’s due for a major injury! I hope that’s not the case, because he’s a really good guy – and a really good player when he’s healthy. The Mariners need Haniger to lead the way if we’re going to make the playoffs in 2022.

#2 – Ty France

Hands down probably the best pure hitter on this team. He’s also not too shabby defensively at first base. I know that’s supposed to be Evan White’s job, but France’s effectiveness dwindles when you make him play elsewhere on the field. It’s easier to try to move White around, while occasionally giving White a spot start at first when France DH’s.

#1 – J.P. Crawford

With Seager retired, Crawford is the unquestioned leader of this team (or, at least up there with Haniger). He’s one of the best defensive short stops in the game, and he’s turned himself into a pretty effective hitter at the top of the lineup. Given how hard he works, and his natural ability, I expect him to be a plus Major Leaguer for the foreseeable future. There’s no one I trust more on this team, to get a big hit, or make a big play defensively. All around stud.

It Wouldn’t Shock Me If The Mariners Are Worse In 2022

There is a tremendous amount of hype and buzz around the Seattle Mariners right now. This team is coming off of a 90-win season, they were able to shed some aging high-value contracts to free up extra spending money, and there appears to be a good young core of guys to build around into a real, bona fide contender. The first contender we’ve seen around these parts since the turn of the century.

Recently, we just learned Baseball America named the Mariners as having the number one farm system in all of baseball, for the first time in franchise history. There were some tweets floating around that a crazy high number of teams in recent years who have had the top farm system have gone on to at least appear in a World Series not long after. Considering the Mariners are the only franchise to have never made it that far, this is tremendously exciting to hear! You have to like those odds, even though – obviously – nothing is guaranteed in this life.

This is a unique position to be in as a Mariners fan. The duration of this franchise’s existence has been defined by disappointment. Even when we had good teams – in that 1995-2003 span – they all underachieved in some way, shape, or form. The 1995 squad couldn’t complete the miracle that seemed destined to take place through the ALDS. The 1997 squad squandered one of the very best offensive power lineups in MLB history with terrible bullpen pitching and even worse trade decisions. The 2001 squad tied the mark for most regular season wins in MLB history, only to hardly make a dent in the ALCS. And the 2002 & 2003 squads both won 93 games only to fail to make the playoffs entirely.

Then there’s the two decades preceeding that stretch, as well as the two decades since, losers all. So, if you’re a Mariners fan, and you think this is all too good to be true, I don’t blame you. I’m not so irrational as to expect the playoff drought to continue on indefinitely; it WILL end, at some point. Even if it means the MLB expands the playoff field again and we somehow back into it through unsustainable luck, we’ll get back there at some point before the Earth is swallowed up by the sun.

But, there’s a non-zero chance that it doesn’t happen with this current rebuild. That’s what’s scary. Just imagine if it doesn’t work again. Just imagine that we keep falling a game or two short, over and over, until ownership has enough and tries a different tactic. How long will it be until the NEXT rebuild comes to bear fruit? If it doesn’t happen in the next 3-4 years, it might not happen again for another decade or more. Because at some point, we’re going to start dipping into that farm system via trades to bolster the big league club for a final push towards glory. Once the farm system is inevitably depleted, it’ll take that much longer to rebuild. There’s no Win Forever in baseball; that doesn’t exist. The chickens are even coming home to roost for the cheating Astros, who have one of the very worst farm systems in the game. That seemed impossible the way they were chugging along a few years ago.

In my heart of hearts, though, I don’t believe all of that. I actually DO believe the Mariners are on the right track. I DO believe this is the group that’s going to take us back to the playoffs. I also believe that barring a crazy amount of bad injury luck, this could be a championship-contending team within the next 3-4 years! We’re on a thrilling upward trajectory, and for the first time in my baseball-watching life, there’s a realistic scenario where this team goes all the way.

The part of me that believes has a plan in mind for this team. It technically started in 2021, with the Mariners coming from out of nowhere to win 90 games. That number is higher than I would’ve expected, but what I’d hoped for was to see enough progress from the young core to believe that real change was happening in this organization. With that in place, it’s now time to start infusing this roster with outside talent, to come in right away and fill in the holes. We’ve started on that, with the trade for Adam Frazier and the signing of Robbie Ray. Those are potentially huge pieces of the puzzle we’ve locked into place. With more to come, once this lockout ends and the CBA is finalized.

