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 Mariners Signed Ryne Stanek

I’m at a loss for words. How did the Mariners stumble into signing Ryne Stanek? Why was he still available in the first place? Why didn’t the Astros make a bigger push to bring him back? How did we get him for so cheap and on such a short deal?

It’s reportedly a 1 year, $4 million contract, with $2 million in incentives. That is flabbergasting! There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. There are around eight relievers per team on any given 26-man roster. You’re telling me that NOBODY could’ve used Stanek’s services?

It’s crazy to me that the Mariners, of all teams, got him to sign. With our money issues, I just never would’ve expected it!

I guess the reason why he was available is twofold. For starters, apparently his original asking price was way too high. And, accordingly, I think teams might’ve been a little scared by his 2023 season. In 2022, Stanek was one of the best relievers in baseball (1.15 ERA in 59 games); but, those numbers drastically inflated last year (4.09 ERA in 55 games). I would also say there’s probably cause for concern with a pitcher who’s going to turn 33 years old in July, who has appeared in 186 regular season games across the last three seasons (with an additional 21 post-season games in that span). You’re talking about 69 appearances per season on average!

You have to come with a little perspective on a move like this. I think it’s safe to say we’re heading into the downside of his career. There’s a nonzero chance he’s cooked. He walks a lot of guys, his FIP is inflated, his K per 9 innings have declined the last couple years, and he’s going from a terrific defensive team in Houston to a very sketchy one in Seattle (lookin’ at you, third base and corner outfield).

But, on the flipside, he averaged over 98 miles per hour on his fastball last year, he has two amazing out pitches, he has reverse platoon splits, he has all that playoff experience, AND I feel like he’s got some extra motivation with the way the Astros just let him walk without really making any effort to keep him.

For the Mariners, it’s a no-brainer. Maybe other teams can be a little more discerning with their bullpen choices. But, we already had a CONSIDERABLE need to add to our bullpen, and that’s before all the arm issues with Matt Brash and Gregory Santos (that are going to put both of them on the IL heading into the regular season). You know what I haven’t heard about so far in Spring Training? The one or two From Out Of Nowhere guys who are supposed to make a big impact. Carlos Vargas, by all accounts, has been wild. Jackson Kowar has been shut down with arm soreness. None of the other fringe candidates have really popped.

The Mariners already have a hard-enough time winning games in April and May with their hitting consistently slamming down on the snooze button until the weather warms up. We can’t afford to ALSO have a piecemeal bullpen costing us important early-season wins. Stanek should hopefully alleviate some of those concerns, bridging this team until Brash and Santos come back.

Then, assuming no further injuries derail this season, you’re talking about a 4-headed monster at the back of that bullpen with Brash, Munoz, Santos, and Stanek. In that situation, Stanek is either your third or fourth option! You shouldn’t necessarily NEED to overwork him! Thereby, ideally, getting the most out of him, while preserving him for a late-season playoff push.

I’m more than willing to dismiss his 2023 numbers, because relievers are always so volatile. Also, it’s not like we’re committing to him longterm. If he comes here and stinks, eating $4 million isn’t so bad.

I couldn’t be more thrilled with this move. Which probably means it’s going to bite us in the ass, because that’s what always happens with the Mariners. This doesn’t change the major faults with this roster’s construction (still lookin’ at you, third base and corner outfield), but hopefully this is one less hole we have to worry about. Every little bit helps, when you’re a team like the Mariners and you’re projected to be right there on the playoff fringe. It’s all about pitching – while hopefully getting Just Enough out of your hitting – and so you really can’t have too many live wire arms in your arsenal. In that sense, Ryne Stanek is the perfect move for this very team.

How did we get so lucky?

Matt Brash Is Very Important To What The Mariners Are Trying To Do In 2024

It can be easy to take the bullpen for granted. That’s funny to say as a Mariners fan dating back to 1995, when so many of those teams in the mid-to-late 90’s were totally and completely derailed by a faulty bullpen. But lately? There’s some kind of secret sauce in the organization with the way we’re coaching these guys up. Every year, there’s a smattering of dominant back-end relievers, with another heaping spoonful of guys who come from out of nowhere to give us quality innings. This team has been the epitome of buying low and getting the most out of reclamation projects.

