The Mariners have just $51.5MM committed to 11 players for the upcoming season and are just shy of $14MM in guaranteed contracts on the books come 2022. (They also owe the D-backs $5MM this year as part of the Mike Leake trade.) Despite their wide-open payroll outlook, however, they haven’t been major players in free agency. That, reports Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, is due in part to ownership placing unexpected limitations on the team’s spending this winter. Divish cites multiple sources in indicating that the current limitations are being put into place with an eye toward spending next winter, when the free-agent class is deeper and when the club has even fewer commitments on the books.
There’s still an argument to be made that the Mariners should still jump the market, given the remaining slate of appealing free agents and the seemingly limited market for some of the leading names. General manager Jerry Dipoto reiterated to reporters this week, after all, that competing for a playoff berth is something the club hopes to be possible. Adding even some mid-tier free agents could go a long way toward making that a reality, given the context of the AL West, but it doesn’t sound as though any major expenditures are in the offing at this time.
- Newly signed right-hander Chris Flexen will be penciled into the Mariners’ rotation to begin the season, Dipoto revealed this week. Far from a household name, the 26-year-old Flexen was an up-and-down member of the Mets from 2017-19 before posting a dominant season with the Korea Baseball Organization’s Doosan Bears in 2020. The righty tossed 116 2/3 innings of 3.01 ERA ball, striking out 28 percent of his opponents against just a 6.4 percent walk rate. Flexen’s 21-start workload figures to be extra vital to the Mariners, given that most MLB pitchers were limited to around half that many starts. Seattle again plans to use a six-man rotation in 2021, per Dipoto. Drayer notes that the GM is “open” to adding another starter, with only four spots locked in right now (Flexen, Marco Gonzales, Justus Sheffield and Yusei Kikuchi).
- Brock notes that right-hander Rafael Montero, acquired earlier this month in a trade with the Rangers, is the current favorite to open the season as the Mariners’ closer. Like Flexen, Montero is a former Mets prospect — a far more well-regarded one, having ranked among the game’s top 100 at one point — who didn’t find his footing in New York but has found success elsewhere. After missing a season due to Tommy John surgery, Montero landed in Texas on a minor league pact and returned to the big leagues to toss 46 2/3 innings of 3.09 ERA (3.34 SIERA) ball from 2019-20. Averaging a career-best 95.6 mph on his heater as a Ranger, Montero posted a 28.6 percent strikeout rate and a 5.9 percent walk rate. He’s controlled another two years and will give the Mariners a power option to lock things down.
- “We continue to be connected to free agents we think can make us better, and specifically we would like to add a little bit more depth to that bullpen, if that’s possible,” Dipoto said (via Divish). There’s no clear indication of the number at which ownership has capped payroll, so the extent of the Mariners’ free-agent targets is a bit tough to gauge. MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported earlier this week that the M’s are interested in veteran Joakim Soria, although he’s presumably just one of many potential targets.
- In some good news on the injury front, the Mariners expect right fielder Mitch Haniger to be ready to take the field when camp opens. Dipoto noted that a healthy Haniger is the team’s “best player,” adding that he looks “terrific physically.” It’s been a brutal road of freak injuries for Haniger, whose health woes began in 2019 when he sustained a ruptured testicle due to a terribly placed foul ball. Haniger required surgery to address that injury, and while he began a rehab assignment two months later, he was quickly shut down due to back discomfort. As it turned out, Haniger tore an adductor muscle off the bone during that rehab stint, leading to subsequent core muscle and microdiscectomy surgeries. If he is indeed able to suit up to begin the year, it’ll mark a nearly two-year road back to the Mariners’ big league roster. The now-30-year-old Haniger appeared on the cusp of stardom for the Mariners as recently as 2018, when he made the All-Star team and slashed .285/.366/.493 with 26 home runs, 38 doubles, four triples, eight steals (in ten tries) and 10 Defensive Runs Saved in right field.