For Mariners fans, there has been a sickening (and all too familiar) feeling of impending doom taking hold this month.
The good news is that just last month, when the Mariners started 11-6, there was a joyous feeling of impending glory that took hold. The prevailing collective mindset is as flexible as the latest streak, hot or cold.
Yet it would be naive, not to mention unrealistic, to ignore the growing evidence of flaws and deficiencies emerging in Seattle’s stretch of 11 losses in 13 games entering Tuesday.
The burning question now is whether the ballclub did enough during the offseason to bolster itself for yet another run at ending an endless playoff drought. Considering the momentum and expectations that followed last year’s 90-win season, it’s more than valid to wonder if the Mariners fell short in fortifying the roster. The early returns say they should have done more.
Of course, the final answer won’t be revealed until the season plays out, and there are still more than four months and 120 games to play. Yet already their lack of offensive depth is being exposed by the injuries to outfielder Mitch Haniger and catcher Tom Murphy, the former putting him out potentially until after the All-Star break.
There is more nuance to the question than the knee-jerk response that, of course they didn’t do enough. When you look at the Mariners’ payroll ranking — 21st out of 30 teams for 26-man rosters ($81.6 million) and 22nd for total payroll ($104 million), it’s fair to conclude they reneged on their long-standing promise to spend when the time was appropriate. Or at least shortchanged it. If an emerging young team trying to make the playoffs after 21 years wasn’t the appropriate time, then it never will be.
The Mariners acquired just one big-ticket free agent in the offseason, signing reigning American League Cy Young winner Robbie Ray to a five-year, $115 million contract. All the other major acquisitions were via trade, as has been the trend during Jerry Dipoto’s tenure. They brought in second baseman Adam Frazier, a 2021 All-Star with Pittsburgh, in exchange for two minor-leaguers; and during spring training they obtained outfielder Jesse Winker, a .305 hitter last year, and third baseman Eugenio Suarez, who has more homers than any major-leaguer since 2019, in a deal with Cincinnati.
That was supposed to lengthen a lineup that was woefully shallow last year. But that has not been the case, despite a promising start that showcased the Mariners’ offensive potential. In their losing stretch, they have averaged just 2.5 runs per game, and on any given night start five players hovering near or well below the Mendoza Line.
That includes Winker, who has yet to display the form that made him one of the most feared hitters in baseball against right-handed pitchers (.346/.428/.642 last season; those numbers are .167/.282/.194 this year — though much improved against lefties). The Mariners’ offensive outlook will look much better if and when Winker approximates his career success.
“He has a track record as one of the best left-handed hitters, certainly against right-handed pitching, in the game over the last couple of years, and that player is still around here,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “So we’ve got to unleash it and hopefully get it going. Because he’s critical for our offense, based on what he’s done in the past and what we need going forward.”
As Julio Rodriguez heats up, the Mariners obviously need to get much more offensively from their other touted youngster, Jarred Kelenic, who entered Tuesday hitting .146. And Abraham Toro, playing virtually every day in Haniger’s absence, is at .160. After a fast start to his Mariners career following last year’s trade with Houston, Toro has a .144/.213/.263 slash line over his last 47 games (183 plate appearances) as a Mariner. The catcher’s position has been a hot mess offensively since Murphy’s injury, among other offensive struggles for the Mariners.
Could and should the Mariners have been more aggressive in building the team? Dipoto was unsuccessful in his goal to add a front-line starter beyond Ray, leaving the Mariners reliant on raw rookies — first Matt Brash, now George Kirby, in their rotation. Brash faltered after a promising start and is now being converted to relief in the minors; he yielded his rotation spot to Kirby, who was sensational in his debut this past weekend but will be under strict innings limits.
In hindsight, and even in foresight, the Mariners could obviously have used one more solid bat, especially with the uncertainty over Kyle Lewis’ health. By all accounts, Dipoto tried. The Mariners are a hard sell to free agents for a variety of reasons — geography, travel and lack of on-field success, for starters.
How much financial concerns had to do with it is unknown, but this is a market that should be able to sustain a higher payroll, and has in the past. As a footnote, it’s only fair to point out that many of the free agents the Mariners either pursued or fans wanted them to, including Marcus Semien, Trevor Story and Nelson Cruz, are off to terrible starts. Kris Bryant, another favored target, is also struggling to produce.
The bottom line is that the Mariners should have done more to augment their roster, and protect themselves against inevitable injuries and underperformance. They will have to live with the consequences. But if the players on hand perform up to their expectations, it’s still too soon to bury this team yet.