Rival Preview: After narrowly missing the playoffs last year, Seattle is off to a rough start in 2024

Photo credit:© Benny Sieu - USA Today
Evan Stack
19 days ago
A run to the 2022 ALDS gave baseball fans a preview of what could have been for the Seattle Mariners, but a so-so 2023 kept them on the couch for last year’s playoffs. After being one of the more active teams during this past offseason, let’s take a look at where the Mariners stand for 2024.

2023 Recap

Last season was quite the rollercoaster ride for the Mariners, who hovered around .500 for the majority of the first half of the season. The team made tremendous strides in July and August, posting a 38-15 record in those two months, but a lackluster September allowed Houston and Texas to represent the American League West in the playoffs.
Seattle finished with an 88-74 record, third in the AL West, and spent 12 calendar days atop of the division.
Batting: Much like their 2022 season, the Mariners stayed relatively in the middle of the pack in many offensive categories. They did take a step up in strikeouts, but when you have Eugenio Suárez and Teoscar Hernández on the same team (425 strikeouts combined last year), that is going to happen.
Although just a step below his rookie year, CF Julio Rodríguez still registered an excellent season at the plate. In 155 games, Rodríguez slashed .275/.333/.485 with an .818 OPS, 32 home runs, 103 RBIs, 37 doubles, and 37 stolen bases. He made his second consecutive All-Star team, won his second straight Silver Slugger Award, and placed fourth in AL MVP voting. Rodríguez was a key cog in Seattle’s 21-6 August, posting an unbelievable .429/.474/.724 slash line with a 1.198 OPS, 7 home runs, and 30 RBIs during that month. Throughout the entire season, he made a big jump from his rookie season in performance against left-handed pitchers, increasing his batting average almost 30 points.
Behind Rodríguez, C Cal Raleigh increased his slash line numbers to .232/.306/.456 and set career-highs in home runs (30), RBIs (75), and doubles (23). Raleigh is up there with Ryan Mountcastle on the list of Blue Jays destroyers; he slashed .368/.429/1.158 (yes, that was his slugging) in five games against Toronto last season. Hernández and Suárez, although striking out a lot, stayed strong in the power department with 20+ home runs each, but 1B Ty France took a step back from his All-Star 2022 season.
In his seventh big league season, SS J.P. Crawford had the best year of his career, slashing .266/.380/.438 with an .818 OPS, 19 home runs, 65 RBIs, 35 doubles, and an AL-best 94 walks. He had started the season batting 9th, but good numbers to start the year earned him his spot at the top of the order, and his numbers were far better in that position than others.
Pitching: While Seattle’s offense took a step back, the same could not be said for their pitching staff, even after losing two of their starters for almost all of the season.
Lefty Robbie Ray, in the second year of a five-year, $115 million deal, made only one start in 2023 before being placed on the Injured List with a left flexor strain. Unfortunately for Ray, he would undergo Tommy John surgery about a month later, and will probably not be able to return until the middle of the 2024 campaign. His fellow southpaw starter Marco Gonzales made only 10 starts last season due to a forearm strain, an injury the ultimately led to Gonzales needing surgery to repair a nerve that controls motor function to the wrist and index finger.
With those two out, the Mariners needed a lot of production from the rest of their rotation, and they certainly got it. The rest of that rotation being Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby, each of those three made 31+ starts, possessed an ERA in the mid-to-upper 3.00’s, and won at least 13 games.
Castillo, who had just signed a five-year contract extension at the end of the 2022 season, placed fifth in Cy Young voting, posting a 14-9 record, 3.34 ERA, and a 1.10 WHIP. He was tied for league lead with 33 starts and fell only three innings shy of 200 for the season, the closest he has been to accomplishing that feat. Looking at his pitching metrics, he boasted one of the most effective fastballs in the league, placing in the 100th percentile in Fastball Run Value per Baseball Savant.
In just his second year in the big leagues, Kirby posted a 13-10 record through 31 starts with a 3.35 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and a MLB-best 0.9 BB/9. He also earned Cy Young recognition, finishing 8th in voting, and he also made his first career All-Star team. Gilbert was only in his third MLB season last year, finishing with a 13-7 record across 32 starts with a 3.73 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and an 8.9 K/9, and it also marked the second straight season in which he had pitched at least 185 innings.
Behind that three-headed beast in the rotation were rookies Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo, who both had promising seasons that included high-leverage starts with playoff implications. Miller made 25 starts, posting a 4.32 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and an 8.2 K/9. Miller’s first few months in the bigs were extremely encouraging, but he was thrown in the wringer during the final month of the regular season as his last four starts came against the Rays, Dodgers, Astros, and Rangers.
Woo, on the other hand, held a 4-5 record in 18 starts, posting a 4.21 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and a 9.5 K/9. He generated whiff percentages beyond 30% from his fastball, slider, and sweeper, and he was really good at staying away from hard contact. Both Miller and Woo are under team control until 2030, so the Mariners have a couple of pieces for the future of the rotation already solved barring any setbacks.
Despite moving effective closer Paul Sewald at the trade deadline, Seattle still boasted one of the best bullpens in all of baseball, ranking fourth in bullpen ERA with a 3.48 mark. More than anything, their best arms were simply available, as three of their best arms – Justin Topa, Matt Brash, and Gabe Speier – made the most appearances of their respective careers.

