2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part I: Run Prevention

It’s interesting how opinions can shift. Just two months ago, I was ranting and raving about the F-grade the Mariners deserved for this offseason (not necessarily the grade Jerry Dipoto & Co. earned, but the organization as a whole, starting first & foremost with ownership). Since then, it should be pointed out, three very important personnel moves were made. We traded for Jorge Polanco to shore up second base. We traded for Gregory Santos to shore up the back-end of our bullpen. Then, we signed Ryne Stanek after it became clear Santos (and Brash) wouldn’t be healthy enough to break camp with the Mariners out of Spring Training. You’re talking about some much-needed depth, and you’re also talking about – when healthy – a team that should at least hang around.

On top of those moves, the other thing that’s happened in the subsequent two months since I wrote that post is that the Mariners have had their entire Spring Training session. We have some more information than we did before. Even though we’re all loathe to talk positively about numbers, you can’t help but feel at least a little warm and fuzzy about hitters mashing the ball, and the stuff from your pitchers starting to come around.

I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve done a complete 180 on this team. But, between the additional moves, the exhibition performance, all the pundits and analytics being more bullish than bearish on this team, and the general optimism of spring and the new season directly before us, it’s hard not to have that … whatever the opposite is of cloud your thinking. Clear? Sunny up? They’ve gone and sunnied up my disposition – without my consent, I might add – and I’m not sure how to reconcile those feelings from two months ago.

You know what I hate? Being everyone’s “dark horse”. You know what else I hate? Being suckered into this fucking team, only for them to fall flat on their asses.

So, I’m trying to shut all that noise out and just focus on what my brain tells me. For starters, I have to give the usual caveat: all of this prognostication assumes we have an average amount of health (or better). Every team deals with injuries. Even the very best teams have to endure stretches where it feels like the baseball gods are whooping them with the ugly stick. The Rangers last year – World Series champions – had a spell in the second half where it looked like they might fall apart. But, they picked themselves up, steamrolled through the playoffs, and the rest was history. But, obviously, everyone remembers the 1996 Mariners, where Randy Johnson was lost for most of the year, and we also lost a good month from Ken Griffey Jr. Teams can’t endure the loss of their two best players for extended stretches and still hope to compete. If the 2024 Mariners lose Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez, no one is going to sit there and say, “Well, that’s just an average amount of baseball injuries.” It’s debilitating!

With that out of the way, let’s get going here. Since all I want to talk about is the hitting, we’re going to save that for Part II tomorrow. Right now, let’s get into the pitching and (a little bit on the) defense (at the end).

Baseball is tricky. You can’t sit there and say, “So and so is the most important guy on this team, and without him playing great, we have no chance.” It’s not football with the quarterback position. It’s not basketball with whoever your superstar is. Baseball is too much of a team sport. Yes, you need your stars to play well, but one guy can’t do it all. If that were the case, Mike Trout would be a champion countless times over.

You can’t even pin it all on a single pitcher, though I’ll contend until my dying breath that there’s nothing quite like an ace to dominate (particularly down the stretch of a pennant race). But, with the 2024 Mariners, we’re not even close to talking about them being contenders without this pitching staff, and especially this starting rotation. They’re the straw that stirs the drink. The most important aspect of this team, by far.

I don’t think you’re going to find a more talented one through five in Major League Baseball – nor one with a higher upside – than the one the Mariners are going to throw out there this seaason. Luis Castillo and George Kirby, right now, are among the best starters in all of baseball, and Logan Gilbert isn’t too far behind. And the pure, raw stuff of Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, and Emerson Hancock (who is slotting into Woo’s spot while he starts the season on the IL with a little bit of arm inflammation) makes them more than the ideal 4 & 5 starters. There’s the kind of potential that we just saw in the first couple of seasons with Kirby and Gilbert! Now, obviously, that’s no guarantee they’re going to turn into bona fide All Stars, but if the worst thing you can say is that the guys projected to be in the back of your rotation – with mid-to-high 90’s fastballs with tons of movement and some promising off-speed pitches – are going to get hit around every now and then, that’s a pretty great problem to have.

Do you know how many teams have absolute bums in the back-end of their rotation? Do you know how many teams are relying on soft-tossing journeymen a la Marco Gonzales to simply eat up innings? Meanwhile, the Mariners have nothing but power arms fisting their way through opposing lineups; it’s outstanding!

Obviously, the knock against the rotation is the lack of depth. But, what team doesn’t have that problem? With Hancock, I’ve already listed six guys who we like. The top three guys are better than most other teams have in their ace spots; and the bottom three guys are better than most every other team’s back-end. If those other teams suffer rotation injuries, I can only imagine the drop-off in quality!

