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Looking ahead: how confident do you feel in the direction of the Seattle Mariners? A roundtabLLe discussion

It hasn’t been the start to the season Mariners fans were expecting, but is it time to panic about the future?

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s mid-June, and the Mariners sit in fourth place in the division. While there’s still a significant amount of season left and the Mariners are by no means mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, it’s no stretch to say this season has fallen well short of expectations, as the Mariners have been leapfrogged by their AL West competitors the Rangers and Angels, with the Astros being their typical impressive selves. For a team that was supposed to contend for the division and now will likely have to rely on luck and a hot stretch of play to even scrape into a Wild Card spot, it’s an understandable disappointment for a fanbase starved for some degree of sustained success from their hometown nine.

This stretch of poor play has led to questions flung at the organization, from the annual calls to fire the front office from the denizens of social media, to questions about player acquisition, to doubts about the Mariners’ vaunted control-the-zone strategy. This is understandable from a fanbase grappling with the gap between expectations and reality and trying to make meaning out of why this team has struggled so much. It’s fair to question if this is merely a blip in the road, the product of a group of young players struggling, or if there are serious philosophical flaws in the organization that will prevent this team from ever being truly successful.

As a staff, we have been having these same kinds of discussions, so we thought we’d compile some of those thoughts here for you when looking not just at this season but beyond.


With a team that’s absolutely married to the team building strategy of draft-develop-trade, you have to be consistently hitting it big on all those fronts if you’re handcuffing yourself out of being a major player in free agency where you could fix, for instance, the gaping hole at second base. That puts a tremendous strain on the player acquisition and development arms of the organization, and while there have been huge successes in that arena, one bad draft–like the 2020 draft is shaping up to be–can do serious damage in your ability not only to build future teams but also come up with the trade pieces necessary to swing blockbusters like the Castillo trade.

However, if there’s an area where I do feel confident about the team, it’s in their player development, and specifically their ability to identify later-round pitchers who will become productive major leaguers or valuable organizational contributors. The Mariners haven’t been perfect, but they have been well above-average in identifying players both in the draft and in the international free agent market who will be good fits for their development systems, and they’ve gotten significant contributions from those players, either as big-leaguers, likely future big-leaguers, or trade pieces. They’ve also showed an ability to bring in relievers at the big-league level who blossom in their bullpen, and have done that with enough frequency that it can be attributed to skill rather than random chance.

But the position players they’ve identified both in trades and off-season acquisitions haven’t met nearly the same success. Left field has been a scrape, with defensive misadventures from Domingo Santana and Jesse Winker, and the brief but memorable tenure of Shed Long, Outfielder. Second base continues to be a revolving door, as the team hasn’t had a consistent answer at that position since the departure of Robinson Canó, despite off-season signings (Adam Frazier), trades (Dee Strange-Gordon, Jean Segura, Shed Long Jr., Abraham Toro, Kolten Wong), attempting to develop within (Donovan Walton), and “let’s just try this and see” (Kevin Padlo, Jack Mayfield, etc.). Their search for value on the fringes has turned up players like Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, and Austin Nola (who later became part of the most successful trade of Jerry Dipoto’s tenure), but also cycled players like Jake Bauers, Jake Fraley, Keon Broxton, and countless others through Mariners uniforms.

This 2023 Mariners team is a reminder both that development isn’t linear and that building a team primarily through development means accepting some risk that unproven players will struggle. But in order to take a step forward, it feels like the team can’t completely ignore making a significant commitment in free agency to fix some of these flaws, and it’s worrying that they seem so shuttered to that avenue. Either Seattle lacks attraction as a free-agent destination due to uncontrollable factors like weather, distance, and general poor franchise record, or this front office lacks the ability/financial commitments to sway free agents to come here, or maybe it’s a combination of the two. Whatever it is, something isn’t adding up.


I remain torn on whether or not I hashtag Believe™ in the Mariners. Vibes wise, it seems that something has changed from the past few years. I think we underestimated how big of a deal losing Haniger in the clubhouse would be. It’s safe to say that the 2023 Mariners need someone to fill the role of last year’s Carlos Santana: a veteran to come in and right the ship. Part of what made Slamtana so special was his insistence on making every game fun and meaningful to play in. Watching the Mariners this year, it seems that they’ve forgotten that fun.

I do not want, however, to count them out. Baseball is stupid and arbitrary and beautiful and sometimes God gives her worst players the biggest home runs. This time last year, the LL writers were collectively getting drunk in left field and writing recaps like this. Look how the tone changes all the way into the last inning. We were done with the Seattle Mariners of baseball.

And then they went and won 14 games in a row, got a wild card berth, completed one of the biggest comebacks in the history of playoff baseball, and swept a playoff series. After that, I have a hard time ever counting them out again.

Where the far future is concerned, I see the bones of a pennant chase team in the next couple years. Just, you know, if they sign free agents.


The problem with believing in the future of this regime is that it has to resemble the present. Do I believe in next season? Sure, the same way I believe/believed in this year. There’s enough talent here to be competitive; a young core to dream on in the form of Kirby, Walter, Woo, Jarred, Julo, Cal, Bryce, JP and Ty. But beyond that? 2023 is the Mariners finding the limitations of their current roster. I believe in the process that yielded these core players. I believe in the development system that evolved them into major league players. But I still see a gap to close and no real plan, stated or otherwise, to fill it. They don’t seem to be changing their stance on signing free agents. They don’t seem to be internalizing the lessons from back to back seasons where the big name imports (Wong, Winker, Hernandez) have face planted.

