The Mariners Finally Won A Series

We can’t sit here and say the Mariners finally flipped a switch and now all the hitting woes are solved. I will say, however, that we saw some signs of life. We saw better approaches at the plate. We saw guys start to lay off of those breaking pitches out of the zone; not ENTIRELY, of course, there were still plenty of strikeouts to be had by everyone. But, we saw competent Major League at bats throughout the lineup, which was encouraging.

How much of that derived from poor Reds pitching? That remains to be seen. But, I will say that the way we were inflating pitch counts from their starters is going to be the way we win ballgames going forward. It doesn’t make sense for this team to have a swing-first attitude. There’s not enough power, and frankly not enough bat-to-ball skills, for that to be our plan of action. No, we need the opposite approach. We need to be patient. We need to foul off pitches, take our walks, and take these starters out of games in five innings or less.

Thankfully, with how good our pitching can be, we can scrape by with this meager run support. Three more Quality Starts – running the streak to seven straight games – led the way to holding the Reds to 5 runs in three games.

George Kirby got off the schneid on Monday, going 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 5 hits, with 6 strikeouts. This was the game where the run support was decidedly NOT meager; 9 runs! Can you even fathom it?! Haniger had a double and a homer (3 RBI), Polanco had a 3-run bomb to go along with 3 runs scored; Luke Raley had two hits, including a triple. Everyone in the lineup had at least a hit or a walk. We scored early, we piled on late, it was almost the perfect game.

We got back to our old tricks on Tuesday, edging the Reds out 3-1. Logan Gilbert went 6.2 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and a walk, with 6 strikeouts. Haniger, J.P., and Julio had two hits each. Newcomer Jonatan Clase – who got the start in left in all three games this series – had his second consecutive game with a hit, this time an RBI double. And, we shot all of our high-leverage bullpen bullets to lock it down. Andres Munoz had to get 4 outs again (we’re really relying on him to do that a lot so far in the early going; Brash and Santos can’t return soon enough), spanning the game from Logan’s final inning to the 9th. Unfortunately, Stanek couldn’t quite get the save, as he had to be pulled after getting two outs. But, Saucedo finished the job, as we all believed he would (and certainly did NOT believe he was going to add gasoline to the fire of this impending blown save).

The Mariners wrapped up the sweep thanks to another Bryce Miller sterling outing. 6 innings, 1 run on 1 hit and 1 walk, with 7 strikeouts. The lone hit was a solo homer by the best player on the Reds, Elly De La Cruz, but thankfully we had some firepower of our own. Raleigh, Garver, and Rojas each homered to account for our first three runs. This was Garver’s first in a Mariners uniform, which was nice to finally see. Julio had a couple of doubles. And Clase even had a walk and a run scored!

I’m not trying to jinx him or anything, but it does finally feel like Julio is working his way out of the slump. He’s starting to go the other way at the plate, he’s finding more barrels to balls, and his defense has been absolutely superb this season. Other than that memorable ball over the fence he couldn’t quite bring back (even though he got a glove on it), he’s been a dynamo in center, and almost single-handedly won us that game on Tuesday, throwing De La Cruz out at third base before Jake Fraley could score at home, and running down a number of would-be doubles in the gaps.

This puts us at 9-10, with a series against the hapless Rockies down in Colorado this weekend. If ever there was a time to defy expectations and find a way to blow it, now would be it. A good team would take this winning streak to 6 games. I suspect that won’t even remotely be the case.

Another Series Played, Another Series Lost By The Mariners

The Mariners scored a season-high 6 runs on Wednesday to salvage one game of the 3-game series in Toronto. Five of those runs came in the 10th inning.

If a Mariners game leaving regulation tied at 1-1 sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it also happened in the Red Sox series, when we gave up 2 runs in the top half of the 10th, before exploding for 3 runs in the bottom half to walk it off.

The Mariners have played 13 games this season. They have a 5-8 record. Two of those wins came in our only two extra-innings games. I think you know where I’m going with this. From innings 1-9, the Mariners have scored a total of 34 runs, or 2.62 runs per regulation-length game. And they’ve scored 8 runs in the 10th inning of games. So, really, it’s just a matter of keeping the game tied as long as possible!

There’s nothing good or pleasant to say about this team, so I have to resort to that kind of bullshit to keep myself entertained. We lost on Monday thanks to another lousy fucking start from Luis Castillo. Another 5-inning, 4-run affair from the world’s most mediocre ace. That’s three games now, none of which have seen him get out of the 6th inning. He’s given up 4 runs in each of them, 2 homers, and 25 (!) hits. At times, he’s wildly unlucky, with guys poking filthy stuff off the plate for singles; at other times, he’s serving up ding-dongers right down the middle. It all adds up to him being unquestionably our worst starter so far; yeah, I said it!

We lost on Tuesday thanks to another abysmal outing by George Kirby. Looks like I was premature in labelling him the best starter on the team after his initial outing. Once again, he got crushed because he doesn’t know how to NOT throw strikes. Free-swingin’ teams are going to have a field day every time he takes the mound, because all he wants to do is throw first-pitch strikes, second-pitch strikes, and third-pitch strikes. Until he learns to start pitching backwards – because CLEARLY his reputation preceeds him – I just don’t see how he’s going to develop into a fully-rounded pitcher.

We also lost those games, of course, because the offense failed to bail out our struggling starters. To the bullpen’s credit, they only gave up 1 run across 7 innings of work. But, there’s no comeback and very little fight in this offense.

I mean, shit, we damn near squandered another gem from Logan Gilbert on Wednesday. He went 7.2 innings, held them to 1 run on 5 hits and a walk, while striking out 8. He couldn’t quite get through eight, even though he was at 89 pitches, but Andres Munoz got him out of the jam, and kept the game tied through the bottom of the 9th.

That’s when, finally, guys started hitting. Cal Raleigh had a 2-run bomb, Ty France had an RBI double, and Mitch Haniger had a 2-run single.

If I had to dig deep and find something vaguely interesting to talk about this offense, I think it has to be this: last year – and for probably the last decade-plus – we lamented the lack of production out of the bottom of the order. To the point where many fans have charged that these black holes are keeping us from making the playoffs. I know I’ve definitely banged that drum!

But, when you sit down and think about it logically, the fact of the matter is, the Mariners are only going as far as the top of the order takes them. If you’re sitting there worried about what hitters 7-9 are doing, you’re missing the point. This season – through 13 games, anyway – is really proving that point. Because it’s largely been the bottom of the order that’s been doing the most damage.

Dom Canzone might not be an All Star or anything, but he’s far and away leading this team in slugging with .567! He’s the team leader in homers with 3, he’s tied for the lead in extra-base hits with 4, he’s second in RBI with 6, he’s second in total bases, and tied for first in WAR. And he’s only tied for sixth in hits with 7! When he puts the bat to the ball, it goes far, and I just might have some words to eat after calling him the Spring Training Mirage.

