JOE FANN

Fann: Mariners won’t get benefit of doubt for offseason as offense scuffles

Apr 4, 2023, 11:01 AM

Mariners Scott Servais Julio Rodríguez...

Mariners manager Scott Servais reacts after a Julio Rodríguez strikeout against Cleveland on March 31. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Nuance is required when evaluating a five-game sample size. Let’s get the caveat out of the way now that yes, it’s early and 97% of the 162-game season remains. The Mariners should be OK in the long run while remaining a season-long factor in the American League Wild Card race. It’s also still conceivable that Seattle contends for the AL West title.

Monday: Mariners’ early struggles continue as Ohtani, Angels win opener 7-3

But (you knew the “but” was coming), it’s been bad. The Mariners are 1-4 entering Game 2 of their series against the Angels on Tuesday night despite playing each game at home, and two of those losses have been blowouts, including Monday’s 7-3 thumping at the hands of Los Angeles. Seattle’s run differential is already minus-9 while every element of the roster has underwhelmed out of the gate.

The pitching staff ranks 21st in xFIP (4.90) while the lineup ranks 25th in BABIP (.242), 27th in average with runners in scoring position (.182) and 27th in wRC+ (55). The Mariners have been sloppy defensively as well having already committed four errors.

Only Luis Castillo and Logan Gilbert impressed the first time through the rotation, and Robbie Ray is already on the injured list. Seattle’s offensive core has mostly produced thus far, but the Mariners have gotten essentially nothing from anyone not named Julio Rodríguez, Ty France, Eugenio Suárez or Cal Raleigh.

Kolten Wong (1 for 13), J.P. Crawford (3 for 14), Jarred Kelenic (2 for 13), Teoscar Hernández (1-17), Tommy La Stella (1 for 8), AJ Pollock (0 for 6), Cooper Hummel (0 for 6), Tom Murphy (0 for 6) and Sam Haggerty (0 for 6) are hitting a combined .090 (8 for 89) with 29 strikeouts. Those numbers will obviously improve, but that’s partly (mainly?) because they can’t get any worse.

Frustrations with Seattle’s offensive woes aren’t exclusively a knee-jerk reaction to a small sample size, either. The angst stems from the preconceived notion that the Mariners didn’t do enough to improve a lineup during the offseason that was last seen getting shutout over 18 innings against the Astros in Game 3 of the ALDS.

Because of that offseason, the Mariners were never going to receive much grace in regards to an inability to score runs. That was true prior to a Forbes report that Seattle led baseball with an operating income of $85.8 million in 2022 while enjoying the largest year-over-year franchise valuation growth at 29%. According to Forbes, the Mariners have the 13th-most valuable franchise in baseball at $2.2 billion. And yet, Seattle’s 2023 payroll still ranks 18th at $129.8 million per Spotrac, well shy of the league average of $148.7 million.

The Forbes article was published on March 23. Just a week later, 34-year-old Tommy La Stella was announced as Seattle’s opening day designated hitter. I genuinely hope La Stella ends up surprising everyone and balling out this season, but he was put in a brutal position that was never going to be received well.

On Monday night, Seattle assembled it’s “lefty beater” lineup with Pollock, Haggerty, Murphy and Hummel hitting fifth through eighth in the order. That makes sense in theory given each player’s history of success against lefties. But it was a blunt reminder that much of Seattle’s lineup, one that is only missing fellow rotational piece Dylan Moore, is built largely on platoons.

It all supports the notion that Seattle remains a team hesitant to loosen its purse strings, something Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reported on this offseason after the Mariners weren’t major players in free agency this winter.

Just prior to opening day, I wrote about three concerns I have about the roster: a lack of offensive production in the middle infield, Marco Gonzales’ potential regression, and the continued uncertainty surrounding Jarred Kelenic. All three remain worries thus far. All three could also turn around for the better, but again this is merely to reiterate that none of this is being viewed in a five-day vacuum. Nor should it be.

There’s a fine line between overreacting to five games and deciding it’s too early to discuss what has gone wrong thus far in any capacity. Recent history allows us to comfortably reside in the middle.

To reiterate the opening caveat: the Mariners should be OK moving forward. But it’s been bad thus far, and there’s nothing wrong with saying so.

Brock & Salk’s Mariners Truth Meter: How valid are the concerns after a slow start?

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