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!

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.

The Mariners Have A Bullpen Problem

The Mariners have lost three of their last four games, and it was damn near four in a row. All in the 9th inning or later. All thanks to a meltdown by either Andres Munoz or Matt Brash, ostensibly our two best relievers.

This bullpen problem didn’t happen immediately following the trade of Paul Sewald, but obviously that’s the move you point to. It’s been an especially bitter pill to swallow because Dominic Canzone and Josh Rojas have both had some VERY impactful hits late in games to pull our asses out of the fire; the irony being the fact that they were able to temporarily save us, but we didn’t have someone like Sewald to come in and lock it down.

In Paul Sewald news: after his own meltdown, he’s come back to save three games in four days this week. Oh cruel fate, why have you cursed us so?

The thing is, I would argue our bullpen problem predates the Sewald trade, though obviously it hasn’t helped matters. We came into 2023 believing the bullpen was the best and deepest part of this team, which has been anything but the case. Diego Castillo is struggling to stay afloat in AAA. Matt Festa, Chris Flexen, and Trevor Gott aren’t even in the organization anymore. Penn Murfee is on the 60 day IL. Now, we have the Sewald trade, and we’ve back-filled with some very uninspiring arms.

Isaiah Campbell seems to be used exclusively in mop-up duty during blowouts or lost causes. Trent Thornton has wildly unimpressive stuff (it’s no wonder he was previously DFA’d; he would be the last guy I’d use in a high-leverage situation). Ryder Ryan is the latest guy we’ve picked up off the scrap heap; he made his Major League debut at 28 years old last week, so we’ll see.

The guys who’ve stuck are, again, Munoz and Brash at the top. Justin Topa seems to get overlooked, but should probably have a bigger presence in high-leverage situations. Tayler Saucedo is an interesting breakout for this team, but I don’t know if he’s necessarily a high-leverage guy, so much as a solid 6th or 7th inning bridge arm against the bottom of the opposing team’s order. And Gabe Speier is your run of the mill lefty; he has good days and bad days.

As the Mariners have largely underperformed this season, it’s not exclusively due to the lack of hitting. It’s been kind of a nightmare scenario and you can point to two critical figures: our record in 1-run games (16-22) and our record in extra inning games (6-11). When you look at the 2021 and 2022 Mariners, those were pretty well reversed; the Mariners were remarkably clutch in tight games like these, and I would argue the bullpen played at a significantly higher level as a result.

See, it’s not JUST the hitting, it’s a collective effort. More often than not, yeah, we haven’t been able to get the big hit. But, sometimes it’s a poor start. And sometimes, these close games we used to nail down are being blown by relievers we’re forced to rely on.

What we’re starting to see is the hitting coming around. It’s a little later in the season than we’d like, but they’re finally doing their jobs. So, these blown saves, and these lost extra innings games are standing out a little more. It doesn’t help that we’ve bunched a number of these blown saves all in a row, now involving multiple pitchers. Maybe that’s just baseball. Peaks and valleys and whatnot. I’ll buy that to a point, but I think it also points to a bigger concern as we hit the stretch run. The Mariners need to win as many of these games as they can if we want to make it back to the playoffs. And even if we do manage to beat the odds and sneak into a wild card spot, can we really rely on these guys in a playoff situation?

It feels like we’re in need of one really awesome high-leverage arm. I had hoped Munoz or Brash would’ve stepped up to be one of those ace closers with a sub-2 ERA, but as we’ve seen all year, they’ve had their ups and downs. They’ll go through great runs of excellence, but then hit these spots where they’re extremely hittable, and then all hell breaks loose.

It’s a bummer, because the rotation has been largely amazing. And on the whole, the bullpen is pretty solid. But, the margin for error is so razor thin with this team that we can’t afford to be this bad in close games. This feels like a problem that’ll have to settle itself next year.

2023 Mariners Bright Spots So Far

It can be easy to dump all over this season, for good reason. The Mariners were expected to compete for the A.L. West, or at the very least somehow make it back to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2000-2001. We’re very nearly two months into the year and the Mariners are 23-24. It’s embarrassing, it’s infuriating, and it’s starting to feel like we’re getting to the point of desperation. It’s starting to feel like this team needs to go on a massive tear just to get to where they should’ve been all along. Essentially, we’re required to bank on what happened last year – when the M’s won 14 in a row and 22 out of 25 – except the problem is, this team has thus far failed in what they’ve been so good at recently: winning in 1-run games. Sure, there have been blowouts so far that have contributed to a +27 run differential, but that just means we’re 3 games off of the pace of where we should be.

We’re 6 games out of first place. AND we have three other teams to leapfrog to get there. That’s not where you want to be, if the expectations coming into the season were to – again – compete for a division title.

On the flipside, it’s not like we’re the A’s. It’s not like we’re the White Sox. The Mariners are a team with a lot of talented players, and while there are a plethora of disappointments, there’s also a lot of bright spots that we didn’t necessarily see coming either.

My tendency is – when a team plays down to this level – to throw away the season and focus on next year. The problem with that is – unlike in years past – there’s still enough talent on this team, and it is still early enough (even though I hate that line of thinking as much as anyone), that we’re in our window right this second. I don’t WANT to focus on next year. Because, sure, while it’s interesting to imagine what this team might look like in 2024 and beyond, there are also a number of the same underperforming players who will be back as well. It’s not a matter of these bright spots continuing to make their mark; it’s a matter of everyone else playing up to the backs of their baseball cards. It’s about everyone being good at the same time and putting together a magical season. We’ve had the experience of 2022. We’ve made the playoffs, we won a series, and we played the eventual World Series champs the toughest of anyone they played in their entire post-season run last year. Now it’s time to take the next step.

But, instead of belaboring our woes, let’s look at the silver linings of 2023 through 47 games.

