The Mariners finally ended their postseason drought, and took a step further in October with a dramatic sweep of the Blue Jays in the AL Wild Card Series before falling to the Astros in the ALDS. Now, the Mariners are looking to shed their other ignominious label as the only one of the 30 MLB teams that has never reached the World Series.
- Julio Rodriguez, OF: $195MM through 2034 (based on multiple club and player options, deal could be worth up to $455MM through the 2039 season)
- Luis Castillo, SP: $101MM through 2027 (conditional option for 2028, either a $25MM vesting option for Castillo or a $5MM club option for the Mariners)
- Robbie Ray, SP: $94MM through 2026 (Ray can opt out after 2024 season)
- J.P. Crawford, SS: $41MM through 2026
- Eugenio Suarez, 3B: $24MM through 2024 (includes $2MM buyout of $15MM club option for 2025)
- Evan White, 1B: $20MM through 2025 (includes $2MM buyout of $10MM club option for 2026; Mariners also hold $11MM club option for 2027 with $1MM buyout, and $12.5MM club option for 2028 with $1MM buyout)
- Marco Gonzales, SP: $18.5MM through 2024 (no buyout on $15MM club option for 2025)
- Jesse Winker, OF: $8.25MM through 2023
- Chris Flexen, SP/RP: $8MM through 2023
- Andres Munoz, RP: $6MM through 2025 (Mariners hold club options worth $6MM in 2026, $8MM in 2027, $10MM in 2028)
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projected 2023 salaries via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
Other Financial Commitments
Total 2023 commitments: $96.125MM
Total future commitments: $536.07MM
The Mariners got a jump on some offseason business in August and September when Julio Rodriguez and Luis Castillo were both signed to contract extensions. Since 2022 was only Rodriguez’s rookie season, there was less urgency to lock up the burgeoning superstar immediately, and yet the complex and potentially record-setting deal (that could span most of the next two decades) underlined the Mariners’ commitment to Rodriguez as the new face of Seattle baseball.
Castillo would’ve been a free agent after the 2023 season, and in signing him through at least the 2027 season, Seattle doubled down on its commitment to the right-hander after already paying a big prospect price to acquire him from the Reds at the trade deadline. Extending Castillo also represents the Mariners’ latest investment in their starting rotation, which now consists of two high-paid stars (Castillo and Robbie Ray), two homegrown talents in their pre-arbitration years (George Kirby and Logan Gilbert), and two veterans on reasonable contracts (Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen).
Of course, Flexen wasn’t a starter for much of the second half, as he was moved to the bullpen once Castillo came aboard. He still amassed enough innings to hit a vesting threshold in his initial two-year, $4.75MM deal with the Mariners, thus assuring Flexen of an $8MM salary in 2023. Flexen and Gonzales have pretty similar profiles as low-strikeout, pitch-to-contact hurlers, though Gonzales has a much more established track record of limiting hard contact, as well as just a longer track record as an established Major League starter.
With six starting candidates for five rotation spots, it can be assumed that Castillo, Ray, Gilbert, and Kirby aren’t going anywhere. That leaves Gonzales and Flexen as possible trade candidates if the M’s did want to deal from this apparent surplus, and Flexen already reportedly received some interest from other teams prior to the deadline. Flexen is the younger and less expensive of the two, and had a 3.73 ERA/5.00 SIERA and 0.7 fWAR over 137 2/3 innings in 2022, while Gonzales had a 4.13 ERA/4.99 SIERA and only 0.1 fWAR in 183 frames. Those numbers slightly favor Flexen, but as his SIERA implies, the advanced metrics weren’t impressed with his work last year.
Emerson Hancock, Taylor Dollard, and Bryce Miller represent Seattle’s next wave of young pitchers, with all three expected to make their Triple-A debuts to start off the 2023 season. If all goes well, at least one of those prospects could be ready to jump to the majors later in 2023, perhaps becoming a new sixth starter/swingman type in their first taste of the big leagues. Or, the Mariners could possibly acquire a veteran for such a role in the offseason, if one of Gonzales or Flexen was traded.
The other option, naturally, is for the M’s to just stand pat with what is already a strong rotation mix. The Mariners got an unusual amount of good fortune with the health of their starting pitchers in 2022, and they might just want to keep both Gonzales and Flexen in the fold as additional depth, considering how rare it is for a team to dodge the injury bug for two straight years.