Ty France has been hitting so much at the bottom of the order that he’s worked his way back up to the 3-hole! He’s got a .316 average and leads the team with 12 hits (even though he missed three games with paternity leave)! Dylan Moore, Josh Rojas, and even Luis Urias are all slugging over .400, which isn’t any kind of phenomenal bar to clear, but do you know how many of our top-of-the-order and middle-of-the-order hitters are slugging over .400? Mitch Haniger, end of list.

Cal Raleigh, J.P. Crawford, Mitch Garver, Julio Rodriguez, and especially Jorge Polanco have all SUUUUUUUCKED so far. Polanco has done so poorly he’s dropped to fifth in the lineup, and I don’t think we’re too far away from him getting a rest day, or dropping towards the bottom for a spell.

Those are your studs. Those are the guys (plus Haniger) you’re counting on to take you to the promised land. And you’re getting next-to-nothing from them.

So, yeah, that’s where we’re at. We have an off-day, then it’s home for the Cubbies. I guess the good news is the fact that no one is really running away with the A.L. West yet. Not that I’m standings-watching or anything.

The Mariners’ Everything Looks As Bad As Expected

I don’t know what we’re doing here. We can’t string together back-to-back quality starts to save our lives, our defense is a God damn trainwreck, we’re still sucking at the plate as per usual. It’s all bad. Everything about the Mariners is bad. We’re somehow 4-6, but it feels like we should be 0-10.

The first game in Milwaukee showed some promise. But, just as much – if not more – left us with a lot of doubts. After an incredible first start to the season, Logan Gilbert gave up three bombs (4 runs total) in 5.2 innings. What’s worse is that the offense FINALLY came alive in the top of the sixth – to tie the game at 3-3 – only for Logan to give up a homer in the bottom half. We somehow managed to bridge the game down just one run in the bottom of the 8th, when Ryne Stanek – our second-best reliever – gave up three hits to give the Brewers a little extra cushion.

All that being said, credit where it’s due, the offense rallied again – this time in the top of the 9th – to score twice and force the blown save to tie the game at 5-5. Unfortunately, with Julio standing at second, Mitch Haniger couldn’t get him home. We were stuck going with our first-best reliever – Andres Munoz – who promptly walked four guys around just the one strikeout, to walk-off-walk the game to its conclusion.

On Saturday, we got probably the best start of young Bryce Miller’s career: 7 shutout innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, on only 78 pitches. To much fan consternation, Scott Servais didn’t let him go out for the 8th, but honestly I get it. It’s his second year in the pros, he was heading into the heart of the order for the third time, why ruin a perfectly fine boost of confidence?

The second-guessers were nearly proven right, though, as the bullpen immediately turned a 4-0 lead into a 4-3 nailbiter. We did manage to add an insurance run before Munoz took another crack at pitching in a Major League Baseball game, which he passed with flying colors. Because obviously a guy in a save situation is going to try harder than a guy in a tie game.

Still looking for our first series win of the season, the Mariners had a third consecutive game where a pitcher on our staff got absolutely abused. In this case, Emerson Hancock got obliterated, from the moment he stepped on the mound. We squeezed 3.1 innings out of him, but he gave up 8 runs on 11 hits, with 1 walk, and 6 strikeouts. Caught a lot of the plate, was WAY too fastball-heavy early in the game, and his breaking pitches stunk (hence the over-reliance on the heater). Tayler Saucedo ate up 2.2 innings of shutout ball, but otherwise this was the SECOND time Josh Rojas has had to come in to pitch in a blowout, for those keeping track at home. 10 games, two Josh Rojas pitching appearances. That’s how our season is going.

It’s just so fucking demoralizing to follow this team. Every time you want to believe, they slap you with a big, fat dose of reality: the Same Ol’ Mariners are always gonna Same Ol’ Mariners. The hitting is always going to stink. Crappy defense is a new wrinkle, but at the same time not totally unprecedented. Recall back to the “glory days” of Jackie Z, when he kept bringing in the Mark Trumbos and Jesus Monteros of the world. Sacrifice a little defense in the hopes that the offense will more than make up for it. Except, SURPRISE, in Seattle that offense doesn’t play, and now you get crap defense to boot!

What I’m struggling with the most has to be the pitching. And you can’t even blame bullpen injuries for this. We’re two turns through the rotation; every starter has had one good game and one crap game, except for Luis Castillo – ostensibly our ace – who has TWO crap games (more on him in a few days, after I write about his latest fucking debacle). That kind of inconsistency isn’t going to cut it. Not with the way the hitting is going to forever struggle, and not with the way the defense is going to give teams extra outs.

We’re 23rd in ERA. We have 3 Quality Starts in 10 games. We’re middle of the road in WHIP. We’re tied for the 4th-most home runs given up (7 of the 10 games played in Seattle!), and we have the 8th-highest opponent batting average. And these are just the run of the mill dummy stats; I’m sure analytics aren’t looking at the Mariners too kindly either.

But, you know, that’s Mariners baseball. It’s a shit sandwich, all the fucking time, forever.

The Mariners’ Offense Looks As Bad As Expected

The Mariners came out of that 4-game Red Sox series with a 2-2 split. It’s probably as good of an outcome as we could have expected, considering one of those wins came 1-0, and the other necessitated overcoming a 2-run deficit in the bottom of the 10th inning (after the game was tied 1-1 through regulation). By all rights, that should’ve been a 4-game sweep with the Mariners losing all four, but here we are.

We scored 10 runs in four games, so that’s not ideal. After that first game, the pitching started to come alive, but as you’ll see, there’s a difference between the high-end pitching, and everyone else.

George Kirby is the best pitcher on this team. He came out on Friday and dominated, throwing 6.2 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 8. Speier got him out of the 7th inning with our lead intact, Stanek got two outs in the 8th, and Munoz got the 4-out save to preserve our first win of the season. J.P. Crawford hit a solo homer in the 6th for our only scoring of the day.

Saturday was another pitching-heavy day, with Logan Gilbert going 7 innings, giving up just the 1 run. He looked equally as phenomenal as Kirby, giving up 4 hits, 1 walk, while striking out 8. Lots of great movement on his pitches, with only one little mini-jam that he was able to work out of in the 5th.

The bullpen kept things square at 1-1 through nine innings. The M’s scored in their first and final frames in this one. Haniger hit an RBI single in the bottom of the first to kick off the scoring. Then, we did absolutely nothing until the 10th. We needed that 10th inning explosion, because Trent Thorton made his first 2024 appearance and looked A LOT like 2023 Trent Thornton, promptly giving up 2 runs (1 earned, 1 inherited) in 0.2 innings before being relieved. Thankfully, we kept the damage to 2 runs, and we mounted our first (and, to date, only) extended rally of the season, punctuated by Julio Rodriguez’s first-ever game-winning hit of any kind (in this case, a single to right to score Rojas from third).

