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Projecting the Mariners’ Wild Card roster

How bold do they go?

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in 21 years, the Seattle Mariners have the thoroughly enviable challenge of creating a 26-man roster to take to the playoffs with them. But they have a few key decisions to make in that roster, which will need to cut two from their current 28-man orientation. They’ll have the opportunity to rejigger things between each round should they advance, so it is not set in stone or a lock from series to series, but I’ll be focusing on the Wild Card round here. While it’s exceedingly likely Seattle will travel to Toronto to face the top Wild Card club, there’s still some small possibility of them taking on Cleveland, which might impact a couple decisions, however Sam Haggerty’s recent injury looms even larger.

Catcher (3): Cal Raleigh, Curt Casali, Luis Torrens

There’s not much debate in my mind here. Seattle, like most clubs, will want three backstops for the playoffs, particularly given their likely need to utilize one of them (Torrens) as a pinch-hitter and emergency infielder. Casali likely won’t start any of the games against Toronto given the Blue Jays’ rotation is exclusively right-handed (Yusei Kikuchi is exceedingly unlikely to make their playoff roster, sadly). Still, given that Raleigh is playing through a jammed/sprained (broken?) finger on his non-throwing hand that appears highly pain-management based, there’s a more present threat at any given time of Seattle cycling through three backstops in a single game.

Alternatives: N/A.

Infielders (7): Ty France, Adam Frazier, J.P. Crawford, Eugenio Suárez, Dylan Moore, Abraham Toro, Carlos Santana

Well shoot. Prior to Monday night’s game, Toro’s spot would have gone to Sam Haggerty. If the grisly looking groin injury that had Haggs in crutches postgame is miraculously healed by Friday, swap him for Toro without hesitation. While Swaggerty has seen his hot hitting fall off as pitchers have begun game-planning him more effectively, his versatility and speed make him a more impactful player than Toro, whose bat has simply not shown up as needed in 2022.

Update: it will not. Ugh.

No surprises otherwise, as the M’s will likely roll with the first four names as starters each game. The only likely alternative I can imagine would be a substitution of Moore for Frazier, though again as Toronto has no LHP they’d be liable to start it is unlikely in the Wild Card round. Toro is nigh-impossible to keep off the club as well at this point given Suárez is playing with a broken fingertip at a premium defensive position, so any aggravation is not out of the question.

Alternatives: Haggerty (if healthy).

Outfielders (5): Julio Rodríguez, Mitch Haniger, Jarred Kelenic, Jesse Winker, Taylor Trammell

This is where I think the Haggerty injury puts the M’s in not one but two binds. On the one hand, the starting outfield is likely set for Seattle, with Julio in CF, Mitch in RF, and Kelenic in LF given Winker’s liability with the glove. I would still give Winker the start at DH, because for as diabolically absent his power has been, there is simply too much value in his ability to get on base to be overlooked, and it affords the M’s the opportunity to deploy Santana and his boom or bust power more flexibly. The Trammell inclusion is a tricky one, but in my mind ultimately helps the team most. Haggerty and Moore are the team’s best bench players in terms of baserunning, but Moore is perhaps too valuable to be left to mere pinch-running. Trammell is the only other player on the 40-man roster with speed to match them and base-stealing chops to boot. Moreover, without Haggerty, Trammell affords the M’s another player who can actually handle all three outfield spots with skill and range. Seattle cannot afford to start Winker defensively against a team as talented offensively as Toronto, so while they will likely avoid having Trammell hit, even as he can take a walk, his glove and legs will get him involved and lengthen the M’s lineup.

Alternatives: Kyle Lewis. If a RHH pinch-hitter is desired. Not chosen due to defensive limitations, middling numbers in Tacoma, OR... No one. Seattle may opt for an additional pitcher in lieu of Trammell.

Starting Pitchers (4): Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Robbie Ray

These are Seattle’s four best starting pitchers. In a truly ideal circumstance, Seattle would line up Castillo, Gilbert, and Kirby, with the latter perhaps getting a shorter start assigned to him and Ray to piggy-back (or vice-versa). All five (besides Kirby) be fully rested by Friday, with Kirby ready as early as Saturday or, more likely, Sunday. Alternatively, Seattle may go Castillo-Ray-Gilbert.

Update: they’re doing that latter one.

Alternatives: Marco Gonzales. If Seattle matches up against the Cleveland Guardians somehow, Gonzales is a more viable matchup as a contact-inducing lefty against the contact-laden Guardians. Less so vs. the powerful Blue Jays who do immense damage on most contact. The veteran lefty should be in consideration for starting in the ALDS, however his stuff has not shown evidence of playing up dramatically in shorter outings.

Bullpen (7): Paul Sewald, Andrés Muñoz, Erik Swanson, Matt Brash, Diego Castillo, Matthew Boyd, Penn Murfee

These are Seattle’s seven best bullpen arms, though if you want to quibble about Festa over Murfee that’s perfectly reasonable. Los Bomberos are incredibly important to Seattle, and in winning a three-game set they will need to be nails. This is also a configuration that is designed to win with aggressive tactics. That is to say, there is no additional bulk arm like Gonzales or Chris Flexen. With Flexen starting Tuesday’s game, I am calculating that he will be at least somewhat tired still by Friday, and the club may even have Marco start on Wednesday’s season finale (albeit unlikely at this point, as they will more probably start Tommy Milone and move Ryan Borucki to the 60-day IL).

Update: just kidding, sorry Marco

What this means, however, is a calculated risk. If game one or two get away from the M’s, or a starter gets hurt mid-game, they will have to either ride their starter (if they’ve just gotten hit and not hurt) or some of the bullpen arms to get through nine innings and go to game three. This is scary, no doubt. However, with Castillo going game one, if La Piedra is lit up, the M’s are in trouble anyways, and mitigating that with their less high leverage bullpen arms will only do so much. The additional starting pitcher in Ray/Kirby also affords the M’s the opportunity to have that “bulk” arm come into play later. By hanging at 11 pitchers for this best-of-three set, Seattle affords their inconsistent offense an extra layer of depth and strategic opportunity in Trammell.

Alternatives: Flexen/Gonzales/Festa/Bryce Miller. If you’re scared without the extra arm, I can understand it. Scott Servais has railed against restrictions on pitchers (as any manager would) in roster construction, however he must learn to make the climb without the rope, as the club will be afforded plenty of off-days if they can only get through the three games with two wins (or two games!) and the best route to that is using your best pitchers aggressively and weaponizing your bench to the maximum possible degree.