It rarely seems to work anywhere else on the team, but in the bullpen, it’s everything. And, as we know, an elite bullpen can paper over a lot of holes. See: Fun Differential.

How have we been taking the 2024 bullpen for granted? Well, simply put, we have a tremendous top three guys in our bullpen with Andres Munoz, Matt Brash, and Gregory Santos. That’s a 7-8-9 (in whatever order you choose) that can rival the very best in baseball, when they’re going good. Then, when you factor in this team’s penchant for finding diamonds in the rough, it’s just a matter of figuring out who they are in Spring Training, and rolling them out as if they belonged up here all along. Maybe it’s some holdovers from last year, like Speier or Saucedo; maybe it’s newcomers like Carlos Vargas or Jackson Kowar; maybe it’s some youngster from the minors I’ve never heard of! Whoever it is, this team will identify them, and we’ll be just fine.

That’s the assumption, anyway. You’ve still gotta go out and play the games. The guys still have to perform. But, it becomes exponentially more difficult if we have to do all of this without Matt Brash.

Pitchers in general are tough to rely on, healthwise. That seems to go double for hard-throwing pitchers, and quadruple for high-effort guys like Brash and Munoz, with funky arm angles and biting sliders. And when it comes to a baseball team, it’s hard to pin your hopes too much on any one single player. Even someone like Julio … he’s still just one of nine guys in a lineup; one of 26 guys on an active roster. Julio could homer in every single at bat and it’s still no guarantee you’re going to win enough games to be great. A lot of other things have to go right.

But, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Matt Brash is this team’s most important reliever. He might not be the guy in the ninth inning racking up the saves every time, but he’s the guy we tend to go to when we need our most important outs of the ballgame. He’s the guy taking on the very best opposing hitters, in the toughest situations (guys on base, less than two outs, likely needing a strikeout or a double play to get out of a jam), when the game is at its most perilous point.

Last year, he led the pitching staff in appearances with 78, and he led all relievers in innings pitched with 70.2. He also, not for nothing, led all relievers in strikeouts with 107, and holds with 24. I should point out, in fairness, that Justin Topa was right there at number two in a lot of these categories (75 appearances, 69.0 innings, 23 holds), but that also speaks to Brash’s importance, since Topa is no longer with the team.

Part of the reason why Brash was so over-utilized is due to Munoz spending some time on the IL, and Sewald getting dealt at the deadline. Brash and Topa were really our most consistent relievers throughout the entire season. Part of me expects a bit of a bounce-back from Munoz (though, I’m most certainly NOT taking him for granted), which would be a big boost, especially in the early part of the regular season.

The good news about this Matt Brash injury stuff is that the MRI came back okay. It’s not perfect; he has “elbow inflammation” and as such has been shut down in the early part of Spring Training. He’s apparently not surgical at this time, however that leads me to wonder if he’s just trying to gut through it, and eventually this year his arm is going to succumb. Either way, reports indicate Brash won’t be ready for the start of the regular season, as the team is going to be overly cautious (as they should be).

This is obviously a relief compared to what everyone was speculating about earlier this week. Tommy John was being thrown around with impunity. I’m not holding my breath though, because I feel like we’re one wrong move away from it being a reality. I hope I’m wrong! I hope he makes it back to the ballclub by mid-to-late April and can go full tilt the rest of the season. But, if he’s shut down, that’s going to be AWFUL for this team.

I don’t even want to think about it. There’s always some piece of devastating news that happens before the season even gets going. Figures it had to be Matt Brash. On the level of importance to this team’s success, I’d put the starting rotation and a few select position players (Julio, Cal, J.P.) ahead of him, but Brash is right there in the Top 10 for sure. Here’s to hoping we avoid a nightmare scenario!

Looking At The Mariners’ Bullpen

My concern throughout this offseason is that the bullpen wasn’t being fostered as much as it should, and that it would be this team’s biggest weakness (even worse than a probably-terrible offense). Matt Brash can still be prone to blow-ups, and Andres Munoz can be pretty inconsistent at times. And how long before either has a serious arm injury knocking them out for the season?