You have to start with Jarred Kelenic, obviously. Some people are on record – at least back in April – of saying they’d trade a slow team start for Kelenic turning into The Real Deal. I was definitely uncomfortable with that line of thinking, but I do think it’s a franchise-changer for Kelenic to not only be a solid platoon guy, but to be an All Star everyday player, against both righties and lefties. To have played himself not only into a starter role, but someone batting in the top third or top half of the lineup. It still might be too soon to take this to the bank – I mean, look at Julio’s 2022 vs. 2023 – but I also don’t think Kelenic is a flash in the pan. I think this is who he is, he’s unlocked something extra-special – something we all saw in him as a prospect since the Cano deal – and he projects going forward to be a vital piece of this team’s success. His average has dipped ever-so-slightly below .300, but the whole offensive package is exactly what you want. He’s the best player on this team this season, period. That’s extraordinary! It certainly wasn’t something I was anticipating coming in.

I’m not going to completely abandon the regulars from here on out, but let’s shift over to the pitching for awhile.

George Kirby has built on an already-phenomenal start to his career. He’s been the best pitcher on this team all season. 8 quality starts out of 9, and that one was his first start of the season, whch I’m more than happy to write off. He’s getting deep into games, he’s economical with his pitches, and he’s giving this team a chance to win every five days. The fact that we’re only 5-3 in his quality starts says more about this offense and how it’s let the team down.

Bryce Miller has obviously come from out of nowhere, to a degree. He was on everyone’s radar coming out of Spring Training, but in another universe, he wouldn’t have gotten the call-up until late May or June. He’s 4 for 4 in quality starts, and two of them came against the Astros and Braves. He’s also getting deep into games, he’s also economical with his pitches, and more importantly, he’s helping us all forget how much we were counting on Robbie Ray to be a central part of this rotation. We essentially replaced a former Cy Young Award winner with another Cy Young-calibre arm.

There are a number of nice bullpen pieces who have stepped up, even if the bullpen as a whole has been a little inconsistent (and not quite up to snuff compared to recent seasons). Justin Topa, Gabe Speier, Trevor Gott, and Juan Then all have quality stuff and solid numbers so far. They’ve helped us through some poor outings by Brash, Castillo, Festa, and Sewald, and injuries to Munoz and Murfee. It’s kind of mind-blowing how we’re able to keep reloading a stacked bullpen, while overcoming the expected high-variance year-to-year performances you get with a segment of the team that’s always so volatile.

While I don’t want to dismiss the inconsistencies of Logan Gilbert and Luis Castillo, they’ve also had some dynamic outings so far, and it’s not hard to see these guys continue to chug along and give you the quality outings you’ve come to expect so far in their careers. The starting rotation is, far and away, the strength of this team, and pretty much the only reason why we’ve even managed to hang around .500. The hitting will start to come around at some point, so having our 1-4 spots in the rotation being so good will give us a great chance to go on that significant winning streak we need to climb back into contention.

I’m happy to shout out J.P. Crawford in this particular blog post, because I think a lot of us were really down on him after his 2022 (especially the way it ended with a whimper). He’s always been kinda streaky, but all too often he goes in the tank for long stretches, leaving his overall numbers a little lackluster. But, especially as we started this year with so many hitters in the tank, it was nice to have some consistent production from our slap-hitting short stop. Indeed, he’s actually hitting a good number of extra-base hits for him – mostly doubles – but more importantly he’s still getting on base at a great clip. His on-base percentage leads the team among qualified players, and he has since elevated himself to leadoff hitter once again (thanks in large part to Julio’s struggles, but still). And just anecdotally, the only hitter I’m more comfortable with right now in a big spot than J.P. is Kelenic. J.P. is one of the great leaders on this team, and so far he’s been leading his ass off!

Finally, let’s round out this post with Jose Caballero. It’s WAY too early to lower the Mission Accomplished banner with him, but the M’s have been in a desperate search to shore up the second base position since the Cano deal, opting to go with veteran savvy on short-term deals the last two years. Adam Frazier was a dud, and so far Kolten Wong has made us long for the days of Adam Frazier (it’s not surprising to see him have a little bit of a bounce-back season with the Orioles so far). Once Caballero started seeing playing time (we got him as sort of an A-ball level Just A Guy in a deadline deal with the Diamondbacks in 2019 for Mike Leake), I think we all thought he’d only be keeping Dylan Moore’s bench spot warm for him until he healed up. But, with Wong sucking, Caballero has gotten more and more opportunities, and he’s certainly made the most of them! So far, Caballero has played in 8 fewer games and had 38 fewer at bats than Wong, but he has the same number of doubles, infinity more homers, is crushing him in all slash figures (OPS of .802 vs. .468), and already has a 2 WAR advantage (0.8 vs. -1.3)! All in his first-ever Major League season! I mean, what the fuck?! I don’t know if this is going to continue for Caballero, but it certainly looks like he’s getting more comfortable in all facets of the game. We’ll see if he sticks as a long-term solution to our second base woes. But, right now? Caballero is a godsend, and the Mariners can certainly use more of that.

The Mariners Swept The Rockies To Start To Right The Ship

All right, we’re back to .500 at 8-8. For those keeping track of the streakiness of the Seattle Mariners to date, we’ve endured a 4-game losing streak, won three of four, had a 3-game losing streak, and have now won four more in a row. I’m not going to get into where the Mariners should be, or all of that nonsense, because the fact of the matter is: the Mariners deserve to be 8-8. They’ve played like an 8-8 team so far. But, all of that can quickly change. Starting today, in fact!

This weekend series against Colorado was an all-around great set of games by the Mariners. Things got off to a really encouraging start on Friday when the Mariners actually managed to overcome some adversity!

Marco Gonzales had his start scratched to go on Paternity Leave, which meant we had to endure a spot start from AAA call-up Tommy Milone. He did all right, though. 4.2 innings, 1 run on 3 hits and 2 walks, with 3 strikeouts. Not too shabby! Not good enough to get the victory, but more than enough to keep us in the game after we scored all 5 of our runs in the first four innings.

