We’re roughly three quarters of the way through spring training! Whether it’s the relative clarity of most roster spots, the low expectations for the team this season, or just... a lot going on, this has felt like a comparatively rapid spring to years past. We checked in with our staff on the on-field concerns that are lingering in their mind for the Seattle Mariners as we are just a week and a half from Opening Day, and we’d love to hear yours outlined in the comments as always.
For this exercise, we used this simple formulae:
-Enumerate your fears
-Give the reasoning for the fear
-Rank those fears on the fear factor scale from reasonable/likely to totally unfounded (but still Valid. Feel your feelings.)
Fear: The Mariners offense isn’t quite as good as their pitching, which gives up just slightly more runs than the punchless offense can summon on a near-nightly basis, and the team careens dreadfully close to 100 losses.
Why: Prior to their offensive explosion against the Royals, the Mariners were muddling along in the bottom third of runs scored in spring training, (the 13 runs against the Royals catapulted them into the middle of the pack.), and were near-last in the Cactus league for runs scored, ahead of only the White Sox.
Fear factor: 7. The feeling of listening to the Flaming Lips singing “do you realize/everyone you know someday will die?” when you’re nodding your head along to the melody and then suddenly overtaken by the feeling of your own mortality
Spring training stats are meaningless, etc. etc., but there have been real, fair questions about this lineup’s ability to produce runs outside of Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger—himself not entirely a sure thing given his lack of recent MLB at-bats, although most of us here are pretty high on the Hanimal roaring back in 2021. It’s a lineup stuffed with potential regression candidates, young players still seeking to find their footing, and players who seem to be one adjustment away, and so far the spring training output has shown what happens when even one of those things is going wrong.
Fear: The bullpen is going to make watching and recapping games feel like pulling off a toenail.
Why: Just...just look at them. There are ragtag groups, and then there are the 2021 Mariners relievers. Roenis Elias was by no means a lock, but he’d been a bright spot to watch and losing him to Tommy John just adds to the misery.
Maybe Keynan Middleton will recover from a crummy spring? I hope so!
Maybe Rafael Montero will step into the closer role? I hope so!
Maybe Kendall Graveman will stay healthy and keep up his superb transition to the ‘pen? I hope so!
Maybe Yohan Ramirez will harness his control? I hope so!
Maybe Will Vest will vest (into a decent reliever)? I hope so!
Maybe Anthony Misiewicz will erase some of my trust issues with relievers with too many consonants in their last names? I hope so!
Maybe this is finally Casey Sadler’s chance to shine? I really hope so!
At any given point your team is bound to have a few question marks in the bullpen, but there haven’t been this many questions swirling in the ‘pen since Tom Wilhelmsen asked Charlie Furbush what rhymes with orange. One of Dipoto’s strongest traits as a GM to this point has been his ability to sift through the flotsam and jetsam of waiver wires and Rule 5 castaways and UDFAs and find serviceable arms to stick in the ‘pen. That doesn’t look to be the case this year.
Fear Factor: 99. Y’all know the song already. I’m dreading the upcoming rewrites.
Fear: The lack of depth at MLB level will hurt the Mariners this season and next season, too, when they will be reportedly trying to contend
Why: While the team’s everyday starting lineup looks pretty dang good on paper right now, the lack of depth among position players, starting pitching, and especially the bullpen is pretty startling. I feel like they missed out on signing so many affordable, decent-to-good MLB players this past offseason that were controllable into 2022 and beyond and it’s just going to keep biting them in the ass all this season and possibly next season when the free agent class won’t even be as “good” as it was this past offseason. By “good” I mean “very serviceable players went for Grocery Outlet prices.”
I am very excited to see key, young players take big steps forward this season, but we’re almost guaranteed to give José Marmolejos, Jake Fraley, and Sam Haggerty A LOT of at-bats this season and no offense to these men, but they are not going to make the team significantly better in the near or long term. This will be the fifth Mariners team I’ve covered since joining staff here at LL and only one of those teams was even close to contending and they ended up tearing themselves apart down the stretch. We are all ready to watch the future of this team blossom before our eyes and I would like the majority of at-bats this season go to players who will bring forth the future success we all yearn for.