The fact of the matter is, the Mariners are uniquely positioned to withstand the injury bug every now and then. Obviously, it would be ideal if we can get through the next couple months without losing any more starters – to give our bullpen an opportunity to heal up. But, with our home stadium, with our marine layer, and eventually when we get our bullpen figured out, I don’t have a big problem ceding a few outings to a Quad-A starter every now and then. Let him five & dive and hope your offense is up to the task to win a squeaker.

Now, that bullpen does come with some questions. I think we’re all in agreement that when our studs get healthy, a top four (in whatever order you choose) of Santos, Brash, Stanek, and Munoz, is as good as it gets. Again, in all of Major League Baseball. At that point, it almost doesn’t matter who else you put out there. Saucedo and Speier are reliable-enough. Trent Thornton could conceivably be due for a bounce-back, after having a full offseason in our throwing program. And, I’m sure there are plenty of under-the-rader arms in our organization who are poised to be the next Justin Topa or Paul Sewald. Until this unit lets me down, I have to believe we have what it takes to get the job done in the bullpen.

If this team is going to get back to the playoffs, it’s going to be on the arms to get the job done. For as good as they are, it would be helpful if the defense could pick things up behind them, but we’ll see.

By all accounts, we’re going to take a serious step back defensively. Which is kind of shocking, if I’m honest. I always remember Mitch Haniger being better than average. Has he really taken such a dive with age and injury? If he has, that’s a problem, because we’re clearly not as good in left field with the loss of Kelenic. I don’t even know if Luke Raley is competent out there! We might be on the hook for Super Utility Dylan Moore more than we’d like (that is, if he’s not covering for third base).

Speaking of which, is Luis Urias the worst defensive third baseman in baseball? We’ll find out! He sure as shit seems to be worse than Suarez. And I don’t know if Rojas or Moore are much better. Also, what are we going to get out of Polanco at second?

Seems like the potential for a lot of holes. That being said, I don’t care how old Haniger is, there’s no WAY he’s worse than Teoscar Hernandez. We still have Julio and J.P. And our catching figures to be among the best in baseball as well (or, at the very least, the most underrated).

I don’t know if we can count on this defense to carry us. But, as long as it isn’t a total hindrance, then the run prevention half of this team should be among the best in the American League. Certainly good enough to get us to the post-season.

Now, will the hitting do its part? Check back tomorrow (and the rest of this regular season) to find out!

I Don’t See How You Can Give The Mariners Anything But An F Grade For This Offseason

They were talking about this on Brock and Salk this morning, and it’s just absurd to me how they were bending over backwards to try to excuse this team for its actions this offseason.

I’ll just say, flat out, I don’t believe the 2024 Mariners are any better than the 2023 Mariners. Why anyone would believe that is ludicrous. We’ve downgraded in the outfield, we’ve downgraded at third base, we’ve maintained our same shitty level of play at second base and first base; the only spot we’ve upgraded is DH, which as I’ve said repeatedly the team doesn’t deserve credit for because all they’ve done is replace a corpse with a warm body. Literally ANY move at DH would’ve been an improvement.

On the pitching side of things, the rotation is the same. And while you can MAYBE hope for some improvement from the very youngest members of the rotation, I would also argue your depth is drastically reduced. Last year, Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo were your depth. Now, they’re in the rotation, and your depth guys include that dud we got from the Giants, and whoever is sucking up innings for the Rainiers. Emerson Hancock feels like a pipe dream with his litany of injuries, and it doesn’t seem like any other highly-rated prospect is ready to make the leap to the Majors this year. As for the bullpen, we never really did anything to replace Paul Sewald, unless you count the various projects we’ve brought in who we’re hoping will develop under our system. Wish in one hand and shit in the other and let’s see how much better the Mariners’ bullpen is in 2024.

So, where is this improvement coming from? Your guess is as good as mine. They tried to argue that this isn’t like last year’s crop of crap – A.J. Pollock, Tommy La Stella, Kolten Wong – but are we sure? What’s Luis Urias supposed to give us? Competent defense? We were already getting that from Suarez, along with a significant amount of pop (pop that is 100% not there with Urias). We swapped out Kelenic for a probably-worse version of Kelenic; we swapped out Teoscar Hernandez for injury-prone Mitch Haniger. We’re still saddled with the likes of Canzone, Rojas, Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, Cade Marlowe, and Taylor Trammell; those guys aren’t anything. Mitch Garver is the only guy who looks plausibly decent, but would it shock anyone to see him come to Seattle and struggle to hit? Also, can he stay healthy?

Now, if you’re going to argue that at least the Mariners aren’t the A’s, then congratu-fucking-lations; you’re not the fucking Cleveland Indians from the movie Major League! Here’s your fucking prize! But, it’s clearly an apples & oranges situation. If you’re happy to not be the A’s, that’s not something that should automatically raise your grade. To me, you’re only graded on yourself, what you did and what you’re capable of doing. You don’t get compared to other teams; we’re not ranking all 30 MLB teams. I would say the Mariners AND the Athletics deserve F’s, albeit for different reasons.