Gregory Santos helps in that regard. Now, we appear to have a true three-headed monster at the back of the bullpen (as long as they stay healthy), which just means we have to slot the rest in behind them.

The Mariners are pretty clearly in a three-tier system with their bullpen, with the above-referenced guys in that very top tier. In the next tier down, I’m putting guys like:

  • Gabe Speier
  • Tayler Saucedo
  • Eduard Bazardo
  • Ty Adcock

They were all varying degrees of “fine” in 2023 for the Mariners. They could grow into something more, they could regress hard, or they could stay middle-of-the-road relievers, eating up innings mostly in lost causes, with the occasional bursts of usefulness in higher leverage situations (when our elite relievers are taxed and need a rest).

Then, we’ve got the total wild cards who currently reside on the 40-man roster:

  • Carlos Vargas
  • Austin Voth
  • Trent Thornton
  • Cody Bolton
  • Jackson Kowar
  • Mauricio Llovera

Llovera was claimed off waivers and seems like camp fodder. Bolton was purchased from the Pirates and looks like he had somewhat of a rough rookie season in 2023 (after pretty good numbers in the minors). Kowar came over in the Kelenic trade (who was himself flipped by the Braves after playing in the Royals’ organization) and seems like the best possibility to make good on that otherwise terrible deal for the M’s. Kowar hasn’t really been good since 2021, so we’ll see.

I’m on record as not understanding what Thornton is doing on the Mariners. Sure, his ERA looked amazing last year (2.08), but his FIP was 4.72 and that seems to be closer to his actual value. He got lucky last year; I expect that luck to run out very soon. As for Voth, I guess he has a sweeper pitch that might be something. Both of these guys are veterans, so I guess the hope is they prove capable enough to stick and be some mentors to the younger guys.

Carlos Vargas might be the most interesting prospect of the bunch (he came over in the Suarez deal). He’s still pretty raw and I’m guessing will start off the season in Tacoma. But, we need plenty of depth to hang out in AAA until they get the call up for injuries or ineffectiveness.

I’ll tell you what, though, the bottom of this bullpen could look VERY dire, unless we have a surprise or two make it big out of Spring Training. I guess I should stop doubting the Mariners’ abilities in finding diamonds in the rough, because they’ve done it every year for God knows. But, how long until the luck runs out, or the well runs dry, or whatever you want to call it?

My sentiment on bullpens for a while now is: since they’re so incredibly volatile, you might as well not pump a ton of free agency dollars into them. Especially if you’re a team like the Mariners and there’s a finite amount of those dollars to go around. I’d rather spend that money in more useful areas. But, if our ability to develop these nobodies ever falters, or if we find the wrong set of nobodies who don’t take to our partcular teachings, then there’s nothing worse than a truly terrible bullpen. The best way to win more games than you otherwise should – i.e. the best way to paper over a subpar offense – is to go above and beyond in your bullpen. But, conversely, the best way to look like the absolute fucking worst, is to blow a bunch of games you should’ve won, because your starting rotation is awesome and your hitting is sometimes competent, but your bullpen just can’t lock it down.

Which is why I don’t usually give the bullpen a ton of thought. I don’t want to know all the ins and outs. I just want to show up when the regular season starts and find out who’s great and who needs to go.

The Mariners Traded For Gregory Santos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Traded For Jorge Polanco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What The Mariners Need To Fix Heading Into 2024

Whenever you hear someone from the team talk about what went wrong with the 2023 Mariners, and what they need to do to get back to the playoffs in 2024, they make it sound like it’s just a small tweak here and there. I got into the positives of the 2023 squad, and yeah, there’s a lot of good pieces here. But, I would also say it’s not an insignificant undertaking!

I counted 12 positives, and that’s including Teoscar, who is not a guarantee to be back. He’ll likely be extended a qualifying offer, which everyone believes he will turn down. At which point, either you find a way to sign him as a free agent, or you have to go out and fill that spot in right field. Regardless, 12 is less than half of the Major League roster. Even if you add a few of those bullpen pieces to the mix, you’re still hovering around 50% of the team that could definitely use an upgrade. That’s hardly a small tweak here and there!

If we’re talking about reasons why the Mariners fell short this year, you have to start with Ty France and Eugenio Suarez. Ty has been a regular whipping boy this season, for good reason. He has drastically fallen off a cliff these last two years, to the point where he was barely above replacement level in 2023.