The good vibes couldn’t extend to Sunday, as the Mariners had no juice whatsoever, losing 5-1. Bryce Miller gave up 4 runs in 5 innings, and the offense had nothing going.

In total, the Mariners struck out 45 times in their first four games. That’s third most in all of baseball, and one of the teams ahead of us – the Dodgers – have already played two more games. So, you know, not great. Everything we heard about this offseason revolved around cutting down on strikeouts.

As for the offensive implosion, we hired this “Offensive Coordinator”, which sounds like one of those moves a team makes that is – within a year – roundly mocked for being as stupid as we all expected it to be coming into the season. He was supposed to help our hitting coaches to – among other things – get this offense going EARLIER, so we’re not totally flailing at the plate in April and May. Well, today’s April 1st, so maybe his job didn’t quite get started for those pesky March games.

I dunno, does Boston have great pitching? They didn’t seem all that impressive to me. But, regardless, we’re second-to-last in batting average, dead last in OBP, second-to-last in slugging, and the only reason we’re not dead last in runs scored is because the three teams below us have only played three games.

I get it, it’s one series. It’s so damn early. There’s plenty of time for things to get going. But also, until these guys start performing, all they’re going to do is confirm our worst suspicions about this team. Which is only going to rile up the fanbase that much more.

I wouldn’t say I feel great about the Mariners right now. But, I also wouldn’t say my opinion has changed from this time last week. It’s a long season. Let’s just hope it’s not also a LONG season.

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!

The Disappointing Mariners Tenure Of Robbie Ray

Was this always a dumb idea? We sit here and we piss and moan about the Mariners not spending any money on free agents, then when they actually do – to the tune of 5 years and $115 million for Robbie Ray a couple years ago – what happens? He doesn’t quite live up to the hype, then he gets injured and misses a season and a half.

I will say that this Walking Tommy John Surgery Waiting To Happen line is scarily accurate.

In hindsight, of course this was a dumb idea. We got Robbie Ray immediately following his career-best season. We bought stock in him at the absolute peak of his value. He’d never really seriously contended for a Cy Young Award before that; he was always kind of up and down throughout his career. AND we were getting him starting with his Age 30 season, banking that he’d learned whatever trick he needed to learn to be an upper echelon starting pitcher (when, in reality, he just had an inordinate amount of good luck with Toronto in 2021, and it was going to be impossible for him to ever replicate that again).

Ray started his 2022 season with two straight months of mediocrity (a near-5 ERA through the first week of June), before focusing on his 2-seam fastball and jumpstarting a fantastic turnaround. The rest of the way, he was much better, with some pretty notable exceptions.

July of 2022, he had back-to-back starts against the Astros, where he combined for 5.2 innings, 10 runs on 15 hits and 4 walks, with only 4 strikeouts. Fast forward to back-to-back starts in September, against the Braves and Angels, where he combined for 10 innings, 9 runs on 16 hits and a walk.

Then, there were the two disasterous appearances in the playoffs. 4 runs in 3 innings against the Blue Jays (where we miraculously came back to win 10-9), followed by a walk-off, game-losing homer allowed two pitches into a bullpen appearance against the Astros. He ate up two thirds of an inning in that 18-inning marathon loss to the Astros a few days later, but the damage was done.

There was cautious optimism for a rebound in 2023. If anyone was veteran-enough and confident-enough to make it back from such a disastrous finish to a season, it was Ray. He had a tremendous Spring Training, but it was all for naught, as he threw 91 pitches in 3.1 innings of his first start before blowing out his arm and requiring that aforementioned Tommy John surgery. He went on to miss the rest of 2023, and it was announced that the earliest he’d be available is around the All Star Break in 2024. That always bodes poorly, as pitchers are rarely the same after such a substantial layoff. Best case scenario is he’s something close to normal by the start of 2025, but by then he’ll be 33 years old, so that’s asking a lot.

You can’t really rule out a comeback in 2024, but I’m just going to say it’s not very likely. In an ideal world, he’s a boost to your rotation late in the season, and some injury insurance if you can hang around contention for that long. But, I was heading into this year not expecting anything out of Robbie Ray, and willing to be pleasantly surprised if he proved me wrong.

I guess I can’t be shocked, then, that the Mariners decided to trade him. We already got rid of the over-inflated contracts of Marco Gonzales, Evan White, and Eugenio Suarez; part of me wondered if Robbie Ray would be next. Given the M.O. of this ownership group and front office, $23 million is a lot to spend on someone who might not help you out at all this year (or, at the very least, not at all through the first half). According to Mariners Math, we couldn’t afford it (it’s like Girl Math, only MUCH more stingy).

In that case, the return makes sense. Frisco takes our dead money, and we take theirs. Mitch Haniger is a walking oblique strain waiting to happen, and that starter we got from them is nothing more than a J.A.G. But, at least Haniger might give us a third of a season, and the pitcher might give us some sub-par bullpen outings in blowout games. And, in the grand scheme of things, we don’t have to pay Robbie Ray an additional $50 million across 2025 and 2026 (assuming he sticks around on the player option); we just have to pay Haniger $15.5 million in 2025.

I will say, though, the potential upside for this deal is all on the Giants’ side. It’s MUCH more likely that Ray turns into a useful starter again, than it is that Haniger will play anything close to a full season over the next two years. Even if we take extra special care of Haniger, give him lots of rest days, and he manages to make it through without an IL stint, I don’t trust that he’s still a good player. His numbers have been in steep decline since 2018, and he’s 33 this year. I’m guessing he’s very close to being done as a Major League player, if he isn’t done already.

I don’t think this is a good deal for the Mariners. It’s also probably not a good deal for the Giants, but I think it has the potential to be a better deal for them than I do for us. The Giants are buying low, so even if he does the bare minimum for them, it’s going to be a better outcome than it would ever have been for us.

All of that being said, I don’t entirely dislike Robbie Ray. He was kind of put in a no-win situation with the M’s. There was never going to be any living up to the contract. But, he did himself no favors by putting up way too many Erik Bedard-like outings. Ultimately, I think he’ll go down as being well-liked by fans, if for no other reason than he was a mentor to guys like George Kirby and Logan Gilbert. That’s cool, I guess. If his teachings made those guys better than they would’ve been otherwise, then I’ll hold him in high esteem.

Who was that old reliever who taught J.J. Putz his forkball? Eddie Guardado? I mean, that was probably his greatest contribution to the Mariners’ organization, and he’s pretty well-liked.

