This offseason for the Mariners was a big one. They are coming off breaking their playoff drought and are looking to keep building towards the ultimate goal: bringing a World Series championship to Seattle. As we dive into this past offseason, we look at what went right, what went wrong, and maybe some expectations that were not met.
Going into this offseason, a lot of Mariners fans were excited. Although they were swept in the ALDS, it felt like a stepping stone toward the future. Many fans were expecting the front office to start breaking out the checkbooks. Fans had the likes of Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson, Brandon Nimmo, etc. in mind. Even after those big names were linked here, those dreams did not come to fruition. Many think that ownership is not actually allowing more money to be spent by the front office, others make the point that Seattle is not a big free-agent destination. Others are even thinking that money is being saved to make a run at the biggest free agent of all time, former almost Mariner, Shohei Ohtani.
Let’s try and make sense of all of this.
Let’s start with the trades the Mariners made this off-season. The biggest move was trading for Teoscar Hernandez from the Toronto Blue Jays. They acquired him in a trade that involved Seattle sending Erik Swanson and prospect Adam Macko.
Hernandez, who is a multiple-time Silver Slugger, brings a slash line of .267/.315/.316 with 25 home runs and an OPS+ well above league average at 127. He brings the pop and consistency that Seattle is hoping to have next to Julio Rodriguez. On the flip side, the loss of Erik Swanson is definitely a big one. In a career year, he pitched 53 innings last season while posting a 1.68 ERA and striking out 70. It was surprising to see such an effective reliever on the move, but after his lack of use in the 2022 postseason, the Mariners were looking in a different direction.
Another fairly big trade that the Mariners made included acquiring a player they attempted to sign a few seasons ago. They acquired 2B Kolten Wong from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade for Jesse Winker and Abraham Toro. Winker had clearly worn out his welcome in Seattle after a report came out that guys in the clubhouse did not like his work ethic, especially given his struggles in 2022. Toro was also a guy that did not live up to expectations. After being the main name coming back in the shocking Kendall Graveman trade, he just wasn’t going to be in the plans of this organization. Wong looks to add a bit more stability and consistency that the Mariners have been missing at second base.
The final noteworthy trade came when the Mariners traded OF/DH Kyle Lewis to Arizona for OF/C Cooper Hummel. Lewis had a fantastic rookie season, ultimately winning the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Award. Since then, it has been an injury-plagued career. After playing 58 out of 60 games in the shortened season, he only played 54 games in the next two seasons combined. He attempted to come up last season, but it was clear he was still dealing with an injury. He played in only 18 games and slashed .143/.226/.304 for an OPS+ of 54. He got sent back down and almost did not play for Triple-A Tacoma before ultimately finishing out the season. It became very clear that after he was sent down, there was strain between him and the front office, and he would not be back in Seattle. It seemed like his best outfield days were behind him, and the Mariners did not want to be stuck with a younger player who might already be limited to a DH role.
Hummel brings some versatility that the Mariners like. He fits the mold of guys like Sam Haggerty and Dylan Moore who can be used all over the field. While he is not a lock to make the opening-day roster, he can be a switch-hitting, 3rd catcher off the bench while also having the ability to give them outfield innings throughout the year.
Let’s go over the guys that were not resigned or were non-tendered. The biggest name not returning in 2023 is undoubtedly Mitch Haniger. After hitting 39 home runs in 2021, he only played 57 games in 2022 due to injury. This was the second time he had missed a chunk of games after only playing 63 games in 2019 and completely missing the 2020 season. Haniger had a good run with Seattle and it seemed for a while last season that he had a chance of being brought back. However, as the season ended and free agency began, it became clear that his time was up in Seattle.
Adam Frazier was the other big name that the Mariners decided not to re-sign. After being an All-Star in 2021 with Pittsburgh, Frazier has seen a good bit of regression. His slash line of .238/.301/.311 with an OPS+ of 80 pales in comparison to his slash line of .324/.388/.448 with an OPS+ of 126 during his 98 games in the first half with Pittsburgh last season. Frazier adds to the long list of players the Mariners have attempted to plug in at second base. Other guys the Mariners lost to free agency or non-tender include Matthew Boyd, Luis Torrens, and Carlos Santana.
AJ Pollock was also brought in this offseason. He was one of the few free agents that the Mariners decided to sign – he was signed to the biggest free-agent hitter deal in the Jerry Dipoto era. Pollock signed for one year, $7 million after a bit of a down year for the White Sox in 2022. After slashing .282/.337/.519 in three seasons with the Dodgers, he only totaled .245/.292/.389 with Chicago. Pollock is looking for a bounce-back year and is expected to platoon in LF against left-handed pitching and see time at DH.
