Mariners GM: Why ‘runway’ for growing players is key for Seattle

Feb 1, 2023, 4:21 PM | Updated: 4:40 pm

Mariners Jarred Kelenic...

Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic celebrates a two-run home run against Texas on Sept. 29, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners have a strong team on paper going into the 2023 season, though they do have some roles that aren’t set in stone. Chief among them is left field, where Seattle has a few options.

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There are two former top prospects in Jarred Kelenic and Taylor Trammell, both left-handed hitters who have yet to find their stride in the big leagues, and also recent veteran addition AJ Pollock, who is a logical platoon mate with a history of success against southpaw pitchers.

Now, in a perfect world, the Mariners would go into the year with a more proven, everyday player at the position – for instance, someone like Brandon Nimmo, who was a free agent that returned to the Mets on a big contract, or Bryan Reynolds, who has requested a trade out of Pittsburgh. But there is also a benefit to the way things are set up, as Mariners general manager Justin Hollander said Wednesday to Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy.

“We were talking about it earlier today, if you never provide a runway for your internal options to get better, to improve, you’ll never be sustainable, you’ll never be as good as you think you are,” Hollander said.

He then pointed to a breakout player for the Mariners last season, Cal Raleigh. The switch-hitting catcher struggled both as a rookie in 2021 and in April last season, and he ended up back in Triple-A for a short stint. When an injury opened the door for him to get regular playing time in May, however, he slowly started to get his bearings. By the end of the year, he had a .744 OPS and 27 home runs, the latter being a Mariners single-season record for catchers.

“This time last year,” said Hollander, “if I’d have told you that Cal Raleigh would turn into one of the best catchers in baseball, I think the general sentiment of the average observer would have said, ‘Oh, you need to sign more certainty, you need to bring in someone that will provide… a more certain outcome as the season goes on.’ We chose not to do that because we wanted to give Cal runway. It started off a little rocky, and then from the time he came back from the minor leagues, he turned into one of the best players in baseball, and that changes our fortune, that changes our franchise forever. We have to find the right balance between adding and also allowing for development of our own roster.”

The Mariners are hoping to strike that balance with Pollock joining an outfield mix that includes Julio Rodríguez and Teoscar Hernández in addition to Kelenic and Trammell.

“We balanced the uncertainty that JK and Trammel bring with the certainty that AJ brings while balancing their skill sets, as well,” Hollander said. “So, to use this sort of (human resources) term, how can we onboard JK and Tram into the big leagues, into a situation where the team is very competitive, where we have big goals – we want to win the division, we want to make the playoffs, we want to win the World Series this year – while also allowing for growth for them? And that probably means pairing them with somebody like AJ who’s got a ton of experience, who if forced into everyday duty because you have injuries or something else happens, that things don’t click, he’s perfectly capable of doing that. And in a role, he’s a huge advantage for us, both as a corner outfield accent to what JK and Trammell bring, and also as a backup center fielder, someone with a lot of playoff experience, a plus in the make-up section in the clubhouse.”

You can hear the full Bump and Stacy conversation with Hollander in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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