Then again, it’s also pretty rare for a team to post consecutive years of dominance in one-run games. The Mariners followed up their 33-19 mark in one-run games in 2021 with a 34-22 record last season, defying the conventional wisdom that teams “should” generally finish around .500 in such close contests. Seattle again beat those odds thanks in large part to an outstanding bullpen that should return mostly intact.
The unpredictable nature of relief pitching means that probably not all of Paul Sewald, Andres Munoz, Erik Swanson, Diego Castillo, Penn Murfee, and Matt Brash will continue to pitch as well as they did in 2022, yet that is still quite a core group to have in place as the Mariners look for a few more reinforcements. Trading from that group is also a possibility, as just like with the rotation, the Mariners’ pitching depth gives them some leverage in exploring deals. As noted, any of the top prospect starters could also break into the majors as relievers, adding more depth to the pen.
In terms of big-league additions, the M’s already made a move by claiming Luke Weaver off waivers from Kansas City. Weaver’s first full season as a relief pitcher resulted in a 6.56 ERA over 35 2/3 innings with the Royals and Diamondbacks, but his advanced metrics indicate that Weaver was quite unlucky to post such an ugly ERA. There isn’t much left-handed depth in the relief corps, though the M’s could at least tender Ryan Borucki a contract and keep him around. Seattle is also likely to explore re-signing Matt Boyd after he delivered some solid late-season work, but Boyd might prefer a clearer path to a starting job now that he is further removed from his September 2021 flexor tendon surgery.
While the Mariners have one of the more stable pitching situations of any team in baseball, their lineup has several question marks. Improving the position-player mix will surely be the priority for president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto this winter, and given Dipoto’s signature aggressiveness, nothing can be ruled out. Signing a major free agent, trading pitching for hitting, trading a younger position player for a more established bat — all of these options and more could be on the table.
There should be a good amount of payroll space to work with, as Roster Resource projects the M’s around $131.5MM in 2023 player payroll (including arbitration estimates), with probably a few million to be shaved off that total via non-tenders. This leaves Dipoto with plenty of spending capacity before he even reaches the Mariners’ team-record $158MM payroll from 2018, and it also seems quite possible ownership might provide some more funds to help keep the playoff revenues rolling. Swapping Gonzales or Flexen would be a way of reallocating some money that is already on the books, and the Mariners could perhaps take a flier on another undesirable contract by trading Evan White, who no longer seems to be in the team’s long-term plans.
For a 90-win team, Seattle doesn’t have a ton of positions settled heading into 2023. Rodriguez will play center field, J.P. Crawford will ostensibly play shortstop (more on that later), Ty France is slated for first base, Eugenio Suarez for third base, and Cal Raleigh slugged his way into establishing himself as the starting catcher once Tom Murphy’s season was cut short by shoulder surgery. Either Murphy or Luis Torrens could be non-tender candidates, as neither can be optioned back to the minor leagues.
Jesse Winker will receive at least a share of everyday duty in left field, though he will be trying to re-establish himself after an underwhelming first season in Seattle. Winker hit only .219/.344/.344 over 547 plate appearances, with a reversal of his career-long splits; he struggled badly against right-handed pitching in 2022, while actually posting decent numbers against southpaws. If Winker can regain his old form next season, that would alone help the Mariners add some more pop to the batting order, though his struggles were somewhat mitigated by Suarez (also acquired from the Reds in basically a salary dump as part of the Winker trade) rediscovering his hitting stroke once joining the M’s.
Between Winker, Kyle Lewis, Taylor Trammell, Jarred Kelenic, Sam Haggerty, and utilityman Dylan Moore, the Mariners may have plenty of options for the corner outfield positions….or none, at least for a team that hopes to contend. Lewis is still working his way back from a torn meniscus in 2021, and while he hit well in Triple-A last year, he struggled over 62 PA in the majors. Trammell is only 25 years old and is a former top-100 prospect, and he did manage roughly league-average offense in a part-time role last season, but it remains to be seen if he still grow into being a lineup regular or if he might be a fourth-outfielder type. Haggerty might have hit his own fourth-outfielder ceiling, though he did play quite well in part-time duty in 2022. Kelenic is a former consensus top-10 prospect, but he has looked totally overmatched at the plate in 558 PA at the big league level.