I will say that – given the constraints handed down by ownership – Jerry Dipoto and Co. did okay for themselves. It’s not like they had a ton of options to improve the ballclub. But, we’re not grading them; we’re grading The Mariners. Fans don’t care about how good of a job the GM did; fans care about wins and losses. So, in that sense, maybe it’s too early to give a proper grade. Maybe we have to let the entire season play out and do it all at the end. But, with the information we have now, I can’t imagine the Mariners will be any better. In fact, I’m betting they will be considerably worse.

So, unless they prove me wrong in a big way, they get an F for this offseason. They let us all down, again, and they don’t deserve a single benefit of the doubt.

What Is The Mariners’ Lineup Looking Like For 2024?

For the record, it’s impossible to try to predict how ANYONE in baseball is going to perform from year to year. There’s injuries, there’s regression, there’s age, there’s personal life matters that creep in; those are all elements that can negatively affect players. On the flipside, maybe they go to Driveline and work on their swing. Maybe they learn a new pitch. Maybe they get in “the best shape of their lives”.

Who expected J.P. Crawford or Jarred Kelenic to take their respective steps forward last year? Who expected Suarez to come to Seattle and be a hit? On the flipside, who expected Winker to come here and be a total bust? Who saw the Ty France nosedive coming? Who expected to get absolutely nothing out of Kolten Wong, A.J. Pollock, Adam Frazier, and the like? Oh wait, maybe don’t bring up those last three guys.

So, I’m willing to admit that I’m probably going to be dead wrong about a lot of these guys, one way or the other. But, for fun, let’s take a look at who we’re likely to see as our 13 position players, and how they fit in a potential lineup.

The “everyday” guys seem to be something like this:

  • Left Field – Luke Raley
  • Center Field – Julio Rodriguez
  • Right Field – Mitch Haniger
  • Third Base – Luis Urias
  • Short Stop – J.P. Crawford
  • Second Base – Josh Rojas
  • First Base – Ty France
  • Catcher – Cal Raleigh
  • Designated Hitter – Mitch Garver

The bench guys – who figure to see a good amount of platoon time – include:

  • UTIL – Dylan Moore
  • OF – Dominic Canzone
  • Catcher – Seby Zavala

The final guy is someone between Sam Haggerty, Taylor Trammell, Cade Marlowe, Zach DeLoach, or Jonatan Clase (I’m assuming one of them will have a torrid Spring Training and force his way onto the team for a couple weeks, until it’s clear his spring was an aberration).

I’ll tell you right now, that lineup is ROUGH to look at. Here’s an order, for reference:

  1. J.P. Crawford (SS)
  2. Julio Rodriguez (CF)
  3. Cal Raleigh (C)
  4. Mitch Garver (DH)
  5. Luke Raley (LF)
  6. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  7. Ty France (1B)
  8. Josh Rojas (2B)
  9. Luis Urias (3B)

As a tried and true Mariners fan, I can only allow myself to feel good about the top three guys. Everyone else has a wild range of outcomes going from Absolute Worst to Better Than Expected.

Garver should be fine, but would it shock anyone to see a middling slugger come to Seattle and hit for Warning Track Power? Raley has less of a Major League track record, so he gets a little less confidence from me. Haniger, obviously, is going to get hurt within the first two months of the season, missing more time than he’ll play for. France is working out at Driveline, so there’s hope that he follows in J.P. Crawford’s footsteps, but I’ll believe it when I see it; I’m heading into 2024 expecting nothing from France. Rojas is Just A Guy, and will almost certainly lose playing time to Dylan Moore, among others. Urias is also Just A Guy, and will almost certainly lose playing time to Dylan Moore, among others.

How many Dylan Moores do we have on the team, anyway?

I would say there’s better than a 50/50 chance that the bottom third of the lineup is as bad as it’s ever been, with probably better than a 35% chance that 5 out of our 9 hitters – on the whole – are underperforming and actively costing us ballgames.

And that’s, again, AFTER the bulk of our moves in trades and free agency. That’s ostensibly supposed to be an “improvement” over 2023. Odds are, the Mariners will be a significantly WORSE hitting and scoring team in 2024.

We pretty much decided to punt second and third base. We swapped Kelenic for Raley, which is kind of a wash. We swapped Teoscar Hernandez for Haniger, which feels like a downgrade when you consider the time Haniger is going to miss (with the very real possibility that Haniger is just cooked as a professional ballplayer). The only actual upgrade is at DH, but it’s hard to give them credit for that when they effectively punted DH last year. Getting something – when we were so consistently getting nothing – is pretty easy to do when you actually find a warm body to put there.