Kelenic kept driving the homer train with his fourth in four games, giving us a 2-1 lead. Then, Julio and Ty had back-to-back RBI doubles to finish things off offensively. The bullpen had a little hiccup with Trevor Gott’s 0.2 innings of relief, but then settled down with Brash finally getting out of a jam, followed by the new-look duo of Topa and Speier bridging the game to Sewald in the ninth (for his 3rd save of the young season). 5-3 victory.

The M’s blew things wide open on Saturday with a 9-2 mauling. George Kirby made it into the seventh inning (6.1, 2 runs on 6 hits & 0 walks, with 3 strikeouts), and Murfee and Castillo had some much-needed soft-landings to work through their problems.

This one was all about the offense, though. Julio was 1 for 5 with a triple and 4 RBI. Suarez was 1 for 4 with a homer and 2 RBI. Teoscar had 2 hits and an RBI, Cal had a hit and an RBI, Kelenic had a hit and a run scored. And, more importantly, J.P. Crawford got on base four times, with 2 hits and 2 walks, to pull his numbers up closer to career norms.

The chef’s kiss game came with Sunday’s 1-0 thriller. Luis Castillo was perfect through six innings; he finished with 7 shutout innings, giving up only 2 hits, while striking out 9. Topa locked down the 8th, and Sewald got his fourth save in the 9th.

And who was our hero offensively? None other than Jarred Kelenic, of course! We got to their bullpen in the sixth inning, and he pushed Ty France home with an RBI single. In case you were wondering, he’s slashing .362/.423/.723. It’s not going to be this way forever, but the longer he can keep this up, the better it will be for his confidence when he inevitably finds himself in a cold spell.

You can honestly say the Mariners wouldn’t be where we are right now without Jarred Kelenic. If you had told me prior to the season that the Mariners would have a losing record through 16 games unless Kelenic stepped his game up, I would’ve been dreading the outcome. But here we are! He’s defying expectations left and right, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

He only has two games without a hit so far, and he’s riding a 10-game hit streak. More importantly, he’s not missing. Everyone gets mistake pitches to hit, and after consistently whiffing on them to start his career, he’s taking advantage and really mashing the hell out of ’em.

And what’s really going to help this team out going forward is our ability to pencil him into the lineup every single day, regardless of the handedness of the starting pitcher. It’s early, and it’s a small sample, but he’s hitting against lefties. And when he’s not getting hits off of them, he’s also not looking totally overmatched. Promoting Kelenic from a platoon partnership to an everyday role is only going to help the Mariners going forward, because that means we’re saddled with one less fucking dud.

The homestand continues this week with three against the Brewers, followed by an off-day on Thursday, then three more against the Cardinals over the weekend. Time to feast on the N.L. Central!

God Damn These Mariners Have Been Annoying So Far!

Suffice it to say, I’ve been on vacation for Spring Break the last week. It was, uhh, not warm.

Frozen Lake Is Frozen

So, yeah, I haven’t had to slog through these 4-6 Mariners like the rest of you. I went to the game on Opening Night, the M’s won a thrilling 3-0 game over the Guardians that just zipped by, then I took the next day off of work, then I flew out to Minnesota with my family for lots of indoor activities at an otherwise lovely timeshare.

But, I’ve also been there with you, at least following along on Twitter. And it hasn’t been pleasant! Every time I turn around, the Mariners are blowing leads, getting hurt, giving up huge chunks of runs, throwing the ball all over the field (except where it’s supposed to go), and otherwise struggling to consistently hit offensively (with a few exceptions).

I can’t even can absolutely begin to tell you what’s the most disappointing aspect of these 2023 Mariners through 10 games, and (all apologies for the recency bias) I’m leaning towards the bullpen.

Yesterday’s game was potentially HUGE, and it’s infuriating to me that we blew it. Just, in general, the difference between being 5-5 and 4-6 is everything. 5-5 is so much more palatable, after a 2-5 start (with series losses at home to both the Guardians and the fucking Angels). While 4-6 obviously isn’t the end of the world, that game was the nail in the coffin for our season series against Cleveland. Had we won, we would’ve been 4-3 against them on the year (and, as such, had the tiebreaker over them come playoff time). Instead, they’re the ones who are 4-3 over us, and will take that advantage with them through the rest of the season. Cleveland figures to be direct competition with us, either as divisional champs, or as wild card fodder. Now we have to beat their record by a game if we want to stay ahead of them in the seeding.

What the fuck happened to Matt Brash?! What was all this shit about him having the best slider in Major League history? Seems a little premature and totally outlandish, if you ask me. We were fucking all set up with a 2-run lead in the bottom of the 9th and he fucking gagged it away. We really need him to come through, as the bullpen has been regularly taxed in this early going, and now that we’re down Andres Munoz (one of a disturbing number of injuries to high profile pitchers already, not even two weeks into the season), Brash figures to get the lion’s share of high-leverage situations not going to Paul Sewald.

Frankly, ONE injury is too many. But, we lost Robbie Ray after his first start of the season (after he looked so effective in Spring Training), forcing our hand in starting Chris Flexen, who is … fine. Munoz’s arm was not responding after outings, which is concerning to say the least, given the way he throws. Then, I heard Evan White has another major injury that’s going to cost him the first half of this season (if we’re lucky, it won’t be the whole year; either way, it’s another huge setback to his development).

And, oh by the way, Matt Festa has stunk (and was demoted to Tacoma this week), Brash has two blown saves already, Penn Murfee has two losses on the year (in spite of his 0.00 ERA), Diego Castillo has been predictably ineffective, and we had to call up someone named J.B. Bukauskas, who is someone I’ve never heard of in my life.

You can’t really absolve the starters though, because other than Luis Castillo (who has been OUTSTANDING through two starts, so it’s probably time to jinx him as he takes the hill later today), they’ve been pretty rough. Certainly not the strength of this team that we were all counting on heading into this season. Of course, it’s too early to panic, but not too early to at least be a little concerned.

I’ll be honest, the offense as a whole is pretty much what I expected. We’ve scored 43 runs in 10 games, that feels pretty close to what this team is. .234/.299/.374 as a team; you kinda expect the on-base numbers to improve, and the power numbers to drastically improve, but for now it is what it is. France, Julio, Cal, and Suarez are all top-notch. Kelenic has been showing some excellent progress (also helped by the lack of a shift).

