MIKE SALK

Salk: Mariners’ first 2 moves exciting step toward offseason they need

Dec 1, 2021, 8:44 PM
Mariners Crawford Haniger...
Mitch Haniger and J.P. Crawford react after Haniger's home run against Arizona on Sept. 11. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners have put themselves in position to have a great offseason. Two moves in, they have acquired a pair of players that should be very productive.

Talking Mariners Podcast: Reactions to moves, what may be next

Robbie Ray is obviously a star after his dominant 2021 season, and Adam Frazier is a very useful player who can hit, get on base, and play multiple positions. Those are the kids of players that help winning teams.

As we enter the dark, soulless void known as the MLB lockout, I can’t say this offseason is a success. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be yet.

The Mariners subtracted two players that helped them in 2021 when they declined options on Kyle Seager and Yusei Kikuchi. In order to be a better team in 2022, they need to not only replace their production but improve upon it.

In reigning American League Cy Young winner Ray, they have clearly upgraded the rotation. The man is the all-time leader in strikeouts per nine innings at 11.2. That means it is higher than anyone in the game today and even the all-time greats like Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan and Pedro Martinez. True, the game is different these days with hitters more willing to go down via the K, but that is a heck of a stat to have on your résumé. And whereas Kikuchi had great stuff but struggled to consistently compete, especially when he didn’t have his best, Ray is known for his tremendous leadership and competitiveness.

Oddly, that dogged streak can be seen in one of his more lighthearted calling cards: his tight pants.

Yes, Ray is known for wearing tight pants. Really tight pants. Pants that look like they belong under another article of clothing rather than as the primary layer between us and him. So why does he wear them?

“I talked about getting into the gym and putting on the weight and getting stronger and getting bigger. And my pant size didn’t change, so I just kept the same pant size and during spring training last year, guys were just giving me a hard time about it,” he told me Wednesday morning during an interview on 710 ESPN Seattle. “And I said, ‘You know what? I’m just gonna do it because you guys hate it.’ And then it became my thing going into the season. It kind of became a part of me and a part of my game and, you know, it ended up working out.”

Further reading: Robbie Ray explains his tight pants, why he joined M’s

Two things should stand out. First, the amount of good weight he put on by getting serious about his body was enough to cause his pants to be that small. That’s some serious dedication, and he believes it’s the reason his numbers improved last year. But also, he decided to keep wearing the pants just to stick it to the guys who were giving him a hard time. That’s the kind of guy I want taking the ball in a big spot.

Compare that to Kikuchi, whose struggles resulted in him being skipped over in his final turn of the rotation last season, and I think it’s clear that this was a positive step for the team.

As for Frazier, he’s a nice player. His career batting average of .281 would have been second on the team last year behind Ty France, and his career .344 on-base percentage would have ranked third (behind France and Jake Fraley). For a team that needs offense in the worst way, Frazier provides it. Combine that with his positional flexibility and you have a player they can use nearly every day while not blocking the development of young hitters like Abraham Toro, Jarred Kelenic, and (eventually) Julio Rodríguez. He is a significant upgrade over Shed Long Jr., Dylan Moore and others who patrolled second base and left field last year.

So I like these two deals. In fact, I can’t come up with anything not to like about them. Every Mariners fan should be excited.

But to be a success, the Mariners need to not only replace their lost production, they need to exceed it. And while Ray is an upgrade over Kikuchi, I don’t think Frazier replaces the 100 runs that Seager drove in last year. He just isn’t that kind of hitter. To show progress and to build on their surprise 90-win season, the team still needs a power bat, preferably at third base. That could come via free agency where Trevor Story may be their last best hope, or from the trade market where Matt Chapman could be available or even a huge star like José Ramírez.

Related: The very intriguing possibility of an M’s-Trevor Story pairing

The best part about that last paragraph is that is not only obvious to you and me, it is obvious to Jerry Dipoto and his staff. And it is obvious to John Stanton and the ownership group. They know they still have work to do.

The offseason is off to a great start. And while it is about to take a horribly long pause, it has a chance to be the kind of offseason they need.

Drayer: Where Mariners’ offseason stands after adding ace Robbie Ray

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Salk: Mariners’ first 2 moves exciting step toward offseason they need