The Mariners haven’t always had the easiest time signing free agents. They landed two big names after 2004 in Richie Sexson and Adrián Beltré, back when the team still had some shine on them, having won at least 90 games in four of the prior five years. Since then, it’s been slim pickings, and when they have been the winner, it’s usually required massively outbidding the rest of the market.
The Mariners can’t do much to make the travel schedule more appealing. Nor can they relocate to the prep baseball hotbeds of California, Texas, or Florida, or earn a regular Sunday Night Baseball berth, or position themselves any closer to many players’ hometowns in the Dominican Republic. But over the past year, they have been addressing a couple other major hurdles to signing free agents on offers of similar value to other teams’. Simply by winning, the team is becoming a more enticing place to play. And perhaps as importantly, the Mariners have made a series of transactions over the past year that sends a message to the free agent class: We’re going to keep winning. Come be a part of this.
Consider these moves within the past 12 months:
- Reigning Cy Young winner Robbie Ray signed through 2026
- Unofficial team captain J.P. Crawford extended through 2026
- Young megastar Julio Rodríguez extended through at least 2029, possibly 2039
- Ace Luis Castillo extended through 2027
These moves massively improve the outlook for Seattle’s future, and free agents are sure to notice that good things are happening here. With several more years of Ty France, Cal Raleigh, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby still on their rookie contracts, the team is set up to be a winner for a while.
But the reason I highlight these moves over, say, extending Andrés Muñoz is that these four guys had a lot of leverage and still chose to be here. Luis Castillo was just a year from free agency, but decided to stay. Why? At his press conference yesterday, he said “The first thing that really caught my attention was the personality of the team. When I came in here and saw firsthand just the people here and how tight and competitive this team was, it was one of the things that convinced me the most.”
To be sure, everyone says nice things about the deal they just signed, but it’s another thing to put your career where your mouth is. Showing always beats telling. If Castillo had wanted to be a Yankee, he only would have had to wait a year. But like Ray, he’s happy to be here. It seems that pitchers have noticed the strides that the Mariners have made in getting the most out of their players. Paul Sewald was hardly a big-name when he signed with Seattle in the 2021 offseason, but his agent reached out to Seattle specifically because Sewald was interested in the Mariners pitching development. That sort of thinking is spreading around the league and trickling up to baseball’s marquee players.
The position players are getting friendlier to Seattle too. J.P. Crawford was aglow upon signing his extension.
JP Crawford talked about being in a dark place in his baseball career during his final months with the Phillies. He said coming to Seattle was a breath of fresh air.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) April 8, 2022
"Man, getting traded was the best thing that's ever happened to me."
Or take Julio, who’s happy to spend his entire career in Seattle. When he signed his extension, he had this to say about staying with the Mariners:
What can I say? I’m just happy to be a Mariner. I’m just happy to be a Mariner for as long as I can. ... I love being here. I love being with everybody. And I love to keep representing this city and bring a championship because that’s what we want here.
They’re always showing their loyalty to me. They’re always showing me the love. They’re always showing me that they care about me. And I really appreciate that. As somebody that my dad told me that at a young age, I should appreciate and be grateful to the people that helped you to get to where you are right now, I feel that’s what the Mariners showed to me and that’s why I want to be here.
Is that attractive to free agents? Aaron Judge sure seems like he’d be eager to play with Julio, so the fact that Julio wants to be here has to be telling. A relationship that formed during All-Star Week blossomed when they met again in Seattle.
Aaron Judge talking with reporters about his top moments of the week:— Jake García (@Jake_M_Garcia) July 20, 2022
“Watching some rookie sensations do their thing up close and personal.”
He’s referring to Julio Rodríguez.
Aaron Judge and Julio Rodriguez exchanging bats and a jersey pic.twitter.com/LiSDtnH4xC— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) August 10, 2022
Obviously signing big name free agents requires ownership to open their wallets, but the Mariners are doing what they can to make Seattle a place players want to be and at least make it a fair fight so they don’t have to overbid by quite so much. The Mariners missed the top of the free agent class this past offseason despite being active in the market. This year, they’ve done their best to shift their reputation, and if John Stanton and Co. are willing to use all that cap space, the added clout might just be enough to lure a real difference-maker this winter.