Fear Factor: 9. I mean, like I said, this all but a foregone conclusion at this point. There’s always a chance the rest of the division falls apart and all the retreads and no-name backups play over their heads and all the ascending star players shine at the right time and the team contends a year ahead of schedule, but haha come on, we’ve seen enough “if it all breaks just right” scenarios melt like ice in our hands before, so let’s not get our hopes up too high this time, right? Just enjoy the journey, I guess?
Fear: Foundational regression.
Why: To have some sense of clarity going forward organizationally, the M’s need to know they’ve got some long term stalwarts among their young big leaguers like J.P. Crawford, Justus Sheffield, Dylan Moore, Kyle Lewis, Evan White, et al. With Kevin Mather’s comments kneecapping the club’s credibility internally and externally, they need to earn trust from fans and players the straightforward way: playing well in a sustainable way. A whole lot of the current big leaguers are showing question marks that lingered from 2020 in their spring debuts.
Fear Factor: 4 most of the time, except every so often a 9 like when you go to bed and it’s a normal day and then suddenly you remember that you’ll die one day and then that’s your next five hours.
I can see the ways it all works out for most of the M’s players. Justin Dunn is throwing hard again! Kyle Lewis makes great swing decisions! Ty France hits tons of line drives so his BABIP isn’t a mirage! But the M’s chose to enter 2021 with a maximum of two “sure things” in Marco Gonzales and Kyle Seager, the latter of whom the team’s disgraced former President and CEO pretty well certified wouldn’t be back next year no matter what and called overpaid to boot! They can’t afford to have many their gambles on the young guys be wrong, and that’s a scary place to be.
Fear: Injuries. Oh, the injuries.
Why: [stares in Danny Hultzen]
No, but seriously, I’ve spent too much time playing OOTP (Kumar Rocker, I hardly knew ye) and watching past Mariners prospects to feel anything other than worried about the health of the young guns. Beyond seeing them succeed, key injuries can set a member of the rebuild back for literal years (Kyle Lewis on line one), and because the Mariners have put every egg in in the prospect basket, it’s really all we have.
And just think, one blown out ACL for Jarred and a couple of butterflied UCLs for Logan Gilbert and George Kirby and this franchise goes near-instantly from “I think we could really have something in the back half of 2022” to “will they even be good in 2025?” Injuries are terrifying and unpredictable and often feel like they come at the worst possible time. I’m not here to blame anyone for it, it’s the nature of baseball and of every sport, but as someone who generally believes in the process here, it still walks along a ligament-shaped knife (just go with the analogy, ok?).
Fear factor: Those fears that you don’t think about very often (dying suddenly, for example) and then suddenly you think of them and you start to spiral and it’s too late at night for this and oh no and PUT JULIO IN BUBBLE WRAP RIGHT. NOW. So, like, a 6.
Fear: Outfield defense will be neglected once again. Others have already captured most of my fears, especially John on the subject of regression and Tim with his meditation on injuries-slash-mortality.
Why: We have been blessedly immune from this issue in spring training so far thanks to the massive pool of outfielders available to choose from. Unless Taylor Trammell or Jarred Kelenic makes the Opening Day roster, though, I think at least one corner outfield spot will return to last year’s black hole for batted balls. Sam Haggerty’s bat is hot and his infield defense is plus, but I don’t want to see him or literal, actual first baseman Jose Marmolejos in left field even once this year. But I will! I haven’t seen any indication that the team takes Braden Bishop’s outfield wizardry seriously enough to give him a chance to build his case offensively.
Fear Factor: I’ll go ahead and call it a 6, knowing full well that the many exasperated sighs ahead of us when inning-ending flyouts become RBI doubles won’t last, and that real outfielders are waiting in the wings. Also, Taylor Trammell might ACTUALLY make the Opening Day roster, God willing. Frankly, as long as individual players make strides in the right direction and we finish above the Rangers, maybe ambling toward .500 along the way, I’ll call the season a success. I’d just prefer to be able to hear hard contact off a bat and not know deep down that it’ll drop in left field while a life-long infielder trips over his own feet.