It’s that time of year where many people start creating wish lists and hoping a jolly person in a suit will bring them the gift they want most. I’m not talking about the holidays, I’m talking about the baseball off-season, where that jolly person is a baseball executive and the gift is a free agent signing or trade for a player that makes next year’s team immediately better. Of course, just like on holidays, some people end up with a bounty of gifts (Aaron Judge), while others are left to merely attempt to appreciate what they already have.
The Seattle Mariners have made minimal moves so far, to extremely debatable effect, but the off-season is still young. Yes, it would be great to see the players on the top of our wish lists join the team, but there is still great value in appreciation for what is already there. Not for the sake of the owners, or even for the sake of healthy discourse, but for the sake of our own sanity. And going into 2023, we as fans honestly have much more to be happy about than we have had in literal decades.
12. Lookout Landing
Online discourse on its best day is dicey to say the least. If you frequent social spaces like Facebook or Twitter, it can be a straight up cesspool, and that was before recent turns for the worse. Seattle Mariners fans have a secret weapon though, and that is this site. No place is perfect, and on any given topic we won’t all agree, but in this place exists a space where some of the most passionate, knowledgeable fans come to deliberate. Most fandoms aren’t nearly so lucky.
11. New uniforms
Seattle sports have some of the best looking uniforms in existence, and the Mariners are no exception. As good as the fit is, both the original look they don on Sundays and the now decades-old rebrand, even the most admiring of us might find ourselves wondering if they could do something a little different, even if it’s just an alt or a one day theme. This year it is expected that wish will be granted with the upcoming reveal of Seattle’s turn at the new city connect uniforms. We don’t have any clues to what they will be, and we may all have different ideas of what they should be, but either way we will have something new to look forward to.
10. The farm
Many prospects have graduated to major league status, and the remaining headliners left in the trade to get Luis Castillo. The rankings MLB last did of farm systems in late August reflect this, with the Mariners falling from 2nd preseason to 24th. That doesn’t mean it’s completely empty, or that it can’t bounce back - Harry Ford and Cole Young might one day become studs. There are still questions about the hitting development, but remember this is the system that produced two Rookie of the Year winners in three years. The pitching development has been stellar, and is producing more quality prospects than the roster has room for, which inevitably will lead to trades that address other areas of need. The advantage of having prospects successfully graduate is that now that buys the team time to rebuild the void they left, and Dipoto has said as much he intends to do just that.
9. We’re entering this generation’s Refuse to Lose era
I’m not delusional; I don’t think, want, or need for this team to recreate the magic of Seattle’s past. For too long during the drought it was our only comfort, and the team knew it so much that many of us have become sick of having it be regurgitated, genuine nostalgia for that era be damned. This team doesn’t need to follow in those footsteps though, we’re seeing them blaze their own trail in real time. Sea Us Rise. Good Vibes Only. Swaggerty. Los Bomberos. And of course, JULIOOOOOO. This team is coming together in a way that really is special, and unique to them, and they are just getting started.
8. They will be tested by every team in the league
This one isn’t unique to the Seattle Mariners, but it is a boon for fans nonetheless. Changes made to this upcoming 2023 schedule mean that every team will get to play every other team. For playoff hopefuls, that means they get a chance to experience firsthand what all of the competition has to offer. That cuts both ways, but in an ideal scenario it gives the most learning opportunities for a young team that they can hopefully implement for postseason success. For us fans specifically, it also means we have more opportunities to watch the best and brightest across the league play.
7. Players want to play in Seattle
If you’ve been a Mariners fan for any amount of time, you probably are aware of the discourse about how it is at times an undesirable landing spot for players. Be it because of the recent extended playoff drought, or the grueling travel, the Mariners have graced many a no-trade clause list. They have been building something special though, and while that isn’t enough to entice everyone, it’s enough that more do want to join the party. Kolten Wong, upon hearing he was traded to Seattle, told Seattle Sports “..The excitement that is around that team, I just wanted to be a part of it. I was really, really excited when I found out I was traded to Seattle.” When they announced Julio Rodríguez’ contract extension he told Dipoto at the podium: “I feel committed to you guys, ..this is not about the contract, how long it is. I would love to be on the Mariners for the rest of my career and play in front of the Mariners fans for the rest of my career. I genuinely mean that. I love being here.”
6. The Perry Hill Effect
You can ask anyone that mans the infield at T-Mobile Park and they will attest to the hard work they do under the expert eye of Perry Hill. The highlight reels have sizzled, the gloves have been gold. Last off-season when the Mariners traded for Eugenio Suárez, the general consensus was that he was a salary dump and a defensive liability. Not only was his bat even more valuable than advertised, he manned the hot corner with ease. Some of that was certainly returning to his more natural position after Cincinnati tried him out at short, but a lot of it was due to Perry Hill.
"I saw a difference three days after I started working with him" says Eugenio Suárez about working with Perry Hill. "So I said to myself, I gotta listen to this guy...he helped me so much."— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) June 22, 2022
The Perry Hill Effect is so real and something that doesn't get enough credit.