But, the fact of the matter is that we can’t fill all the holes in a single offseason. We can fill some of them – we’ll need to, if we want to make the World Series in 3-4 years – but some of them will be placeholders. A number of spots are going to be reserved for the best of our best prospects. Julio Rodriguez needs to play his way onto the Major League ballclub. One or two of our starting pitchers needs to bust out and get his feet wet in Seattle. And, of course, our young hitters who’ve already gotten their feet wet need to develop into legitimate Major League producers. Guys like Jarred Kelenic, Cal Raleigh, and maybe even Abraham Toro need to take big leaps, or it’s not going to work.

Kyle Seager was on the downside of his career last year – and indeed, has gone on to retire – but he still papered over a lot of what was wrong with the Mariners last year. He produced at a high level, and we’re going to need SOMEONE to fill in that huge gap. Maybe multiple someones. My hunch is a lot of those young guys I just mentioned will continue to improve, but they’ll also continue to have growing pains and be mired in prolonged slumps. That’s going to cost us ballgames.

Then, there’s the bullpen. They were freakishly effective in 2021, which was a big reason why we won 90 games in spite of a -51 run differential. I would very much expect some significant regression in the bullpen’s ability to lock down one-run games. That will also cost us in the standings.

How do we recover from that? We need the starting rotation to pick up more of the slack. We need the hitters to build bigger leads. Do we have the horses to achieve that right now? I doubt it. Can we add to our talent pool before the regular season starts? I think we’ll have to.

Even with that, it’s not hard to see the Mariners winning fewer than 90 games in 2022. That doesn’t mean we’re not on the right track; that doesn’t mean we’re destined to be losers forever. That just means maybe 2023 is a more logical target to break the playoff drought.

If all of your hopes and dreams rest on 2022 being The Year, you’re probably going to be sorely disappointed. Sure, it would be amazing if I’m wrong, and this year’s team wins 95 games and makes a deep playoff run; that could happen too! But, I’m going into this year a lot like 2021. I’ll hold out a sliver of my expectations toward making the post-season, but for the most part I still want to see improvement from the young core. I still want to see what the high-level prospects can do at the Major League level. I want to go into 2023 with fewer holes than we have in 2022.

I want to go into 2023 with a Playoffs Or Bust mindset. I want to go into 2023 expecting an A.L. West Championship and nothing short of an ALCS appearance. Granted, it’s delayed gratification, but there’s still gratification in there.

The Mariners Traded For Adam Frazier

This is one of those deals where everyone loves it for the value and likes it for the probable improvement of the Mariners overall, but isn’t totally blown away (we’ll save that for big money being spent on a certain free agent Cy Young award winner).

Adam Frazier is many things to many people. What we’re all assuming he’ll be, as a baseline, is an everyday fixture in the lineup who will have a solid on-base percentage, ideally hit for a high average, and play quality defense wherever he ends up. I think best case scenario is that Frazier winds up as a Super Sub, who plays a lot of infield, a little outfield, who hits for around .300, rarely strikes out, and is involved in a lot of run scoring because he’s on base so much.

What’s likely is that Frazier is our starting second baseman next year, pairing with J.P. Crawford to really strengthen our infield up the middle, while we go out and find a splashier, more powerful third baseman to replace (and hopefully improve upon) what Seager was able to do.

At the very least, Frazier will be a step up from Dylan Moore, if it comes to that. Regardless, it’s hard to look at this deal and not expect improvement upon the floor of the 2022 Mariners, from where we were this time a week ago. And all we gave up were two prospects I’ve never heard of (outfielder Corey Rosier, and lefty reliever Ray Kerr). I think I read Frazier is in his final Arb year and will make around $8 million.

The downside is: only one year of Frazier. The upside is: not a lot of salary, not a huge cost in trade, is a veteran hitter who should slot into the top half of the lineup somewhere (sixth at the very lowest), and this is the first step of the Mariners trying to win now in 2022.

Of course, there’s more to the “downside” ledger: namely, all the potential pitfalls. He’ll be 30 years old in a couple weeks. He’s coming off of EASILY his best season as a pro. He’s never been a power bat (10 homers is the most he’s hit in a season; he managed only 5 in all of 2021). He hit .305 last year, but only .267 after being traded to the Padres midseason (in the midst of a failing playoff chase). There’s a real chance that he falls right back to Earth with the Mariners. Oh sure, he’ll be extra motivated – heading into his free agency year – but lots of motivated players have joined Seattle only to fall on their faces. Is he another Chone Figgins or Dee Gordon? Those are players who were deemed to be line drive specialists who should “play well” in our stadium, only to play pretty fucking poorly. It’s okay if he’s not a power guy, because you really have to be a super powerful guy to make it in Seattle. But, if he starts rolling over on those erstwhile line drives, I don’t think he has the speed to leg out a lot of infield singles. He has a high of 10 stolen bases (in his 2021 season), so take that for what it is.