But, in the grand scheme of things, George Kirby was always going to be elite. Robbie Ray was … less than. And, he’ll go down as one of the biggest busts in Mariners history. For what he cost, for what he produced on the field, and for what he got us back in trade.

Is this the end of the Mariners’ cost-cutting trades this offseason? Well, there’s still another month or so before Spring Training. Somebody find Luis Castillo and make sure he’s still on the team!

The Mariners Made A Couple Of Trades To More Or Less Wrap Up Their Offseason

Full disclosure: I’m writing this on Friday afternoon of January 5th, the day these two trades went down. It was noted at this time by Dipoto that these were pretty much it as far as it goes for the major moves this offseason. There might be a small piece here or there coming in, but nothing to write home about. Nothing that’s going to drastically shake-up the organization’s chances to compete in 2024. So, if that’s not correct, and something huge happens between this day, and the day this post hits the Internet, you almost certainly won’t even be reading this paragraph, as I’ll need a new lede.

To recap this offseason so far:

You know what that has the feel of? A tear-down. Not an overwhelming tear-down, but you’re taking guys who were significant contributors to your team last year, you’re cutting them out, and you’re replacing them with …

Suffice it to say, the whole Root Sports brouhaha has been a disaster for our collective fan morale. This was a team that already needed to improve at left field, second base, and DH, and went ahead and added third base and right field to the mix (to say nothing of the uncertainty surrounding first base, with Ty France and his dwindling production). And what did we get for our consternation? Around $20 million.

Okay, so $20 million to play around with. There was some talk about the Mariners having intentions of still finding a way to out-spend our already-middling salary total from last year, so that’s not a zero chunk of change. But, it’s hard to see how you can fill out a whopping five spots on your everyday roster, not without significant trades to deplete your resources elsewhere. And, at this point, based on everything they’ve done, I find it VERY hard to believe we’re even going to spend as much as we did last year, let alone go past that mark.

The Mariners started their hard road back to relevancy by signing Mitch Garver to be our everyday DH (with maybe a start here and there at first base, or as an emergency backup catcher). That accounted for $12 of the $20 million, across two years. Probably means that’s it for free agency.

Which brings us to the flurry of moves made on January 5th:

  • The Mariners traded Robbie Ray to the Giants for Mitch Haniger and starter Anthony DeSclafani (in a deal notable for it being a money-neutral swap for 2024)
  • The Mariners traded Jose Caballero to the Rays for outfielder Luke Raley

If you follow me on Twitter (currently known as X) – and why wouldn’t you? I’m a mediocre-at-best follow – you already know how I feel about these trades, but I’ll reiterate here.

I like Mitch Haniger a lot as a person (and, not for nothing, I’ve never been super-into Robbie Ray as a Mariner, but that’s neither here nor there), but I don’t understand the unconditional love for this deal. Haniger is what we thought he was: consistently injured. Injured guys can’t help you win ballgames (unless it’s addition by subtraction, which at this point you have to put on the table). Haniger played in 61 games last year, with a whopping THREE stints on the IL. He played in 57 games in his final season with the Mariners in 2022. He played a full season in 2021, but no games in 2020, and only 63 games in 2019. 2018 was his last (and his only) great season at the Major League level, and we’re never seeing him play at that level again. At this point, with how broken down his body is, it’s fair to wonder if he’s even someone who’s playable. He might be a sub-.200 hitter for us going forward.

This year’s money is irrelevant (though it’s in excess of $17 million) because the money’s gone either way (we were either giving it to an injured Robbie Ray or an injured Mitch Haniger), but he’s also set to earn over $15 million next year on a player option. Why would he turn that down to become a free agent? Only someone who plays the vast majority of a full season at a relatively competent level would do that!

As for the pitcher, he supposedly “isn’t bad”. A ringing endorsement if I’ve ever heard one. I’ve never seen the guy pitch, so I can’t really sit here and tell you any different. But, based on his numbers (a FIP in the 4-5 range the last two years, a career 7.9 K/9 average – which dipped to 7.1 last year – and someone who in the last five years maxed out at 167.2 innings in a season), he strikes me as a right-handed Marco Gonzales. He also was lost to injury last year in July, and only appeared in 5 games in 2022. So, not even as durable as Marco then. Neat. At least he’s on the last year of his deal.

I think the most interesting aspect of this particular trade is what Dipoto said afterward. First of all, right out of the box it’s being declared that DeSclafani is destined for a long relief role in the bullpen. That’s assuming our five starters – Castillo, Gilbert, Kirby, Miller, and Woo – make it through Spring Training healthy.

More importantly, though, Dipoto said that the Mariners looked into the possibility of trading one of their young starters, and “never liked the way it looked.”

I think that’s tremendously informative, and might be the most important thing the Mariners have done to try to salvage the long-term viability of this team going forward.

A lot of us believed in an inevitable trade from one of those five guys, to try to bolster our lineup. Maybe we’d back-fill the rotation via free agency, or in a separate, lesser deal. But, to truly improve our lineup, we’d need to deal from a position of strength (thereby diluting it). The likeliest trade chips were Miller and/or Woo. They were the least-proven of our starters who finished the season last year, which meant they had an unknown upside, but also an unknown downside. The hope being: maybe they’re not as good as we think, so let some other team find that out the hard way, while we get one of their stud hitters.

It doesn’t shock me that the Mariners were looking at all of their trade options. Ownership really tied their hands this offseason, so what other choice did they have? I will say that it’s somewhat surprising to hear the return wasn’t looking as bright as we’d once imagined. But, we don’t know all the ins and outs. We don’t know, for instance, how much salary this organization would be willing to take on. It’s one thing to trade Woo for whatever high-priced slugger is on the trade block at the moment; but, if ownership is unwilling to take on that salary, then obviously the point is moo (you know, a cow’s opinion).

But, we also don’t know how other teams value our pitchers. Maybe they weren’t as high on Miller or Woo as we are. Maybe everyone was holding out for Kirby or Gilbert, and we’re steadfast on keeping them. OR, maybe we’re the ones over-valuing our starters, and other teams refused to match our demands. There’s a lot of variables we don’t know about.

I find it somewhat encouraging, though, knowing that we’re taking a stand. We’re holding strong to our young, vibrant rotation. We’re keeping our strength, and at least heading into 2024 knowing we’re set somewhere. It may not be enough to get us to the playoffs, but at least it’s a plan.

I’m encouraged by that, even knowing how pisspoor this lineup is likely to be.

I can already tell this post is too long, so I’ll save my Robbie Ray thoughts for another time. Spoiler alert: the upside for the Giants is significantly higher than it is for the Mariners in this trade, even though it’s likely to be inconsequential-to-bad for both teams.

I’ll tell you what, though, I actually like the trade with the Rays! Maybe that’s a bad sign; when have the Rays ever NOT swindled us? But, getting rid of Caballero and bringing back a potentially-useful outfield bat – without having to throw in more prospects to get the deal done – is pretty sweet!