And don’t even try to start with me on suggesting improvement out of guys like J.P., Julio, or Cal. They are what they are, until I see otherwise. But, I am by no means banking on them being anything more than what I’ve seen. Same goes for Canzone, or any of the other Quad-A guys we’ve got on the 40-man roster that we’re forced to keep on the 26-man roster because they’re out of options. Again, I’ll believe it when I see it, and I don’t expect to see much of anything.

So, yeah, pretty bleak! Hope we find some improvement in our bullpen! Hope our starters are able to carry this team on their backs the whole year! How many 1-0 losses do we have to look forward to?

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

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

To recap this offseason so far:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Signed Mitch Garver

We’re looking at 2 years, $24 million. So, that’s a chunk of change, and a bit of a committment.

It’s a relief that the Mariners are coming to their senses on this whole DH thing. Part of me wonders if their prior stance – that they were aiming to use the DH as a rotating “rest day” of sorts for the regular starters – was all a smokescreen, because the organization was being too cheap to actually go out and sign someone of import. Either way, Garver WAS a catcher. But, since the Mariners have done nothing but bring in catchers this offseason (Blake Hunt in a trade with the Rays, Seby Zavala in the Suarez deal with the Diamondbacks), there’s not really room at the inn for another one. At first, I was moderately concerned that this was going to precede some sort of blockbuster Cal Raleigh trade, but I’ve been assured by people in the know that Garver is going to be our DH. At least through 2023, if not for the next two years. With maybe some first base mixed in.

Garver has been relatively productive in his 7-year Major League career. He won a Silver Slugger Award in 2019 with the Twins. That year, he whacked 31 homers, with a .995 OPS in 93 games. His, uhh, availability has diminished since then. Post-COVID, he’s averaged just under 70 games, thanks to a barrage of injuries that all seem to be related to his body breaking down under the influence of his catcher duties. Taking away those duties, in theory, should prolong his ability to perform at the plate. Then again, he’ll be 33 years old in mid-January, so I guess we’ll see.

Last year, he hit 19 homers and had an OPS of .870 with the Rangers. He also missed most of April and all of May with injury, but again we hope that won’t be a problem in his new role.

Are we concerned that he’s played 8 games in Seattle and has thus far never even gotten one hit?

I can’t say that I’m super jacked about this signing. I have long ago given up hope that the Mariners are going to do anything this offseason that will move the needle. I think Salk on the radio yesterday said something about this being a replacement for Teoscar Hernandez’s production at the plate. Except, ideally, with fewer strikeouts and more on-base ability. I’d like to sit here and proclaim delight at no longer having a black hole at DH, but I’m going to be on a Wait & See track with any and all moves the Mariners make. Someone said he rakes against lefties. I’m pretty sure that’s also what they said about A.J. Pollock. At least Garver is a few years younger.

Now, we just have to find a Suarez replacement, a Kelenic replacement, and someone to actually play in right field and second base. No biggie.

What does this mean for what money we have left to spend? Did we just use up over half on one guy? I hope he’s worth it!

One backup catcher the Mariners won’t be signing is Tom Murphy, who inked a deal with the Giants for a couple years. Pretty good money for someone who has been as injury-prone as he has. I hope he kills it down in San Fran.

What Happens If This Is It For The Mariners?

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

Where is the economic pinch coming from?

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

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

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

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

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

What can you get for $20 million?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where do we turn to for hope?

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

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

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

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

How long do we have with our current crop?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Are Continuing Their Short, Quick Backslide Into Mediocrity

It’ll be interesting to look back five years from now, when we reflect upon the six-year anniversary of the last time the Mariners made the playoffs – itself the first time we’d made the playoffs in 20+ years – how will that team be remembered? Will it have the same reverence as the 1995 playoff team? Or will it be closer to that 2000 team, kind of forgotten and overlooked?

It’s funny that a franchise who has made the playoffs only five times in its history can have playoff teams that are overlooked, but such is the world we live in.

I guess one could argue the Mariners are getting all of their least popular moves out of the way early, rather than spread them out over the course of the entire offseason. But, at some point, you have to wonder if the bad taste that’s in all of our mouths won’t overshadow whatever good moves they eventually make.

Of course, you have to wonder if any good moves are on the horizon, but that’s neither here nor there.

We traded Jarred Kelenic, Marco Gonzales, and Evan White to the Atlanta Braves for reliever Jackson Kowar and pitching prospect Cole Phillips. Kowar, I guess, is a hard-throwing right hander who has yet to put it together through pieces of three seasons with the Royals; even his numbers at the AAA level the last three years have been subpar. Phillips, meanwhile, was drafted in 2022 and needed Tommy John surgery. He’s yet to pitch in the minors, as far as I can tell. He’s the rawest of prospects at this point, and I have no idea where he’ll start his career with us, but it’ll be nowhere near the Majors.