I kinda think it’s foolish to expect him to join the Mariners and be a .300 hitter. My hunch is he’ll hit closer to the .230 guy he was in COVID-shortened 2020. With that, his on-base percentage won’t look so hot. And then what have we done? He’s a career .313 BABIP hitter, but in 2021 his BABIP was .339, fuelled by a .359 he hit with the Pirates before being traded. From 2017-2020, his BABIP was .298. That made him anywhere from a 1-2 WAR player, compared to the 4-WAR player he was in 2021. What’s more likely to be true: he has taken the next step in his development to be an All Star for the foreseeable future, or he had one lucky season and the Padres parlayed that into a couple of middling prospects?

I’m not holding my breath, is the point. I’m also not expecting this to be the final move the Mariners make this offseason. To suggest otherwise – even in a hypothetical thought experiement – is idiotic. Obviously the M’s are going to make other moves to improve the big league ballclub (spoiler alert: they already have!).

I see Frazier as Abraham Toro insurance. Frazier bats lefty and figures to get the first crack at locking down an infield spot. If Toro somehow makes it through this offseason still on our roster, I would expect him to vie for a backup job, while getting some defensive work in the corner outfield spots. Maybe he platoons with Frazier at second. Maybe he comes to Spring Training on fire and wins the job outright (forcing Frazier into that ideal Super Sub role I mentioned earlier). Maybe Toro wins the third base job because we couldn’t find anyone better via trade or free agency. Or, maybe Toro is trade bait. Who knows?

All I know is, on paper, the Mariners are probably better than they were a week ago. They might even already be better than they were in 2021. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Seattle Mariners Trade & Free Agent Targets For 2022

I’m gonna tell you right now, that title is misleading! Because I have zero idea who is actually available in trade or free agency across the Major League Baseball landscape. Besides, I don’t like getting into the weeds of playing fantasy baseball like that; let the more thorough and dedicated Mariners blogs try to tackle that speculative nonsense.

I’m here to talk about the holes on the Mariners, where they need to fill with outside guys vs. where they can afford to fill with prospects.

The easiest start is to look at the guys we have who we want to keep around. They are, in no particular order:

  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Ty France (1B/DH/2B)
  • Abraham Toro (2B/3B)
  • Mitch Haniger (RF)
  • Jarred Kelenic (CF/LF)
  • Kyle Lewis (CF/LF)
  • Cal Raleigh (C)

Even though I’ve listed three outfielders there, and you have to figure Julio Rodriguez is going to earn a call-up at some point in 2022, I think the M’s will nevertheless seek out a veteran outfielder to throw into the mix. Meaning that I don’t see Fraley being quite so prominent a figure in that group; maybe as a reserve, but I could see him getting dealt just as easily. If we go for a high-priced free agent outfielder, we can let Haniger walk at the end of the 2022 season, or try to trade him mid-year, if things aren’t going so well in the standings. That would then open the door for J-Rod in the second half of the season and beyond. Kyle Lewis is obviously the wild card here; will he return from his knee injury? Will he ever be able to play a full season? You have to anticipate he’ll be in the mix for a good number of DH days in a best-case scenario, but I don’t think you can count on him being a full-time player until you see him prove it on the field.

The other obvious addition is either a second or third baseman. The loss of Kyle Seager is significant here, but we were always looking to improve on that spot in the lineup anyway. I expect Toro to take whatever position is left over; I’m hoping there are lots of good free agent options available. Even if we have to pull in a short stop, we should be able to slide Crawford over to second base without too much of a headache.

We also need another catcher. Tom Murphy isn’t really worth keeping around; his bat is fundamentally broken. The new guy should be a relatively good catcher who can play on a regular basis, as we still don’t know if Raleigh is our #1 just yet.

Go ahead and pencil in White and Torrens for bench spots with Fraley at the moment, though I don’t know how long that’ll last. Will Dylan Moore be back? Doubtful, but we’ll see.

