In a chat with reporters today, including Corey Brock of The Athletic, Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said that he has the blessing of club chairman John Stanton increase spending this winter. Dipoto stopped short of committing to anything, however, making sure to keep his words vague.
“We do have payroll flexibility, and we’re going to use it to make the team better,” Dipoto said. He continued, “It’s incumbent on us to go add where we can add and improve where we think we can improve. That’s not lost on us. We’ll visit every avenue to do that…We’re just looking to add talent.”
Of course, it makes a lot of sense that the Mariners would be looking to open the proverbial checkbook this offseason, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, they’re coming off a surprise 90-win campaign that saw them stay in the AL Wild Card race until the final day of the season. And secondly, this year’s payroll was less than half of what it was just a few seasons ago.
According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the team payroll got as high a notch above $160MM in 2018. It was after that year’s 89-win campaign that Dipoto and the Mariners famously, or infamously, decided to strip down both the roster and payroll and start rebuilding again. That winter, they unloaded Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Jean Segura and others, endured two straight losing seasons in 2019 and 2020, before opening this year’s campaign with a payroll under $75MM.
Potent bats will certainly be a primary target in the coming months. “We do want to make our lineup longer,” said Dipoto. “We would like to add offense.” In spite of their 90 wins, their 697 runs scored this season put them tied for 22nd in the majors in that category, and better than just three teams in the American League. (Royals, Orioles and Rangers.)
Kyle Seager, Dylan Moore, Jarred Kelenic and Tom Murphy all got over 300 plate appearances with Seattle this season and posted below-average offensive numbers, by measure of wRC+. Seager is likely to depart in free agency, as it seems doubtful the club wants to pick up his $20MM option. That creates one obvious area of potential improvement. Abraham Toro has been floated as Seager’s possible heir at third base, but his wRC+ of 99 since coming over from the Astros matches Seager’s number on the year. If the Mariners want to improve on the infield, they’ll have lots of options, as the market has stars like Marcus Semien and Kris Bryant, as well as solid regulars such as Chris Taylor, Eduardo Escobar, Josh Harrison or Brad Miller.
The club will also be on the hunt for pitching, as Dipoto said it is “going to be a focus for us. The likelihood for us is it’s going to come as a starter.” Seattle’s rotation certainly has room for improvement, as it was fairly pedestrian this year, ranking 19th in ERA, 23rd in strikeout rate, 13th in walk rate and 22nd in WAR. They will also be losing deadline-pickup Tyler Anderson to free agency, leaving them with a rotation of Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen and Logan Gilbert. Yusei Kikuchi would have seemed like a lock to be in that group a few months ago, but had a terrible second half and got bumped from the rotation in September. The Mariners will likely decline their four-year option over him, but Kikuchi would still likely return in that scenario as he would then have a player option valued at $13MM. Whether they want to give him another shot or figure out another path forward remains to be seen. Prospects like Matt Brash, George Kirby and Emerson Hancock could help out eventually, but none of them have big league experience as of yet.
This year’s crop of free agent starters is loaded, with the top end featuring names like Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman, though they could also aim for buy-low wildcards like Chris Archer, Zack Greinke or taking a flyer on James Paxton again.
Regardless of how it plays out, it should be interesting, as it always is when “Trader Jerry” is involved. Although, it seems there’s at least a chance that this offseason is focused less on wild trades and more on straightforward additions in free agency.