As you can tell by 2/3 of the names we gave up, this is a salary dump. Marco is making over $12 million this year. There’s also a club option year in 2024 that’s worth $15 million, but clearly we were never going to pick that up. Also clear: we didn’t want to pay him $12 million to be a shitty reliever, so it’s not hard to see why we’d want to move on.

Evan White signed a team-friendly buy-out of his arb years back in 2020, when he was a Gold Glove first baseman during COVID times. He’s since been mostly too injured to play (not logging a game in the Majors since 2021), and when he has played he’s been bad (spending small bits of time in AAA the last two years, doing next-to-nothing of value at the plate). A glove-first first baseman is the last thing this team needs, and with his salary looking to spike in 2024 and 2025 ($15 million total across the two seasons), with future club options that come with a small cost to buy out, it’s also not hard to see why we’d want to move on.

Marco stopped being part of this team’s future plans pretty much as soon as he signed his last contract; you knew he was never going to see another one here. He stopped being part of this team’s present as soon as we were able to call up enough young prospects to fill out the rotation. He was always a Meh starter who could eat a respectable amount of innings and keep you in a respectable amount of games. But, usually he was only good against the very worst teams, and pretty hard to watch against the likes of the Astros and whatnot.

Evan White is kind of a disappointing story, since he was a first round draft pick and is so talented and athletic defensively, but he just couldn’t stay healthy. Even if he had, there’s a strong chance he never would’ve made it anyway, considering the holes in his swing made him a pretty big liability at the plate. If you were often frustrated by all the strikeouts you saw from Teoscar Hernandez, Eugenio Suarez, and yes, Jarred Kelenic, you would’ve been pretty miserable seeing White flail at the plate all these years. Maybe those injuries were a blessing in disguise, at least for the eyes of every Mariners fan.

The Kelenic piece hurts, for those of us who were clinging to hope that he’d eventually figure it out, put it all together, and be an All Star for years to come. Around the time Evan White signed his extension, we thought Kelenic was also on a fast track to super success. That turned out to decidedly NOT be the case, and for a little bit it looked like he was going to be an extreme bust. In the last offseason, he really worked on his swing, and came into 2023 looking better than he’d ever been. That carried over into a strong start to this season, before he eventually cooled off, then kicked a water cooler, landed on the IL, and made it back in time to struggle at the end of the season when we could’ve most used a boost.

I am, in no way, shape, or form, giving up on the concept of Kelenic being a good Major Leaguer, but I’ve been resigned to the fact for a while now that it wasn’t going to be in a Mariners uniform. He was the most likely candidate to be traded away this offseason to help us bolster the ballclub.

What I didn’t predict was that instead of helping to bring back a Major League-ready bat to come in here and start right away, he’d be used as a means to shed unwanted salary, probably netting us nothing in return other than that savings.

Fans are justifiably upset. This is a Salary Dump. The Suarez deal was a Salary Dump. Not giving Teoscar Hernandez a qualifying offer was itself a form of Salary Dump. These aren’t the moves of good, healthy organizations looking to compete for a World Series. These are the moves of third-tier, “cash-strapped” organizations who choose to pinch every penny even though they’re owned by billionaires and those teams are worth untold billions of dollars on the open market.

Some fans are choosing to have trust in the Mariners for some reason. At this point, maybe the humor is so dry it’s flying over my head, but if it’s legitimate and there are fans out there still believing in the shit this team is peddling, then we’ve got some serious Stockholm Syndrome going on and maybe we should send social services to their homes to make sure they’re okay.

The argument is: the Mariners are picking up extra money any way they can so they can go out and spend it on high-priced free agents and/or trade acquisitions.

It’s funny, because remember when the Mariners made all those moves to free up extra cash the last time? It was, incidentally enough, when Shohei Ohtani first came to the United States. Remember what happened? We failed miserably, and then did nothing with the international signing money we acquired. Nor did we do anything else in regular free agency to shore up the team. In effect, we put all our eggs in the Ohtani basket, and watched those eggs fall off of a cliff Wile E. Coyote-style, splatting to the ground below.

How are we this stupid? How are the Mariners so stupid as to fall for the Ohtani allure yet again, when he will never come here no matter what we offer him? And how are Mariners fans so stupid as to think this team’s logic is based anywhere close to reality?

Maybe they have other plans. Maybe there are other targets we’re trying to acquire. Even so, you can always make these cost-cutting deals AFTER you’ve added the pieces you’re committing to add. You don’t have to do it before! You don’t have to look like the cheapest organization on the planet. You don’t have to bottom out the hope of an entire fanbase.