Let’s look at the pitching:

  • Chris Flexen (SP)
  • Marco Gonzales (SP)
  • Logan Gilbert (SP)
  • Paul Sewald (RP)
  • Drew Steckenrider (RP)
  • Casey Sadler (RP)
  • Diego Castillo (RP)
  • Ken Giles (RP)

The Mariners need two starting pitchers, minimum. I would expect one to be a quality, top-of-the-rotation type of guy, and one maybe more of a middling veteran to eat up innings. We’ve also got three minor league prospects at the top of our farm system – Emerson Hancock, George Kirby, and Matt Brash – who are all ready to bust down the door in 2022. Brash very nearly made his debut last month, but ultimately wasn’t needed. I think it would be foolish to bank on one of those guys taking a job out of Spring Training, but I would also expect one or more of them to be called up before June to help out with injuries and whatnot. If 2022 isn’t the playoff campaign we all hope it is, then my guess is we’ll see all three of those guys get opportunities to make the rotation for 2023 and beyond.

As for the bullpen, your guess is as good as mine as to what that’ll end up being. Bullpen pieces get moved all the time. Guys get injured, guys get worse for no reason. Every time we think we have the bullpen figured out heading into a season, it seems to always blow up in our faces. But, from the looks of things, we have lots of guys in the minors who are in the mix. I would love to see a better left-handed bullpen option emerge, either from within or outside the organization.

I’m looking at two big bats (one outfield, one infield), a solid starting-calibre catcher, two starting pitchers, and a lefty reliever. Once Seager and Kikuchi are gone, we will have well below $40 million on our payroll, so there is PLENTY of room to spend. We also have assurances from ownership that the Mariners are in a position to increase spending, which you would hope would be a given, but with this organization you never can tell.

The Mariners should be one of the most exciting teams to watch in the Hot Stove portion of the offseason. Does that always translate to wins on the field? As the San Diego Padres just showed us: not always. There’s reason for optimism in 2022, but I’m incapable of giving 100% blind faith over to this organization that they’ll do the right thing and make the right moves. I’ve been burned too many times; we all have.

Nevertheless, as I’ve mentioned before, I do feel an excitement level for next season that I haven’t experienced in decades! Good or bad, the 2022 Mariners will be interesting as hell.

The 2021 Seattle Mariners State Of The Union

We just wrapped up a wildly entertaining and overachieving season by the Seattle Mariners. They won 90 games for the first time since 2003 and fell just two games short of the playoffs. We’re in the thick of a full-on rebuild, but it’s the fun part of the rebuild: where things turn from being a perennial loser to hopefully a perennial winner. If things go according to plan, the 2022 Mariners should make the postseason for the first time since 2001 – breaking the longest drought in all of the major North American sports – and the 2023 Mariners should start contending for American League pennants and World Series championships.

There’s also a Glass Half Empty outlook to this whole thing. Because this is Seattle, and these are the Mariners, so of course we have every reason to believe it’ll all go to shit like everything else in our sports universe.

Let’s start with the hitting: the Mariners were dead-last in the American League with a .226 batting average. We were second-to-last with a .303 on-base percentage and .385 slugging percentage. That’s all good for a second-to-last OPS of .688; we were one of only two teams (the Texas Rangers, at the exceedingly UNFUN portion of a rebuild, where they’re legitimately one of the worst squads in all of baseball) with an OPS under .700. And, as far as pitching goes, we were very much middle-of-the-road across the board.

We were 90-72, but ninth in the American League with a -51 run differential. Our Pythagorean win/loss record indicates we should’ve been 76-86 (per Baseball Reference). So, how do you make sense of a season like this? Well, the M’s were 11-28 in blowouts (games decided by 5 or more runs), but we were 33-19 in 1-run games.

It boils down to the starters being good enough to keep us in most ballgames, our manager pulling the right strings regarding when to take them out of harm’s way, and a bullpen that, in part, was one of the best units in the league. And, our hitters being among the most clutch I’ve ever seen. They didn’t hit much, but when they did, they made those opportunities count! Often late in games, to either come from behind, or break a tie to win it in thrilling fashion.

So, where do we attribute the Mariners’ success and ultimate failure?

Well, for the highlights, look no further than J.P. Crawford, Ty France, Mitch Haniger, and Kyle Seager, on the hitting side of things. They had an inordinate amount of impact on just how well the Mariners performed this season. It’s not even close; the drop-off after those four guys is insane. You don’t LOVE to see something like that, because Seager is gone next year, and Haniger only has one year of Arbitration left before he might walk in free agency.

What you want to see is the young guys stepping up and assuming huge roles; I’ll discuss these guys in a separate post, but suffice it to say, they weren’t quite up to the task just yet.

But, Crawford and France are still pretty young, with lots of team control remaining. They’re not nothing!

If you think about the Mariners in 2-3 year chunks, then we’ve got at least those two guys in the fold and producing at a high level. We can always extend Haniger after next year, or if we don’t, that means we likely have someone else of a high calibre who can fill his shoes (Julio Rodriguez, for instance).

