It’s been an active two weeks for the Mariners, who’ve recently signed Mitch Garver to a two-year deal and shipped out Robbie Ray and Jose Caballero in trades that brought Mitch Haniger, Anthony DeSclafani and Luke Raley back to Seattle. President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said this weekend that while his team feels more complete now than at any point this offseason, he’s still open to subsequent additions (link via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times).
More specifically, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Mariners are still hoping to acquire an infielder to make the club less reliant on the uncertain tandem of Luis Urias and Josh Rojas, who are currently projected to start at third base and second base, respectively. Seattle would also like to add a reliever, per Rosenthal, which Dipoto alluded to in his comments to Divish and others.
An infield upgrade is a sensible target for the M’s, given the volatility presented by both Urias and Rojas (and to a lesser extent, first baseman Ty France, who’s coming off a down season). From 2021-22, both Urias (.244/.340/.426, 111 wRC+) and Rojas (.266/.345/.401, 106 wRC+) were above-average performers at the plate, due in no small part to walk rates approaching 11%.
Rojas saw his walk rate drop to 7.7% in 2023, however, as he batted just .240/.303/.338 in 350 plate appearances. Urias maintained his walk rate but watched his hard-hit rate and exit velocity plummet en route to a middling .194/.337/.299 slash in 155 trips to the plate. Both players saw their strikeout rates tick up to near identical marks of 23.2% and 23.1% — slightly higher than league average but also well south of the 30%-plus rates of some names they shipped out in trades.
Both Rojas and Urias come with platoon issues of note, as well. The lefty-swinging Rojas has extremely similar rate stats against lefties and righties, with identical 93 wRC+ marks against each, but his production against lefties is contingent on a .361 average on balls in play that’s not likely to hold up. Rojas has punched out at an ugly 28.3% clip against southpaws compared to a 21% mark against righties and hit for more power when holding the platoon advantage as well (.098 ISO versus lefties, .122 versus righties). It’s the opposite for the right-handed Urias, who’s smacked southpaws at a .276/.353/.442 pace in his career but carries a .219/.326/.365 slash against right-handers.
Rojas and Urias are both capable of playing either second or third base, so there’s a potential platoon setup between the two. Alternatively, if the M’s succeed in adding a second or third baseman and prefer to go with one true starter at the other slot, both Rojas and Urias could profile as a potential utility option off the bench.
Because of the defensive flexibility the current group possesses, the Mariners could look for options at either second base or third base. Dipoto typically operates more on the trade market than on the free-agent market, though both provide myriad avenues to fill the team’s needs. Whit Merrifield stands as the top free agent at second base. The Mariners aren’t going to meet Matt Chapman’s asking price at third base, but Gio Urshela and Justin Turner would represent much more affordable alternatives. Any of that trio would meet the Mariners’ previously stated goal of improving the club’s contact rate (which hasn’t exactly been strictly adhered to, when looking at the acquisition of Raley in particular).
On the trade market, Minnesota’s Jorge Polanco is a natural target who could step in at second base (speculatively speaking, to be clear). The Twins are deep in controllable young infielders and looking to slightly scale back payroll due to the RSN collapse that’s impacting budgets around the league (including the Mariners). The switch-hitting Polanco is earning $10.5MM this season and has a $12MM option for the ’25 campaign. The Reds, Orioles, Cardinals and Guardians are also deep in infield talent and could be intrigued by Seattle’s stock of young arms. That said, Dipoto cast significant doubt on his willingness to move a controllable starting pitcher with his weekend comments.
“We did a lot of groundwork on what it might look like if we did trade one of those young starters, and we never liked the way it looked,” Dipoto said (via Divish). He called retaining his stock of young arms (e.g. Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, Emerson Hancock) “Plan A” this offseason.
Within that same media session, Dipoto maintained an openness to further additions to the roster, speculatively rattling off the possibility of making “a fun addition in the bullpen” or more generally “an upgrade somewhere on the field that we don’t really have.” The Mariners have an imposing late-inning trio of Andres Munoz, Matt Brash and Justin Topa, but they’re relatively light on lefty options — with 28-year-old Gabe Speier and 30-year-old Tayler Saucedo as the only options on the 40-man roster. Both were solid in 2023, but neither had found any real MLB success prior to last season.
Dipoto has said previously that the Mariners’ 2024 payroll could increase over its 2023 levels, although a substantial increase hasn’t looked likely all winter. Ownership has rather clearly placed some fiscal constraints on Dipoto, GM Justin Hollander and the rest of the front office, as they’re among the many teams in the game facing financial uncertainty due to their own RSN situation.
Roster Resource currently projects a payroll of around $132MM for the Mariners, which sits about $8MM shy of last year’s end-of-season mark. Divish writes within his column that the Mariners want to leave some wiggle room for in-season additions, but there’s of course still some room beneath last year’s budget and the possibility that additional trades could further alter the current payroll outlook.