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Seattle Mariners

Analysis: Mariners’ roster looks mostly complete after recent moves

Seattle Mariners’ Josh Rojas, who was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, figures to be the team’s opening-day second baseman.  (Tribune News Service)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

In offseasons past, where the climate surrounding the organization was more than withering skepticism, the trio of moves made by the Mariners over the last two weeks, including two trades Friday, might have been met with optimism.

But given all that’s transpired since the team was eliminated from postseason contention in the penultimate game of the 2023 regular season, the reaction from a fan base jaded with ownership and its unwillingness to invest more in the product was predictable – meh.

It’s a disinterest unlikely to change in the weeks ahead unless the Mariners ownership eschews its own payroll limitations and allows Jerry Dipoto, the president of baseball operations, to spend on an impact free agent.

Not even the sights and sounds of spring training will wash away the damage done this offseason. Only success in the regular season will right the perceived wrongs.

Will that happen?

Well, the three moves made – signing free agent hitter Mitch Garver, making a trade for outfielder Mitch Haniger and right-handed pitcher Anthony DeSclafani and another trade to acquire outfielder/first baseman Luke Raley – gives them a better chance of winning than without the moves.

“They are positive moves,” Dipoto said in a conference call on Friday. “We are really satisfied with what it does to the look of it. It’s a more complete roster than it was at the beginning of the offseason, and certainly than it was yesterday.”

The Mariners projected lineup could be:

  • J.P. Crawford, SS
  • Julio Rodriguez, CF
  • Mitch Haniger, RF
  • Cal Raleigh, C
  • Mitch Garver/Dominic Canzone, DH
  • Luke Raley LF
  • Ty France, 1B
  • Luis Urias, 3B
  • Josh Rojas/Dylan Moore, 2B

It’s not quite to the Rangers or Astros level, but it’s improved considering the circumstances.

But is their roster finished?

For fans who love to parse Dipoto’s words for hints of the team’s plans, he offered comments that can be read in various ways.

“We like our team,” he said. “I feel like today is the first time all offseason that we can say if we were playing the opening-day game tomorrow, we feel good about the team that we have. It’s a complete team. There’s experience, there’s upside, there’s youth. I feel like there’s depth, better depth than we’ve had in recent memory, really, from position to position.”

At first glance, that doesn’t sound like a man motivated to make more moves to add to the team.

“We’re in January and we’re probably more complete at this point in the calendar than we were a year ago at this time,” he said. “And I don’t think we’re done. We still have the desire to find ways to get better. And we certainly have the flexibility from a roster standpoint to go do that.”

Notice he didn’t say the payroll flexibility.

That’s still an issue.

As has been mentioned often since early December, Mariners ownership, concerned about the uncertainty surrounding ROOT Sports NW and its future as regional sports network, provided an incremental increase to the player payroll budget.

Per FanGraphs, the Mariners spent an estimated $140 million on player payroll in 2023. The Mariners likely won’t start the season with a payroll that high and sources indicate it could be limited to roughly $145 million for the entire 2024 season.

Garver signed for two years, $24 million. He will earn $9.5 million this season along with a $2 million signing bonus and $11.5 million in 2025. There is also a $1 million buyout for a 2026 mutual option.

The trade that brought Haniger back to the Mariners along with DeSclafani and $6 million in exchange for lefty Robbie Ray is what baseball folks refer to as “cash neutral” for the 2024 season. Essentially, the dollars work out to be even.

DeSclafani is set to make $12 million this season and will be a free agent when it ends. Haniger will make $17 million in 2024. Ray, who is entering the third season of a five-year, $115 million contract he signed before the 2021 season, is scheduled to make $23 million in 2024. It’s why the Giants sent the $6 million in cash. Haniger has a $15.5 million player option for 2025.

The Mariners aren’t dumping any salary for this season with the deal. But they are no longer on the hook for the $25 million salary owed to Ray in 2025 and 2026, provided he doesn’t exercise his opt-out clause. With Ray missing all of last season because of elbow surgery and unlikely to be ready till late July, the Mariners dealt from a position of strength to get depth at that position along with a potential run producer with Haniger.

Raley, who was acquired from the Rays for utility infielder Jose Caballero, is still a pre-arbitration player for the next two seasons and will make the league minimum of $740,000 in 2024. Caballero was also a pre-arb player but was unlikely to spend the whole season at the MLB level with so many other utility players on the roster.

Essentially, the Mariners brought in three players, who are expected to contribute to the MLB roster for the entire season, in exchange for two players that wouldn’t have been on their respective rosters on a full-time basis.

As of now, FanGraphs projects the Mariners’ estimated payroll at $132 million. Even if the budget was roughly $145 million or slightly over, Dipoto won’t go right up to that limit. He will keep some money available for needed trades because of injury or poor performance.

“Obviously, for us, there’s positional specificity is going to be important,” Dipoto said of potential moves. “It’s just finding the ways that you can get better. Is it a fun addition in the bullpen? Is it an upgrade somewhere on the field that we don’t really have? Sometimes things just appear and you didn’t anticipate that it was possible until it shows up. We’re open to that happening, but I don’t feel like we have to do anything. If we do something, it’s because we wanted to get like one or two more guys.”

The Mariners don’t feel like they have to trade one of their young starting pitchers to find a hitter to fill out the lineup. As of now, the rotation will be Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo with DeSclafani serving as swing pitcher in the bullpen and Emerson Hancock as the depth pitcher in Triple-A.

“It’s always been Plan A for us,” Dipoto said of keeping his starting pitchers. “The fact that we were able to go out and put together deals, be it free agency or trades that we feel like built a complete team without tapping into those young members of our rotation is a bit of an offseason achievement for us. I didn’t know if it was going to be possible. We did a lot of groundwork on what it might look like if we did trade one of those young starters. And we never liked the way it looked.”