Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto was among a number of executives to speak with reporters at the GM Meetings on Tuesday. He addressed a few of the club’s offseason goals — most notably, a desire to improve the offense’s bat-to-ball skills.
“Adding some contact to our lineup,” Dipoto replied when asked by Jon Morosi of MLB.com about the club’s biggest need. He added that an additional right-handed bat would be preferable, saying the front office was excited about its group of young lefty hitters.
That desire to improve the contact rate tied into Seattle’s somewhat surprising decision not to issue a qualifying offer to Teoscar Hernández. “We wanted to make sure we can address some of the flaws that exist in our team,” Dipoto told reporters (link via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times). “Despite the fact he didn’t have a great start to his season, he put up his numbers and he contributed down the stretch as much as any player we had. But we felt like this was an opportunity to kind of take a new look at the way our team is built. If there was a reason why we were sitting home in the postseason, we felt like it was probably the inability to consistently make contact.”
Seattle hitters indeed struggled with swing-and-miss. Only the Twins struck out more often, while the M’s finished 22nd with a .242 batting average. They were 15th in on-base percentage and 16th in slugging. Hernández finished second on the team with 211 strikeouts, although that shouldn’t be especially surprising. He has always been a power-first player who compensates for a middling plate discipline profile with extra-base impact.
It seems the Mariners are planning a conscious shift away from that style. The departure of Hernández leaves a hole in the corner outfield. Speculatively speaking, Hernández’s former Toronto teammate Lourdes Gurriel Jr. could fit the mold that Seattle is targeting. While Gurriel also has an aggressive offensive approach, he’s a right-handed bat who has strong pure contact skills and 20+ homer pop.
Gurriel is a left fielder only, so a hypothetical pursuit would likely push Jarred Kelenic to right field. KBO star Jung Hoo Lee hits from the left side but brings a hit-first approach and could profile in right field. Alex Verdugo and Max Kepler are among the outfielders who may be available in trade. Second base, which stands out as another area the M’s could try to upgrade, has a few hit-over-power possibilities. Whit Merrifield, Amed Rosario and Tim Anderson are all free agents who hit from the right side, although none is coming off a great finish to the 2023 season.
Seattle’s team leader in strikeouts was third baseman Eugenio Suárez, who fanned at a 30.8% clip. Suárez has led the American League in total strikeouts in consecutive seasons. He hit .232/.323/.391 in 2023 overall, roughly league average offense when accounting for Seattle’s pitcher-friendly home park.
While Dipoto didn’t mention Suárez, it doesn’t seem out of the question the Mariners shop him before the final guaranteed season of his contract. To that end, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet reported this evening that the Blue Jays are eyeing Suárez as a potential third base option if they lose Matt Chapman in free agency. Were Seattle to move Suárez, they’d likely need to backfill via trade or free agency. Jeimer Candelario is the top alternative to Chapman on the open market.
In other news, Dipoto confirmed the team continues to have interest in re-signing Tom Murphy (via Divish). The longtime #2 catcher hit free agency, leaving Seattle with just minor league trade pickup Blake Hunt on the 40-man roster behind Cal Raleigh. The M’s are very likely to bring in a veteran catcher this winter. Murphy, who hit .290/.335/.538 in 47 games before a season-ending thumb fracture, has a shot at a two-year pact.