The Mariners seem to be perfectly comfortable where they are: trusting in a plan that has brought them one playoff series win in 8 years with Dipoto at the helm. I like this team, I like this front office, and I generally am in alignment with the way they’ve built the team, but their risk aversion (in terms of spending specifically) looks like it may be their achilles heel. The ice cold reality is that the Mariners are the most profitable team in baseball for investors, and that has turned out to be more important than whatever happens on the field. Short of major changes to ownership/leadership that are not in the pipeline, I don’t see it changing. I feel like I’m either rooting for the Mariners to overplay their hand with good fortune, or collapse entirely and necessitate change, because otherwise, we are Malcolm in the Middle. I believe the core is strong enough to facilitate strong seasons in the near future, but without an infusion of top end talent they remain a team with a 2nd tier ceiling. They can do more. They can be better.


Generally speaking, I do believe the Mariners organization is still heading in a positive direction regardless of making the playoffs this season or not. Pitching development continues to be an incredible strength for both starters and relievers. Not every drafted pitcher is going to hit paydirt, obviously, but for every Emerson Hancock (who may end up being good or decent anyways), there have been several George Kirbys. Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo are going to have their rookie hiccups, but I feel pretty upbeat about their outlook with the team long-term. The problem lies in relying too much on rookies/unproven players to fill in the gaps in the roster right now in 2023 due to injuries or shitty/bargain bin free agent flops. It’s an unreasonable request and expectation in the near-term, but in 2024 and beyond, these rookies will prove to be immensely valuable to the team.

I do remain very concerned about the team’s ability to draft and develop position players who can hit. This is why I (and every other fan) continue to beat the poor dead horse of “dear god why didn’t y’all sign 1-2 of the top free agents in either the 2021 or 2022 offseason” because the alternatives they’ve had to use instead sure as hell have not gotten the job done, Wild Card berth notwithstanding.

Going forward, I do feel fairly confident in the team’s ability to win a Wild Card spot with a roster similar to the 2023 one with a few choice additions and subtractions. However, without ownership being willing to truly spend in free agency, I have zero confidence in the team winning the AL West (Neither the Astros nor the Rangers are going to falter to such a degree in the next 4-5 seasons) and I have zero confidence in any Mariners WC berth team to win a World Series because they will presumably not have acquired enough talent required to make a such a deep postseason run. The way teams are spending these days, I do not see a future where this organization can win a title just by drafting, developing, and making shrewd trades alone.


I expect this team to make the playoffs again in the next year or two. They have too much talent in their core to fall short, and they have shown such a knack for developing internal solutions that I feel confident they can snag another berth with some better sequencing and outcomes. Moreover, the youth of the most important players on this roster makes me feel encouraged that health and developmental arcs will continue to largely be favorable to Seattle. With that said…

There is not a route to consistent divisional titles right now with Seattle’s current trajectory and budget constraints. They do not have a division of underachievers and cheapskates like the AL and NL Central. They do not boast titanic media markets for legacy franchises or receive massive draft pick and international amateur budget advantages like the clubs of the AL and NL East. They are a team in the middle to upper end of things, in a division of three similar clubs and one The Oakland Athletics. And they are the outlier in their investment, on a trajectory this year, as has been the case for most of the past 20 years, to lag behind whichever club is both developing and investing well and heavily. I worry Seattle will continue to treat winning the hardest possible way as somehow more inherently virtuous or valuable than winning at all.


I agree with much of what has been said, but I still remain (possibly foolishly so) rather optimistic about this club in the next few years. Their weakness is obvious and has been stated until out of breath, both in this article and throughout the entire Dipoto tenure: they need to invest in free agents of more proven talent. It’s undeniably true. I have faith in their development though, as much as anyone can have faith in such things. The internal pitching development has been inarguably successful, and that will in turn pay dividends in the same way they achieved Luis Castillo. The Mariners might not pay free agents, but last year they showed a willingness to trade up for immediate help. Although that was a case of trading hitting prospects for pitching, the bevy of arms already paying dividends at the Major League level will make the reverse a possibility. Supplement that with one or two splashy free agent adds on the offensive side, [redacted] for example, then I truly think they are capable of making a World Series run or two with this core. Even if they don’t do the big free agent addition or two, if they amass enough pitching talent and not enough roster spots for them they just might back themselves into a pennant run whether they want to or not.

I suppose the best way to summarize my feelings is that the only way this club won’t be some kind of successful moving forward is if they experience some extreme unluckiness in player health or if they deliberately sabotage themselves. I recognize the latter possibility; it’s what this offseason where they chose to go with a low-floor-medium-ceiling rotating multiple-platoon spot at designated hitter felt like, hoping for the best but not preparing for the worst. I see this season, whether it ends in playoffs or not, as somewhat excusably still a testing ground for shaping the roster for the long term and developing the core, and all the growing pains that sometimes come with it. For me the real litmus test is a little bit how they behave at the trade deadline, and much more how they do in the upcoming offseason. They have most of the pieces, but for this team to truly be complete they need to be bold and stop going for the easy corners, and complete the middle of this puzzle one way, or another.