I was not a Caballero fan. I know I’m in the minority here, but so be it. His best attributes consisted exclusively of bothering the shit out of the Astros and Rangers (among other teams, I’m sure), because I guess he fucked with them when it came to the pitch clock. But, I mean, we’re talking about a guy who didn’t hit for average, didn’t hit for power, was okay defensively and on the basepaths, but who also made a lot of mistakes in both areas. He started off last year relatively hot – mostly in on-base percentage – but by the end of the season he was only getting on base if guys plunked him. He was hit by 17 pitches, and I’m willing to bet a good number of those were on purpose because he was so annoying.

I was not looking forward to another year of Caballero as this team’s mostly-everyday second baseman. Now, watch the Rays turn him into an All Star.

Luke Raley, on the other hand, is a little more seasoned, and is coming off of a year where he had a 126 OPS+. In 118 games, he had 45 extra base hits, to go along with 14 stolen bases. He does garner his fair share of strikeouts, but with the loss of Kelenic, we had a need for some lefty power.

In fact, there’s a pretty interesting comparison to be had between the 2023 seasons of Kelenic vs. Raley:

  • Kelenic: 105 games, 416 PA, .253/.327/.419/.746, .359 BABIP, 25 2B, 2 3B, 11 HRs (2.6% HR rate), 13 SB, 41 BB (9.9% BB rate), 132 K’s (31.7% K rate)
  • Raley: 118 games, 406 PA, .249/.333/.490/.824, .330 BABIP, 23 2B, 3 3B, 19 HRs (4.7% HR rate), 14 SB, 28 BB (6.9% BB rate), 128 K’s (31.5% K rate)

Pretty comparable, honestly. But, Raley clearly has the better home run power, with maybe not quite as good of an eye at the plate, but also maybe better bat-to-ball abilities. In looking at their respective batted ball rates, we see some more interesting similarities and differences in 2023:

  • Kelenic: Exit Velo 90.9, Hard Hit 45.6%, Line Drive 29.8%, Ground Ball 43.8%, Fly Ball 24.4%, Pull 33.1%, Center 52.1%, Oppo 14.9%
  • Raley: Exit Velo 89.6, Hard Hit 45.7%, Line Drive 17.2%, Ground Ball 40.9%, Fly Ball 27.6%, Pull 39.7%, Center 47.0%, Oppo 13.4%

Kelenic is hitting more line drives, which contributes to a higher BABIP and a higher batting average. But, Raley is hitting fewer grounders and more fly balls, and is hitting drastically more to the pull side, which contributes to his increased home run numbers. I feel like, if anything, that’s going to help him play a little better at T-Mobile Park, considering the short porch in right. How frustrating was it to see Kelenic hit the ball hard to center or the other way, only for it to be gobbled up by an outfielder? Hopefully, we’ll see less of that from Raley.

This post is WAY off the rails, so I’ll stop here. At some point in the near future, I’ll talk about what this means for our lineup in 2024.

What Happens If This Is It For The Mariners?

The recent moves by the Mariners have a rationale behind them. You’ll note there that I didn’t say it was a GOOD rationale. I didn’t even say it was a rationale that I buy. But, they – the Mariners (ownership and front office) – feel they are in an economic pinch. This is in spite of 2.7 million fans coming to games in 2023, this is in spite of all the success this team has had the last two seasons, this is in spite of all the countless millions of dollars this team has generated over the years.

Where is the economic pinch coming from?

Well, local cable provider Xfinity/Comcast/Whatever The Fuck decided they would do their customers a solid by removing Root Sports from the basic cable package. That saved people, what, $10 per month? Something like that? On the one hand, it makes sense. The vast majority of people who subscribe to cable aren’t necessarily interested in sports programming, and if given the choice of saving $10 per month, or having the option to scroll past a sporting event, I’m sure most people would gladly take the ten bucks. Sports fans – and there ARE many of us – tend to forget that we’re actually a minority in this world (depending on the sport, of course, and depending on the locale; in Alabama, for instance, I’m sure football fans are in the majority; you get the idea).

What has been the gripe all along about people on the west coast generally, and in the greater Seattle area specifically, when it comes to the Pac-12? There isn’t enough fan interest – compared to the SEC and Big10 – to generate the kinds of revenues for our schools to be able to compete on a level playing field. Well, I guess for Seattle, you can extend that to Major League Baseball (Mariners), Hockey (Kraken), and the NBA (Trailblazers), among other lesser sports. We apparently don’t care enough about these teams to force Xfinity’s hand in keeping Root Sports on the basic plan. As a result, if we want to keep Root Sports – and we’re forced to go with Xfinity – we have to pony up for whatever the sports tier is, something like $18-$20 extra per month. I would bet that most fans interested in the Mariners, for example, don’t give a shit about all the other things one might get with that sports tier; they just want the M’s. So, then it comes down to a decision: do you want to pay an extra $20 per month for all the bells and whistles, just to get the one thing you want? Or do you want to say, “Fuck it, I don’t need to watch the Mariners anymore, I can listen on the radio”? Or do you find an alternative streaming option that offers Root Sports at a lower financial level, cutting the Xfinity cord for good?

That’s the pinch. What we don’t know exactly is how much this is costing the Mariners. They have a controlling ownership stake in Root Sports. This was done, in theory, to bring in extra revenue streams for the team that they didn’t have to share with the rest of Major League Baseball. This SHOULD have been making us countless millions of extra dollars every year, to ideally put us in the upper echelon of Major League teams when it comes to revenue, as a result, allowing us to spend with the big boys. But, we don’t know if that’s true or not. We don’t know if this deal has been as good for the Mariners as they intended. Maybe it has! But, as with all billionaires, it doesn’t matter what you made LAST year; it only matters what you make NEXT year. And, again, we don’t know what this is going to cost the M’s. Either it’s super dire, and the RSN model is going to collapse upon itself as more and more people cut the cable cord, or it’s just kind of annoying and is going to take some millions of dollars out of the pockets of literal billionaires.

CAN’T HAVE THAT! Losing even one dollar is an outrage to fucking billionaires, because they’re fucking psychopaths. Greedy fucking villains who we entrust with our sporting allegiance, because we have no other choice. We’re not Packers fans.

Anyway, now the Mariners have – through the trades of Suarez, Gonzales, White, and Kelenic, and through the lack of a qualifying offer to Teoscar Hernandez – saved themselves, what, $20 million for 2024? Hypothetically something close to $40 million, if Teoscar would have signed? Anyway, let’s just say $20 million; that feels like a comfortable round number to work with. We assume this is money the team is going to use towards filling out the roster, but we also assumed the Mariners would increase payroll over last year, rather than savagely cut it, so where does assuming get us?

