Stecker: Mariners have had MLB’s most meaningful offseason so far
With the Mariners and the rest of baseball sitting dormant for all of December, there isn’t much to do other than analyze – and over-analyze – what transpired in the short time between when the offseason started and when the lockout brought it all to a halt.
So with all this time to think and re-think about the Mariners’ two big moves thus far and the flurry of MLB free-agency activity that preceded the lockout, something has become clear to me.
The Mariners have had the most meaningful offseason of any team in the big leagues to this point.
Now, I’m not saying the Mariners have had the biggest offseason in MLB, because they haven’t. You can’t say that when the New York Mets have signed Max Scherzer, Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte and Mark Canha. In fact, you can’t even say that the Mariners have had the biggest offseason in their own division considering the Texas Rangers reeled in sluggers Marcus Semien and Corey Seager plus starting pitcher Jon Gray.
So what am I getting at?
I’m calling the Mariners’ offseason the most meaningful in baseball to this point because when you compare how close to the playoffs they were in 2021, who they have added and who they have lost in free agency, they’ve improved enough to make them baseball’s most likely team to get over the hump next year.
The Mariners are coming off an eye-opening 90-72 record, falling just short of the postseason in the final weekend of the season. They were oh-so close, and while the American League West Division does look like it will have more parity next year, I don’t think it’s shaping up in a way that will slow their rise – even when it comes to the spending spree by Texas, which will make the Rangers better than their 60-102 record but is geared more towards a few years in the future considering their poor depth, especially in the pitching department.
In free agency, the Mariners have only lost James Paxton, who threw all of 24 pitches for Seattle in 2021 before suffering a season-ending UCL tear. They’re also expected to lose Kyle Seager and Yusei Kikuchi, each a one-time All-Star and currently a free agent. Their only other free agents of note are starter Tyler Anderson and veteran relievers Joe Smith and Sean Doolittle. Now contrast that with the Mets, who have added a lot but also lost a lot, including Javier Báez (Tigers), Noah Syndergaard (Angels), Marcus Stroman (Cubs) and Aaron Loup (Angels).
While New York in multiple cases filled holes left by departures, the Mariners have been able to focus more on raising their floor. The signing of reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray gives Seattle an ace for its pitching staff and a clear step up from Kikuchi (Ray had a 3.9 WAR in 2021 per Fangraphs, while Kikuchi had 1.1), who had his moments but struggled with consistency in his three years with the Mariners. The trade for Adam Frazier, a 2021 National League All-Star, cost Seattle just two prospects who weren’t expected to contribute to the big league club in 2022.
That’s not to say the Mariners are close to done filling the needs they entered the offseason with.
The loss of Seager will leave a 35-homer-shaped hole in their lineup that the contact-hitting Frazier doesn’t fit into. Frazier will give Seattle’s offense something it definitely needs, which is on-base ability near the top of the batting order, plus an upgrade in WAR (Frazier was worth 3.5 in 2021 while Seager finished at 2.5). But thump is obviously missing and something the M’s appear to be determined on finding before the ’22 season, whether that comes in the form of Kris Bryant, Trevor Story, Matt Chapman or others (possibly even a combination).
I’m confident the Mariners will find the power they need, but this isn’t about predicting the future. It’s about where things stand now, and what I see is a 90-win Mariners team that has made itself better and an AL West that is shaping up to provide them with a huge opportunity in ’22.
Houston re-signed Justin Verlander and added Hector Neris to its bullpen but lost three key relievers, most notably former Mariners closer Kendall Graveman (White Sox), and could still lose superstar shortstop Carlos Correa and former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. Oakland is tearing down, and the M’s may benefit in multiple ways – first by the A’s becoming a minor threat at best in the division, and second by possibly dealing to get some of the key pieces Oakland still has on its roster. And while Texas’ big moves are making headlines, the Rangers are still unlikely to have a winning record in 2022.
There’s a catch, though.
If any team could give the Mariners a run for the most meaningful offseason title, it’s the Angels. They were 77-86 last season and so far have re-signed standout closer Raisel Iglesias and added the aforementioned Syndergaard and Loup from the Mets to their rotation and bullpen, respectively, as well starter Michael Lorenzen from the Reds. As far as what they’ve lost, it’s just veteran pitchers Alex Cobb (Giants) and Dylan Bundy (Twins). Their pitching staff, which has long been a weak spot, has clearly been improved. Oh, and I suppose it’s worth mentioning that they played the majority of 2021 without Mike Trout, so his return from a torn calf muscle will probably have an impact of some sort (the Mariners could have a mini version of this themselves with Kyle Lewis, by the way).
That being said, what the Angels have done is not enough to sway my opinion that what the Mariners did in November was of more significance. A 90-win team making itself better with the additions of the current AL Cy Young and an All-Star infielder gets the nod over a 77-win team adding a potential ace coming off Tommy John surgery (Syndergaard) and some solidifying pitching pieces.
While it’s nice to say that now, what really matters is how the Mariners finish off this offseason when the lockout eventually ends. Another splash or two ought to do the trick.