As we’ve discussed in the previous two deals, it’s pretty clear there’s a new philosophy with the Mariners when it comes to striking out. Or, rather, that philosophy might’ve always been there, but we’re finally taking steps towards seeing it to fruition. Hernandez and Suarez were two of the top three hitters with the most strikeouts in the league, with a total of 425 combined. Kelenic didn’t have that many strikeouts only because he didn’t play in as many games; but his strikeout rate was actually highest on the team (31.7%, compared to 31.1% for Hernandez and 30.8% for Suarez).

For the record, last year there were five hitters above league average in strikeout rate (23.2%), with the other two being Julio (24.5%) and Cal (27.8%). For some reason, I don’t think either of those guys are in danger of going anywhere anytime soon.

So, when you factor in the strikeout aversion this team has suddenly developed, Kelenic’s days in Seattle were numbered. My contention here – like with Hernandez and Suarez – is that we’re not getting enough in return for very valuable pieces. I guess the team is hoping that it’s actually Addition By Subtraction. Except, the only problem with that is: you still need players to fill in for the vacant roles you just created!

Now, we’re down a third baseman, a right fielder, and a left fielder. We already needed a DH and a second baseman, as well as a new first baseman (depending on how much you believe in Ty France being fixed by Driveline). All we’ve done so far is pick up a backup catcher and a couple of potential relievers (assuming we’re able to fix what’s wrong with them in Spring Training).

That’s a lot to have to fill in one offseason. Arguably, it’s too much, and we’re going to come up short in multiple areas yet again. On top of which, there aren’t any prospects we can reasonably hope to rely upon in 2024, meaning we’re not just in need of help in our everyday starting lineup, but we’re also in need of bolstering our depth. As you can see by how much that depth was forced into action in 2023, they are NOT good enough to carry this team to the post-season.

It just feels like the Mariners are going further and further backward in their development, when they’re really supposed to be making a big push towards World Series relevance. And I can’t tell what exactly the plan is. Are we waiting for our next batch of prospects to develop? That won’t come until 2025 at the earliest, probably closer to 2026 or even 2027. At which point, what are we doing with the guys we’ve got at the Major League level currently?

At this rate, it seems like we’re waiting for them to get so fed up they demand to be traded out of here. God, wouldn’t that be nice? Can I demand to be traded to a fanbase where their team actually gives a shit about winning? I don’t even know what that’s like!

The Mariners Traded Eugenio Suarez For Junk

I’d be lying if I told you I understand what the Mariners are doing. Usually, when it’s this early in the offseason, I’ll sit back and say, “Let’s wait and see what other moves are coming. Because surely THIS can’t be the plan!”

The last move that made sense from a roster construction perspective was a little over a year ago, when we traded for Teoscar Hernandez. Your miles may vary on whether or not the move actually worked out, but at least it made some kind of sense. Then, starting with us giving away Kyle Lewis for nothing, trading for Kolten Wong, and bringing in A.J. Pollock and Tommy La Stella – while extending Dylan Moore and essentially guaranteeing him a near-everyday spot in the lineup – the moves started to get blurry to me. They stopped making sense. I kept waiting and TRYING to see, but the closer we got to the start of the season, the more it became clear that this was it. This was the team. We were done making moves, and content to suck it.

We all saw how that turned out.

There hasn’t been a lot going on with the M’s so far this offseason. We let Teoscar Hernandez go away without a fight, which seemed like a bad move at the time, considering I figured there was little risk of him signing his qualifying offer. I haven’t heard of him signing anywhere, but I also don’t think he’s finished as a Major League baseball player. In conjunction with that, comes the news that the Mariners traded away Eugenio Suarez to the Arizona Diamondbacks, just as they did with Kyle Lewis, Ketel Marte, and Paul Sewald. In return for this deal, we get back Carlos Vargas (a relief pitcher) and Seby Zavala (a backup catcher). Pretty much the least you can get in return for a viable starting third baseman.

If I squint, I can sort of see what’s going on here: the Mariners just shed themselves of 425 strikeouts between Hernandez and Suarez. They were the second and third-most strikeouts in all of Major League Baseball last year. Nevertheless, they also accounted for a combined 4.3 WAR between them. That’s not an insignificant amount of production we need to recoup somehow, someway.

There was another deal that happened a couple weeks ago – indeed, on the first day of my honeymoon – that I was going to let slide under the rug and never think about, because it seemed so inconsequential. However, in the wake of the Suarez deal, there have been rumblings. Distressing rumblings.

