MIKE SALK

Salk: The Mariners who should improve, maintain or regress in 2022

Jan 27, 2022, 1:10 AM
Mariners Jarred Kelenic...
Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic makes his way to the dugout during a game on May 13, 2021. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

With some positive momentum this week towards a labor deal in Major League Baseball, it’s starting to feel safe to think about what the Mariners team will look like come April.

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When the doors reopen, we’ll get a short sprint of an offseason that should feature a flurry of trades and free agent signings. But for now, we have a pretty good sense of the nucleus of Seattle’s roster, and we know the job ahead of them: win more than they did last year and get into the (darn) playoffs!

To do that, they need to improve on last year. Some of that may come from the outside as they add new pieces, but some must come from within. And while rookies can play a role, the best bet is for some of their young players to exceed last year’s stats. That is likely to happen, but it comes with a caveat.

Baseball may be measured by a long regression to the mean, but it is played in spurts of overachievement and underachievement. Trying to guess which players will have which spurt and at which time is part of the challenge of building a team. So while some players will improve, others will likely regress from last year.

Here is a look at my 10 candidates to improve, maintain and regress in 2022.

Chris Flexen, SP: Regress (very slight)

Flexen had one terrible month (May) and one unbelievable month (August), but other than that was consistent. He will be 27 this year so he is likely just entering his prime.

After a year in which he threw 119 innings in Korea, his 180 innings pitched is a bit of a concern in terms of his ability to maintain his health. He threw a lot of strikes last year and was able to minimize the damage against them. That will have to continue in 2022.

JP Crawford, SS: Maintain

While it felt like a breakout year, there was no one stat that grew dramatically and would be unsustainable. In fact, everything rose just a little. A little slugging, a little OBP. And that slugging came while hitting only nine home runs, a number I believe he can repeat if not improve upon. It’s the clutch hits that could come back to earth. But this is who he was supposed to be as a top prospect, only without the glove.

Marco Gonzales, SP: Maintain

Marco had his best season in 2020, and when you look at his career, that was the outlier. Last year was more in line with his history and thus his future. At 30 years old, he is likely exiting his prime, but as a softer-throwing lefty he should have plenty of good years ahead.

Ty France, IF: Maintain

This is the hardest one on the list for me. Your answer essentially dictates what you think of France. He is turning 27 and is coming off a good year, but honestly not one as good as his 2020. He led the team with an .813 OPS but only 18 home runs. I think he has more power but he has to start showing it. He has been working on pulling more mistake pitches, but I’d sure like to see that develop before I bank on improvement. I can’t realistically expect him to decline, though, because I think he’s a professional hitter and those guys tend to maintain their consistency. One thing we know will drop is his 27 hit-by pitches! And while I expect the power to go up, that could come at the expense of his batting average and on-base. One thing to note – because he hits so many balls on the ground, that could end up being a BABIP issue.

Jarred Kelenic, OF: Improve

This is the guy you need to improve. His last 29 games (thanks to Brandon Gustafson of 710Sports.com): .248/.331/.524, 7 homers, 20 RBIs, 14 extra base hits, three stolen bases. Now look at those last four numbers if you applied them to a 162-game season: 39 homers, 112 RBIs, 79 XBH, 17 SBs. Those are totally reasonable, right? OK, maybe not quite that, but close. The point is, Kelenic seemed to figure out the major league level after his initial struggles and now has the whole offseason to make some of the necessary adjustments. He is a prime candidate to take a step forward and realize the potential that has always been ascribed to him.

Diego Castillo, RP: Improve

My biggest candidate to improve. He wasn’t himself after coming here from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline last year, and relievers are fickle. Heck, just look at his career numbers year by year. His walk rate fluctuates, as does his strikeout rate. But when he got to Seattle, he started walking more and striking out fewer batters. Hopefully there is some natural progression back to what he was before the trade.

Logan Gilbert, SP: Regress.*

*Mostly a guess

You have to have regressions if you’re making a list like this, and unfortunately this is mine. Gilbert was great down the stretch, but unlike Kelenic, he is a pitcher so I don’t have quite the same level of confidence. Lousy in June, OK in July, lousy in August, GREAT in September. Threw 119 innings after none the previous year. Only 25. I like his future but I think he takes his step after this year. Also, I hope I’m dead wrong.

Cal Raleigh, C: Improve

He had a minus-.5 WAR in 2021, so if he doesn’t improve he should be back in AAA. Catchers take a while. Switch-hitting catchers take even longer. Hopefully he makes good work of the offseason and we see more of the power he flashed in the minors. Gotta mix patience with results.

Mitch Haniger, RF: Maintain

As long as he’s healthy, I don’t see any reason he can’t duplicate what he did last year. But that’s a big if. History tells me he likely won’t be. I also think the Mariners are going to need another bat in the lineup to protect him.

Luis Torrens, C/IF: Improve

His OPS went from .519 when he was sent down to Triple-A in May to .730 at the end of the year. That is no mean feat. I don’t think he is much more than a backup DH/catcher but he had some big moments last year, and there may be more where that came from.

Those are a few guys, but overall the two biggest regression risks are the bullpen and Seattle’s record in one-run games. Those two things may also be related.

Relievers are notoriously fickle and the Mariners had so many guys with career years in 2021 that it’s hard not to expect them to fall back. Drew Steckenrider, Paul Sewald and Casey Sadler were nails last season, but it’s unreasonable to assume all three can repeat their success. That’s why the addition of Castillo, the arrival of Andrés Muñoz and the debut of Ken Giles are important factors in trying to offset that risk.

As for the one-run games, that is inevitable. Yes, much of the Mariners’ success was due to the way manager Scott Servais handled those situations, but it’s likely more of those moments will turn against them next year. Thankfully, there is an “easy” solution: play fewer close games by acquiring more good players!

The offseason isn’t over yet, and some key additions will make that possible.

Jake and Stacy: The important message Mitch Haniger sent about the ’22 M’s

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Salk: The Mariners who should improve, maintain or regress in 2022