In a profile of Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale outlined the team’s remaining offseason plans, noting specifically that Seattle hopes to add a right-handed power bat (ideally at third to replace the recently retired Kyle Seager) and a left-handed bat in the outfield. In addition to landing 2021 NL All-Star Adam Frazier in a November trade with the Padres, Dipoto already made one of the bigger offseason splashes of the pre-lockout free agent frenzy, inking reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray to a five-year, $115MM deal to anchor manager Scott Servais’ rotation.
Given what’s already a relatively crowded outfield picture in Seattle (Mitch Haniger, Jarred Kelenic, 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, and uber-prospect Julio Rodriguez all figure to see significant time there, as could Frazier and former top-100 prospect Taylor Trammell), the outfielder Nightengale suggests Dipoto is targeting is likely to be of the versatile bench-bat sort. Any of Odubel Herrera, Travis Jankowski, Billy Hamilton, Gerardo Parra, Matt Joyce, or Billy McKinney could come without a significant commitment, and Dipoto might check in on Joc Pederson or Eddie Rosario if either is willing to take on a part-time role.
The right-handed power bat is unlikely to come cheaply, however. The obvious option on the current market is Kris Bryant, and it’s no surprise that nary a report on Bryant passes without a prominent reference to the Mariners. Given how much money Dipoto is known to have left to spend — the Mariners, who have one of the youngest rosters in the bigs, have just under $87MM in salary committed to the 2022 roster (per Roster Resource) — Bryant remains a very live possibility, as might Seiya Suzuki (though he’d contribute to the outfield glut). Trevor Story and (perhaps) Carlos Correa could also be on the table.
The presence of incumbent shortstop J.P. Crawford may be a roadblock to a major move at the position, since Dipoto has repeatedly stated that Crawford isn’t changing positions. The Fielding Bible ranked Crawford as the sixth-best defensive shortstop in baseball in 2021, though both Story and Correa ranked higher on that list. With Story reportedly uninterested in a position change and Correa on the hunt for a mega-deal, neither seems likely at this point barring a trade of Crawford for another piece.
With no other clear upgrade over utilityman Abraham Toro on the free agent market, Dipoto is likely to explore trade possibilities should Bryant sign elsewhere. With the A’s reportedly entering a fire sale, Matt Chapman is the obvious first port of call, though he’ll draw widespread interest and will command a small fortune in prospect capital. Seattle could also look to engage the Guardians on Jose Ramirez, though he’d take an even bigger bite out of the Seattle system than Chapman and is well on his way to an enormous payday when he becomes a free agent following the 2023 season. Josh Donaldson, who posted a solid-if-unspectacular .247/.352/.475 line in 135 games with the Twins in 2021, still has plenty of power and isn’t likely to cost much more than a willingness to eat a substantial chunk of the two years and $50MM (including an $8MM buyout of his 2024 option) remaining on his contract. The 2015 AL MVP could be an intriguing upside play, but he’d be a particularly risky bet for a club hoping to catapult into the upper echelons of the American League sooner rather than later.
Regardless of how Dipoto addresses the loss of Seager — indeed, he could well head into Opening Day with Toro manning the hot corner and reexamine the position at the trade deadline — the Mariners are sure to be a hot pick to take a major step forward in 2022 whenever the season gets rolling. After overachieving in 2021 with 90 wins and a spot at the periphery of playoff contention well into the season’s final week, the young M’s will be expected to contend for this year’s AL West title — particularly if, as expected, Correa doesn’t return to Houston. Should they add another big bat, don’t be surprised to see them picked as a dark horse to win a pennant as early as next season.