In 2021, I would’ve said Ty France was one of our most important players. His batting average has slipped 41 points, his on-base percentage has slipped 31 points, and his slugging has fallen a whopping 79 points. Its been a disaster, on top of which, his strikeouts are climbing. He’s doing nothing well, and even his defense – by the numbers – has fallen off. He somehow managed to avoid the IL, and he had a career high in HBP; that’s what he has to hang his hat on. He has 2 arb years remaining, and I’m not even sure we should give him that much. It might be better for everyone involved for him to just move on, except I don’t know what’s out there to fill in at that spot. It’s not like we can trust in Evan White. Free Agency sounds like a wasteland. We’ll probably have to fill that spot via trade, and so help me if we bring in another one of these Quad-A guys to try to hit in T-Mobile Park.

The only hope is that his year two arb number doesn’t increase much, and that he follows through with the program at Driveline (and it somehow manages to stick). I know they worked wonders for J.P., but I can’t imagine Ty France has been going out and doing nothing the past two offseasons; Driveline is no guarantee of future success.

Eugenio is a slightly different story. His batting average and on-base percentages year over year are pretty close to one another; it was just his power that took a bit of a dive (31 homers in 2022, 22 homers in 2023). That’s a little trickier to explain. His line drive percentage actually went up this year – which might speak to the uptick in doubles – but his fly ball percentage dropped. His pull percentage spiked, while his balls to center and right fell. His hard hit rate and ground ball percentages were both static, and his strikeout rate actually went down a tick (even though his overall strikeouts went up, mostly due to his playing in every single game). Is that just bat angle? Is that the way pitchers were throwing to him? Were they busting him up and in, and that reduced his effectiveness in getting the ball to leave the park?

He also just turned 32 years old, so we can’t necessarily rule that out. Either way, I don’t see him going anywhere. Or, let me put it this way: I don’t see both him AND France leaving (maybe one or the other). But, you can’t try to replace both of those guys plus Teoscar; that’s just too much to try to accomplish in one offseason.

There wasn’t a bigger (and better) story than Jarred Kelenic for the early part of the season. This was truly a make-or-break season for the youngster, and he seemed to take the biggest step forward of anyone in a Mariners uniform. The first couple months were outstanding! It’s too bad they were overshadowed by the rest of the team struggling as much as they did.

His first 53 games – through the end of May – saw him hit .277/.333/.513, with 14 doubles, a triple, and 10 homers. His final 52 games – June through the end of the year – saw him hit .226/.320/.316, with 11 doubles, a triple, and 1 homer.

So, what was that all about? How much did the stint on the IL for kicking a water cooler have to play into it? Well, considering he was struggling mightily leading up to it – hence his physical display of frustration – you can’t blame it ALL on the layoff. Did pitchers adjust to whatever adjustments he had made in the offseason? Probably. Was he ill-equipped to then adjust again? Sure seems like it. What does this mean for his Major League career going forward?

Well, I think it’s safe to say he salvaged some of his value, which is a plus. But, can you really go into next season with him as your everyday left fielder? Or even your most-days platoon left fielder? For what it’s worth, I don’t know if his splits necessarily dictate that he HAS to be a platoon guy. He had a slightly higher batting average and slugging percentage against lefties, and was actually luckier with BABIP against righties than lefties. So, I think he’s fine to be an everyday outfielder. I still think there’s room for him to grow as he continues getting comfortable at the Major League level. But, he goes in the tank for far too long to be considered dependable, and he doesn’t strike me as an All Star type player. He might luck into a hot half-season and get handed a spot one year. Overall, though, I think he’s destined to do whatever it is he’s going to do in another uniform. I believe this will be the offseason we package him to another team, in hopes to bring in a veteran we can count on.

