SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: What’s Mariners plan to step forward after early end to ’23?

Oct 3, 2023, 8:29 PM

Seattle Mariners Scott Servais John Stanton Jerry Dipoto...

The Seattle Mariners' Scott Servais, John Stanton and Jerry Dipoto on July 18, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty)

(Steph Chambers/Getty)

It was a turn on the podium all three men no doubt had hoped would come at the end of October, not the beginning. With the Seattle Mariners season’s end comes the end-of-season press conference, and one of the three who spoke, manager Scott Servais, appeared to be in a bit of a different head space than the other two, general manager Justin Hollander and president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto.

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“It hurts,” Servais said of the Mariners going home coming quicker than hoped. “It’s personal. I’m not over it yet. It’s going to take me a while, like our players.”

For those who were in the clubhouse at the end of the season, their next opportunity to impact the team in terms of wins and losses will not come for months. For the other two on the podium, it will come in just over a month when roster construction for the 2024 Mariners can begin. For Hollander and Dipoto, their focus Tuesday afternoon was much more forward and aimed at the big picture.

“I think in many ways this season, as much as it was disappointing in the end, was a step forward for us organizationally,” Dipoto said. “We have talked for many years about the desire to create a sustainable roster that had the ability to compete for championships year in and year out. And while we fell short to the postseason this year, we’ll take away forward steps from our young players, the introduction of more young players to our environment, and other quality performances from first- and second-year players that continue to grow at the major league level.

“Now our challenge is you go out and find a way to step forward. We won’t take that challenge lightly, and we’ll try to solve some of the things that really we felt like held us back throughout the course of this season.”

Hitting with runners in scoring position, not making enough contact at the plate, going 14-6 in extra innings games, and yes, roster building were among those listed as some of those things that held the Mariners back.

The question that Mariners fans would like answered is “How will these problems be fixed?” If you want names, budget, even positions, you are out of luck. Questions about dollars that could be spent and roster needs were asked, but the answers not terribly specific.

Is there payroll to add the help Cal Raleigh and J.P. Crawford asked for in the form of more experienced, bigger ticket additions?

“I don’t think we are resource deprived,” Hollander said. “We have plenty of resources to make our team better. Both player resources, avenues to trade for players, and I think we have plenty of financial resources to build a championship-level club. We have an unbelievably high floor right now. From a development level, we have an awesome core. We need to find a way to supplement that core to continue to get better, I think we have plenty of resources to do that.”

Whether or not supplementing the core includes a big ticket player is another question altogether, although according to Dipoto, the front office and the players are on the same page when it comes to the end goal.

“I don’t know that the solution to our problems is big name players, and I’m not sure we have big problems,” Dipoto said. “But would I like to add big name players? Sure. I think we all would. (Raleigh) wants to get better. And, you know, the one thing he kept saying when we talked privately was, ‘I just want to win, and I can’t take that back.’ We all do. Whether that is by way of a big name player – there are there are a number of teams that are evidence today – that might not be the only way that you build a roster.

“We’ll do the best that we can in trying to achieve the best outcomes, and if that means it’s big name players either via free agency or trade, we’ll do that. If it means we get better in other incremental ways, we’ll try to do that, too. In a perfect world, we’d be able to do both. And yes, we do have the freedoms to do that.”

Regardless of what is added, improvements from within the existing group, mainly the position players, will be key in finding more wins next year.

While this group had been content to live with strikeouts if the power was there, in the final week of the season it was a bit eye-opening that Servais pointed to the need for more contact. Tuesday afternoon, Dipoto went there as well.

“How can we produce more runs? We can make more contact. It’s just as simple as that,” Dipoto said. “We were fifth in the American League in putting runners on base. We put more runners in scoring position this year than anyone in the American League. We had the bases loaded this year more often than anyone in the American League. You know how we can convert that to runs, which we did do a better job of this year than we have done in the past? How we can do an even better job of it moving forward? We cut our strikeout rate down, or we can start adding players to our roster that naturally drop the strikeout rate and create more contact.”

Ultimately, Dipoto believes the Mariners are on the right path, and that path from his seat is different from the path of his manager and players. The manager and players focus on wins and the season at hand. Dipoto and Hollander focus on the goal of sustained winning. If the 88 wins posted in 2023 are the floor of sustained winning, they believe their path will ultimately lead to more playoff appearances, and yes, a World Series.

“We’re getting better,” Dipoto said. “We did have a better chance to win the World Series in 2020 and 2021 than we did in 2019. We made it to the postseason in 2022, we fell a bit short of our goals in 2023. Our job is to think more broadly. We’re looking at a six- to 10-year window. I can’t tell you what year we’re going to win the World Series. I can tell you that if we win 54% of our games over the course of a decade, you’re going to play in the World Series.”

In short, the Seattle Mariners are betting on the long game, but not in terms of starting from square one. That work was done long ago. The window they were aiming for when they took the step back following the 2019 season? Despite missing the playoffs, they are firmly in it, according to Dipoto.

“We want to be sustainable,” he said. “We don’t want to drive ourselves into the desert floor. We don’t want to be the team that’s looking up saying, ‘Oh my goodness, we made three go-for-it type moves.’ The question, ‘Are you all-in?’ We’re always all-in. We’re just trying to be all-in in a thoughtful way that is going to allow this to be sustained over decades, not over (one) 162-game season. And we’ll continue to think that way, because it seems to be working for us in that way. But we’re in the window.”

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