But, on the flipside, we’re still waiting for Teoscar to get going. Kolten Wong has been a disaster. Indeed, all the newcomers – including Pollock, Hummel, and La Stella – have been atrocious so far. Combine that with getting nothing out of Murphy, Haggerty, or Moore (who’s still injured), and things could really be a lot better.

I think what’s most infuriating has been the defense. I don’t know if this is randomness or what, but there have been some serious breakdowns in the field, and that’s not helping matters in the slightest. Not with how the pitching has sucked, and how the hitting is just barely keeping its head above water.

I think what’s been most concerning has been our lack of success in the close games. We’re only 2-4 in games decided by 2 runs or less. That’s gotta change, and in a big way, if we want to contend for the division this year. The down-roster part of our bullpen needs to step it up in a big way. I’m including Brash in that, because until he proves over a lengthy period of time that he can hang, I can’t say I totally trust him in high-leverage situations.

I guess the good thing is, no one is running away with the A.L. West so far. We’re tied in record with Houston. The A’s are who we thought they were (2-7), and the Rangers and Angels are only 5-4 (hardly world beaters, as expected). It’s all still there for us, but we can’t go digging ourselves too big of a hole. We can’t come to depend on crazy-insane surges over the course of a season, like last year when we won 14 in a row and 22 out of 25. That doesn’t just happen every year.

But, also, we can’t freak out at every 4-6 stretch. Because this won’t be the only time this season where the Mariners play at a .400 level. It’s a long year. 152 more games to go.

Let’s go out tonight and get a W to start the new week off on a brighter note.

I Think We Have An Opening Day Roster For The Mariners!

Nothing is official, of course. There could always be a last-minute transaction, or a surprise injury or something. But, barring anything crazy, I think we have a 26-man roster.

The Starting Pitchers

  • Luis Castillo
  • Robbie Ray
  • Logan Gilbert
  • Marco Gonzales
  • George Kirby

This all checks out, right down to the order. Teams love the righty-lefty-righty back and forth, and this is about as perfect as it gets. I know we all love George Kirby and see him as having really explosive potential in his second year in the bigs, but the team is smart to protect his arm a little bit. Hold him back, let him ease into the season, maybe skip a start here and there. If all goes according to plan, Kirby will still get some play in the post-season, with hopefully a still-fresh arm.

I’m excited to see what we’re able to get from this unit. The Mariners will go as far as their pitching takes them, so we’re going to need these guys to stay healthy and stay dominating. That’s going to be a tough proposition – considering how healthy they all were last year. Odds are against us that they stay healthy again. But, if they do? Watch out!

The Relief Pitchers

  • Andres Munoz
  • Paul Sewald
  • Matt Brash
  • Diego Castillo
  • Matt Festa
  • Trevor Gott
  • Penn Murfee
  • Chris Flexen

It’s hard to argue with the sheer arm talent of this group. I know, relievers are volatile. But, I find it really hard to believe that all or most of these guys will take steps back. Maybe one or two, but that’s fine because we also have a lot in reserve down in the minors. There’s no shortage of impact arms in this organization, who will all cycle through at one point or another.

I am interested in what Chris Flexen brings to the table. There was talk heading into Spring Training that the Mariners might go with a 6-man rotation. Maybe I misunderstood, and they were just talking about how we had 6 viable starters on our roster. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what his workload looks like. He didn’t play a ton after he lost his starting job last year. You would think in the early going, there will be more opportunities, as most starters aren’t in mid-season form yet. But, by the same token, you hope there aren’t more opportunities, because there’s a 50/50 chance that means we’re getting blown out. The less Flexen pitches, the more we’re using our high-leverage pitchers, which means the more we’re either winning or tied in a particular game.

The Starting Nine

  1. Kolten Wong (2B)
  2. Julio Rodriguez (CF)
  3. Teoscar Hernandez (RF)
  4. Ty France (1B)
  5. Eugenio Suarez (3B)
  6. Cal Raleigh (C)
  7. Tom Murphy (DH)
  8. Jarred Kelenic (LF)
  9. J.P. Crawford (SS)

For what it’s worth, that’s my official prediction for an Opening Day lineup. I feel relatively confident about the top six; I feel least confident about Tom Murphy. But, I’ll say this, he’s got tremendous power, he’s a veteran, and with the third catcher, this really doesn’t hurt us if someone goes down mid-game. In a game that figures to be low scoring, one big swing of the bat might make all the difference, and maybe that swing comes from Murph.

The Bench/Platoon Bats

  • A.J. Pollock (OF)
  • Sam Haggerty (UTIL)
  • Cooper Hummel (C/OF)
  • Tommy La Stella (INF/DH)

These guys have probably a month to figure out who belongs and who doesn’t, before Dylan Moore (hopefully) returns from the IL. I don’t think Pollock is going anywhere, he seems pretty entrenched as a platoon partner for Kelenic. I also don’t think Haggerty is going anywhere unless he is in an absolutely miserable slump; but odds are he won’t be playing much outside of late-inning pinch runner duty. La Stella seems like the favorite to be cut, but I also wonder how much he’s even going to play in the early going? He might get a DH start here and there, but I could also see this team playing Pollock at DH along with Murph (and the other starters we opt to give some rest).

If La Stella can get off to a hot start, though, maybe we hang onto him a bit in favor of sending Hummel down to Tacoma. Doubtful, but you never know.

Top to bottom, 1-26, this is a quality roster. With, encouragingly, lots in reserve to come up and help in a pinch. I can’t wait for tomorrow night!

What Could Possibly Go Wrong For The 2023 Mariners Pitchers?!

As usual, I get into a situation where I want to write about the entire team, and I have to split it up into two posts because it gets way too unwieldy. Yesterday, we talked about the hitters, today it’s the pitchers.

I’m more bullish on the pitchers than I am on the hitters. So, that having been said, watch the hitters crush it this year, while the pitching lags behind. That having been said, there are legitimate concerns about everyone.

