After spending the past couple seasons primarily in rebuilding mode, the Mariners enter the 2021-22 offseason with heightened expectations. President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has already spoken about looking to add to his roster on the heels of a 90-win season, specifically citing a desire to deepen his lineup and add an infielder. ESPN’s Buster Olney recently explored the manner in which the Mariners are a good fit for many of the top-ranked shortstops in this year’s free-agent market, where Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Javier Baez and Trevor Story will all be available. Corey Brock of The Athletic took a similar look at the Mariners’ offseason, speculating that Semien would be a strong fit for what the Mariners seek.
As one would expect, the increased expectations and early speculation have generated some buzz in Seattle — enough that 710 ESPN’s Mike Salk directly asked Dipoto about the possibility of adding a marquee shortstop the mix (Twitter link, with audio). While Dipoto spoke with an open-mind, however, he also gave a substantial vote of confidence to incumbent J.P. Crawford, who took home a 2020 Gold Glove Award at shortstop and had a fine all-around season in 2021.
“One of the key elements is we have a shortstop that we love,” Dipoto said in reference to Crawford. “J.P. is our shortstop, and we feel like he is an anchor on our infield and an emotional leader for our team. So, one of the things that’s important to us is finding a player who is adaptable and willing to move around the field and maybe get a little uncomfortable.”
Interestingly, Dipoto specifically mentioned both Baez and Semien when pointing out that some of the offseason shortstop crop has done that throughout their careers already. Baez played plenty of second and third early in his career and recently slid back to second base for the final two months of the season in Queens, where Francisco Lindor was entrenched at shortstop. Semien played multiple positions early in his career before settling in as the Athletics’ primary shortstop. He shifted to second base in a full-time capacity this season and posted elite defensive marks as shortstop Bo Bichette’s double-play partner.
It’s a bit unusual to see a top-ranking baseball operations executive name-check any free agents in this manner, although Dipoto’s comments still hardly guarantee that either Semien or Baez will land in Seattle (or that the Mariners will aggressively pursue either player). Similarly, his mention of Baez and Semien doesn’t preclude the M’s from pursuing one of the market’s other high-end shortstops (Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story). And if the Mariners are indeed looking for versatile fielders willing to play a variety of positions, the market has two quality hitters well known for their defensive versatility: old friend Chris Taylor and longtime Cubs star Kris Bryant.
Dipoto calls “that kind of selflessness” a “big deal” for the Mariners as they parse the offseason free-agent market. Another key element for the Mariners will be players with postseason experience, per Dipoto, who plainly acknowledges that to be an element he’ll seek as he looks to augment his young core with veterans. “We know where we want to go, and the more we can add players who’ve been there, the better off we are,” he said.
The Mariners have some option decisions looming — most notably a $20MM club option on Kyle Seager and a $13MM player option for Yusei Kikuchi — but at present they project to have just shy of $60MM on the books. Regardless of what happens with Kikuchi and their longtime third baseman, Seager, the Mariners will be miles shy of their franchise-record $157.9MM payroll. It’s not reasonable to assume a full-throttle sprint back up to or even beyond that record level, but the Mariners also ought to have the payroll capacity to approach the offseason with a wide-open slate of possibilities.