STACY ROST

Who’s most important on the Mariners besides Julio Rodríguez?

Feb 28, 2023, 9:11 AM | Updated: 9:15 am

Mariners JP Crawford...

J.P. Crawford of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo home run against the Houston Astros on October 11, 2022. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

(Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Quick, without answering “Julio Rodríguez,” who’s the most important Mariners player in 2023?

Mariners Notebook: Julio Rodríguez fine, undeterred after wall crash

If more than one name popped into your head, you’re not alone. Rodríguez is an obvious first answer for every fan. Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge and Mike Trout are early favorites for American League MVP, but Seattle’s young superstar isn’t far behind them. He’s coming off a Rookie of the Year season and is primed for another step forward in 2023.

He may be the best weapon in Seattle’s arsenal, but he isn’t the only one. That’s why my co-host Michael Bumpus and I challenged ourselves to think of the other central pieces for the Mariners this year. We had a tough time whittling it down – there are so many great cases to be made! – but eventually settled on these two:

Bump: J.P. Crawford

Bumpus settled on shortstop J.P. Crawford not because he’s the best bat on the team, but because his presence has impacted offseason decision-making and he’d like to see it pay off with a better on-base percentage.

In addition, Crawford plays an important leadership role in Seattle, a quality Bumpus also highlighted when talking about the most important and impactful Mariners players.

Is Crawford going to lead the team in home runs? No, but he’s a Gold Glove shortstop who will play more games than almost everyone else on this team. His fielding in 2023, particularly with rule changes for the shift, is a must for a front office that values defense as much as the Mariners do.

“This was a hard question because I can name four or five guys right now and say, ‘if they don’t do what they did last year or improve on it, then this team has really no chance of doing it,” Bumpus said.

“And what makes that interesting is that they had a chance to go get some guys in free agency to solidify and say, ‘OK, we have stars, this team should be good to go.’ And you didn’t do that, you went a different route. You got Kolton Wong, who looks good so far, you got A.J. Pollack, you got Teoscar Hernández. I’m glad they’re on the team. But I look at one guy and go you know what? The Mariners made a lot of offseason decisions (over the last two years) because of you at that position, and that’s J.P. Crawford. They passed on Trea Turner, they passed on a bunch of these guys, because they’re committed to him and believe he’s going to come back stronger, going to be healthy, the glove is going to be OK, and he’s going to be able to get on base. Worst case, get on base. You know J.P.’s not going to hit 20 homers… just be on base and be good defensively, and continue to be the leader.”

Stacy: Luis Castillo

You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t love dingers, but you’ll go nowhere fast in the postseason without excellent pitching, and the Mariners have that in spades.

It seems strange to point to a pitcher with all of the depth Seattle there has and say, “this arm right here becomes the most important Mariner outside of Julio.” That’s particularly true with Teoscar Hernández being as a great candidate as he is for this title in the outfield (imagine the lack of depth there if he’s gone!). But that’s how great Luis Castillo is. And for all the talent that Robbie Ray, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert bring, Castillo’s talent as Seattle’s true ace is second-to-none.

“Why I love this conversation is that it not only allows us to explore some of the most important pieces of this roster, but it also allows us to figure out where this team is strong, where they can afford to lose, and what matters most when you make a postseason run. That last point is why I look at someone like Castillo,” Rost said.

“Now, losing Castillo wouldn’t feel immediately as costly as losing a big hitter since you have so much pitching depth. But when you look at what makes for a great postseason run and an elite postseason team, and what an elite World Series team is going to have, it’s great pitching. Without fail, you’ve got to have great pitching. The Mariners have it, but it doesn’t mean I’m not eyeing those guys as some of the most important pieces of this team outside of Julio. Can you afford to lose Dylan Moore? I hope it doesn’t happen. Can you afford to lose Ty France? I hope it doesn’t happen. But can you really afford to lose a couple starters? No.”

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Who’s most important on the Mariners besides Julio Rodríguez?