Can Mariners keep up in AL West? Athletic’s Keith Law weighs in

Nov 16, 2023, 10:18 AM

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodríguez...

Seattle Mariners CF Julio Rodríguez talks with the Rangers' Adolis García on Sept. 28, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Texas Rangers joining the Seattle Mariners on the sill of the AL West’s title contention window in 2023 – and ultimately pushing them back right back into the room – was an unpleasant development, to say the least.

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Now the World Series-champion Rangers don’t appear to be going anywhere, and the Houston Astros haven’t been slowed as much by attrition as perhaps was first envisioned when the Mariners’ first “step back” was taken following the 2018 season. Add to this a free-agent market weak on bats, and it’s not hard to see how many are viewing the Mariners’ outlook for ’24 as bleak.

Keith Law, senior baseball writer for The Athletic, joined Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy on Wednesday, however, takes a bigger picture look. Though he noted what the Rangers did in ’23 was impressive and didn’t want to take anything away from them, he pointed to a potentially more promising forecast for the Mariners.

“I think you look at the standings, you look at the in-season performance of all three of those teams, they were obviously very close,” Law said. “(The Rangers) got hot and kind of healthy at the right time of the season and that’s how you win a World Series, but I think the Mariners can very much look at the division and say it’s another three-team dogfight going into next year. ‘We are absolutely contenders. We should make moves especially around the margins where we know we are weak because we nearly won enough games to win the division.’ Adding three or four more wins worth of talent to this roster may win the division next year.”

Law acknowledged the Rangers are likely to keep adding, pointing to that as one of the “dividends” a team gets from winning the World Series, but he sees the Astros on a downswing with some big players approaching free agency, young stars on the team getting more expensive, and currently not much talent coming out of their farm system.

“It’s going to be very tough for the Astros to continue to improve, which again I think spells opportunity for Seattle,” he said. “If I’m ownership there, I’m saying, ‘I want us to go for it. This is the year where we absolutely have the opportunity to win the division or at least get the top wild card spot. Tell me what we need to do to get there.'”

Law believes the three to four more wins worth of talent he believes the Mariners need to win the division should come in the form of bats. He listed Jeimer Candelario, Jorge Soler and Jason Heyward as free agents (not named Shohei Ohtani or Cody Bellinger) he thinks are a bit undervalued. As for the trade market, that could be a challenge. While there are rebuilding teams who are willing to deal, impact bats are fewer and farther between on those teams.

And what of the free agent named Ohtani? Law brought up an interesting point in that Ohtani came to MLB as a club control player, and as such has been severely underpaid in his first six years. He sees the money as a bigger factor than others do, but also believes winning and staying west are priorities. Do the Mariners check the boxes?

“You make the case that we are going to give you a tremendous amount of money, and we are contenders,” he said. “They have a young core and are likely to continue to be contenders for many years to come. It’s a good case; I just don’t think you are going to outspend the Dodgers and I don’t think you can make a clearly better case for contention than the Dodgers, who are contenders and favorites to win their division pretty much every year.”

Listen to the full Bump and Stacy conversation with Keith Law of The Athletic in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Salk: The pitch Seattle Mariners should make to Shohei Ohtani
Notebook: Mariners DFA Ford, protect DeLoach from Rule 5 Draft
Shannon Drayer’s Mariners Week That Was
Julio Rodríguez wins second straight Silver Slugger
Morosi: Potential Seattle Mariners trade targets, rumors from GM meetings

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