In the meantime, as I’ll get into another time, it’s far from doom-and-gloom with the young guys. Plus, it’s not like we’re going to rest on our laurels with the guys in the farm system. We’ll bring in veterans in free agency and trades to fill out the lineup, and make up for the loss of Seager.

As for the starting pitching side of things, who doesn’t love what Chris Flexen did as a bargain-basement signing? He led the starters in innings pitched, WAR, ERA, and wins, and he did it with sustainable stuff that should continue to play as a solid #2 or #3 starter. Marco Gonzales continued to do Marco Gonzales things. And, Logan Gilbert had a strong first season, seeming to improve as the year went on (more on him later).

The downside is, that’s pretty much it. James Paxton got injured on day one. Yusei Kikuchi likely pitched his way off the team (losing a 4-year, $66 million option in the process), though he could always exercise a 1-year player option for $13 million (but, that seems unlikely, as you’d think someone else would fork over more guaranteed dollars and try to fix his issues). Justus Sheffield was one of the biggest disappointments on the team and his future is very much in doubt. Justin Dunn lost half his season to injury, but wasn’t all that effective in the half he was healthy. Tyler Anderson was a competent back-of-the-rotation starter we acquired at the trade deadline, but he’ll be a free agent this offseason and will be looking for a significant raise.

I would argue the Mariners need at least two starters, and it’s debatable as to whether or not the young guys in our farm system are ready yet. If we’re trying to make the playoffs in 2022, entrusting two more rotation spots to rookies seems like a bad idea. But, we have to do better than Sheffield and Dunn, so they better figure something out.

The bullpen was the biggest pleasant surprise on the team. Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, and Casey Sadler were all lights out! Diego Castillo was fine, though it’s hard to want to trust him in the highest-leverage situations. Kendall Graveman was excellent when he was here, and he netted us a nice little return in Abraham Toro; plus we could always sign him again this offseason if we wanted!

The thing is, we have team control with all of those guys (save Graveman), and I haven’t even gotten to the younger guys who I’ll talk about later. Nor did I mention Ken Giles, who missed this year with injury, but is signed through the 2022 season and is slated to return and be a big part of this group! The bullpen went from being arguably this team’s biggest weakness heading into the 2021 season, to being arguably its biggest strength heading into 2022. That’s HUGE (with the usual caveat being: bullpens are notoriously volatile from year-to-year, so they could all shit the bed as well).

So, what’s the state of the union as we exit 2021 and head into 2022?

I know the marketing materials would tell us it’s all looking up, and I’m buying right into the rose-colored glasses this organization is trying to peddle, but I think they’re right! I like the looks of things for the Mariners in the coming years. I’m not going to sit here and guarantee a playoff spot in 2022; I could easily see this team taking a step backwards.

Odds are, the 2022 Mariners won’t be quite so lucky in 1-run games. Odds are, the 2022 Mariners won’t hit quite so well in the clutch. Odds are, the 2022 Mariners will continue to suffer injuries to key guys (anyone remember Kyle Lewis?).

The thing is, we could see all of that; we could even see the 2022 Mariners end up as a sub-.500 ballclub in the overall standings! That having been said, we could see all of that while the team itself continues to grow and get better. Maybe we start out slow, losing games we expected to win, but in the process we get to watch more young guys make their Major League debuts. We get to see other young guys continue to blossom into Major Leaguers and All Stars. Maybe 2022 is the final step-back before things all skyrocket in 2023 and beyond.

The point is, there will be more bumps in the road. Things never EVER go according to plan. But, that doesn’t mean the overall outlook isn’t high. Just don’t put too much pressure on the year right in front of us. It might take two years, and that’s okay.

But, if we’re not in the playoffs by 2023, there should be hell to pay. Because how do you fuck up an organization with a farm system this stacked? Well, if anyone can fuck it up, you know the Mariners can!

Kyle Seager Was The Best Mariners Third Baseman Of All Time

When we’re doing an All Mariners Team – which is pretty fun to think about, now that I bring it up – you can pen in Kyle Seager as the third baseman (with all due respect to Mike Blowers). For shits n’ giggles, let’s run it down real quick:

  • Ichiro (RF)
  • Ken Griffey Jr. (CF)
  • Jay Buhner (LF)
  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Alex Rodriguez (SS)
  • Bret Boone (2B)
  • Alvin Davis (1B)
  • Dan Wilson (C)
  • Edgar Martinez (DH)

Not too far off from what I had back in 2012 (although, the more I think about it, the more I think Ichiro deserves the respect of having right field; plus, can you imagine Buhner’s arm throwing out guys from left?!). I’ll also say I was THIS CLOSE to putting Robinson Cano at second base, but I just couldn’t. Even though he signed that huge deal, he never really felt like a Mariner; he was always a New York guy.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, because we’re talking about Kyle Seager today!

