Seattle Mariners Offseason Primer: Who could be on their radar?

Oct 8, 2023, 12:32 PM

Seattle Mariners Teoscar Hernández...

Teoscar Hernández celebrates with Seattle Mariners teammates on Sept. 9, 2023. (Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

(Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

While the divisional round of the playoffs kicked off this weekend, the Seattle Mariners sit at home watching it all unfold.

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The M’s were unable to make it back to the postseason in 2023, finishing the year at 88-74 and as the first team out of the playoff picture in the American League. Seattle was two games behind both Houston, which won the AL West on a tiebreaker, and Texas, which took the No. 2 wild card. The Mariners were also just one game back of Toronto, which won the third American League wild card.

There’s no sugarcoating it – based on the expectations for the Mariners in 2023, this season was a big disappointment.

Yes, the Mariners were in it until the second-to-last day of the season, but the stated goals before the season were to win the American League West and challenge for making the franchise’s first World Series. Seattle didn’t take the step forward many had anticipated, and instead the Mariners actually had two fewer wins than each of the previous two seasons.

So while we wait to see how this year’s playoffs shakes out, let’s take a look ahead to the offseason.

Seattle Mariners’ pending free agents

The Seattle Mariners don’t have too many players set to hit free agency.

The biggest name is right fielder Teoscar Hernández, who had an up-and-down year in his lone season in Seattle, finishing 2023 with a .741 OPS (his first sub-.800 OPS season since 2019), 26 home runs and 93 RBIs. He struck out 211 times, which was the third-most in baseball and the second-most in the American League, trailing only Eugenio Suárez, his Mariners teammate.

Catcher Tom Murphy and reliever Dominic Leone are also pending free agents.

Other members of the 2023 Mariners could join them, though, either through outright releases or by being non-tendered.

Mariners players scheduled to hit arbitration this offseason are: first baseman Ty France, relievers Justin Topa and Trent Thornton, first baseman/designated hitter Mike Ford, second baseman Josh Rojas, utility man Sam Haggerty and catcher Luis Torrens. Additionally, it looks like Logan Gilbert qualified as a Super Two player, meaning he would also enter arbitration this offseason.

MLB Trade Rumors has projected arbitration salaries for those players, which you can check out here.

If the Mariners opt to non-tender any of those players, they would become free agents.

Top available free agents

Outside of signing Robbie Ray ahead of the 2022 season, the Mariners have largely sat out free agency, at least on the high end, since beginning their rebuild after the 2018 season. But after a disappointing 2023 campaign, which came after a quiet 2022-23 offseason, Mariners fans are sure to be hoping their team decides to do more in the free-agent market.

This year’s class centers around one man: two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani.

Ohtani, 29, missed nearly all of September, but he’s still expected to win American League MVP after another incredible season. He’s undoubtedly the best player set to hit the market.

Something interesting to monitor with Ohtani, though, is his right elbow, which recently was repaired by surgery. Though Ohtani’s agent has said he won’t pitch until 2025, he will still be able to hit come opening day 2024. Whether that impacts how much money Ohtani gets or how long of contract offers he receives – or chooses to accept – remains to be seen, but it is a story to follow, for sure.

After Ohtani, though, this year’s free-agent class isn’t the best or deepest on the hitting side, which is where the M’s need the most help.

Outfielder Cody Bellinger, 28, had a big season with the Chicago Cubs, hitting .307 with 26 home runs and 97 RBIs. This came after the 2019 National League MVP had three straight down years with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bellinger is likely seen as the second-best position player on the open market.

After Ohtani and Bellinger, there are a few notable hitters, but none who are quite on their level.

Hernández is certainly one of the bigger-name bats heading to free agency, as is third baseman Matt Chapman, 30, who had a hot and cold year at the plate for the Toronto Blue Jays but is one of the best defenders of the last decade. Toronto outfielder Kevin Keirmeier, 33, is also a stellar defender and pending free agent, as is slugging first baseman Rhys Hoskins, 30, who has spent his whole career in Philadelphia but hasn’t played in 2023 due to a torn ACL. Outfielder Lourdes Gurriel, 29, will also be a free agent after an All-Star campaign in Arizona.

A few more notable batters hitting free agency this offseason are designated hitter J.D. Martinez (36), outfielder Joc Pederson (31), corner infielder Justin Turner (38), corner infielder Jeimer Candelario (29), outfielder Harrison Bader (29), outfielder Jorge Soler (31), and middle infielder Tim Anderson (30).

When it comes to addressing the lineup, the Seattle Mariners will have a big decision to make in terms of approach.

The M’s finished with the second-most strikeouts in baseball this season, and management pointed to strikeouts as a reason the team fell short.

Will Seattle try and find players who don’t have as much swing-and-miss in their game? Or will the Mariners be OK to add more thump to their lineup if it comes with more strikeouts?

As far as pitching, that market looks to be better and deeper than the hitting market this year, with Seattle native and NL Cy Young Award candidate Blake Snell (30) headlining the class. Aaron Nola (30), Eduardo Rodriguez (30), Sonny Gray (33), Lucas Giolito (29) and Jordan Montgomery (30) are other starting pitchers set to be on the market, as well as future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw (likely to return to the Dodgers or retire) and 25-year-old Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Star reliever Josh Hader (29) is also a pending free agent.