There is enough potential in this group that the M’s could just roll the dice and hope at least one player breaks out as a reliable everyday option to slot alongside Rodriguez. As such, Dipoto might wait until closer to the trade deadline to see if any upgrades are necessary to the outfield or DH spot. Carlos Santana might not be re-signed after posting middling numbers in 2022, and Seattle could just cycle several players into DH duty unless a more consistent bat is needed.
Trading from this outfield group is another possibility, if the Mariners perhaps tried to package one or two of the controllable outfielders to a rebuilding team with an established veteran available. Such a deal could conceivably happen with or without Mitch Haniger re-signing, though a reunion with Haniger could be the smoothest answer.
Haniger carries plenty of injury baggage. He missed most of 2019 and all of 2020 recovering from a ruptured testicle, core muscle surgery and back surgery. He was then limited to only 57 games in 2022 due to a high ankle sprain (which required a 60-day injured list stint) as well as a two-week absence recovering from COVID-19. With this recent history in mind, Haniger could be a candidate to accept a qualifying offer, except the Mariners may not want to offer $19.65MM on a one-year deal. Not issuing a QO, of course, would mean the Mariners wouldn’t get any compensation if he signed elsewhere, and any number of teams will surely have interest in adding Haniger to their rosters.
Seattle might also explore other free agent outfielders beyond Haniger, in search of a player who could provide somewhat comparable offense on a less-expensive one-year deal than the cost of a qualifying offer. On paper, the M’s have the need and the payroll flexibility to be part of the Aaron Judge conversation, and it’s probably safe to assume the team will check in with Judge’s representatives. But, there’s a reason Dipoto is known as “Trader Jerry” as opposed to “Signer Jerry” — the executive generally turns to the trade market to make his biggest moves, rather than any huge splashes in the free agent pool.
Then again, Ray was signed for $115MM last winter, which already signals a change in Dipoto’s preferred player-acquisition strategy as the Mariners move into win-now mode. Dipoto has already indicated he plans to explore the shortstop market this winter, with such notables as Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, and Dansby Swanson headlining a deep class.
The catch is the M’s might not necessarily be viewing any of these shortstops as shortstops, since Dipoto’s stated “great preference” is to keep Crawford at shortstop and use any new infielder as a second baseman. This seems to close the door on the chances of Adam Frazier being re-signed, which isn’t surprising since the former All-Star struggled through a rough 2022 season. It also reaffirms the Mariners’ commitment to Crawford, who was already signed a contract extension back in April.
Dipoto was also adamant last winter that Crawford was Seattle’s everyday shortstop, which seemed to somewhat limit the Mariners’ involvement in last offseason’s deep shortstop class, even though the M’s did have interest in such players as Trevor Story and Marcus Semien. It is worth noting that Dipoto’s most recent statements seemed at least a touch less committed to Crawford as a shortstop, saying “we’re not going to close the door to anything in that regard,” and that Crawford “does a very good job in anything that we asked him to do.”
Moving Crawford to second base could be the more logical move. MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald explored this subject in greater detail back in August, as Crawford’s glovework declined sharply in the view of public defensive metrics (-11 Outs Above Average, -3 Defensive Runs Saved, -0.9 UZR/150). Crawford was dealing with some knee problems last year and therefore might perform closer to his 2020 Gold Glove form when healthy, but a shift over to second base would also help him from a defensive perspective.
Internal options like Moore, Abraham Toro, or even Haggerty and France could help out at second base in a pinch, yet the keystone definitely seems like the Mariners’ top need on the diamond. If the M’s don’t move Crawford or can’t convince one of the big free agent shortstops to change positions, another route would be to just sign a proper second baseman. Brandon Drury and former Mariner Jean Segura (if the Phillies decline their club option on Segura) could be targeted, or Seattle could gauge trade possibilities with middle-infield heavy teams like the Guardians, Reds, or Cardinals.
For a team that thrived on its success in tight games, there is some irony in the fact that the Mariners lost all three ALDS games to Houston by a combined total of four runs. The M’s are hoping the narrow nature of that series is an omen of how they’re starting to close the gap with the Astros for AL West supremacy, and the 2022-23 offseason could be one of the most important in franchise history as Seattle might be a few finishing touches away from a championship contender.
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