It was always assumed 2021 would be Kyle Seager’s last year here. Truth be told, he would’ve been traded a while back, but they built a poison pill into his contract that guaranteed his 2022 option would be paid in full upon completion of any trade. Given the way baseball inflation was going at the time of signing – prior to the 2015 season – and given the way Seager had played up until that point, an optimist might’ve assumed his 2022 option would be a bargain. But, that turned out to decidedly not be the case, and he became an albatross around Jerry Dipoto’s neck as we headed into the rebuild.

I’m somewhat conflicted about Kyle Seager. He was fun to root for from the very beginning, as a rookie in 2011. He got called up right around the same time as Dustin Ackley, and for half a year anyway, both of them looked like potential cornerstones to the franchise. Ackley quickly petered out from there, but Seager continued to improve. He wasn’t a natural third baseman, but that was where he ended up thanks to the Mariners’ hole at the spot, and Seager took advantage of the opportunity. Indeed, he got better every year through the 2016 season, before things took a turn for the worse.

In 2016 – the second year of his contract extension – he was a 6.9 WAR player who garnered a little bit of MVP attention. Two years removed from his only All Star appearance, and his only Gold Glove award, he slashed .278/.359/.499, with 30 homers, 36 doubles, and 99 RBI. It was the culmination of six straight years of improvement! Every year, I kept expecting a little more, and every year he kept delivering. Not only that, but his floor wasn’t bad either. Even with those 2016 numbers, I felt like he had potential for more.

Then, the dreaded infield shift became popularized and entrenched in the game of baseball. And, with Seager being such an extreme pull hitter, it decimated his offensive value. In 2017, he was a 2.5 WAR player; he would never see another WAR higher than that. In 2018, he really fell apart as a sub-1 WAR player; his slash line fell all the way to .221/.273/.400. Not only was he basically a replacement-level player, but he was never hurt and therefore in the lineup every single day! That changed in 2019, when he landed on the IL, but by then he started to figure out how to be productive as a pull hitter in a shifting world; he finished that season at 2.4 WAR that might’ve been higher had he been healthy all year.

Seager became something of a lightning rod of controversy in 2021, through no fault of his own really. The whole Kevin Mather thing put Seager’s final year under a microscope, as he called him overpaid, and essentially told the world what the organization feels about its best-ever third baseman: they didn’t want him. Seager, nevertheless, has always been the consummate professional, showing up everyday, mentoring young players, and being an all-around mainstay in the middle of an otherwise struggling lineup.

Seager in 2021 had arguably his best-ever power season, hitting a career-high 35 homers and 101 RBI. His slash line was pretty wretched – .212/.285/.438 – but he still salvaged a 2.0 WAR just by being so productive with his extra-base hits; he had 63 extra-base hits and 65 singles. Guys who hit for such a low average still have a place in this league if they can mash 35-plus homers a year – or 30-plus homers along with quality defense – so I would call Seager’s 2021 a success.

At the same time, I wouldn’t expect too many more successful seasons if he remained in a Mariners uniform. MAYBE one more year, but even then he could fall off the cliff in a hurry. I would expect Seager might be able to prolong his career elsewhere, in a more lefty-friendly environment. He’s always crushed it in the state of Texas, so that might be an option for him! But, I like the idea of Seager leaving Seattle on a high note.

For the most part, Kyle Seager was a great member of the Seattle Mariners. I’d rather he leave with us remembering him fondly, than us seeing him as an aging veteran who can barely hobble around the bases.

I would argue it’s also time to move on because I don’t think he wants to be here anymore. Rumors abound that he was the source behind a lot of angry quotes about the organization this year, especially after the Kendall Graveman deal. Granted, I think Dipoto has made it clear he didn’t want to keep Seager through the end of his contract, and probably did everything in his power to try to rid the team of him, so I don’t blame Seager one bit for feeling the way he does. The fact of the matter is, the Mariners never would’ve gotten anything in trade close to the value of what Seager still brought to a potential team. It made sense to keep him from that standpoint, but it also made sense to keep him because even though we were going Full Rebuild for the first time in forever, you still need veteran leadership to help guide players through the choppy waters as the talent level on the big league ballclub plummets. I would argue that kind of leadership was largely absent from the years of 2008-2013, and that could be a big reason why the Mariners never got off the ground in that time.