The rest of the problem children include Jose Caballero, Mike Ford, Kolten Wong, Dylan Moore, Dominic Canzone, A.J. Pollock, Josh Rojas, Sam Haggerty, Cade Marlowe, Taylor Trammell, Cooper Hummel (remember him?), Tommy La Stella, and Brian O’Keefe. I can’t possibly devote an entire paragraph or series of paragraphs to these guys, because we’d be here all day. Suffice it to say, they’re all fringe Major Leaguers (at best), and were eating up WAY too many spots in our lineup for this offense to be even remotely effective. Some of them had decent stretches (Ford had 16 homers on the year, Caballero was an on-base machine for a while, Rojas and Marlowe had brief hot streaks), but on the whole, these are not the types of players you want to pin your hopes on.

On the pitching side of things, you have to begin with Robbie Ray and the fact that he only made the one start this year. Now, do we know if he would’ve been good this year? Remember how poorly the end of his 2022 season went. But, that could’ve been a fluke. The bottom line is that a guy you were expecting to eat up a significant chunk of quality innings wasn’t around for you. It accelerated the development of Miller and Woo – which in the end might’ve been a bonus – but you could see those guys start to wear down towards the end of the year. Would they have been fresher if we could’ve held them back a little longer? We’ll never know, but it sure seems likely.

Marco Gonzales only made it 10 starts this year, and continued his gradual downturn ever since 2020. We’re still stuck with him for one more year, and I find it hard to believe we’ll be able to find a trade partner for him. On the one hand, he’ll be healthy by the start of 2024, and you can’t have too much starting pitching; on the other hand, he’s useless as a member of the bullpen, and if he keeps Woo or Miller from starting for too long, it’s going to be enraging.

The biggest tragedy of this year might’ve been the injury to Emerson Hancock. We only got about two and a half starts out of him, but he looked fairly promising in his limited action. And it happened right around the time Bryan Woo was returning from his brief IL stint, when we were supposed to head into the dog days of summer with a 6-man rotation, to hopefully keep everyone fresh. How important was THAT in derailing our season? Who’s to say? It’s one more What If to throw onto a season full of ’em.

And we’ve already gone into the bullpen of it all. There were gods and clods, and the clods were pretty damn mediocre. Trading Sewald, so far, looks like a disaster. But, that’s one of those things you can’t measure in two months’ time. You have to look at it over the next 2-3 years and see where everyone lands. I’ll say this: I don’t have any confidence in Canzone or Rojas. But, I also think we’re right around the corner from Sewald turning into a pumpkin. In which case, it was all for naught, and very well might’ve been the single biggest factor in sinking our season.

So, TL;DR, what do we need to fix? Well, we need to upgrade at either 1B or 3B. We need to fill RF with either Teoscar or Other. We need a bona fide fucking DH, because this horse shit we’ve been doing isn’t going to fly.

The Mariners are so full of shit with this DH thing, by the way. It was supposedly a means to give regular guys off-days, but how often was it used for that purpose, really? Suarez played at third damn near every day. France rarely went off first. J.P. never sits. Instead, that spot went to Teoscar on occasion (which was really a means to improve our outfield defense), Cal once in a while (when Murphy was healthy and able to back him up), and people like Ford, Pollock, Haggerty, Rojas, and the like. Lots of bullshit bench guys getting DH starts and doing nothing with them! Just sign a great hitter and park him there! Enough with this experiment that you’re not even using as you say you will!

Also, we need a proper second baseman, a proper backup catcher (who can stay healthy all year), and an outfielder or three (depending on what happens with Teoscar and Kelenic). Oh, and replenish the bullpen with at least one heavy duty arm (so it’s not just Brash, Topa, and Munoz and that’s it).

So, yeah, there’s a lot to do, and only one offseason to do it.

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.

The Mariners Just Blew Their Season Once Again At The Hands Of The Astros

This Mariners season is swirling down a flushed toilet bowl like so many mushy turds enveloped in wadded up toilet paper and a soupçon of piss. What was once a massive fucking disappointment – and ever-so-briefly a crowning achievement – has returned to being what is this franchise’s destiny: The Same Ol’ Mariners.

With our season in our hands, we lost game one against the Astros 5-1. It wasn’t even as close as the score indicates. Justin Verlander – who we’ve had SOME success against a time or two – went out there and almost threw a complete game shutout. To combat that, we had our own ace, Luis Castillo, who was pretty fucking terrible when we needed him the most (6 innings, 5 runs).