What can you get for $20 million?

We need a right fielder, left fielder, third baseman, second baseman, and designated hitter. I think it’s safe to say we’re never going to get a legit DH under this front office group; they’d rather put whatever bullshit in there they have laying around, under the guise of giving guys “rest days” (that never actually happen, because it just ends up being Mike Ford or some bullshit). If we take DH out of the equation – and project some scrub already on the roster for that role (Canzone, Haggerty, Moore, whatever) – that’s still four starters we need. If we project Urias in that third base spot (a black hole if I’ve ever met one), and maybe Dylan Moore in that second base spot, that’s still two outfielders we need to find, and only $20 million with which to spend.

YOU CAN’T GET ANYTHING IN BASEBALL FOR UNDER $20 MILLION! Do you remember what A.J. Pollock cost last year? His broke ass was $7 million, specifically to be a platoon partner; he wasn’t even brought here to be an everyday player! Who the hell are we going to get for $20 million, to fill anywhere from 2-5 open spots in the everyday lineup? No one. No one good, anyway.

For the record, I do kind of expect the Mariners to spend this $20 million. I don’t think we’re done making moves; there will probably be a few new players coming in at some point. Remember that year when the Seahawks had some extra money to spend, and rather than sign one great offensive lineman, they spread it around on 4-5 scrubs? I think that’s what the Mariners will do. They’ll bypass all of these potentially impactful bats, wait around for the guys nobody wants, and still probably overpay a few of them into coming here, kinda like the way the Seahawks overpaid for Luke Joeckel.

When I talk about “this being it” for the Mariners, that’s what I mean. I think all of the potential impact bats are already on this roster. Julio, Cal, J.P., hopefully Ty France with a new Driveline swing.

Then, there’s everyone else: Dylan Moore, Josh Rojas, Jose Caballero, Sam Haggerty, Luis Urias, Dominic Canzone, Cade Marlowe, Taylor Trammell. You know, all of these junk guys who are just around because they don’t have any minor league options. That’s the kind of talent we have, and that’s the kind of talent I expect the Mariners to bring in with their meagre ration of $20 million.

By my count, we have 4 spots left on the 40-man roster. I would say, if the season started today, all of the guys I just listed – plus a backup catcher, also a nobody – are the 13 position players on the 26-man active roster. Maybe we mix and match, drop a guy here and there down to the minors, depending on who we’re able to bring in via free agency or trade, but again, the talent level isn’t going to be all that different from what we’re looking at.

Pretty grim! Almost no power, almost no high batting averages, very little ability to get on base with any regularity. That seems like a lineup that’s destined to take this team absolutely nowhere. It’s significantly WORSE than it was in 2023, and again, that was a lineup that failed to push us back into the playoffs. We can only go downward from here with a lineup even closely resembling THAT.

So, where do we turn to for hope?

I think, at this point, it’s safe to say we should start thinking of the Seattle Mariners in terms of the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals, and the like. I know we’ve always lamented the Mariners for being too cheap, but that hasn’t really been the case until now. They’ve always just been afraid to go the extra step. They’ve always been content with half measures. They’ve always failed to finish the job to put this team over the top. In that sense, how is this any different? We get close to where we want to go – in the playoffs for the first time in two-plus decades, then a game or two short of the playoffs a season later – but never do what needs to be done to turn this team from a fringe contender into a legitimate World Series contender.

But now? With this kind of cost cutting? With reports that it’s all but certain that the Mariners are never going to be able to extend Cal Raleigh – because he’ll cost too much, and likely because he wants to go somewhere to be on a winner – we’re not only fucking up our contention window, but now we know this window has a finite timetable to it.

We’re never going to be able to keep this young core together. That was the plan before, right? Draft and develop a spectacular young core, then fill in around the edges with quality outside veterans to push us over the top. Now, we have to pick and choose who we can keep. We have to think about a future where we can have George Kirby OR Logan Gilbert, but not both. We have to think about all of these young guys as they head into their arbitration seasons, where their salaries will skyrocket based on their high levels of performance as very young players. We’re not going to be able to extend them all early. And we’re not going to be able to afford them even DURING those arbitration years, let alone afterward when they become unrestricted free agents. That means – since, again, we’re thinking in terms of A’s, Rays, Royals, etc. – that we’re going to have to start trading some of these guys for more cost-controlled prospects and just hope and pray we can develop the guys we get in return into viable Major League pieces.

The bummer in all of this is that our next crop of homegrown prospects are another full year or two away from hitting the Major Leagues. So, not only do we have an ever-shrinking window with our current crop of young Major League talent, but there’s likely going to be a significant gap between when those players start leaving, and the next crop ascends.

How long do we have with our current crop?

Cal Raleigh is arbitration eligible in 2025-2027. Logan Gilbert is eligible in 2024-2027 (his estimated 2024 contract will be $5 million, and will only go up and up and up from there). George Kirby is eligible from 2025-2028. Luis Castillo is signed through 2027, with a vesting option for 2028. Robbie Ray is here likely through 2026 (he has a player option after 2024, but considering he’ll at best be playing half a season next year, seems unlikely he’d opt out); we’re stuck with his crazy salary unless he gets lumped in with the next round of salary dump trades. And J.P. Crawford is signed through 2026. Obviously, Julio isn’t going anywhere, so I hope he likes being our ONE good player, because I’m guessing if we haven’t won a World Series by 2026, we’re going to start moving on from most of these guys.

That’s a 2-3 year window. 2024 & 2025 for sure, MAYBE 2026, if ownership hasn’t totally panicked by then and switched to a new GM/manager combo. We can write off 2024, as the team has no prospects ready to come up. 2025 is maybe a possibility to improve from within. Leaving us with a narrow pinpoint window of 2026 as the ideal target.

By then, maybe Cole Young, Harry Ford, Colt Emerson, Michael Arroyo, Felnin Celesten, Tai Peete, and the like, will be ready to make their mark at the Major League level.

If that’s how ownership is going to treat this team – if all we have left to hope for is our prospects taking the next steps – then I think it’s time to turn our attention to the minors. Because I don’t think there’s going to be any significant help coming via free agency. Sure seems like most trades – from here on out – will be shipping off guys with less club control for guys with more club control. Then, it’s just retreads and reclamation projects as far as free agency is concerned.

Obviously, I’m not saying that 2026 is the year we win the World Series. That’s a BEST case scenario, and also the soonest we should even be thinking about that. I think the lead-up to 2026 is going to be pretty frustrating, and 2026 itself might be a total disaster for all I know.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know where I’m at with this team anymore. I feel like I had the rug pulled out from under me. Again, I don’t know why I should’ve expected any different. But, it hasn’t felt like dire straits like this for a while. It still felt like this team was on the rise, even with the pitfall that was 2023. But now? I can only see the doom and the gloom.

