SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Where Mariners’ trade with Braves leaves their offseason

Dec 4, 2023, 11:00 AM | Updated: 11:26 am

Seattle Mariners Jarred Kelenic...

Jarred Kelenic hits a single for the Seattle Mariners against the Atlanta Braves on May 19, 2023. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

(Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Subtract before add has been the order of the offseason for the Seattle Mariners, with their latest move coming Sunday night, trading Jarred Kelenic, Marco Gonzales, Evan White and cash considerations to the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Cole Phillips and Jackson Kowar.

Sunday: Mariners trade Kelenic, Gonzales, White to Atlanta Braves

The move – coupled with the trades of Eugenio Suárez and Isaiah Campbell – has created more holes on the 26-man roster that must be addressed, but more dollars to do so with. Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto and general manager Justin Hollander spoke with The Seattle Times’ Adam Jude and MLB.com’s Daniel Kramer at the winter meetings in Nashville on Sunday night, and both pointed to payroll flexibility as key returns in the early trades.

“What the trade allows us to do is explore a wide array of options to help ultimately improve the club,” Hollander said. “We feel what this trade can do for us is allow us to maybe add multiple pieces.”

With numerous reports in recent weeks that the Mariners were not in big-spend mode, there has been unease that the team perhaps was cutting payroll. Dipoto told Jude and Kramer that was not the case.

“Our payroll is very likely to be higher than it was a year ago,” he said, “but we needed to create flexibility if we wanted to do things that could make us meaningfully better.”

There is a long way to go before we know if a) the 2024 payroll is indeed higher than it was in 2023, and b) what exactly “meaningfully better” looks like. What we do know is they are not there yet. Not even close.

“Not today,” Hollander answered when asked if the team was improved after the two most recent deals. “Obviously the offseason doesn’t end on Dec. 1. We need to go out there and we need to get better. I think before you can do that, you need to create pathways to do that. This just opens up more pathways to do that.”

The moves have been curious, and not just because they have clearly been driven by the need to free up more dollars. The Mariners go into every offseason with a plan. Multiple plans, actually. If not ‘A,’ then ‘B.’ If not ‘B,’ then ‘C.’ If not ‘C,’ then, well, La Stella.

This offseason wasn’t supposed to look like that. Not according to what Dipoto said at the end-of-year press conference in October.

“The one thing I will say that is different about this team than any other team we have done this with? There are fewer holes to fill,” Dipoto said at the time. “We have far more answers to the question, ‘When does the championship come?’ than questions.”

On Dec. 4, it sure doesn’t feel that way. This likely isn’t about feelings, however. At that same press conference, Dipoto and crew stressed the importance on cutting down the strikeouts and finding more contact-oriented bats. In designating Mike Ford for assignment, trading Suárez and Kelenic, and declining to extend a qualifying offer to Teoscar Hernández, the Mariners have subtracted the top-four strikeout percentages from their lineup.

So now what?

The Mariners currently at the very least need at least one more corner outfielder and a DH. Are two additions to the lineup enough to make them “meaningfully better?” Does Dominic Canzone in left over Kelenic, and Luis Urías at third base contribute to the “meaningfully better” column? What about starting pitching depth? Right now it looks like Emerson Hancock and a hope that Robbie Ray is ready to go after the All-Star break.

With The Associated Press reporting $4.5 million was sent to the Braves as part of Sunday’s deal, the payroll flexibility in 2024 (including the Suárez deal) would come out to about $22 million. How far will that go – and more importantly, is there more?

The moves themselves are not surprising. The order of the moves is. It would be far more comfortable to hear “the roster will work itself out” because of a surplus at any position rather than “that will need to be addressed.” Subtract before add is not comfortable in the least, but if the goal remains to get meaningfully better and to build upon solid cornerstones, the next couple of months should be very busy.

“We have a really good core on this team,” Dipoto said. “We certainly in the early weeks of the offseason have taken something away from our team and now it’s on us to go out and put it back.”

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