The Mariners traded reliever Isaiah Campbell – one of our bevy of rookie arms from this past season who was fine at times, but far from great – to the Red Sox for infielder Luis Urias. I had assumed Urias was just another Quad-A utility infielder to throw on the pile. I think I had good reason for this assumption: he’ll be 27 next year, he hasn’t done much of anything at the Major League level, he’s coming off of really a nothing season, and his good numbers were from 2-3 years ago when he played for Milwaukee. That’s a prototypical guy you take a flier on in Spring Training, who maybe ends up as your 25th or 26th man.

However, once the Suarez deal went down, there were some people In The Know saying that this paved the way for Urias to be our starting third baseman, which is absolutely shocking to me! I really want to dismiss it, and again retreat into my cocoon of Wait & See, but coming off all the inaction of our previous offseason, I have to at least somewhat take this threat seriously.

I guess Urias doesn’t strike out as much. That’s something. He also doesn’t hit for average, hit for power, walk a ton, or steal any bases. Maybe his defense is good? That’s fine, but so was Geno’s. This feels like a significant downgrade, and that’s before you consider the hit to morale in the clubhouse. A clubhouse that’s been pissing and moaning for the better part of two years, whenever we get rid of highly-regarded teammates (Graveman, Sewald, now Suarez).

The fact of the matter is, the 2023 Mariners already had at least one significant hole to fill in our everyday lineup (probably more like two or three, but let’s not be greedy). Now, with the loss of Hernandez and Suarez, that’s a MINIMUM of three major holes (and, again, probably more like four or five). We’re going the wrong direction. Our goal was supposed to be improving upon the 2022 playoff squad, to start fighting for a World Series. We sat on our hands last season and regressed our way right out of the playoffs. Now, we’re actively ridding ourselves of productive players, and potentially replacing them with cheap nobodies who will do nothing for us.

Granted, in defense of Mariners brass, both Hernandez and Suarez took steps back in 2023 compared to 2022. If either one of them had managed to just maintain their level of production, we easily would’ve been in the playoffs. But, you can’t dismiss the possibility that they just had down years, and will bounce back in 2024. These are pros, and baseball is wonky as hell. Sometimes you have a bad season for unexplained reasons. That doesn’t mean you’re just finished forever.

As for our return in the Geno deal, Seby Zavala looks like a disaster at the plate. Maybe I’m being a little hard on him, but we’ll see. This surely means the end of Tom Murphy, which I’m fine with. I like Murph as much as the next guy, but he can’t stay healthy, and this team (and Cal Raleigh in particular) is severely taxed whenever he goes down. Zavala appears to be a quality defensive backstop, and if he can just be better than Brian O’Keefe, or whoever in the hell we had in 2022, then bully for us. But, a backup catcher isn’t going to move the needle on this team’s playoff chances.

Carlos Vargas has appeared in exactly 5 Major League games, all in 2023. He’s only 24, and allegedly throws the ball hard, but he also doesn’t seem to have great command yet. This trade will work out if we can harness his power and get him in the strike zone (without getting hit too hard in the process), but I read somewhere that there isn’t a lot of movement on his pitches. It seems like we just traded Isaiah Campbell for an Isaiah Campbell clone. Which means we traded Suarez for Urias and Zavala. Which feels like an absolute massacre for the Mariners.

My faith in the Mariners was already dwindling. Now it’s almost gone completely. I hope they do something awesome soon.

The Mariners Did Not Extend A Qualifying Offer To Teoscar Hernandez

I’m not going to lie to you, in an offseason that started – for all intents and purposes – at the very end of the regular season, at least as far as the Mariners are concerned, this organization has bungled things in a way I never could’ve possibly expected. First, the end-of-season press conference fiasco, and now this.

The whole impetus in trading for Teoscar Hernandez in the first place – giving up a potentially-useful reliever (something this team desperately needed by season’s end) and a lottery ticket prospect – is that the Mariners would get a year of his services in the middle of our lineup, and then either opt to extend him for 2024 and beyond (if things went well), or let him walk with a Qualifying Offer attached to his name, thereby receiving draft pick compensation whenever he signed elsewhere. Sure, it’s just another lottery pick, but with how the Mariners like to do business, that seemed like an ideal outcome, all things considered!

Somewhat expectedly, things did not go well for Teoscar. He’s a righty slugger who strikes out a lot and spent half his games hitting in T-Mobile Park; if you didn’t anticipate some struggles, then you clearly haven’t been following the Mariners for very long. He had two good months in 2023 to salvage what ended up being his seasonlong slash line of .258/.305/.435:

  • June – .303/.376/.573
  • August – .365/.396/.654

The other months were pretty abysmal. True to form, his home/road splits were pretty garish:

  • Home – 79 games, .217/.263/.380
  • Road – 81 games, .295/.344/.486

So, yeah, he let the ballpark and the marine layer get into his head. I don’t know how that explains why he had 64 singles on the road vs. only 40 at home, but maybe that marine layer is a little thicker than we ever thought. Either way, he was not the Value Add we all needed him to be. When he was going good, the team won games. But, about 2/3 of the time he sucked, and the team fell short as a result, unable to compensate for his underperformance on top of everyone else’s underperformance (save J.P.).

