SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer’s Notebook: Mariners detail injuries, free agency and roster plans

Oct 19, 2022, 9:20 PM
Mariners Scott Servais Jerry Dipoto...
Mariners manager Scott Servais and president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto talk on Sept. 29, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Throughout the 2022 season, Mariners manager Scott Servais noted that his team was more banged up than it perhaps appeared. Just because a player was in the lineup did not mean he was completely healthy or near to it.

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In recent years, the team has disclosed fewer and fewer of these “play-through” injuries. As such, the question “Who is headed for surgery or rehab?” after the season has become increasingly necessary, with surprises decreasingly surprising.

On Wednesday at the Mariners’ end-of-season news conference, more was learned about the physical state of the team at the end of the season, as president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto announced outfielder Jesse Winker underwent left knee surgery in New York while the team was competing in the Wild Card and Division Series rounds.

“The injuries he was dealing with at the end were very real,” Dipoto said, noting that Winker would also likely undergo a procedure to remedy an issue with his neck that landed him on the injured list on the last day of the regular season. “Obviously enough so that he was not traveling with us during the postseason, rather he was spending seven days of his time in New York getting that resolved.”

Watch the Mariners end-of-season news conference

Dipoto said Winker’s knee created “periodic issues” throughout the year, worsening in the final months. The belief is this contributed to Winker putting up by far his worst year at the plate in the majors, batting just .219/.344/.344 for a .688 OPS, his lowest by over 140 points. With his manager echoing similar thoughts, Dipoto said there are many reasons to believe Winker should bounce back when healthy.

“This guy was an awesome offensive player,” he said. “Obviously he did not have the offensive year that he expected or we expected, but that’s going to return. He’s 28 years old. There’s no reason he stops being the player he has always been. He’s battled through some injuries. It’s unfortunate this happened his first year in Seattle and that has left people with questions to what his real skill set is, because Jesse is a good player. It’s illogical to believe that this would be a stopping point for his career.”

In addition to the Winker knee injury, Dipoto revealed that center fielder Julio Rodríguez broke a bone in the tip of his left pinkie sliding into second base last Saturday in the final game of the ALDS against Houston. The injury will not require surgery and is expected to heal in a month.

Perhaps a bit more concerning was news that reliever Andrés Muñoz will likely undergo a surgery to deal with an issue in his foot that bothered him off and on throughout the season. While the specific injury and surgery were not revealed, Dipoto said that his recovery time would be longer but that they did not expect it to affect Muñoz’s 2023 season.

Dipoto noted that others who finished the season on the IL, including relievers Ryan Borucki and Casey Sadler, will continue their rest (Borucki) and rehab programs (Sadler) into the fall. He was also encouraged by what he saw from catcher Tom Murphy, who missed most of the season with a shoulder injury but was with the club during the postseason run.

“Murphy was a big loss for us and not just because what he does on the field,” Dipoto said. “He does a lot of really good things in our clubhouse. It was good to have him at the end. A fully healthy Murphy gives us a more dynamic team behind the plate than I feel we have right now.”

Finally, the team is still waiting for catcher Cal Raleigh to see a hand specialist about the torn UCL in his left thumb. It turns out Raleigh has been a little busy closer to Seattle the last few days.

More notes from the news conference:

• This was the first news conference with Justin Hollander on the stage as Mariners general manager. He did not get into specifics about what the Mariners’ needs are heading into the offseason, offering this instead: “I think we need to get better. We had an awesome year. Really excited about the progress we made. We also finished 16 games behind the Astros (for the American League West title). The goal is not to get to the playoffs, the goal is to win the World Series, and we want to get better and that means better everywhere.”

• With second baseman Adam Frazier a free agent, the Mariners will have an opening in the middle infield. A year ago that spot was confined to second base, with Dipoto saying he would not move J.P. Crawford off shortstop. This year, the door may be open a crack.

“Our great preference would be we could land a shortstop that would like to go play second base, but we are not going to close the door to anything in that regard,” he said. “J.P. is our shortstop, he’s an emotional leader for us. We feel he does a very good job in anything we ask him to do. He was banged up at the end of the season as well, dealing with a knee issue of his own. He has a way of elevating the emotion of our team in a way that very few in our clubhouse have the ability to do. He will line up for us opening day at shortstop and our goal is to put someone around him. If we do find someone who plays shortstop, that person could very likely move to second base. That’s a discussion for then and not now. J.P. is our shortstop, we signed him to play shortstop and that’s what we intend to have him do.”

• As for outfielder Mitch Haniger, who is a free agent and expressed interest in returning, Hollander said the the lines of communication would be kept open.

“I think everyone would like to see us find a way to find common ground with Mitch,” he said, noting that over the past couple of years he has corresponded with Haniger’s agent more than any other. “I know Mitch, as much as he wants to be here, also wants to gauge what else is out there so we will keep talking. We do love what he brings to the table. I think everyone in our group would identify Mitch as the guy who prepares himself for the moment as much as anybody, and that is a positive cultural thing that really has value and we will weigh that as we get into the offseason.”

• First baseman/designated hitter Carlos Santana was also valued by all for what he brought on and off the field to the Mariners, but his fit with the team going forward is not easy.

“Awesome leader, wonderful guy,” said Dipoto.”It would have to be the right mix for us and the players on our roster because there are only so many ways you can rotate. With a rotating DH, the various players we have already talked about, Jesse Winker, Kyle Lewis, there are a number of guys that ultimately will be factors in working through that space. I wouldn’t commit to anything but we would love to find a way to bring Carlos back. But in order to bring Carlos back, somebody else would not be here.”

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• Ah, yes. Kyle Lewis sighting in the quote above. Dipoto noted that Lewis finished the season healthy as a member of the Mariners’ taxi squad in Arizona and expects to see him in Peoria in the spring.

“It’s been a tough road for Kyle,” he said. “He is a very talented player that can change the course of what your lineup looks like if he shows up ready to go.”

There apparently is still some unknown surrounding Lewis and his knee. How much can he be expected to play in the field, or will he be limited to DH?

“We feel like he’s coming into next season presumably healthy and we will take it from there,” Dipoto said.

• The outlook is a little more concrete for first baseman Evan White, who should finish rehabbing a core issue mid-November. White won a Gold Glove in 2020 but hasn’t appeared in the majors since May 2021.

“When Evan was on the field in the second half of this year (with Triple-A Tacoma), he was spectacular,” Dipoto enthused. “We saw all of the skills you could possibly want to see. Evan is truly a five-tool player, we just need him to get healthy.”

• It appears Matt Brash will report to spring training as a reliever.

“I know in the long term he would prefer to be a starter, but I once had that conversation with Edwin Díaz and I think it worked out OK for him, too,” said Dipoto.

The door is not permanently closed for Brash to become a starter with the Mariners, but heading into 2023 with six starters already signed, there currently is not a spot for him in the rotation. Dipoto said Brash could be considered if there is an injury but also listed minor leaguers Bryce Miller, Emerson Hancock, Taylor Dollard and Bryan Woo as potential candidates for the rotation should the need arise.

As a reliever in 2022, Brash had a 2.35 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 43 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings.

More on the Mariners from Seattle Sports

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