I don’t know how much more I can give as a fan to this team. I think as this ownership group starts pulling back its money and its effort from the talent level on the Major League roster, so will I start to pull back my interest in watching this team, in going to their games, in investing my heart and soul into the day-to-day grind. As the Mariners predictably fall short on the field, so will I fall short in giving a fuck.

There’s more to life than Mariners baseball. I know I’ve threatened leaving this team high and dry for years now. But, I also wasn’t married then. I didn’t have a family then. I didn’t have other things that would draw my attention away from this organization that CLEARLY doesn’t give two shits about this fanbase. Why bother? Why feed into their villainy? Let them run the Mariners into the ground. I’ve got my own life to live.

What We Can Be Happy About With This 2023 Mariners Season

I get it: being out of the playoffs is pretty irritating. This isn’t what we expected coming into the season; we were supposed to be a team on the rise and a team taking a step forward, after finally breaking the playoff drought in 2022. We had the core nucleus, we had the pitching, we just needed guys to play to expectations and we should’ve been all right. Did we do enough to get over the hump and become a division winner? No. We had a chance! Houston came down to Earth a little bit – which is something we definitely needed to happen for that to come to fruition – but we never expected Texas to be as good as they were, and that wrench ultimately ended our season.

Now, we have to move on. We have to look forward to next year. With a little bit of time to sit in our resentment, and reflect on what’s been done and what’s been said, now it’s time to rationally look back at what went right. We know what went wrong. The bottom of the order and the bench stunk. Many guys didn’t play to expectations. But, there were some positives as well, and we can’t just ignore them because we’re mad at the end result.

This organization isn’t going to blow everything up. The front office is staying intact. The manager and coaches are all being retained. There are guys under contract who likely aren’t going anywhere, and players with club control who still figure into our future plans. Unfortunately, we’re in a similar situation as the end of the 2022 season: needing to fill in around the margins. We didn’t get it right last offseason; we must get it right this offseason.

First and foremost, how do you not love what we got from J.P. Crawford? He came into 2023 as a legitimate fringe player. His 2022 season was arguably the worst of his Mariners career. He had terrible Spring Training numbers. He started out the year batting 9th, as everyone was calling on this team to upgrade at the short stop position. 2023 was as Make Or Break as it gets. And, to his credit, he put in the work last offseason at Driveline, he picked himself up, and he had the very best season of his career. He was a 5.0 WAR player; that’s leaps and bounds better than he’s ever been. He got his batting average back up to where it’s been in the past, he increased his on-base percentage quite a bit, and he slugged off the charts at .438. He hit 19 homers; 10 more than he’s hit in any other year! His 54 extra base hits were a career high. He pretty quickly found himself at the top of the batting order and never relinquished it, which I find most encouraging. That means he didn’t suffer a lot of prolonged, aggravating slumps. He was a guy we could always count on; for most of the year, he was the ONLY guy we could count on.

That’s a tremendous foundation on which to start. Short stop is secure for the foreseeable future. His defense seemed to bounce back a bit, he’s probably the best leader we could hope for among this player group, and where do you need to be strongest on a baseball field? Up the middle.

Which brings us to Julio. I can’t say it was a better season than 2022, but I do believe he took a step forward. Julio had a rough April in 2022, before going on a tear. In 2023, he REALLY struggled through June. Sophomore Slump was being bandied about. I think we all believed he’d pull out of it at some point, but I wasn’t sure he could get anywhere near where he was as a rookie.

Then, in July, he started picking it up. And that August, MY GOD. .429/.474/.724 slash line for the entire month; he was otherworldly! All of a sudden, he DID start to get back to where we all expected. But, then he cooled again in September. His slugging was still there, but everything else severely diminished. His WAR was 5.3 – tops on the team – but his entire slash line was a little bit worse compared to 2022. He had more doubles, homers, and stolen bases, but he also played in 23 more games.

All in all, I’m not worried about Julio. I think 2023 was a great learning experience for the young superstar. But, it wasn’t a wasted year for him, either. He didn’t have a learning experience while taking an extreme step back; he was still the best and most important player on this team, and I expect him to take these first two years and move forward as one of the best players in all of baseball.

Finishing with the Up The Middle motif, we have Cal Raleigh. Thank Christ for Cal Raleigh! This was his first full year. His first full year as the unquestioned #1 at catcher. And his first year where he wasn’t in jeopardy of being sent down to Tacoma to work on some things. He improved his batting average and on-base percentage, while taking a quiet step back in slugging. He had career highs in homers and doubles, but again, played in 145 games (compared to 119 in 2022). Where he REALLY took a step forward was with his defense; he was throwing dudes out left and right, really shutting down the run game of opposing offenses (in spite of the fact that this pitching staff isn’t always the greatest at holding runners).

I wouldn’t say Cal is a finished product either, though I don’t know if I would expect him to hit considerably above his .232 batting average. What matters is, like J.P., he didn’t suffer crazy lulls. He was pretty consistent all year. And, if you’re going to give me 30 homers from a catcher, I’m going to take that every time! Going forward, we don’t have to worry about Cal; he’s the guy. He’s going to be here for a good, long while. Hopefully, we can sign him to a long term extension sooner rather than later, because I think he’s going to be worth every penny. The concern lies in who his backup is going to be. Tom Murphy is a tremendous backup – when healthy – but he’s proven that we can’t count on him in that regard. We don’t want to blow Cal out with overuse, even though he’s a stud and wants to be out there every single day.

There’s a steep drop-off from there, as far as everyday players are concerned. I don’t want to get too into the weeds with Teoscar Hernandez – because I don’t know where he’s going to be next year – but I thought he did okay. He gave us almost what he showed he was in Toronto in 2022. Worse slash line, WAY too many strikeouts, but he was a 2.1 WAR player and that’s not nothing. He hit 26 homers and 29 doubles, while playing in 160 of 162 games. Yes, he had an abysmal start to his Mariners career, but he got it going as the season went along (and also enjoyed a torrid August), showing you what he’s capable of. I get the feeling it took him some time to figure out how to hit in this ballpark, but to his credit, he figured it out. He wasn’t a total waste of space like Jesse Winker and some of these other guys we’ve brought in. His overall numbers and production were pretty much what I would’ve expected out of a healthy Mitch Haniger, though I will say the defense was often a problem.

That’s all I got for the offense. On to the pitching.

