‘Tis the season for season wrap-ups. Today Jerry Dipoto, Justin Hollander, and Scott Servais took questions from the media for almost a full hour regarding the season that was (in great detail), and the promise of what might be (in much fuzzier detail). We’ll spend time over the next few days teasing apart some of what was said, but here are some of the big picture items:
On how Scott Servais thought his team performed in the playoffs:
- Servais was proud that his club never looked nervous or tight, while acknowledging that they swung the bats well in the first three games and not so much after that, which he says is a credit to the Astros’ pitching staff rather than a fault to his players. “I thought we played very good baseball, and it was a matter of two or three swings of the bat that really won the series for them.”
- When Shannon Drayer asked a general injury update question, Dipoto addressed the “recent drama” directly, saying that Jesse Winker wasn’t with the team during the playoff run because he was having surgery in New York on his left knee, which had apparently been an issue for a while. Winker also is expected to have a procedure on his neck, having gotten a second opinion on that injury.
- Julio has an injury to the tip of his finger, sustained when he slid into second base during Saturday’s game, similar to what Eugenio Suárez suffered that put him on the shelf in September. The injury was discovered during his exit physical, and should resolve itself within the month.
- Andrés Muñoz will be undergoing an off-season procedure for a foot injury that bothered him on and off all season. Of the various injuries, Dipoto predicts this one will be the longest rehab, but the team doesn’t expect it to interfere with his 2023 season.
- Cal Raleigh is seeing a hand specialist for the torn UCL in his thumb.
- Ryan Borucki is in a “rest and rehab” situation. Casey Sadler and Tom Murphy have both been rehabbing their surgically repaired shoulders and should be ready to go this spring.
- Kyle Lewis is back to normal baseball activity, and Dipoto says we’ll see him in the spring, and hopefully will see the dynamic, 2020 version of KLew. Evan White continues to rehab a core injury; it should be mid-November before he’s able to resume baseball activity. There’s no new injury, it’s just been a difficult one to rehab, apparently.
- Justin Hollander, on battling through the injuries: “I’m probably not going to say this in the best way, but Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty saved our butts.” It’s unusual for a team to have no major pitching injuries, as the Mariners did this year, but be struck with so many position player injuries, and “their versatility saved us all year long.”
More on Jesse Winker:
- Regarding Winker’s knee injury, Dipoto says it was a factor all season long, and reiterated his faith in Winker’s offensive abilities, noting he was an “awesome” offensive player for five years prior to this. “He’s 28 years old, there’s no reason he stopped being the type of player he’s always been.” Dipoto also notes it’s unfortunate the injury occurred in Winker’s first year in Seattle, and that he wasn’t able to show the full extent of his skillset to fans, but he’s confident that he’ll rehab the injury and return to the player that he’s always been.
Servais also chimed in to address a question about Winker’s work ethic, saying that he thought “Wink” early on had a lot of bad luck with hitting balls that would have been homers at his old home park but were being caught for outs. “And like any player, you’re gonna grind, you’re like, why isn’t this happening? Maybe I need to swing a little harder, do something a little bit different.” Servais said there were multiple meetings with Winker to try to get him going and pump him up, and there would be times where it seemed like he had broken through—naming the series with the Mets or the Angels brawl series specifically—but as the season went on, he was frustrated, not only because he wasn’t living up to the player he knows he is, but also because he wasn’t helping the team win. “You feel bad for guys,” said Servais, but also voiced his confidence Winker will get back on track. “There’s no reason, when you have that kind of track record in this league, it’s not just going to fall off the map.” Servais noted the important thing now for Winker is to get healthy, as the neck issue in particular crept up at a very “inopportune” time and cost him a chance to help the team going forward.
- Matt Brash will remain a reliever for now, as there’s no room in the rotation and also Dipoto describes his stuff as “overwhelming” out of the ‘pen. “The likelihood is, unless we do something significant with moving pitchers out, that Matt will come in and likely break camp with us as a reliever.”
- Also noting the pitching depth, Dipoto seems to indicate seeking starting pitching will not be something sought after by the team. “I can’t imagine that we’re going to attract too many high-end starting pitchers who want to come on and sign up to be a long reliever for the Mariners.”
On off-season goals for Julio:
- Servais: “I think the biggest thing for Julio right now is to just have some downtime. Stay away from people. You know, everybody is just on him,” noting that the demands on Julio’s time only increased as the season went on. “So just kind of let him exhale a little bit. Spend some time with his family back in the Dominican; be a kid again. He’s only 21!”
- Servais doesn’t think the finger will be an issue for Julio, noting that he doesn’t think Julio plays a lot of golf anyway, but he’s anxious for his young slugger to get some downtime and rest his body, noting that Julio has never played this much baseball, at this high a level, and the “the intensity and emotional toll it takes on you when you go through a season like that.” But in true Midwestern dad style, he’s “some kind of proud of him.”