What I don’t understand is, why not roll the dice? Sure, he’s 31 years old, but it’s not like a player of his age, with his prior performance, hasn’t commanded an insane amount of money in free agency. All you need to do is point to those home/road splits and SOMEONE would’ve given him a 3-year deal! The free agent market is barren! And every team needs help with a power bat!

Were we SO afraid that he’d accept the QO (valued at just over $20 million) that we couldn’t even risk it? That seems silly. He would’ve gotten a better deal somewhere; I’m convinced of it. Are we so set at the position that we couldn’t use him for another year, if indeed he did decide to return? Clearly not! There’s a nonzero chance that with his experience in 2023, he could’ve adjusted and hit closer to his career norm. Regardless, it’s exceedingly unlikely that he would’ve accepted the QO anyway, so what are we even doing here?!

Even if you think he’s fallen off a cliff and is done as a valuable Major Leaguer, that doesn’t mean some other team isn’t foolish enough – or desperate enough – to give him a wad of cash. Where’s the risk? Show me where the risk is. Because I don’t think there’s any chance in hell that he would’ve come back.

All we did was make it easier for him to sign elsewhere. Is that the tactic? Are we trying to play nice with potential free agents out there? Trying to show them that we’re good to our players – even our exiting players – to let them know that Seattle is a good place to work? Even if I buy that for a hot second, you know what those players actually care about? How much money you’re going to give them.

This is just bungled mis-management, plain and simple. Unless I’m totally off-base, and the market for him is so thin – to the point that both the Mariners and Teoscar’s agent know it – that he actually would’ve returned on a $20 million deal. In this case, I can tell you right now, it’s more about the money than it is about him as a player.

Would I want him back? In a vacuum? Probably not. I would lean towards 2023 being the start of him falling off a cliff. That being said, in a vacuum, I don’t know if I’d necessarily be against trying him out as a mostly-everyday DH, even at a $20 million cost. For one more year? Given how the free agency market looks, our non-Ohtani options available to us (because I don’t see us actually having any chance in hell at signing Ohtani), why not? He shouldn’t be your everyday right fielder, but as a DH, you could do a lot worse. The Mariners certainly have as much experience in trotting out lackluster designated hitters as anyone, since Edgar retired anyway.

But, the Mariners have a finite amount of money they’re willing to spend. Even after what happened this past season, with how we underperformed, with how the Rangers just won their first-ever World Series, with this team being under a microscope with both fans and its own players alike, they’re still going to short-change us in the spending department. They’re going to make excuses about why players don’t want to come here. They’re going to justify their decisions by pointing to their farm system and Julio and Cal and J.P. and their bevy of young starters. They’re going to nickel and dime us and then continue to raise ticket prices and the cost of having Root Sports on our cable packages. It’s the Mariners’ Way.

Even if Teoscar has a thin market under the QO, we’ll never actually know, because he doesn’t have the QO. He’s free to sign with no penalty! Watch it be for a bundle too. If it is, I think it’s pretty safe to say that bundle still would’ve been there with the QO. If you’re going to pay him $50+ million guaranteed, you’re going to be willing to part with a middling draft pick.

I’ll admit, when I first heard the news, I thought maybe this was the Mariners’ way of trying to bring him back to the organization at some valuation under $20 million. Maybe 2 years $30 million or something like that. Get some front-end savings, while retaining the stability of a streaky-yet-sometimes-potent power hitter. But as I sat with it for an extra day, it just feels like the Mariners gave up on even being competitive this offseason. We’re so unwilling to do anything big, we won’t even extend the minimal risk of a qualifying offer to earn a free draft pick.

Instead, what was our first big move of the offseason? Well, we traded a AAA reliever I’ve never heard of for cash, and we traded a promising-looking low-level catcher for a not-so-promising-looking upper-minors catcher with the Rays. Tatem Lewis is the guy we got rid of, so watch for him to be a smashing success with Tampa. Instead, we get a guy named Blake Hunt, who’s poised to compete at the backup catcher spot with Tom Murphy. Really, what it means is that Hunt will start out at AAA – eliminating the need to roster Brian O’Keefe, thank Christ – until Murphy inevitably gets hurt. Then, we’ll get to enjoy seeing Hunt do his best O’Keefe impression. Fun!

My confidence in this organization isn’t at an all-time low. There have certainly been lower moments as a Mariners fan over the years. But, I will say my confidence is flatlining pretty hard at the moment. It’s not dead and buried and decomposing, but doctors are administering CPR and warming up the paddles.

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.