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The NLCS shows us what the Mariners’ first step should’ve been, next step needs to be

Seattle enters the 2022-23 offseason in need of the star they’ve long passed on adding.

Championship Series - Philadelphia Phillies v San Diego Padres - Game Two Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

For the Seattle Mariners, the winter after the 2018 season was the one that set the stage for this year’s success. They began the “step-back” rebuild, trading off Robinson Canó, Edwin Díaz, James Paxton, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino, and many more big leaguers. The front office did not fully rip the gold fillings from the teeth of the 2018 club, holding onto Mitch Haniger, Marco Gonzales, and Kyle Seager, but the decision was clear: the club was going younger, cheaper, and hoping that the young players brought in through the trades would help shorten the time frame of misery and losing.

That meant a dire 2019 and a difficult 2020 hidden in the gift of a shortened season. It also meant Seattle opted out of the sweepstakes for the two most talented young free agents since Alex Rodriguez, showing no interest in competing for the services of then-26-year-olds Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The superstars secured hefty contracts that have quickly proven bargains. Harper has continued to perform at a superstar level, winning an MVP award in 2021 and leading the Phillies to at least the NLCS this year in helping Philadelphia break their own decade-long playoff drought.

Machado has led the Padres to two playoff appearances in four years in San Diego, with three years of MVP ballot inclusions and a 2022 that will likely earn him his second top-3 finish. Both players will be in their age-30 seasons in 2023, the same age or younger than most of the big names who will hit free agency after the World Series concludes later this month. Seattle can’t go back and acquire either player, even as having an ownership group with the desire to win at a level to make such an investment would have had obvious impacts on the 2021 and 2022 seasons, much less going forward.

Fortunately, the 2022-23 offseason provides the M’s with a chance to make an impact addition near that caliber once more, hopefully with the will to spend necessary. I do not expect the Mariners to sign Aaron Judge - though I would not complain - but I do anticipate them signing one of the major four shortstops expected to hit free agency. Any of Trea Turner (30 in 2023), Carlos Correa (28), Xander Bogaerts (30), or Dansby Swanson (29) (in that order, for me) will require significant financial investiture over a long period of time.

The M’s have encouragingly said the right things recently about prioritizing a massive upgrade up the middle. They need look no further than the title contenders carried by their stars in the NLCS to see why they should prioritize adding stars to a 90-win roster. Sure, both clubs were underdogs still to make it this far, expected to fall to the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers respectively. But that is all the more reason for the M’s to strive to bolster themselves dramatically, knowing that the Houston Astros and New York Yankees will continue to hold sway over the American League until someone knocks them off with force. Seattle can be that cannonball, they simply need the resolve to take aim and fire.