On what the team saw from Jarred Kelenic down the stretch:
- Servais said the Jarred called back from Triple-A was a different player, who did a much better job of “staying in the moment.” Servais also noted that Kelenic’s poor start to the season was in some ways a boon, because no matter what he did, he wasn’t going to impact his batting average that much, so it freed him to focus primarily on what he could do to help the team win.
- While Kelenic did improve his plate approach, Servais was honest: “there were times throughout the playoffs, you know, the intensity is high, the moment is big, that it reverted back a little bit. That’s very normal. That’s what happens. But I thought we saw a lot of good signs as far as the emotional maturity has come, and it’s only going to pay dividends down the road”—not just for Kelenic, Servais notes, but for all Seattle’s young players.
On the farm system:
- Dipoto says it will sound “delusional,” but he doesn’t feel like the farm system took the biggest step back, despite making a passel of win-now trades and graduating a ton of prospects to the majors. He notes that prospect ranking systems don’t often capture players at the lowest levels of the system, which is where he feels a lot of the Mariners’ current talent is, specifically naming Michael Arroyo and Lázaro Montés from the DL group, along with “the Fords” (Harry and Walter) and some other prospects at the A-level: Gabby González and Axel Sánchez.
- Dipoto also, in addressing a question about the team’s pitching depth, notes that the other wave of talent in the system is a group of pitchers clustered around the high minors: starters Emerson Hancock, Taylor Dollard, and Bryce Miller, as well as relievers Brian Woo and Isaiah Campbell, all of whom create big league-adjacent pitching depth.
Looking forward/free agency:
- Hollander was quick to note that while the Mariners had an “awesome” year, they also finished 16 games behind the Astros, so they still fell short of their ultimate goal of both winning the division and the World Series. “We want to get better, than that means better everywhere. I think we have high expectations for the group that we have to get better.”
- While acknowledging that they need to “augment” the group, Hollander reminded all in attendance that that might come by trade, or development, or free agency.
- “Regardless of what we do, the bulk of what our 2023 team will look like is already here. And that’s the most exciting part of this, what we’ve done through this process, over the last 3-4 years especially, is build something that has sustained value.” - Dipoto
- Both Dipoto and Hollander were careful to use reporters’ own questions back in their answers when speaking about potential free agent acquisitions: if asked about a second baseman, they would discuss “the second base market.” Hollander would not go into specifics about what type of player they might be looking at for second base, not even that the team would be seeking a second baseman specifically: “There’s only so many second baseman available,” noting that they need to see what the marketplace will offer either in trade or free agency.
- Same thing when asked if they are prepared to commit to J.P. as the shortstop. “Our great preference would be that we can land a shortstop that would like to go play second base,” said Dipoto with a laugh, “But we’re not going to close the door to anything in that regard.” However, Dipoto went on to say “J.P. is our shortstop” and “he’ll line up for us Opening Day on shortstop and the goal is to find someone to put around him.”
Impending free agents:
- Regarding both Carlos Santana and Mitch Haniger, the response was near-unanimous: “it’s a business.” Servais praised the transformative veteran presence of Santana, saying it was Santana who inspired the team to celebrate every win, which bled over into the much-beloved “circle dance” celebration. However, “in order for Carlos to be back, somebody else would not be here.”
- With Haniger, Hollander says he talks with Haniger’s agent frequently. “I think everyone would like to see us find a way to find common ground with Mitch, but you know, players work a long time to get to free agency. It’s really hard to get six years of service to get there. And I know Mitch, as much as he wants to be here, also wants to gauge what else is out there. So we’ll keep talking. I think that’s the best answer I can give you because we do love what he brings to the table and I think everyone in our group would identify Mitch as the guy who prepares himself for the moment as much as anybody, and that is a positive cultural thing that really has value, and we will weigh that as we get into the off-season.”
On how attractive Seattle is now as a landing spot for free agents:
- Servais: “We ended the drought.”
- Hollander: “We have Julio.”
- Servais: “The vibe that I got from other managers, players, coaches on other teams is like, we have people’s attention. People know we have a good team, and we went out and proved it by ending the drought and winning a playoff series. And how we play...I think players want to have fun. You know, at the end of the day, they want to get paid, take care of their families, it’s a business—but they want to enjoy what they’re doing, because it’s a bunch of grown-up kids, really, playing a game, and I think that’s how our team plays. So I think there’s a lot of things that are attractive there, and the fact that our fan base showed up the way they did, the way our ownership group has stepped up recently and extending guys with contracts, it’s all coming together at the right time. Yes, we do have some longer flights. Yes, we do have rain once in a while—but we got a roof. We’ve got a lot of things covered here. And the biggest thing we have is good players. We’re going to continue to win and be in the playoffs on a consistent basis. I think it all lines up.”
“The last couple weeks were pretty special around here. And I know our team enjoyed it, I know everybody in the organization enjoyed it, but what excited me most—and I said it after that final game—our fan base. They were so into it, it was so exciting to see what this city can be when we put a quality team out there, a quality product. We’re only going to get better. I really do believe that.”