5. Sam Haggerty and Dylan Moore
Every team has their stars but the best teams have constellations, at times including unexpected heroes in bench or utility roles. It doesn’t matter if your best stars are as bright as the sun itself if the next best ones down the list are Pluto - just ask the Angels. A lot of Seattle’s success in ending the playoff drought last year came from their more peripheral players. While other players slumped or didn’t meet expectations, Haggerty and Moore had career years. Haggerty posted a 1.5 fWAR, a 114 wRC+, and even earned himself a promotional headband night. His fWAR was good for seventh best on the team, across 201 plate appearances. Dylan Moore? Even better. DMo posted a 13.3% walk rate, an 126 wRC+ (the same Ty France put up), and a 2.1 fWAR good for fifth best on the team. Haggerty will be coming back from a late season injury, and both are projected to regress, but even with regression it is undeniable the impact having players like them on the roster is, and how fun they are to watch.
4. Los Bomberos - the bullpen
One thing that Jerry Dipoto and crew have proven themselves adept at doing is assembling and developing pitching talent. Some of the faces have come and gone, and not every one of them has been a complete success. The ones that have though have been straight fire. Paul Sewald has come through more times than you can count, mowing down the heart of lineup after lineup. Andrés Muñoz came into his own in electric fashion, even being the player responsible for coming up with the Los Bomberos nickname. When Matt Brash was rocky in his debut games as a starter, he came back with a vengeance as a reliever. They’ll be trying him out as a starter come spring, but if that doesn’t work he is almost certain to be back in the pen contributing with that wicked slider. Diego Castillo at times gave us the Fernando Rodney experience complete with anxiety, but also with utterly fooling batters. Not just stars though, but a whole constellation. Many casual fans didn’t know the name Penn Murfee before last season, but a lot more of them do now. It would be a safe bet that over the course of the next few seasons there will be more hidden gems to come, and Los Bomberos will continue putting out fires.
3. The rotation
A good bullpen is important to a successful team, but it truly is a luxury when the rotation keeps their workload light. MLB.com recently ranked the best starting pitching duos in the league, and surprisingly, the Mariners didn’t make the list. I guess they had trouble picking only two pitchers from what might be one of, if not the best 1-4 rotation in all of baseball. A big part of why they weren’t/aren’t in the market this off-season for one of the big names available is because last year they grabbed one of the biggest ones, signing the Cy Young winning Robbie Ray to a multi-year deal. Some of the numbers regressed after his award winning season, but he still was an important part of the rotation, even posting a 19.4 K-BB%. They didn’t stop there with their additions, trading a significant prospect load to add Luis Castillo, La Piedra, to the mix. To prove they meant it, and to reward the 3.7 fWAR he posted in the regular season, they gave him a five year extension.
It wasn’t just additions to the team, but also home grown prospect graduations that make the rotation special. Sophomore Logan Gilbert and rookie George Kirby had seasons where they posted fWARS of 3.2 and 3.0, respectively. When they encountered struggles they persevered, and it stands to reason they will only get better with more experience. I don’t know if either will ever win a Cy Young, it’s an incredibly hard achievement, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both do in their career. There is no doubt they will at least be in the running some seasons. After that 1-4 it doesn’t just fall off a cliff either. Spot number five has a big question mark hanging over it, but with options like Brash, Flexen, and Gonzales ready to help at the big league level, and multiple prospects getting closer to being big league ready, it’s highly likely every spot in the rotation will be represented by someone who can push.
2. This is the team that ended the playoff drought
Not every player is returning to the roster, and it’s up for debate how much their replacements will be able to reproduce what they brought to the table, but arguably those that contributed the most are staying right here. I understand the desire to always strive to get better, we should want that and the team should want that. They shouldn’t settle for chasing a wild card, and I don’t think they will. This team is just as hungry for a championship as you are, bet. They swept the Blue Jays in the wild card round in comeback fashion. Yes, they were swept out of the division series by division rival Houston, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Houston had to be the one to get the comeback wins. They only won by four runs across three games. Yes, winning is still winning, but I doubt Houston is counting out the Mariners half as much as even Mariners’ fans are. They fought tooth and nail, some of them with literally broken bodies, and put the entire league on notice. They asked us to see them rise, and rise they have, and they still have greater heights they can reach.
1. Julio Rodríguez
This was the easiest section to decide to put on this list, but is honestly the hardest for me to write. For those that followed Julio from the lower minors, there was never any doubt he was going to one day be a star, especially as doubters challenged areas of his game and he met those challenges and exceeded them at every turn. And he’s still learning, still growing. It’s hard because it always feels unfair to corner any aspect of Julio’s talent, or his personality, and make it the highlight. In many ways, he is larger than life. Yet, as big and as fun as his personality is, he always remains humble. He also loves this city as much as we love him, during the announcement of his extension going so far as to say “They’re betting on me, and I’m investing in the city of Seattle.. I’m definitely going to put myself in the best position where I can so I can keep performing for the team, for the city and for everybody.” Stats be damned, he is a once in a generation player because of who he is. You can’t really compare him to any other player because there really isn’t anyone quite like him. His obvious love for his family, this city, this fandom, and this team. Even if he experiences a bit of a sophomore slump we still get to experience something truly special having him grow into his own with the Mariners.
Yes, the logical part of my brain still has that wish list in my head of additions I want the Mariners to make before the off-season is over. But I’m also not letting that part be the part that controls my feelings about this team. If they make no more changes and the season started tomorrow I would still be genuinely, immensely excited. I’m choosing joy, I’m choosing good vibes. Maybe that’s not the kind of fan you can, or want, to be. But then again, maybe you should at least try, we have a lot to look forward to.