The expectations that the Mariners would make the playoffs this past year were higher than they have been in the past, thanks to how they finished the season in 2021. Headlined by pickups Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker, Robbie Ray, and Adam Frazier, hopes were high in Seattle. Vegas didn’t seem to agree with the feelings of the Emerald City fans, putting their odds to make the playoffs at +165 and their over/under win total at 83.5. Thankfully, the Mariners proved Vegas wrong, winning 90 games and making the playoffs. You can attribute this to the debut of star prospect Julio Rodriguez and the deadline deal bringing in Luis Castillo. Despite the slow start, Rodriguez led the team in WAR, amassing 28 homers and 25 stolen bases, while Castillo led the starters in FIP and ERA+. Unfortunately, our playoffs ended at the hands of Yordan Alvarez and the Houston Astros. Let’s see how the Mariners can improve on this year’s success in 2023,
Key Departures in 2023 – Adam Frazier and Mitch Hangier
The Mariners are pretty well off going into the 2023 season, with most of their players signed through 2023 or needing arbitration. The Mariners may need to consider two potential impact-free agents: Adam Frazier and Mitch Haniger. Frazier is one of the best defensive second basemen in the league, giving the Mariners a much-needed reprieve from the underperforming players of years past at that position. The downfall of that great defense was Frazier’s batting. While he rarely struck out or whiffed, Frazier was in the 2nd percentile in Barrel % and Hard Hit % while posting a lackluster .339 xSLG (the MLB average was .405 in 2022). Mitch Haniger had some tough luck, battling COVID and an ankle injury until mid-June. Previously, Haniger has been around the 90th percentile in Hard Hit % and Barrel % and has been my selection of the most underrated player in the league. According to Spotrac, he’s estimated to double his previous salary, going from $7.5 million to about $14.6 million.
Pushing Past the ALDS
This past year, the Mariners were one of the more solid teams in the league. Their pitching, once their weak point, improved dramatically. Rookie pitchers Logan Gilbert and George Kirby put in over 300 innings and performed solidly in the playoffs. Paul Sewald and Andres Munoz bolstered the bullpen, and Luis Castillo became the team’s ace in a short amount of time. These performances gave the Mariners a top-five pitching staff in the AL. What didn’t improve was their offense. It wasn’t terrible but hovered around average. This team would have been hurting for an offense if not for Julio Rodriguez and Eugenio Suarez. Cal Raleigh, Ty France, and Sam Haggerty all stepped up, but the Mariners need more offense. This is where the Mariners can improve next year, by signing a possible three players this offseason.
Free Agent Possibilites
I mentioned Adam Frazier and Mitch Hangier were free Agents this upcoming season. To replace Frazier, you can look internally at your options. Dylan Moore is an impressive power/speed combo second baseman that can add offense to the team while not severely reducing the defense at second. As for Haniger, I hope the Mariners hang on to him. A healthy season from Mitch can get you 25 homers while hitting for a high batting average.
Three players are set to hit free agency that can instantly impact the team offensively. One common thread between these three players is that they are in the top ten of runs scored and RBIs since 2020. First off, Trea Turner. Turner is one of the league’s fastest players and has enough pop to get you 25 homers a year. On top of the speed and homers, Turner can play in the outfield or the middle infield positions. Turner will be expensive, though, with an estimated annual salary of $33 million, so there will be teams jockeying for Turner’s talents. Next up, Dansby Swanson. The World Series hero from 2021 is set to hit free agency to the tune of $24 million annually. While he may be a cheaper alternative to Trea Turner, the talent level is not far off. According to Outs Above Average, Swanson was the best defensive shortstop in the league. He finished the year with a .776 OPS, which is above average in the league, while also finishing 6th in runs scored and RBIs since 2020. The common thread I’m going after is middle infielders for the Mariners, but there is one other free agent that I think can put the Mariners over the edge; Jose Abreu. The White Sox first basemen is 3rd since 2020 in runs scored and RBIs, which is amazing given the injury-riddled, weirdly managed White Sox team he’s on. While he only hit 15 home runs this year, Abreu is one of the best power hitters out there, finishing in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity, 97th percentile in Hard Hit %, and 92nd in xSLG. He is turning 35, so he may start to decline, but at an estimated $10 million per year, you could move over Ty France to second and insert Abreu into the lineup.
This year was a lot of fun! The pitching took a big step forward between the emergency of Gilbert and Kirby, the acquisition of Luis Castillo, and the dominance of Paul Sewald and Andres Munoz. The hitting remained average, although Julio Rodriguez can become the face of the franchise. They may lose out Frazier and Haniger, but the options of Turner, Swanson, or Abreu can get the Mariners past the Division Series.