JOE FANN

Fann: What full-strength Mariners roster could look like for playoff push

Aug 4, 2022, 11:45 AM | Updated: 12:32 pm
Mariners Julio Rodríguez Ty France...
Julio Rodríguez celebrates a home run with Ty France during a May 23 Mariners game against Oakland. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It’s amazing how quickly vibes can change during a baseball season, both for the better and worse. Last Saturday felt like the bottom was about to fall out of the Mariners season.

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Julio Rodríguez got hit on the wrist, and the immediate fear was a broken bone that would keep the rookie phenom out for months. On top of that, Seattle appeared poised to lose a sixth straight game to the Astros since the All-Star break. The Mariners ended up winning that game thanks to Abraham Toro’s ninth inning heroics, and luckily Rodríguez might be ready to return immediately from the 10-day injured list next week.

Despite losing to Houston on Sunday, Seattle stole a 2-1 series win against the Yankees to salvage a 3-4 road trip. It was the kind of good-not-great seven-game run the Mariners needed in order to keep the status quo in the American League wild card race. They’re 57-49 and in possession of the No. 2 wild card spot, two games clear of the fourth-place Guardians.

With 56 games to play and the league’s easiest remaining schedule, there’s zero excuse for Seattle to miss the postseason at this point. The roster is finally starting to get healthy (knock on wood) and with the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, it’s a good time to survey the Mariners’ optimal lineup and pitching staff down the stretch.

Lineup

The Mariners will have some tough decisions to make with Mitch Haniger and Rodríguez coming back from injury and Jake Lamb joining the club as a trade deadline acquisition. That’s three roster spots, not counting catcher Curt Casali, who will assuredly take Luis Torrens’ place after coming over from the Giants in another trade on Tuesday. Casali is currently on the IL but nearing a return.

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MLB’s 26-man rosters now limit teams to no more than 13 pitchers, so we can expect an even split of 13 position players and 13 pitchers. The two most likely of the three bats that will be sent down to Triple-A or designated for assignment would be Toro and new outfielder Travis Jankowski, a waiver claim from the Mets this week. That leaves one more, and potentially two depending on what the Mariners want to do with Dylan Moore upon his return from the IL.

The odd man out would most likely be between Sam Haggerty and Jarred Kelenic. Given that Haggerty has posted a .303 average with three home runs, 19 runs scored, nine RBIs, five steals and a 0.8 fWAR in 38 games, it’s hard to justify removing him from the roster. That’s especially true when you consider he’s the fastest player on the team with the defensive versatility to play in the infield and outfield.

That would leave the Mariners with two catchers (Cal Raleigh and Casali), five infielders (J.P. Crawford, Eugenio Suárez, Adam Frazier, Carlos Santana and Ty France), four outfielders (Haniger, Rodríguez, Jesse Winker and Kyle Lewis) and two utilitymen (Haggerty and Lamb).

While we’re at it, we may as well take stab at what Seattle’s A-1 lineup would look like.

1. Julio Rodríguez, CF
2. Ty France, 1B
3. Mitch Haniger, RF
4. Eugenio Suàrez, 3B
5. Jesse Winker, LF
6. Cal Raleigh, C
7. Adam Frazier, 2B
8. Kyle Lewis, DH
9. J.P Crawford, SS

We could debate the order or who should be at DH, but that rundown still provides a strong visual for who the Mariners are hoping will carry them to the playoffs. There’s also quality depth behind those nine names that should allow for everyone, especially Lewis and Haniger, to get regular days off if need be.

Pitching staff

Seattle’s bullpen is about to get crowded with the impending returns of Diego Castillo and Ken Giles from injury. Nobody deserves to get sent down as the entire group has largely been lights out for the Mariners. Ryan Borucki is out of options, meaning he’d have to be DFA’d. That would be an unlikely move given he’s been a revelation this season (2.65 ERA in 18 games for the Mariners). Erik Swanson is also unlikely to be optioned as he’s been a breakout arm this year (1.14 ERA in 33 games).

That leaves Matt Festa, Matt Brash and Penn Murfee as the odd men out. Of course, as baseball goes, the likelihood of everyone staying healthy is slim. But this exercise still illustrates how deep Seattle’s bullpen can be. These sorts of decisions are champagne problems for a general manager, but they’re brutally tough choices nonetheless.

As for the rotation, Seattle currently has six starters in Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert, Chris Flexen, Marco Gonzales and George Kirby. Put simply, you don’t pay a king’s ransom for Castillo to not have him pitch every fifth day.

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My solution? Take Gonzales out of the rotation and combine him with Kirby in a piggyback situation. That decision certainly wouldn’t please the veteran lefty, but the reality is that he’s been less reliable than Flexen. Gonzales has been a minus-0.2 fWAR pitcher this season with Flexen at 0.7. Getting seven-plus innings out of Kirby and Gonzales every fifth day would be a huge benefit to the bullpen.

September call-ups

Again, assuming Seattle keeps the roster at a 50-50 split between bats and arms, Kelenic and one of the aforementioned relief pitchers would rejoin the roster when it expends to 28 players on Sept. 1.

Deadline acquisition Matthew Boyd is a wildcard as a long reliever. The veteran lefty is yet to pitch in 2022 due to injury but reports say he should be ready for a rehab assignment this month.

The Mariners’ outlook

While not being a World Series favorite (though their odds have dipped over the last few weeks), it’s fair to say that the Mariners should be a difficult out in the postseason if they get in.

The lineup isn’t as top-heavy as others around the league, but there’s enough depth to make a pitcher have to work from 1-9 in the order. The rotation has enough front-line starters to get games to a bullpen that is one of the best in all of baseball.

I know many of you will read this and say, “Welp, you just jinxed it!” And that’s fine. But it’s OK to have expectations. The table is set for the Mariners to end their notorious playoff drought and anything less than that would be a massive disappointment.

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Date Starting Pitcher
Friday, August 12 @ 5:05 pm Mariners' George Kirby vs. Rangers' Josh Sborz

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