With the Mariners’ rotation set to return Luis Castillo, George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo next season, along with the currently-injured Ray, Marco Gonzales, Emerson Hancock and Easton McGee, it would seem unlikely that the Mariners will be involved in the big-name starting pitcher market. However, the M’s were reportedly open to discussing their young starters in trade talks at the Aug. 1 trade deadline, so if they move one for hitting help, perhaps Seattle becomes a team to watch for a veteran starter.

Potential trade candidates

It’s always hard to identify who is and isn’t available via trade, but here goes nothing.

The two biggest names that seem like potential trade chips are San Diego Padres outfielder Juan Soto (24) and New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso (28). Both are legit superstars and among the game’s top hitters.

With Hernández a pending free agent and the Mariners having young and rather unproven players now at the corner outfield spots, Soto would be a natural fit if available. Granted, as one of the best pure hitters in the game who also has considerable power, he’d fit basically every contending team in the game.

Alonso, meanwhile, is one of baseball’s premier power hitters, hitting 40 or more home runs in three of his five MLB seasons. One of the two “outlier” years was the shortened 2020 season, where he blasted 16 bombs in 57 games. He also had 37 homers in 2021.

France, who was an All-Star in 2022 as the Mariners’ first baseman, is set to return, but he had a very poor 2023 season and finished the second half of 2022 on a down note, as well. If the Mariners look to upgrade at that position, Alonso is among the best three to five first baseman in MLB.

So why would either be dealt?

Well, both were part of teams that, like the Mariners, underperformed and missed the playoffs in 2023. They’re also free agents after next season.

Soto has been with the Padres since July 2022, while Alonso has been in the Mets organization since he was drafted in 2016.

While it’s been reported that both are expected to return, the Mets have been open about taking a step back in 2024 after having the largest payroll in MLB history entering 2023 only ti finish well below .500. The Padres seem more likely to be aggressive and try and compete again next year.

When it comes to trade fits for the Mariners, Seattle and the St. Louis Cardinals have been rumored to discuss swaps of Seattle’s pitching for the Cards’ hitting. If those discussions arise again, St. Louis could potentially part ways with infielder Nolan Gorman (23), utility man Brendan Donovan (26), or outfielders Tyler O’Neill (28), Lars Nootbar (26), Alec Burleson (24) and Dylan Carlson (24).

With the Cardinals finishing dead-last in the NL Central at 20 games under .500, perhaps their star corner infielders could be made available, too. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt (36) was NL MVP in 2022 and had 25 homers and 80 RBIs in 2023. He is signed through next season. Third baseman Nolan Arenado (32) had the worst season of his career at the plate in 2023 besides his rookie year in 2013 and the shortened COVID year in 2020, but still had 26 home runs and drove in over 90 runs while playing elite defense at third base. He’s signed through 2027.

Other potential trade candidates to know are New York Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres (26), Cincinnati Reds infielder Jonathan India (26) and Minnesota Twins infielder Jorge Polanco (30).

There’s also the Mike Trout question, as the star outfielder again missed considerable time and the Los Angeles Angels again missed the postseason. It seems unlikely that the three-time MVP gets dealt – let alone to Seattle – but hey, stranger things have happened.

As you may have seen, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi floated the possibility of star Cleveland third baseman José Ramirez during his weekly conversation with Wyman and Bob last Thursday. That seems unlikely with Ramirez having just signed an extension last offseason, but it’s not quite as outlandish as you’d initially think. The Guardians face a crossroads as they’re a young team that missed the playoffs in 2023 after winning the AL Central in 2022. They will also have a new manager next year with Terry Francona stepping down.

Ramirez is an elite player who just signed a new deal. If the Guardians want to compete immediately in what truly is a lackluster AL Central division, holding on to the All-Star infielder is a no-brainer.

While it’s likely a longshot, if Ramirez is available, he’s a legit superstar bat the M’s should absolutely inquire about.

Key dates

• Players on expiring contracts become free agents the day after the World Series, but can’t sign with new teams until five days after the World Series.

• Teams can begin making trades the day after the World Series.

• All club, team, mutual and vesting options for players’ contracts must be made within five days of the World Series ending.

• One date to watch for the Mariners is the qualifying offer deadline. Teams have five days after the World Series ends to choose whether to issue a qualifying offer to one of their pending free agents. In the Mariners’ case, the likeliest candidate is Hernández. With the qualifying offer, the player is essentially given the choice to accept it and return to their team on a fully-guaranteed one-year deal, which this year is expected to be around $20 million, or test free agency. They have 10 days to accept or decline the offer. If they decline the qualifying offer, they’re free to sign with another team immediately. If they sign with a different club, their former team receives compensation in the form of an additional high-round pick in next July’s MLB Draft.

• Teams have until Nov. 17 to choose to tender or non-tender arbitration-eligible players. If a team non-tenders a player, they become a free agent.

• The GM meetings are scheduled for Nov. 7-9. The winter meetings are scheduled for Dec. 3-6.

• The Mariners’ first spring training game is scheduled for Feb. 24, while opening day is March 28 in Seattle against the Boston Red Sox.

More on the Seattle Mariners offseason

Mariners’ Dipoto: ‘We are going to add from the outside’
Salk: Mariners fans don’t want a favor – they want a banner
Drayer: What’s Seattle Mariners’ plan to step forward after early end to ’23?

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