Luis CastilloI’ve already written about Castillo, so I’ll let that pretty much speak for itself. That having been said, the floor is still higher with him than anyone else in the rotation. Even if he gets off to a bad start to the season, he should right the ship at some point and keep things steady. Nevertheless, just one season prior we signed Robbie Ray to a big money deal, and he definitely took a step back from his Cy Young-winning pace.

Robbie Ray – Speaking of which, I think it’s fair to be a little worried. He got off to a rough start, picked it up mid-season when he re-introduced his 2-seam fastball back into the repertoire, but after his hot stretch, was up-and-down to close the year. He also REALLY struggled against the Astros and Blue Jays (with very poor playoff performances), and seemingly cleaned up against the bottom-feeders of the A.L. I don’t know if he can be trusted. Lotta meatballs being thrown over too much of the plate. His K/9 was the lowest it’s been since 2015 (in just his second season in the Majors), that’s a bad trend. This isn’t so much a precautionary tale as it is what I think will happen this season: I think Robbie Ray will suck!

Logan Gilbert – He made a huge jump in innings last year, going from 119.1 to 185.2 (plus playoffs), so while I’m not necessarily worried about his results, I am worried about arm fatigue. Let’s hope he’s a unicorn. He could also stand to have better off-speed stuff to generate whiffs; he can’t rely on his fastball forever.

George Kirby – Similarly, we’re looking at a kid who went from the minors to 130 innings (plus playoffs). We’re going to need to ride these power arms if we want to go far through the playoffs. We’re also going to need them to make up for the trainwreck that Robbie Ray figures to be. It’s worrisome that we also have to limit their innings through the regular season just to carry them through, but it’s also necessary for their longterm health.

Marco Gonzales – I understand he’s in the “best shape of his life” or whatever, but he’s Marco. He has soft stuff and needs pinpoint command to limit damage. Like Ray, he’ll clean up on the bottom-feeders, but otherwise he’s just an innings-eater. The worry from now on is: when will he fall off a cliff? I don’t know if he has the kind of stuff to be a Jamie Moyer type and pitch into his 40’s.

Chris Flexen – The other concern with these last two starters is: who will ultimately be traded mid-season? I would expect Flexen has more trade value given his contract status; he’d be a nice little veteran rental for some pitching-needy team. That is, unless he totally falls off the face of the earth. He doesn’t have the best stuff, and while I understand he’s fully capable of eating innings as a long reliever, I don’t know if that’s the role most suited to his abilities. A soft-throwing guy with a 6+ ERA isn’t going to fetch much of anything at the deadline.

Andres Munoz – There’s never going to be a year where we don’t worry about his arm. The way he throws, it’s just going to be a given. Now, obviously, he looks like the second coming of Edwin Diaz, and last year he very much pitched like that. But, even Diaz had that first year with the Mets where his ERA was pushing 6 and he was blowing saves left and right. Between him and Cano in 2019, it truly looked like the M’s fleeced them in that deal. But, ever since, Diaz has been lights out and earned a humongous contract extension. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Munoz have that kind of career trajectory, up to and including the anomaly of a terrible season. Will it be in 2023? We’ll have to wait and see.

Paul Sewald – Here’s a guy who’s been an absolute revelation since joining the Mariners in 2021. He struck out guys at a ridiculously unsustainable clip that first year, before coming back down to Earth in 2022. Nevertheless, he was still very good, with an even-better ERA. However, there were little blips of rough outings towards the end that give me pause. Did he just get tired? That’s certainly understandable; he’s pitched 60+ games in back-to-back years, in EXTREMELY high-leverage situations. He hasn’t come close to that kind of usage in his professional career. Hopefully, with other Mariners relievers taking steps forward in their development, that’ll give us more chances to rest Sewald, so he’ll be fresher down the stretch. But, the secret concern is: has the league caught up to his weird throwing style? He doesn’t come with a lot of heat, so he’s overly reliant on his unique arm slot and pitch movement. But, when he leaves a hanger, it can get crushed.

Matt Brash – Everyone. I mean EVERYONE is high on Matt Brash right now. So, right here, how can you not be concerned? If you could bet on Matt Brash being awesome in 2023, there would be a huge discrepancy between the betting public and the Vegas sportsbooks. Smart money’s always on the house. I’m just saying, don’t be shocked if he gets knocked around, or suffers elbow issues.

Diego Castillo – You don’t have to squint very hard to see a scenario where Castillo stinks. With the advent of the pitch clock, you’re talking about speeding up one of the slowest pitchers in baseball. Now, as a casual fan, it’ll be nice not to have to endure his constant twitching and adjusting of his baseball cap between every single pitch. But, what will that mean for his effectiveness? He’s overly reliant on a slider that gets a lot of swings and misses, but he also has a tendency to blow up and get mashed around. I’d love to know how his numbers look whenever he throws 20+ pitches in an inning, vs. when he’s able to get out in 19 or less. The more he throws, the wilder he gets. His numbers were already trending the wrong way last year, and he has lost his high-leverage status accordingly. Is this the year where it all falls apart?

Matt Festa – He’s kind of Just A Guy to me. He throws strikes, which will keep him employed more often than not. But, I don’t know what he does beyond that that’s anything special. Natural variance could clip his wings.

Penn Murfee – Oddball spelling of his name aside, at least Murfee has a sweeping slider that’s tough on righties. But, he also doesn’t have an amazing fastball, so he could be done in by a few bad outings as well.

Trevor Gott – I’m going to cut this post off here, as everyone else looks to be depth pieces. We lost Erik Swanson in a trade this offseason – probably selling at the exact peak of his value – and Gott figures to be a veteran option to throw onto the pile. He’s only making a little over a million bucks, so it’s not like we’re compelled to keep him all year. He’s really just some insurance against a few of the younger arms we’re looking to call up at some point. I expect him to be terrible, and pitch exclusively in the lowest-leverage situations.

