It feels like we’ve said this intermittently throughout the last decade plus, but this is, with minimal exaggeration, the most important off-season in franchise history. They did the rebuild, they made the crushing trades, they drafted and developed future stars, and last season they came so perilously close to breaking the longest playoff drought in professional sports history. It hasn’t been strictly linear progress, but even the grumpiest of Guses and Gerties can’t deny that they’re galloping into this off-season on a promising path. That’s what makes these next few months so meaningful. There are clear, obvious points of improvement and many paths through which they can improve.
We’re not going to try to predict the moves they’ll actually make - yes, the Mariners should and will be rumored to be “in talks” quite often over these next few months - but feel it would be helpful to lay out everything as it stands today, less than 24 hours into the official start of free agency. The roster projections below are based on the roster as-is, highlighting who would feasibly start at a given position on purpose at the moment. Yes, Dylan Moore could be listed at every position on the diamond, but if the Mariners execute the off-season they should, Moore will simply be their perfectly adequate bench/UTIL player.
C: Tom Murphy (1.6**), Cal Raleigh (2.6**), Luis Torrens (N/A**)
1B: Ty France (2.6), Evan White (0.0), Luis Torrens (0.2)
2B: Dylan Moore (0.8), Abraham Toro (3.1)
3B: Abraham Toro
SS: J.P. Crawford (2.7)
LF: Jarred Kelenic (1.8), Jake Fraley (0.8), Taylor Trammell (1.0)
CF: Kyle Lewis (1.4), Jarred Kelenic, Taylor Trammell
RF: Mitch Haniger (2.0), Julio Rodríguez (2.6)
DH: Kyle Lewis, Mitch Haniger, Luis Torrens
All fWAR projections are from Steamer via FanGraphs per 200 IP for SP, per 65 IP for RP
SP: Marco Gonzales (1.7), Chris Flexen (1.9), Logan Gilbert (2.6), Justin Dunn (1.3), Justus Sheffield (-0.3*), Matt Brash (0.3*), Nick Margevicius (-0.6*)
RP: Paul Sewald (0.5), Drew Steckenrider (0.1), Diego Castillo (0.6), Ken Giles (0.4), Casey Sadler (0.4), Andrés Muñoz (0.7), Erik Swanson (0.3), Anthony Misiewicz (0.3), Yohan Ramírez (0.1), Joey Gerber (-0.2), Wyatt Mills (0.3), Aaron Fletcher (-0.2), etc.
*Steamer projection is as RP, has been multiplied by three for rough, pessimistic translation (195 IP)
**Steamer projects catchers based on 450 PA as “full season”, applies only to Murphy & Raleigh. Torrens is projected as primarily 1B/DH & for 600 PA
We’ll start with the obvious first: The Mariners need *an* infielder. Depending on how you feel about Abraham Toro, they might need a third baseman, or they might need a second baseman, or they might need both. Whatever the case may be, they need a dude who can stand on the dirt and crouch down and scoop up those pesky bouncy, rolly balls. Preferably someone who can do so when said bouncy, rolly balls aren’t just hit directly at them. Bonus points if the dude can then deliver the ball to Dude 2 with expediency.
Nearly every major free agent is a target, and excuses to spend are scarce given the Mariners have next to no money committed to the 2022 roster. Yes, Mariners fans are unaccustomed to saying players like Trevor Story, Marcus Semien, Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Javier Báez, and co. are likely targets, but that’s the truth of this winter. Those waters are also where Seattle needs to swim if they are to upgrade themselves enough to challenge for a division title once more.
Beyond the clear infield upgrade necessity, Seattle needs at least two starting pitchers. One, if you’re Justin Dunn’s family member. Zero, if Justus Sheffield extracted Yusei Kikuchi’s fastball velocity Monstar-style before Kikuchi departed (breaks the fourth wall - Can you tell who’s writing what yet?). But realistically, two. Fortunately, the M’s have several MLB-adjacent pitchers who should be able to contribute for parts of 2022. While pitchers like Brash, George Kirby, Brandon Williamson, and perhaps Emerson Hancock could contribute, they shouldn’t be relied upon for a full year of work. What Seattle can do, however, is target talented pitchers with durability question marks; factoring in IL time and extra rest to maximize effectiveness, while easing in their hopeful future rotation stalwarts.
Seattle should hunt at the top of the market, of course, for an ace like Max Scherzer who transforms the credibility of their roster alone. Snapping up above-average arms with patchier health histories should be a goal as well, though, with names like Carlos Rodón, Steven Matz, Jon Gray, and Anthony DeSclafani some of the above-average starters who could raise Seattle’s competency every night of the week. The rotation could also be upgraded most significantly via trade, with clubs like Cincinnati, Oakland, Arizona, Cleveland, and Colorado potentially willing to move high-level arms.
The last major need is dependent on the infield shuffling, but comes directly from Dipoto himself: A second impact bat. It could be a second baseman, it could be a true center fielder, it could be an incredibly strong and gracefully aging DH with a stunning smile. But the need for pop in this sweetly anemic lineup is clear. The nature of this upgrade will take shape based on the other moves the Seattle Mariners make, but is a reminder Seattle isn’t pigeon-holed into specific “fits” this winter.
We’re categorizing wants here very loosely, and you’re welcome to quibble in the comments, but basically anything that doesn’t fill a present black hole as outlined above. In years past, we might not have even bothered devoting time to this section, but if we can’t dream big after a 90-win, contending-till-the-last-day season, when can we?
First, and most borderline between want and need is a true centerfielder. For all the outfielders they have - good, proven, prospect or otherwise - they don’t have a CFer beyond Kyle Lewis. And for all that we’re hoping for quick recovery and return, it doesn’t seem wise to pencil him in for even 130 games. Could be a good way to satisfy that second impact bat need.
A similarly overlapping want is for a veteran player. Sorry, we know, bullshit team chemistry stuff. It’s hand-wavey, but there’s value in a been-there-done-that guy, particularly with the combination of a very young clubhouse and high-pressure expectations. On the current roster the only two players who have appeared in a World Series are relievers - Diego Castillo and Ken Giles. A veteran player doesn’t need to be someone old and washed, whose sole value comes from years of experience. A number of the aforementioned infield free agents would fill that spot nicely.
Such a move (or series of moves) would fulfill a larger desire: for Dylan Moore to not be anything more than their utility player. This isn’t a knock on Moore, more so a desire for them to make enough substantial moves that Moore is pushed to his “true” position.
Less of a want, and more a question to monitor: With Yusei Kikuchi declining his option, will Seattle extend its 24-year streak with at least one Japanese-born player on their roster? Since Mac Suzuki debuted in 1996, only once (1997) has a Japanese-born player not appeared in games for the Seattle Mariners. The M’s have heavily prioritized maintaining their reputation and connection to Japanese baseball, as well as the added publicity and marketing opportunities they are afforded. With Kikuchi gone, however, it’s not immediately clear if or how Seattle might maintain the trend - and no, Ichiro catching bullpens doesn’t count. OF Seiya Suzuki is the best player likely to be posted, and Seattle has already been linked, but other options may still emerge.
Last, and most simply: Spend, Mariners. There are truly no excuses not to. Show us you BELIEVE in this team as much as your frantic, heavy-handed marketing efforts shrieked in the final week of the 2021 season.