What I’m trying to say is that the Mariners got their money’s worth out of Kyle Seager, even if he never got to play in the post-season. I mean, shit, A LOT of Mariners failed to reach the playoffs, it’s not just a Seager problem. He just had the misfortune of succeeding in an inept, bumbling organization.

I don’t know what Seager’s legacy is other than the Greatest Mariners Third Baseman. He was never the flashy prospect of a King Felix. He was never at a Hall of Fame level of an Edgar Martinez. He was never a big worldwide household name like a Griffey or an Ichiro. He just quietly went about his business, day-in and day-out. In that sense, he should be my favorite type of player.

But, my big take-away is one of lost potential. In another era, Seager would’ve continued to blossom beyond his 2016-level of production. But, he could never fully recover from the shift. When I think of Kyle Seager, that’s what I think of: rolling over on a ground ball to a second baseman playing in shallow right field.

Kyle Seager had good, solid power. 242 homers, 309 doubles, 807 RBI, 704 runs scored. From a career slash line perspective, it’s not the worst: .251/.321/.442. But, there’s a big difference between the first half of his career, and the second half:

  • 2011-2016: .266/.334/.446, with a 119 OPS+
  • 2017-2021: .231/.304/.436, with a 103 OPS+

That later era, that’s when he was age 29-33; those are supposed to be your PRIME years as a professional baseball player! That’s when you’ve got all the experience and smarts in the world, while still being pretty much at your peak physically. When you think of someone like Nelson Cruz, he was just hitting his stride at age 33! Different body types and all of that, but it’s just frustrating is all.

You could argue Kyle Seager is one of the unluckiest baseball players in the history of the game. The advent and apex of the shift happened right as his prime got started, and it’ll likely be legislated out of the game not long after he hangs ’em up (they’re already working rules into the minor leagues that forces the infield to keep two players on either side of second base, while disallowing them to stand in the outfield). I mean, he’s made well over $100 million in his career – including a $2 million buyout coming his way for 2022 – so it’s a real World’s Smallest Violin type of “unlucky”. But, you get the idea.

That having been said, my fondness level for Seager is well over 50% compared to my disappointment, so I’ll always remember him as one of the Mariners greats. Eventually, cooler heads will prevail and he’ll enter the team’s hall of fame; he’ll be back in the fold and rightly celebrated for all of his accomplishments, throwing out a first pitch here and there, and conversing during game telecasts as we watch this team through the years. Until then, I wish him the best in his future endeavors. I hope he makes it back to the playoffs on another team (unless it’s the Astros; in that case, he can go straight to Hell).

The Angels Knocked The Mariners Out Of The Playoffs

You can boil it down to that. The Mariners lost 2 of 3 at home this weekend to the Angels. The Mariners finished 2 games behind Boston and New York for the wild card spots. Had we swept the Angels, we would’ve been right there in a 3-team play-in situation.

It’s sad for me, more than any other emotion. Of course, I was out of town all weekend and didn’t really have access to the games outside of an occasional Twitter catch-up session, so I didn’t have to sit and watch these games. I would’ve been a wreck, I’m sure. It’s frustrating though because this isn’t even a good Angels team! They are SO injury-depleted on offense, and their whole pitching staff outside of Ohtani is a mess (and he wasn’t even slated to pitch this series once they shut his arm down). The Angels were every bit of a 77-win team, and we couldn’t beat them with our season on the line.

If I had to guess, I would’ve been a ball of anxiety and rage on Friday. That was the 2-1 loss where the offense was 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. The game started off well enough, with Jarred Kelenic hitting an RBI double in the second. But, Marco gave up a 2-RBI double in the top of the third to give the game its final score. We had ALL OF THOSE INNINGS left to go, and couldn’t do a damn thing in any of them! Marco got one more quality start to throw on the pile (6 innings, giving up 3 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 5), and the A-Squad Bullpen (plus Misiewicz) shut it down from there, but it sadly wasn’t enough, as the Angels were able to match us 0 for 0 the rest of the way.

That loss made Saturday’s game a must-win, literally. Either win, or the playoff hopes would’ve died that night. Things were looking good for a while, Haniger hit an RBI single in the third and a 2-run homer in the fifth to give the M’s a 3-1 lead. Flexen made it 5.1 innings, giving up just the 1 run, and once again it was A-Squad Bullpen Time (plus Misiewicz).