What I’d Like To See The Mariners Do This Offseason

It’s impossible to predict the fluctuation of outcomes from individual players year over year. A guy might’ve had a great 2022, then all of a sudden goes in the tank due to injuries, private personal matters, or just total randomness. Baseball can be INFURIATING in that respect.

That being said, there doesn’t appear to be quite as many holes to fill this offseason as usual. Coming off of back-to-back 90-win seasons – the latest being a playoff run into the ALDS – that’s a good problem to have. It’s also one we’re not used to experiencing, as Mariners fans. I almost don’t know what to do with myself!

The starting rotation, for instance, looks to be set, barring trades. My hunch on the order goes like this:

  • Luis Castillo (R)
  • Logan Gilbert (R)
  • Robbie Ray (L)
  • George Kirby (R)
  • Marco Gonzales (L)

Is it perfect? No. But, I think the top end is good-to-elite, and I think the two lefties are solid innings eaters. The depth beyond those five guys is a little suspect, as I don’t know if any of our upcoming minor league starters are ready to ascend (or will even be with the club, since they present as our biggest trade chips), but we at least should have Chris Flexen around as a long relief arm/injury replacement starter.

I would say the bullpen is largely set too, though of course there’s room to tinker. We’ve got the following arms under contract (among a host of others):

  • Andres Munoz
  • Paul Sewald
  • Erik Swanson
  • Matt Brash
  • Diego Castillo
  • Penn Murfee
  • Matt Festa

We probably need another left-handed reliever or two, but that’s what Spring Training is there for. We go out and find underappreciated rejects and turn them into monster relievers. I’m sure there are guys out on the scrap heap looking to turn their careers around in Seattle.

The major holes are where you’d expect: the everyday lineup.

Right off the bat, Mitch Haniger, Carlos Santana, and Adam Frazier are all free agents. That’s your starting right fielder, DH, and second baseman. Then, there’s the whole Jesse Winker fiasco, so you’re probably looking at a need to replace your left fielder.

Coming at it from the other direction, we look solid-to-great at center field (Julio), third base (Suarez), first base (France), catcher (Raleigh), and short stop or second base (Crawford).

Internal depth pieces include Kelenic, Toro, Lewis, Haggerty, Moore, Trammell, and Torrens. I don’t think we should be confident in any of those guys. I like Haggerty a lot, but I wonder if he’ll get exposed the more he plays. I like Kyle Lewis a lot, but he can’t stay healthy with his chronic knee issues that probably prevent him from playing everyday outside of DH (and, considering how bad he was at the plate this year, you have to wonder if he even has value with his bat anymore). Trammell, Toro, and Torrens all look to be Quad-A players not to be trusted with starting jobs. And Kelenic is the real wild card in all of this. Highly touted, highly regarded throughout his minor league career, but definitely stalled out at the Major League level. Is it possible for him to figure it out? Of course. But, will he do so in a Mariners uniform? That’s a huge question.

It’s frustrating to see so much of the outfield in flux, because that looked like our area of greatest strength. It was supposed to be Julio, Lewis, and Kelenic for the next 5-10 years. Now, it looks like we’ve hit on 1 out of 3.

I’d love for Mitch Haniger to stick around, but clearly he too can’t stay healthy. The smarter play feels like we should let him move on to another team. Which is a tough pill to swallow, because he’s exactly the kind of guy you want. Works hard, plays quality outfield defense, hits for good average and power when he’s healthy, great teammate. But, if he’s spending more time in the training room than out on the field, that’s not a guy you can count on.

I’m already at the point where I think Winker needs to go, but his value has taken such a sharp hit this year, I don’t know what you’d get in return. The smart play might be to get rid of him anyway, because his attitude and alleged lack of work ethic might be a bigger detriment than whatever good we might squeeze out of positive regression, but I can see why the organization might want to avoid having to replace BOTH corner outfield spots. There’s also the chance that, you know, his severe surgical injuries might have hampered him just a bit. So, maybe he’s on the short list for a bit of positive regression.

Even though the Mariners are in the best spot they’ve been in since 2001, it’s not like this is an EASY fix. Two outfielders, one middle-infielder, and one big bat to DH and maybe help out in the field on occasion.

I think the middle infielder is the key. I think we have to sign one of the big bats that hit the market in free agency to either play short stop (and move Crawford over to second) or second base. From there, I think you take a shot in free agency at a quality outfielder, but more likely will have to make a trade for that guy. Then, as for the other outfielder, I think you maybe find someone to platoon, with the other platoon partner being an internal candidate (either Kelenic, Haggerty, or Moore, whoever produces best in Spring Training). As for the DH, find some vet akin to Carlos Santana (only maybe slightly younger and more spry) who can fill in at first base in a pinch, to give France regular days off to DH in his place.

The Mariners should have a decent amount of money to play around with, so I’m hoping there’s at least one big splash. The trade candidates can be guys with 1-2 years left. Maybe we can flip Winker for someone else’s problem, in a greener pastures sort of situation.

The big story this offseason is where will Aaron Judge go. He’s going to get half a billion dollars, easy. Is that someone I’d want in a Mariners uniform? I dunno, how well did it go the last time we signed away a former Yankees superstar?

Here’s the deal: I would be thrilled if the Mariners signed Judge to play right field. As we all would. In the short term, pairing him with Julio and the other guys on our roster is only going to make them the most formidable pairing in baseball. But, there’s a reason why his numbers have been so insane with the Yankees, and that’s because he plays half his game in Yankee Stadium. Hitting homers there is as easy as breathing. If he moves to Seattle, expect a DRAMATIC downturn in his number of homers. He hit 60+ this year? You might bank on him hitting 40+ with the Mariners. I’d say the 30-40 range is more likely. And that’s assuming he stays healthy.

Of course, long term, I think that contract will be a disaster. What worries me is if it’s a disaster from the start. Think Albert Pujols when he joined the Angels. He went downhill almost immediately, and they had to endure a decade of his creaky knees.