With our backs against the wall, we won game two against the Astros 6-2. It was everything this team has been lacking all fucking month. George Kirby went 6 shutout innings. We jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the third, added on three more in the fifth, and got some timely insurance in the eighth thanks to a Ty France home run. Raise your hand if you can remember the previous time he hit a homer, because I sure as shit forgot!

But, this series was a microcosm of some VERY questionable decision-making by Scott Servais. First, he pulled Kirby at 84 pitches, even though we had a 5-0 lead. That’s back-to-back-to-back starts with his pitch count in the 80’s after the big stink with him complaining about going over 100 (and then immediately walking it back). Is this giving the baby his bottle? Or, was he legitimately tiring after 80? Servais put in Topa, and yanked him after three batters when it was obvious he didn’t have it (smart). But, then he proceeded to throw Brash out there for 2 innings, and roll with Munoz in the ninth even though it wasn’t a save situation. Odd.

What’s even worse has been his lineup construction lately. The Mariners don’t have an ideal roster of hitters, but Servais seems to be committed to this lefty/righty thing, and also going quickly to pinch hitters in the middle innings as soon as a different-handed reliever is brought in. This series showed us a perfect example of how this can go terribly.

Tuesday probably featured our ideal lineup: J.P., Julio, Cal, Teo, Kelenic, Suarez, Ford (DH), France, and Rojas. We scored 6 runs, won a game, let’s go.

Wednesday featured a lefty by Houston, which meant this: J.P., Julio, Suarez, Teo, Moore, France, Cal, Haggerty, Caballero. We scored 3 runs, lost a game, fuck me.

I would’ve told you this team has no business playing Haggerty or Caballero ever again. I would’ve told you batting Ty France higher than 8th is a fool’s errand. I even would’ve told you that Dylan Moore was as cold as he’s ever been this month. I might have been wrong about Moore – since he hit two blistering balls in his first two at-bats – but what does Servais do? He pulls Moore for Kelenic after those two at-bats, even though there were plenty of other alternative people for Kelenic to pinch hit for (and even though Kelenic hasn’t done much more than walk and hit singles since his return from the IL). It’s goofy! I’ve always liked Servais and thought he made smart decisions; or, at least, decisions you could defend. But, I can’t defend this. Before, he always seemed to get the best out of his players. Now, he’s like an uncoordinated child tossed into the deep end of a pool, flailing as he tries to stay afloat.

Of course, what does it matter when Bryce Miller can’t get beyond the fourth inning, having given up a 4-spot on two massive homers. We got it to 4-3 in the bottom half of that inning, but they tacked on four more runs to make it an 8-3 final. Julio struck out four times, was taunted with homophobic slurs by their relief pitcher, causing the benches to empty. That’s about as exciting as this game got. Showing no heart or backbone whatsoever, the Mariners did nothing with that bit of fuel for the fire.

Now, we’re 4 games behind Texas with 4 games to go (against Texas). We can’t win the division, unless we come up with some fakakta 3-way tie with the Astros, which would require us to beat the Rangers 4 straight times. We’ve beaten the Rangers exactly 1 time this year, so that doesn’t seem extremely likely. And, now, our wild card chances are on life support. We’re 1.5 games behind the Astros, making tonight’s game a must-win just to get it to 1 game. But, we don’t have any control over our destiny. We need the Astros to lose at least once to the Diamondbacks (spoiler alert: they won’t), or we need the Blue Jays to lose at least twice to the Yankees/Rays. And, again, that’s the bare minimum, which would also necessitate us beating the Rangers four straight times, which is something we absolutely will not do.

Shit, we probably won’t win more than 1 game this weekend. What a terrible way for a season to go. This whole year – minus a month and change – has been fucking miserable. But also REALLY fucking predictable. Coming out of a magical 2022 season, expectations sky high, OF COURSE the Mariners are going to blow it in the most agonizing way possible. They’re going to get off to a terrible start, they’re going to go on a crazy run where they win the most games in any single month in franchise history, and just when our hopes are at their peak, they’re going to throw this fucking diarrhea festival in the month of September at us to totally crush our spirits. Taking it all the way down to the very last weekend, for maximum agony, while losing to two of the most loathesome teams on the planet.

Four more days. Soak it in. It’s almost over.