CARLSBAD, Calif. — General manager Jerry Dipoto isn’t one to try and hide his intentions when it comes to the Mariners and their search for players in the offseason.
Instead of waiting for industry insiders to tweet reports from sources inside and outside of the organizations about his wants and needs for his roster, he simply says it.
This season he’s made it clear on multiple occasions that he wants to add two impact hitters to help an inconsistent lineup that was heavily reliant on J.P. Crawford, Ty France, Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager for its run production.
With Seager leaving via free agency, the two most likely spots for those hitters are second and third base.
He’s also shopping for at least two proven starting pitchers to join a rotation that has holdovers — Marco Gonzales, Logan Gilbert and Chris Flexen.
But as of now, finding an upgrade at catcher is not in his plans.
He expects the opening-day roster to have Tom Murphy along with either or both Cal Raleigh and Luis Torrens.
It wasn’t a position of great strength in 2021. In fact, it was a nonfactor on offense and below average on defense.
Murphy started 88 games with Raleigh starting 43 after debuting in early July. Torrens started 32 games, but he didn’t appear as a catcher after being sent down on May 14. And Jose Godoy started eight games as a fill-in.
In those 162 games, Mariners catchers produced a .190/.266/.329 slash line with 24 doubles, 17 homers, 61 RBI, 54 walks and 189 strikeouts in 604 plate appearances.
Only Houston and Cleveland had a worse batting average (.185) from the catching position while the on-base percentage ranked 26th in MLB, the slugging percentage was ranked 25th and the 31.8 percent strikeout rate was third highest in MLB.
But with a less-than-stellar free-agent market for catchers and other positions taking priority, Dipoto is comfortable with the group. The Mariners could address the situation at midseason if it under performs again.
“While Murph got off to a slow start, his best role is leading a pitching staff, calling a game, pregame management and then going out and hammer lefties and he did all those things,” Dipoto said. “But because Cal struggled, because LT spent some of his summer in Tacoma, because the guys that were coming up didn’t separate themselves in their performance, Murph wound up getting an inordinate number of at-bats against right-handed pitching.
It was most evident in the final month of the season when the Mariners stopped using a platoon with Raleigh and had Murphy catch almost every game.
“Down the stretch when we were trying to work our way into the postseason, and you wanted your most experienced game managers back there, he got a lot of tough of matchups that were less than favorable for him. And he wore it on the chin a little bit for the good of the team.”
Murphy posted a .237/.355/.446 line against left-handed pitching with five doubles, eight homers. 22 RBI, 26 walks, 50 strikeouts in 173 plate appearances. Against right-handed pitchers, he had a .170/.245/.259 slash line with three doubles, three homers, 12 RBI, 14 walks and 49 strikeouts in 152 plate appearances.
But Mariners pitchers love Murphy for his preparation, game-calling and presence.
“We feel like the contributions that he makes outside of what he does offensively are so vast that there’s no question he’s going to be part of our team,” Dipoto said. “Murph has leadership skills; he’s very smart. He understands what we’re trying to get through from an advanced scouting perspective, our pregame strategies, our bullpen management, each guy he is dialed in to what their optimal mix is, the way they sequence their pitches and how they go about it. And he’s not afraid to be vocal in the game with both starters and relievers.”
Raleigh’s first season at the MLB level didn’t yield expected results. A switch-hitter with power, he posted just a .180/.223/.309 slash line with 12 doubles, two homers, 13 RBI seven walks and an alarming 52 strikeouts in 148 plate appearances.
“Cal had a tough indoctrination in his first run in the big league, but it was really a small sample size,” Dipoto said. “We believe in the player and his upside. There’s really not much else he can do at the upper levels of the minor leagues to say I’m ready. He had an extended stay in Triple-A and he performed as well as you can performs on all levels, both offensively and defensively.”
Dipoto was adamant that Torrens will do some catching this season. He appeared almost exclusively as a designated hitter after being sent down in early May because of his struggles at the plate and behind it where he was abysmal defensively.
Torrens became a valuable hitter upon his return, posting a .266/.326/.477 slash line with 11 doubles, two triples, 13 home runs, 41 RBI, 24 walks in 79 games. But with the Mariners expected to use the designated hitter for an of overflow outfielders, he may have to return to catching at some point. The Mariners don’t want to have a full-time designated hitter.
“I know LT did not have the greatest first half defensively,” Dipoto said. “I think a lot of that was because of the fact that he was struggling offensively. He went back to Tacoma. He found himself offensively. The second half was awesome. We do think he still has the ability to catch.”
If there was a roster crunch that wouldn’t allow them to carry all three catchers, Raleigh would likely start the season at Class AAA Tacoma to play every day.
But the Mariners like having Raleigh around Murphy to see his preparation and commitment to the pitching staff.
“For Cal to be able to see that, even for LT to be able to see that, it’s a tremendous advantage,” Dipoto said. “Couple that with him as a guy who’s always been 25-30% better than the average against left-handed pitching, if we can put him in a role that better suits his skill set, which we’ve talked to him about.