I’d rather put that money into a short stop who’s a better long-term fit, and then trade for a value bat in the outfield. That’s easier said than done, obviously. But, I will say that now that we’ve had this success, and we’ve got a lot of our core locked up, Seattle is a more attractive place to come and play. Obviously, it’s not perfect. There’s a lot of travel involved. The home park isn’t easy, especially in the colder months. But, locating the right guys who fit our dynamic and what we’re trying to do offensively will be critical to getting over the hump.

As Napster guy said to Facebook guy in The Social Network, “The wild card isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Winning the division and getting a top two seed.”

2022 Seattle Mariners: In Memoriam

It’s fun to look back at my prediction post to see what I thought about the Mariners heading into the season. Long story short: I was right about some guys, VERY wrong about some guys, and I had this team pegged as an 84-win squad who would go on to miss the playoffs once again.

It’s funny how this season ebbed and flowed. We started out 11-6, which kind of gets lost in the shuffle in the narrative to this season, because the next stretch was so terrible. As late as June 19th, we were infamously 10 games under .500 at 29-39 (meaning in that span of almost two months, we went 18-33). Then, amazingly, we finished the year 61-33 (winning at a .649 clip), including a 14-game winning streak to close out the first half. This was a year removed from another 90-win Mariners team who had a pretty shabby record in May/June before turning it on the rest of the way. The main difference is that we had three wild card teams to go along with three divisional winners making the playoffs in each league. So, this time around, 90 wins was just enough.

There are so many fun storylines that came along this year, with the top being Julio Rodriguez. He’s a superstar! He’s the superstar we’ve been waiting for since Ken Griffey Jr. left. He hits for average (.284), he hits for power (28 homers, 25 doubles, 3 triples), he steals bases (25 against 7 caught stealing), he plays tremendous defense in center field, and he’s by all accounts a fantastic leader and teammate. He’s everything you could want in a 6-WAR player, and oh by the way, he also had an absolutely atrocious month of April before figuring out how to play at this level. Meaning he did all he did in 5 months, which is absolutely incredible. He’s your American League Rookie of the Year, and unlike the last Mariners ROY (Kyle Lewis), he figures to play at a high level for many years to come (hence the humongous mega-deal he signed during the season).

You know who else was a really cool story? Cal Raleigh! He struggled in 2021, and was off to another rough start in 2022, to the point where he was briefly sent back down to Tacoma to work on some things. He ultimately was forced to return due to catcher injuries, but this time he made the most of it. He doesn’t hit for much average, but he was among the best catchers in the game with his power (27 homers, 20 doubles, and one improbable triple) and he obviously has a great defensive game (both in handling pitchers as well as throwing runners out and pitch-framing). As far as Pleasant Surprises go, he’s way up there for me and a lot of Mariners fans.

Another guy I wasn’t expecting a ton from was Eugenio Suarez. I wondered – as did many people – if his best days weren’t behind him. Instead, he was probably the best version of what he can be: a 4-WAR player who hit 31 homers, 24 doubles, and 2 triples. He also played very good defense at third base, and is amazingly an upgrade over what we had with Kyle Seager over the last few years. His batting average isn’t stupendous, but his on-base percentage is very good.

One more pleasant surprise before we get to the guys we expected to be good, and that’s Sam Haggerty. It’s a rough go that he wasn’t able to make it to the playoffs – suffering a major injury in the final week of the regular season – but as a bench guy, he finished with 2.2 WAR. It got to the point that he forced his way into an almost-everyday role on this team (bouncing around from various outfield AND infield spots) through sheer grit and talent. I don’t know what his role is long-term, but he’s one of those guys every playoff team needs: someone who hits for average, plays amazing defense, and will steal you a money bag in a pinch.

We got Ty France and J.P. Crawford through almost a full season intact, and they produced about as well as you’d expect, with 3.0 and 2.8 WAR respectively. I think you’d still look to improve at one of the middle infield spots this offseason (potentially moving J.P. over to second), but you have to like what both of these guys give you, as far as leadership and production go. Ultimately, you wonder how both of them will handle the rigors of a full season (as nagging injuries seem to creep in and sap their effectiveness as the season wears on), but for now I have no complaints.

Finally, pour one out for Mitch Haniger and Carlos Santana. Both were on the final years of their respective deals (Santana was a trade acquisition who didn’t hit a lot, but when he did, they seemed to be in the biggest of moments). Santana is probably washed as an everyday bat, while Haniger proved once again that he can’t stay healthy for a full (or multiple) season(s). I would say Haniger was great while he was in there, but even with his 1.4 WAR across 57 games, he still went in the tank for long stretches (and didn’t really give us much in the playoffs).

As far as pitching goes, there are plenty of kudos to go around. Logan Gilbert led the squad in WAR with 3.2. He built on his impressive rookie season with an even better one, throwing 185.2 innings in 32 starts. It looks like Gilbert is going to be a workhorse for many years to come.

On Gilbert’s heels came George Kirby, who had a similar rookie year this year to Gilbert’s last year: very restricted innings, yet still impressive output. What Kirby had this year – which Gilbert never got a chance to show last year – was a phenomenal playoff run. You would expect Kirby to have a similar increase in his innings next year, followed by the training wheels coming all the way off in 2024.

Luis Castillo was our big deadline acquisition, and he showed why the cost was worth it. To the point that he earned himself a long-term extension to stick around and be this team’s ace for the foreseeable future. He’s like a harder-throwing Felix with a similarly-impressive change up.

Robbie Ray was the leader of the pitchers throughout the year, but he had a number of rough patches to endure. His start was rocky as hell, until he started incorporating his 2-seam fastball. That led to improved results, but ultimately it seemed like he struggled against better teams. I don’t know what tweaks are in his future, but he’s going to need to rein in his command if he’s going to be worth the huge wad of money the Mariners are giving him over the next few years.

The rotation was wildly healthy this year, which is pretty insane. Marco Gonzales did Marco Gonzales things, finishing pretty well in line with his career norms, throwing 183 innings across 32 starts, and being about league average as you can get. Chris Flexen also did Chris Flexen things, and earned himself a nice little bump in pay in 2023 (to be this team’s long reliever, I guess, if he’s not traded at some point).

