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Seattle Mariners

Glass is 54% full: Why anger over Mariners’ offseason moves might have been premature

From left, Mariners manager Scott Servais, chairman and managing partner John Stanton and president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto look on before a game last July in Seattle.  (Getty Images)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

So … is it possible they got better?

Football season is behind us, spring training has arrived and the state of the Mariners is at the forefront of Seattle fans’ minds.

This is a team that has been competitive in each of the past three seasons (89.3 wins per year) and broke a playoff drought in 2022 – but has drawn ire and prompted skepticism from fans this offseason.

Inciting much of the ire was M’s president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, saying that the front office was “actually doing the fan base a favor in asking for their patience to win the World Series while we continue to build a sustainably good roster” just after Seattle missed the playoffs in 2023. This, of course, was in addition to him trying to point out that teams that win 54% of the time over the course of a decade generally make the playoffs and often contend for the World Series.

He later apologized for the comments – some of which, in my opinion, were simply clumsily delivered – but the fan base won’t forget them.

The (justifiable) skepticism came when the Mariners traded third baseman Eugenio Suarez, outfielder Jarred Kelenic and pitcher Marco Gonzales in an apparent salary dump – which preceded the announcement that the club was taking full control of ROOT Sports.

The feeling was that the M’s, notorious for low payrolls, were again choosing to save money over investing in the talent. And the precarious ROOT situation – which could lead to a financial nosedive – would serve as cover for said savings.

But what if I told you the front office actually had an offseason that improved this roster? What if I told you that the anger over those December trades may have been premature?

The primary question regarding this year’s Mariners versus last year’s is health vs. talent. The 2023 M’s didn’t have the injury history that the 2024 M’s will have, but they didn’t have the same potential, either.

Suarez, though adept defensively, led the American League in strikeouts (214) and produced an uninspiring OPS of .714. Kelenic’s offense plummeted after an auspicious start, and he has failed to find a semblance of consistency in his three MLB seasons. And Gonzales had a 5.76 ERA last season after posting a 4.77 ERA the season before.

These weren’t devastating losses. And since then, they’ve acquired …

• Jorge Polanco, the 30-year-old second baseman who posted 33 home runs, 98 RBI and a WAR of 4.9 in his last fully healthy season (2021).

• Mitch Garver, who hit 19 homers in 87 games last season and will – or at least should – finally give the Mariners stability at the designated hitter spot.

• Mitch Haniger, who slugged 39 home runs in his last healthy season (2021), which came with the Mariners.

When these guys are on the field, they tend to produce. Although it’s worth asking why they haven’t been on the field.

Polanco had a hamstring injury that sent him to the injured list twice last season and limited him to 80 games. The year before, he had lower-back tightness early on followed by a season-ending knee injury that occurred when he slid into home plate in August.

Injury prone, or just unlucky? Hard to say.

Garver, meanwhile, has suffered a forearm strain, a left-knee sprain and an intercostal strain among other setbacks. But it’s not the same issue repeatedly – and given that he is not expected to be catching as he did in years past, his chances of consistent health increase. And when he’s healthy, he hits.

Then there’s Haniger. He was hit by a pitch last year while with the Giants and was later diagnosed with a fractured forearm. The year before he was put on the 60-day DL because of an ankle injury.

I spoke with a co-worker about whether – from a health standpoint, at least – these Mariners were more like Michael Penix Jr., who suffered four season-ending injuries before playing 28 consecutive games with the Huskies, or more like Pelicans center Zion Williamson, whose 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame limits his availability every season.

I’m gonna guess it’s closer to the former. But who knows?

What I do know is the Mariners return center fielder Julio Rodriguez, who was one of the top three players in the American League after struggling through the first two months of the season. Odds are we won’t see such a sluggish start again. They bring back the core of their pitching staff, which was third in MLB in ERA last season.

Shortstop J.P. Crawford and his 5.1 WAR from 2023 comes back as well, as does catcher Cal Raleigh. And though first baseman Ty France had a lowly OPS of .703 last season, the law of averages suggests his numbers will climb closer to the ones that made him one of the team’s top offensive threats in 2021 and 2022.

Perhaps this reads like a story you’d see on the Mariners’ homepage as opposed to a newspaper website. It’s not meant to be. The M’s are still flawed and have an array of health concerns that could derail them in 2024.

But I would venture to say that this year’s squad is more talented than last year’s. If they stay healthy, they’ll stay in the hunt.