The Mariners have mostly been subtracting from their roster this winter, though it seems though the next step will be additions. “We did what we needed to do to create the framework from which to build the team we envisioned,” president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said yesterday, per Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times. “Our goal is to go get better.”
The club’s most significant moves of this winter have each appeared to have a financial motivation. The club declined to make a qualifying offer to Teoscar Hernández. They flipped Eugenio Suárez to the Diamondbacks in a deal that saved them $13MM. They traded Jarred Kelenic, Evan White and Marco Gonzales to Atlanta in a deal that saved them about $25MM. Amid all that, they have seemingly shied away from the Shohei Ohtani bidding.
“I’m not going to ever talk about our budget,” Dipoto told Divish. That’s despite the fact that, just a few days ago, he told Adam Jude of The Seattle Times that the payroll will “very likely” rise relative to 2023. But even if an increase is in store, it’s not likely to be huge. Divish reports that the front office received a smaller budget than anticipated due to uncertainty around the broadcast situation. ROOT Sports NW, the club’s broadcaster, was moved by Xfinity to a higher cable package that costs an extra $20 per month. Due to concerns about decreased viewership, the club will only have a minimal increase compared to last year.
Roster Resource estimates that the club finished 2023 with a budget of $140MM, matching the figure that Divish used in his piece. RR currently has them at $117MM for 2024, perhaps giving them about $25MM to work with.
It seems the priority for that payroll space will be the outfield, a logical target given the losses of Hernández and Kelenic. “We would like to add, I would call it, ‘1½ corner outfielders’ with the half being of someone at least capable of platooning with the idea that Dominic Canzone could fill the other side of it, or Cade Marlowe or Taylor Trammell,” Dipoto said, per Divish. “And then, we would like to find someone who is just a presence, more of a middle-of-the-lineup type, and if that means a primary DH, if it means some part of a corner position and DH, that’s a possibility, but we’d like to add bats that can make our offense better.”
All three of those players named by Dipoto hit from the left side, which would point to a right-handed hitter, in addition to someone who can play every day. The outfield free agent market is headlined by Cody Bellinger, while other options include Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Jung Hoo Lee and others. However, getting any of those guys would require Dipoto to tread new ground. MLBTR’s Contract Tracker shows that the club hasn’t given any position player a multi-year deal since Dipoto was hired by the Mariners in 2015. AJ Pollock’s one-year, $7MM pact is the largest guarantee given out to a hitter under Dipoto’s watch.
Speaking of Pollock, he’s one of the righty-hitting outfielders available that could take on a platoon role, alongside guys like Whit Merrifield, Adam Duvall and Tommy Pham. Since the club is also open to a primary DH, they could consider someone like J.D. Martinez, Mitch Garver, Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Soler or Justin Turner.
The club could also consider a trade from their starting rotation, with Dipoto telling Jude that the club is fielding many calls about their young arms. But it doesn’t sound like that would be their preference. “We’re always likely to trade. That’s just what we do,” Dipoto said. “Our comfort level in moving any of those [top prospects] wouldn’t be very high. But if we target the right player with another team, and we’re able to access that player, we will consider just about anything.”
Dipoto recently said that the club is less likely to trade from its rotation after the Gonzales deal, but they still might have to consider it given their tight budget. They have a strong front three in Luis Castillo, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert, followed by three exciting youngsters in Bryan Woo, Bryce Miller and Emerson Hancock. There’s also the Robbie Ray factor, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in early May and could rejoin the club in the second half of the season. It’s possible to subtract one name from that mix and still view it as a strong rotation on paper, but injuries are inevitable and clubs are generally loath to give up pitching depth if they can avoid it.
The decisions will undoubtedly come down to myriad factors, from various trade discussions and negotiations with free agents. With the departures of Hernández, Kelenic and Suárez, as well as Mike Ford and Tom Murphy, the club has work to do in replacing that offensive production.