After 18 tense innings, the Seattle Mariners finally fell to the Houston Astros yesterday in the American League Division Series, having returned to playoff baseball for the first time since the 2001 season. The Mariners, who had been projected by ESPN to finish the 2022 season a hair over .500 with an 82-80 record, showed that 2021 was no fluke, following up their 90-win 2021 campaign by winning another 90 games en route to a Wild Card berth.
Following the game, backstop Cal Raleigh announced to reports that he had been playing with a broken thumb and a torn ligament in his left hand, per Adam Jude of the Seattle Times. Raleigh had been playing through the thumb injury since early September, but he had not revealed the extent of the injury prior to Saturday’s game. Raleigh announced to reporters that he would see a specialist in the upcoming days to determine a course of action for recovery, per Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times.
The second-year catcher had followed up his rookie campaign with a strong .211/.284/.489 slash line in 2022, hitting 27 home runs in 370 at-bats and finishing the season with the eighth-highest wRC+ among all catchers (121), nestled between Sean Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud. An integral cog to the Mariners’ offense, Raleigh was one of four players (minimum 350 at-bats) that had an OPS above .700. Raleigh followed up his impressing regular season with a strong Wild Card showing against the Blue Jays, going 4-for-8 with a homer and a double, but was quieted by the Astros’ pitching, collecting only 1 hit in 14 at-bats while striking out 5 times.
In the wake of yesterday’s defeat, the Mariners’ front office will turn their heads toward the 2023 season and free agency. Long-time Mariner Mitch Haniger, trade-deadline addition Carlos Santana, and Adam Frazier will all be free agents following the World Series.
Haniger entered the 2022 season looking to follow up on his successful 2021 campaign, .253/.318/.486 in 157 games, and reestablish himself as an everyday player prior to entering free agency after missing part of the 2019 season and the entire 2020 season with various surgeries. The outfielder and Mariners avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $7.75MM contract in early April.
However, Haniger would only make appearances in nine games before suffering a right high ankle sprain that kept him on the injured list from late April to early August. Upon his return, Haniger hit a solid .254/.322/.418 in the final 48 games of the regular season (100 at-bats).
The Mariners’ decision regarding Haniger, who turns 32 in December, will be quite complicated. The Mariners boast a crowded outfield headlined by AL Rookie of the Year favorite Julio Rodriguez, with former top prospect Jarred Kelenic, Dylan Moore, former AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, and Taylor Trammell. Nevertheless, Lewis has struggled to produce at a high level since suffering a right meniscus tear in 2021, and Kelenic and Trammell have both struggled to adjust to Major League pitching.
For his part, Haniger has indicated that he would prefer to remain in Seattle. Following up by saying that he hopes “to be back in a Mariners uniform for sure,” per Daniel Kramer of MLB.com.
Santana, who joined the Mariners from the Royals at the trade deadline, continued to struggle in Seattle, slashing a combined .202/.316/.376 across 131 games. The 36-year-old split his time between DH and first base, accruing 3 Outs Above Average for his work at first. It remains to be seen if the Mariners will opt for a one-player ’old school’ approach at the DH position, or if they will cycle players through the role during the season.
Frazier followed up his All-Star 2021 campaign with a weaker .238/.301/.311 slash line across 156 games in the 2022 season. The veteran, who was dealt to the Padres during the 2021 season, was traded to the Mariners in exchange for reliever Raymond Kerr and outfielder Corey Rosier prior to the start of the 2022 season. Moore, who was previously mentioned as outfield depth, has also manned all four infield positions and could see an increase in infield work if Frazier is not resigned.
Transitioning to the bump, with five quality starters under contract, starter-turned-reliever Chris Flexen’s position with the Mariners will be an interesting story to watch unfold. Flexen began the 2022 season as a starter, pitching to a solid 4.02 ERA in 121 innings before being bumped to the bullpen where he worked to a 1.62 ERA in 16 2/3 innings.
It remains to be seen if the Mariners will opt to keep Flexen in the bullpen, utilize a 6-man rotation, or potentially trade Flexen to improve their offense.
As previously mentioned the Mariners only had 4 players finish with an OPS north of .700 (minimum 350 at-bats). As a team, the Mariners finished with the third-lowest batting average (.230), an average on-base percentage (.315), and an average slugging percentage (.390).
Additionally, if they opt to trade Flexen for offense, the Mariners boast three prospects No. 2 Emerson Hancock, No. 5 Bryce Miller, and No. 7 Taylor Dollard, who have all had strong seasons at Double-A Arkansas.