Castillo, Gilbert, Kirby, excellent work, no notes! They had wonderful seasons. All 190+ innings pitched, all sub-4 ERAs, all with 179+ strikeouts, all with WHIPs 1.10 or lower. All 3.1 WAR pitchers or above. They obviously didn’t win as many games as we’d like (between 13-14), but that’s a reflection of the team as a whole. All had 18+ quality starts (out of 31-33 starts). It’s as ideal of a Top 3 in a starting rotation as you could hope for: all young, under contract/club control for years to come, and all elite in their own ways. On top of which, it was just Logan’s third Major League season, and Kirby’s second. The training wheels are off for all of these guys; we get to head into 2024 knowing that 3/5 of our rotation is not just set, but among the best in all of baseball. They continue to get better! They continue to introduce new pitches and find new ways to get batters out! Hell, I welcome the further influx of George Kirby knuckleballs! Bring it all on!

Now, were they all totally consistent all year long? No. Castillo and Kirby really came up short in that final week and a half. There were enough instances this season where their lines really left me scratching my head. But, that’s pretty nit-picky. On the whole, all three of these guys were tremendous, and I’m happy to go forward with them.

Sticking with the rotation, how do you not like what we got from Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo as rookies? They very much WERE under strict pitch counts and innings limits. They weren’t perfect, but they had ERAs of 4.32 and 4.21 respectively. They had K/9 rates of 8.2 and 9.5, which slots them quite nicely with our Top 3 listed above. Going into 2024, a rotation of just those five guys looks – on paper – to be outstanding!

We don’t know exactly what they are yet, though. They’re still very raw, very young, very inexperienced. I don’t know that they have a great command of their secondary/off-speed pitches. They were both fucking bananas against righties, but really had their struggles against lefties, and that has to get fixed if they expect to stay in the Major Leagues for the long haul.

  • Miller vs. Righties: 7.20 K/BB, .200/.234/.315, in 282 PA
  • Miller vs. Lefties: 2.94 K/BB, .303/.358/.558, in 255 PA
  • Woo vs. Righties: 7.25 K/BB, .179/.226/.268, in 191 PA
  • Woo vs. Lefties: 1.52 K/BB, .283/.389/.540, in 180 PA

That’s too stark of a difference. It’s a little Matt Brash-y. Excellent numbers for a reliever, but not so hot if you want to hack it as a starter.

With Marco Gonzales coming back for one more go-around – assuming we can’t find a trade partner for him – and with Robbie Ray still on the books for a tremendous amount of money (though, I was dismayed to hear he likely won’t be back until midseason, which means he probably won’t be back to normal until 2025), I think there’s a general sense among the fanbase that one of Miller or Woo won’t be here next year. That one will be traded to help bolster other areas of need. It makes sense, though it’s unfortunate. I can’t help but feel like it’s a case of We Can’t Have Nice Things. Just when we lock down the rotation as solidly as possible, we have to bust it up – YET AGAIN – to help out our feeble offense. I was surprised to hear that Woo is more liked than Miller, as far as the scouts and analytical people are concerned. That’s interesting, considering Miller passed the eye test a little bit more. He’s a little further along in his development, has more innings under his belt, and doesn’t have the injury history of Woo. But, whatever, I guess. Both guys looked awesome, and I hope we’re able to find a way to keep ’em around.

I can only go as far as Matt Brash, Justin Topa, and Andres Munoz with the bullpen. We had other nice-ish pieces – Gabe Speier, Tayler Saucedo, Isaiah Campbell all got an extended run, and looked decent as back-end of the bullpen kind of guys – Eduard Bazardo had good-looking stuff, Ty Adcock got a cup of coffee and looked decent, Prelander Berroa got a tiny cup of espresso and looked like a guy with tremendous upside, but I don’t know how much you can count on ANY of those guys. Especially when you consider, in 2022, we had the likes of Diego Castillo (who spent most of 2023 in Tacoma), Matt Festa (who had solid numbers in Tacoma, but isn’t even in the organization anymore), Penn Murfee (who got hurt, and isn’t expected to be healthy in time to start 2024), not to mention Paul Sewald (who famously was traded at the deadline). There’s so much flux with any bullpen, year to year, that it’s kind of pointless to project. If we get anything out of any of these lower tier guys in 2024, it’ll be gravy. I’m expecting nothing; I’m not even expecting they’ll be on the team.

You have to say Matt Brash was the best reliever on the team, especially after Sewald went to Arizona. There’s a lot to like here. 107 strikeouts was fifth on the team, behind our top four starters. 13.6 K/9 led the team. 3.06 ERA was very respectable. I wouldn’t say he gave us quite what we were expecting, but I think that’s because we were expecting the moon and the stars. Every report about his offseason was about how he might have the best slider of all time, in baseball history. Shit like that. As your #3 reliever behind Sewald and Munoz coming in? I think I expected something like a sub-1 ERA and maybe no more than 1 or 2 blown saves. Instead, you know, he was on the hook for 5 blown saves, and he got dinged with 4 losses. He had a somewhat rocky first couple months, but then improved over the rest of the season, and became the pitcher we all thought he’d be. He was the most reliable reliever we had by season’s end. And I think he improved enough – and worked on his pitch mix enough – to get even better in 2024.

Justin Topa came out of nowhere, as an older pre-arb player – to totally blow away expectations. Before 2023, he had played in no more than 7 games in any given season with the Brewers; this year he was in 75. He had an 8.0 K/9 rate, and had the best WAR of any Mariners reliever with 1.6 (over Brash’s 1.3). He wasn’t perfect – none of these guys were – but he was maybe the most consistently-good reliever we had, with no prolonged slumps. Every once in a while he didn’t have it, but you could say that about anyone; Topa didn’t cost us very many games, and was an incredible asset overall.

Andres Munoz, at least for me, barely qualifies for the theme of this post. But, he’s under contract through 2028 and isn’t going anywhere. He was fine. He wasn’t what he was in 2022, but an early-season injury took him out of commission for a good chunk of games. For as amazing as his stuff is, he was a little too inconsistent for me. As one of five regular relievers with 10+ K/9 (12.3), it’s clear his arm talent is pretty rare. But, his walk rate spiked, his K/BB rate dropped considerably (6.4 in 2022, 3.0 in 2023), and his splits vs. lefties and righties flip-flopped. He was better against lefties than righties in 2022; though still amazing against righties. But, while he was still strong against righties in 2023, he took a big dive against lefties, for whatever reason.

Ultimately, I’m not too worried. Though, I will say it’s concerning that he got hurt again. Remember, he missed all of 2020 and most of 2021 coming back from injury. He might just be a guy – with the way he throws – that he’s going to break down sooner than you’d hope. The M’s will want to take a good, hard look at this bullpen, and have more contingencies in place, so we’re not forced to rely on guys like Trent Thornton, Dominic Leone, Luke Weaver, and Juan Then types.

So, when you hear about the Mariners talking up their core guys, these are who they’re talking about. It’s a fine core! I like all these guys. But, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. There are guys who had really BAD 2023 seasons that need to be called out; we’ll get into that next time.

There Was A Mariners Hullabaloo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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