The bullpen – for the second year in a row – was this team’s heart and soul, and they needed every bit of the talent on offer. What’s interesting is that – aside from Sewald – we got it from a gaggle of new guys. Andres Munoz was the obvious breakout star, throwing 100+, with a 90+ slider. But, Erik Swanson dramatically improved his game, Penn Murfee was a nice surprise, Matt Festa was a competent arm, Diego Castillo got better once he was dropped from the highest-leverage spots, and Matt Brash was a revelation once the team demoted him from starter to reliever. If Brash sticks with relief, I think the sky is the limit with this kid, which is great news when you figure he’ll slot alongside Munoz and Sewald for the next few years at least.

It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for the 2022 Mariners, though.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Jesse Winker was this team’s biggest disappointment. He came over in that first big trade with the Reds (alongside Suarez), and everyone pegged Winker as the cornerstone of that deal. For good reason, because all Winker has done is produce at the plate in his Major League career. Especially in 2021, when he played at an All Star level.

Winker’s production fell dramatically this year. He suffered the Seattle curse. At home, his slash line was .203/.331/.294; on the road, it was dramatically higher: .232/.354/.382. 10 of his 14 homers came on the road. Ironically, the book on him was that he struggled against lefties but crushed righties; however that flipped for some bizarre reason in 2022. Across the board he was better against lefties, which is crazy to me!

The final nail in the coffin appears to be his work ethic, and his chemistry in the clubhouse as a result of that (lack of) work ethic. I’ll say this: I agree with Divish, I don’t think he looks very strong or athletic whatsoever. His defense isn’t just mediocre, it’s an outright liability. Sure, his eye at the plate is pretty strong, but you can’t build a career on crap defense and walks. That’s not going to work on a team that has a razor-thin margin for error when it comes to our offensive struggles at times. This is a team with a whole lotta alpha dogs who are in it to win it. I don’t know what Winker’s vibe is exactly – he struck me as an easygoing, comedy relief type of presence, but I don’t know if that’s totally accurate given the RBF we’ve come to witness so often – but clearly it doesn’t mesh with this team. Either he gets traded, or they try to make it work with an offseason meeting of the minds. My hunch is we cut and run, though I hope there’s at least a little value, since I think his bat would play in a friendlier offensive environment.

Adam Frazier was also a pretty significant offseason acquisition that was also a major disappointment. You bring in a guy like Frazier for his high batting average and on-base percentage. Competent defense at second and in the corner outfield is a bonus, but he’s supposed to be a regular baserunner for other guys to hit in. That’s what makes his 2022 season so befuddling, because his bat SHOULD play anywhere he goes. We’re not relying on him to be a dynamic power source like Winker, we just want him standing on first base for other guys to knock him around. He only turned 30 this year, so he should still be close enough to his prime to be effective. But, regardless, he started in a pretty deep hole and could never fully get out of it, in spite of occasional hot stretches. As I mentioned, there’s room for improvement up the middle, but that was always going to be the case. Frazier was on a 1-year deal, so we were going to have to look to fill this spot either way. Between left field and second base, we need to find at least ONE bigtime bat to help prop up this offense to get closer to league-average in scoring.

I’ll just rattle off really quickly: the other major disappointments were Luis Torrens, Abraham Toro, and Jarred Kelenic.

Kelenic had a fantastic finish to his 2021 season, which gave us all hope that he’d be here to stay in 2022. Instead, he sucked hard in the early going, spent MOST of the year down in Tacoma, had a nice little blip in the last couple weeks of the regular season, but ultimately wasn’t able to continue that through the playoffs. There’s still a lot he needs to do to be a more consistent Major League presence, and I just don’t know if he’s ever going to stick in Seattle.

Toro was a deadline acquisition in 2021 who has had a number of big hits in clutch moments, but by and large he’s been atrocious. He had to play for the Mariners quite a bit this year due to injuries and ineffectiveness around the roster, but he’s a huge wad of nothing. Time to move on.

Torrens, we thought, figured out his bat in 2021, and was supposed to be a steady middle-of-the-order type of guy, either as a backup catcher, or as this team’s DH. But, once again, he fell off the map and found himself DFA’d. He passed through without anyone claiming him, so we were able to get him to Tacoma until late in the regular season, when he returned to Seattle (with Raleigh’s injury issues) and saw an uptick in his offensive production again. I couldn’t tell you what his future holds, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the Mariners need improvement at backup catcher.

I don’t have a ton of complaints about the pitching. Again, it would be nice if Robbie Ray was better against good teams, since we clearly need him if we’re going to make it back to the playoffs. It was also disconcerting to see Sewald get beaten around so much late in the year. But, other than some minor quibbles, most of the guys who sucked (Steckenrider sure didn’t last long, did he?) were jettisoned in a timely fashion.

The overarching analysis for the 2022 Mariners is a rousing success. We made the playoffs for the first time since 2001! Even if it was last year’s playoff format, we would have made it to the Wild Card play-in game, and we would have prevailed to advance to the ALDS. So, I’m not taking anything away from the Mariners. Quite frankly, it’s insane there haven’t been more playoff teams for a while now. After a 162-game season, there needs to be proper representation! There are so many good teams in baseball who deserve a shot every year, why deprive markets of fun opportunities?

This is a team that outperformed expectations. It’s also a team that can easily keep things going, barring injuries. A couple of key additions should leave us contending for the A.L. West next year. And, as long as we don’t totally strip the farm system, there should be enough studs coming up through the pipeline – especially on the pitching side – to keep us playing at a high level for years to come.

The last time the Mariners were good, we had a nice 9-year run of success. Unfortunately, in that span, we only made it to the postseason 4 times, and never advanced beyond the ALCS. That needs to change here. Hopefully, we have the talent and the scouting to make the leap. It’s time for the Mariners – the only team to never play for a world championship – to make the World Series. Will that happen in 2023? A lot would have to go right, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Of course, the odds are super long. But, it’s just nice to have a fun baseball team to root for again. It’s been FAR too long!