Some other guys the Mariners brought on minor league deals include Kole Calhoun, Colin Moran, J.B. Bukauskas, Mike Ford, and Tommy La Stella. Guys on these minor league deals seem more like camp fillers or Triple-A roster fillers rather than guys who have a legitimate shot to make the opening-day roster.
Bullpen Question Marks
Pitching, and more specifically, the bullpen, was a big issue that the M’s needed to address this offseason. They certainly made some moves, but maybe not a ton that moved the needle to solidify the bullpen.
With Erik Swanson gone, they need to fill those innings. The first reliever they brought in was Trevor Gott. Now on his fifth team, Gott is looking to establish himself as a reliever who can be better than his career 4.80 ERA. In the Rule 5 draft, they selected Chris Clarke from the Chicago Cubs. Clarke is a 6’7” righty who has a hard fastball that the Mariners will look to build off of. He has a career 4.58 ERA in the minor leagues and has only pitched as high as AA. They also acquired Justin Topa from Milwaukee. He is another project arm that the Mariners are looking to find something with. He is in the 80th percentile of fastball velocity on Baseball Savant. A recent move they made was signing lefty Tayler Saucedo. He gives them a lefty in the bullpen that they didn’t previously have. Saucedo played some high school and part of his college career in the state of Washington so this is a bit of a homecoming if he can make the opening-day roster.
An underrated addition that the Mariners are making to the bullpen is a guy they already had on the team. Casey Sadler is expected to be back in the bullpen after missing the entire 2022 season with a shoulder injury. Sadler is currently on a 29-game scoreless streak. That is currently the longest active streak in the league and the longest streak in franchise history.
2023 Roster Questions
Some of the biggest questions going into the 2023 season involve moves that the Mariners did not make in the offseason.
Left field currently is a platoon of Jarred Kelenic, AJ Pollock, Taylor Trammell (who is currently hurt), and perhaps even Cade Marlowe. This doesn’t even include utility guys like Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, or Cooper Hummel. All but Marlowe have MLB experience, but Pollock is the only proven major league outfielder and he is coming off a down season and is looking at a platoon role at most.
Additionally, the bullpen is looking to build off of a good season last year, but they didn’t add anyone of significance to replace the innings that they lost last season. With the volatility of relievers, it might be an interesting year expecting guys to perform to the career highs that they achieved last season.
Questions for this Season
- Can the pitching staff repeat its performance from last season?
- Did Ty France just have a few bad months or is he regressing into the player he actually is?
- Is Eugenio Suarez going to be able to replicate his 2022 performance and help carry this offense?
- Can Julio Rodriguez put up an even better season than last year?
- Can the Mariners get any of these new relievers to stick and have an impact role on this team?
There are still many more questions, and many of them are currently unanswered. The lack of depth on this team could potentially come back to bite them. It is important to continue to expect greatness from the roster you have assembled, but the supplementation that was done to the roster could end up not being enough for them to keep building off a successful season.
Looking to the Future
As we take a look at the farm system, prospects or young players to look forward to this season include OF Cade Marlowe, RHP Prelander Berroa, and RHP Bryce Miller. I expect all three of those guys to debut at some point this season. Other guys who have a chance include RHP Isaiah Campbell, RHP Bryan Woo, RHP Emerson Hancock, and RHP Taylor Dollard.
Marlowe is one of the few hitters that the Mariners have not yet graduated to the big league level. Most of the recent top hitters in the system have either graduated, been traded away, or are multiple years away from the big leagues. Berroa is a starter turned reliever with electric stuff that includes an upper 90s fastball and wipeout offspeed pitches. He has a chance to break the opening-day roster, but I expect him to make his debut later in the year. Bryce Miller is a quickly rising prospect in the system with electric stuff as well. His role in the big leagues is a bit uncertain. He has shown flashes as a starter but the big league rotation is currently dealing with a log jam at the back end between Chris Flexen and Marco Gonzalez. Miller is expected to make his debut at some point this year, but the organization is still unsure about whether that will be as a starter or a reliever. All of the other pitchers I mentioned could see time at the big league level this season, more than likely in a bullpen capacity.
The ultimate goal for this organization is much closer now than it might have ever been. The first step of making the playoffs has been achieved. Now it’s time to really take a step forward toward challenging for the division and ultimately making a deep run into the postseason. I expect this team to be around that 90+ win mark and show flashes toward winning the division. Ultimately I expect them to make some noise in the playoffs, but we will have to wait and see how much noise they can make.
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