Only, it was Paul Sewald in the 8th who blew it! He gave up a 3-run homer to make it 4-3 Angels. Luckily, these cardiac Mariners were able to get a rally going in the bottom half of the inning, punctuated with a Haniger 2-RBI single (giving him 5 RBI on the game), and a Seager 1-RBI single to make it 6-4 Mariners. Steckenrider shut it down from there for his 14th save of the season. It was a nice effort from the heart of the order, as France, Haniger, and Seager had all 8 of our hits and 6 of our RBI in this one (as well as 4 of our 6 runs scored).

That set us up for a Sunday miracle that never materialized. We needed to win and either the Yankees to lose to the Rays or the Red Sox to lose to the Nationals to force a play-in. But, we lost and they didn’t, so that was that.

Tyler Anderson had quite a rollercoaster of a week. First, he fell on his face in that 14-1 defeat to the Angels the previous Saturday, then he heroically stepped up on Tuesday against the A’s to give us 4 innings of 1-run ball on very short rest. But, he lost it again in the season finale, against those pesky Angels who won’t seem to give him a break. He lasted all of 1.2 innings before getting pulled, having given up 4 runs (3 earned) on 5 hits and 2 walks.

It was a bullpen day from there, with Misiewicz and Swanson (of the D-Squad Bullpen) giving up three more runs in their combined 2 innings of work. The M’s made it interesting early, scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the second to make it 4-2. But, we were down 7-2 after five innings, with our rally in the sixth cut short to just a lone run. We couldn’t do anything but cry the last three innings of the 7-3 defeat.

Cry because, of course, Kyle Seager had his farewell under the most bittersweet of circumstances. I’m glad I missed that too, because I’m sure I would’ve been a puddle of tears. I’ll have more to say about Seager in the coming days. He was never my favorite Mariner (impossible with Felix around for almost his entire career), but he was always there and almost-always a reliable fixture. A pro’s pro, and he’s going to be a huge hole to fill on this team, with his veteran presence, as well as his defense at the hot corner, and his bat in the middle of the order.

I’m not one of those fans who takes solace in the journey, when the destination is more disappointment. But, maybe I’ve softened in my old age. This was a fun Mariners team to follow for 162 games. Well, MOST of those games. Over half, definitely!

Here’s the thing: I never expected this team to break the playoff drought. Indeed, I never expected them to win 90 games, which is utter lunacy when you think about it. But, even as we headed into this final week, it never seemed likely that we’d win enough – and get the help required – to force our way in.

When we lost that Red Sox series back in mid-September, that’s when the season was over in my mind. We were 78-68 and there were too many teams and games in the standings to overcome. Yet, we finished the year on a 12-4 run to end up 90-72; what a remarkable run!

But, of course, the level of competition was subpar: Royals, A’s, and Angels.

Here’s a list of our records against the playoff teams in both leagues:

  • Astros 8-11
  • White Sox 3-3
  • Rays 6-1
  • Yankees 2-5
  • Red Sox 3-4
  • Giants 2-1
  • Dodgers 1-3

That’s an overall record of 25-28, but heavily propped up by an unlikely dominance of the Tampa Bay Rays. Against the rest of baseball, we were 65-44; almost a .600 winning percentage. I would argue the Mariners were not on that playoff level; we were one tier below. I would also argue that if we found ourselves in a 1-game playoff with either the Yankees or Red Sox (but especially the Yanks), we almost certainly would’ve lost. Yet, it would’ve felt like a tremendous accomplishment just to be there, and I’m not interested in that.

I want the Mariners to be division winners. I want them to make it to the World Series. I want them to win it all and give us what we’ve been dying for all these decades.

This team might be forgotten to the sands of time, since it ultimately fell two games short. However, if this was just the start of something HUGE, we might look back at the 2021 Mariners as one of the great What If’s in franchise history. Either way, there seems to be tangible evidence of … something happening here. We could always Mariners it up and see everything fall apart, but I’ve been wrong before.

What’s certain is this: expectations will go through the roof in 2022. That starts with this offseason. It’s not unfair to immediately set our minds into Next Year Mode as fans. That means pleading with this organization to finally spend money on bona fide All Stars in trade and free agency to fill in around the talent already here.

2021 was a big success in many ways. We won 90 games, we played “playoff baseball” for the last two weeks of the season (for all intents and purposes), and we learned a lot about the young core of this organization. As the offseason begins, I’ll be writing about those guys a lot. The young core who stepped up and asserted themselves as cornerstones, as well as the young core who fell apart and should be dealt away posthaste.

This is going to be a FUN offseason! I can’t remember the last time a baseball season ended and I wasn’t simply relieved for it to be over so I could focus on other things. This is the first time I’ve ever wished the next season could start tomorrow!