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Seattle Mariners

Analysis: An early projection of the Mariners’ 2024 roster

Seattle Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh celebrates with teammates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run against the Boston Red Sox on July 31 at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.  (Tribune News Service)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – As gray skies cover Puget Sound and raindrops feel commonplace, it’s difficult to comprehend how quickly the Major League Baseball season is approaching. Pitchers and catchers are required to report to spring training on Feb. 14 – the unofficial start of spring training and the 2024 season.

In less than a month – Feb. 24 to be exact – the Mariners will play their first Cactus League game. And in just over two months, they will host the Boston Red Sox on Thursday, March 28, at T-Mobile Park for opening day of the regular season.

And while Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners president of baseball operations, and general manager Justin Hollander will likely make at least a handful of transactions in the coming weeks, all indications point to the team’s core roster being largely set for spring training.

With that in mind, here’s a way-too-early roster projection for that first game of the season.

Starting rotation (5)

Luis Castillo, RHP

Logan Gilbert, RHP

George Kirby, RHP

Bryce Miller, RHP

Bryan Woo, RHP

Notes: The starting rotation that essentially made every start from June until the end of the season is expected to start the season together, barring injury.

There was some thought that the Mariners might trade Miller or Woo this offseason to acquire an impact hitter.

But Dipoto and Hollander were hoping to avoid to such a transaction, understanding the value of young controllable starting pitching.

“It’s always been Plan A for us,” Dipoto said of keeping his starting pitchers. “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.”

Still, the rumors and thinking persist that Seattle might trade either Woo or Miller for the right return package and then sign a pitcher like Blake Snell to fill that spot. Sources indicate that the Mariners would only trade Woo or Miller if a high asking price is met.

Bullpen (8)

Andres Munoz, RHP

Matt Brash, RHP

Justin Topa, RHP

Trent Thornton, RHP

Anthony DeSclafani, RHP

Austin Voth, RHP

Taylor Saucedo, LHP

Gabe Speier, LHP

Notes: Projecting the Mariners’ bullpen is always an interesting exercise given their past success in finding/creating/reviving relievers from the “island of misfit arms.” The organization’s pitching lab has taken pitchers that have been pushed aside or jettisoned by other teams and helped them find success by refining their pitch mix, focusing on strengths or finding optimal usage opportunities. Topa, Saucedo and Speier emerged from the pile of pitchers brought together in spring training to become useful contributors. They will return to join Brash and Munoz – Seattle’s top late-inning leverage arms.

Besides the additional relievers on the 40-man roster, which includes Ty Adcock, Mauricio Llovera, Jackson Kowar, Cody Bolton, Eduardo Bazardo and talented prospect Prelander Berroa, they are signing a handful of relievers with MLB experience to minor league contracts with invitations to MLB spring training.

It’s possible one could make the opening day roster and likely that more than one will end up pitching meaningful innings out of the bullpen during the season.

Thornton and DeSclafani will work as starters in the first weeks of spring training as insurance for a possible injury in the rotation. If the rotation remains healthy, they will serve as multi-inning relievers out of the bullpen.

While manager Scott Servais has been adamant in past seasons that the team didn’t have a true closer, it’s possible that strategy will change this season. The Mariners could turn to Munoz to shift into a full-time closer role similar to other organizations. The change would allow the Mariners to control Munoz’s usage a little more consistently and not feel the need or motivation to use him in every late-inning leverage situation possible.

Outfielders (4)

Julio Rodriguez

Mitch Haniger

Luke Raley

Dominic Canzone

Notes: With Teoscar Hernandez exiting in free agency and Jarred Kelenic traded to the Braves so the team could dump the contracts of Marco Gonzales and Evan White, the two spots flanking Rodriguez seemed wide open for the last month and a half. Canzone, though largely unproven at the MLB level, was an obvious choice for one of the corner spots. But the Mariners preferred to keep him in more of a platoon role, having him face right-handed pitching almost exclusively

To address their needs, the Mariners brought back Haniger in a trade with the Giants and acquired Raley in a trade with the Rays to fill out the outfield.

Haniger’s season on the Giants was sabotaged by a broken forearm that kept him out for months. He played 61 games in 2023, posting a .209/.266/.365 slash line with 13 doubles, a triple, six homers, 28 RBIs, 15 walks and 65 strikeouts.

The Mariners know how productive he can be when he’s healthy. In 2021, he hit 39 homers and drove in 100 runs.

“Our hope is that he plays right field as frequently as he can play right field,” Dipoto said in a conference call following the trade.

If Haniger played in more than 120 games this season, the production will be there.

Raley, a left-handed hitter, had a solid season for the Rays, playing in 118 games and posting a .249/.333/.490 slash line with 23 doubles, three triples, 19 home runs, 49 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. He can play all three outfield spots if needed.

Those two additions will allow the Mariners to choose their spots to use Canzone in the outfield or as the designated hitter.

As for depth, they can use any of their assortment of utility players in the outfield. Cade Marlowe will likely start the season in Triple-A with Zach DeLoach. One-time prospect Taylor Trammell is out of minor league options and will have to make the opening day roster or be designated for assignment.

Infielders (6)

Ty France

J.P. Crawford

Luis Urias

Dylan Moore

Sam Haggerty

Josh Rojas

Notes: It’s an interesting group featuring two players with established positions in Crawford and France and four utility infielders capable of playing all over the field.

With Eugenio Suarez traded to the Diamondbacks, Urias, who will turn 27 in June, is the projected starting third baseman. The Mariners hope he can replicate his breakout 2021 season where he had 25 doubles and 23 homers in 150 games for the Brewers.

The Mariners are comfortable with a platoon of Rojas and Moore at second base. Rojas made a few swing adjustments after being acquired by the Mariners and produced a .272/.321/.400 slash line with four doubles, four homers and 14 RBIs in 46 games. Offseason surgery for a core injury delayed the start to Moore’s season. Subsequent issues hampered him for much of last season. But the Mariners trust his ability to hit left-handed pitching and contribute.

Catchers (2)

Cal Raleigh

Seby Zavala

Notes: When last year’s back-up catcher Tom Murphy was injured in August, Raleigh started almost every remaining game behind the plate. While his toughness and sense of responsibility were admirable, the Mariners know they can’t do that again. Zavala, who was acquired in the Suarez trade, is a viable defense-first back-up catcher. While he won’t provide much for offense – similar to the days of Jamie Burke and Jesus Sucre – Zavala is solid on defense and understands his role.

Designated hitter (1)

Mitch Garver

Notes: The M’s will technically carry three catchers on their roster since Garver came up as a catcher and can still get the plate if necessary. But if he catches more than a handful of games in 2024, then something will have gone awry in the plans. He was signed to be the team’s primary DH. The organization believes that keeping him at DH will keep him healthy and on the field. Injuries have limited him in each of the past four seasons. If the M’s can get 500-plus plate appearances from him at DH, it will be a win.