Off-season Moves

Seattle didn’t get much production from the second base position last year, and it drove them to deal for 2B/3B Jorge Polanco during the offseason. Polanco had played the last 10 seasons with the Minnesota Twins, including one All-Star appearance in 2019.  Last year, he was limited to only 80 games last season due to multiple hamstring injuries, but in those games he slashed .255/.335/.454 with 18 doubles, 14 home runs, and 48 RBIs. Polanco offers the Mariners defensive flexibility in the infield, as well as the ability to hit from both sides of the plate.
Multiple teams were reportedly in on Polanco, but with the return that Seattle gave Minnesota, this deal was hard for the Twins to say no to. That return contained prospects Gabriel González and RP Darren Bowen, as well as RP Justin Topa and SP Anthony Desclafani.
Making trades became routine for the Mariners, and it included them sending 3B Eugenio Suárez to the Diamondbacks in exchange for C Seby Zavala and pitching prospect Carlos Vargas. Suárez had been a key piece in Seattle’s success in the past two seasons, but he will be a free agent at the end of the 2024 season, so the Mariners wanted to get ahead of his departure and acquire pieces for him.
Zavala will fill in as the backup catcher behind Raleigh, a role he had already played for the past four seasons backing up Yasmani Grandal in Chicago. Vargas, however, is the primary piece in this deal. He made five appearances last season with Arizona at the beginning of the season and allowed a run in three of those outings. He was sent back to Triple-A Reno for the remainder of the season, posting a 7.02 ERA in 38 appearances, including a 6.8 BB/9 and a 7.7 K/9. Vargas is certainly still a work in progress, but his fastball and sinker both averaging in the high-90s is a great place to start.
Trading Suárez and watching Teoscar Hernández walk in free agency made batting order help even more of a priority as the offseason went on. They signed free agent DH Mitch Garver to a two-year, $24 million deal with a mutual option for 2026. Garver missed about two months last season due to a knee sprain, but he still posted a productive .270/.370/.500 slash line with an .870 OPS, 19 home runs, and 50 RBIs.
Seattle also acquired LF Luke Raley from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for SS José Caballero. This was an easy need-for-need swap for both sides, especially for the Rays given that Wander Franco may not ever see a baseball field again and J.P. Crawford has the shortstop position locked up for the time being. Raley played in 118 games last year, slashing .249/.333/.490 with an .824 OPS, 19 homers, and 49 RBIs. Last season was the first time Raley had been given extended opportunities in his young career, and now he has a chance to expand on that especially with his ability to play a multitude of defensive positions.
Finally, the Mariners made a pair of surprising moves via trade, cutting ties with former top prospect LF Jarred Keleinc and SP Robbie Ray. Kelenic was sent to the Braves along with SP Marco Gonzales and 1B Evan White in exchange for RP Jackson Kowar and pitching prospect Cole Phillips. Kowar had already been dealt once in the offseason (from KC to ATL), but the Mariners are hoping to maximize the former first round draft pick’s potential after struggling to begin his career. Phillips slotted in as Seattle’s 19th-ranked prospect to begin the season, but multiple Tommy John surgeries has kept him from making his major league debut.
Ray was dealt to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for RF Mitch Haniger, SP Anthony Desclafani, and cash. DeSclafani was quickly flipped to Minnesota in the Jorge Polanco deal, but Haniger makes his return to Seattle after spending six seasons there prior to 2023. The 33-year-old outfielder slashed .209/.266/.365 last season with 6 home runs and 29 RBIs in San Francisco last year, but a lower back strain and a forearm fracture limited him to only 61 games. His last fully healthy season was 2021 in which he hit a career-best 39 home runs and 100 RBIs in 157 games.

My take on Seattle’s 2024 outlook

It hasn’t been the prettiest start to 2024 for the Mariners, who are 4-6 and have scored only 31 runs through their first 10 games. In some ways, they mirror the Blue Jays in that their pitching staff will have to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Offensively, they will be asking a lot out of guys with a decent amount of injury history in Garver, Haniger, and even Polanco. Outside of that group, Seattle is well on their way to relying on J-Rod put the offense on his shoulders.
To make matters worse, the Mariners are already fighting the injury bug as Matt Brash, Gregory Santos, and Bryan Woo are on the 15-day IL for various injuries, and the “Big 3” in the rotation that I mentioned earlier are off to rocky starts.
Sure, it’s a long season. But with the Astros starting 3-7, the Mariners have an early opportunity to separate themselves and limit the stress that they had at the end of last year. Seattle has a high ceiling, but they’re showing us their floor as we speak.


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