SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners Breakdown: GM Justin Hollander on latest trades, what’s next

Jan 10, 2024, 10:41 AM

Seattle Mariners Mitch Haniger...

Seattle Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger during a game on Sept. 27, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle Mariners general manager Justin Hollander kicked off the first Hot Stove of the offseason Tuesday night on Seattle Sports, and the timing was appropriate with the flurry of what many would call surprising moves made Friday.

Drayer: Seattle Mariners ‘feel good’ after trades, and more could be coming

The M’s acquired outfielder Mitch Haniger and pitcher Anthony DeSclafani from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for starter Robbie Ray, and later on the same day picked up outfielder/first baseman Luke Raley from the Rays for infielder José Caballero. The deals had been in the works for some time, both together and in tandem. In the end, according to Hollander, they got what they needed to make the roster more complete.

“We feel really good that we have added real depth to our position player group with a guy we know incredibly well,” he said of Haniger, who was with Seattle from 2017-22, including an All-Star season in 2018 and 39-homer, 100-RBI campaign to help end the postseason drought in 2022. “We have a great feel of what Mitch is bringing to the table in a way that you would only have if you had a guy for a long time.”

As for Raley, Hollander said: “He’s been a guy we have followed for a long time, tried to acquire at various stages because he does so many things we value.”

What Luke Raley adds to Mariners

The Mariners value the positional flexibility Raley brings as he can play all three outfield positions and first base. Despite being 6 foot 4 and 235 pounds, he brings athleticism, as well – Hollander called him an excellent baserunner and “shockingly fast for a very large human.” As for the bat, Raley brings what Hollander called “real power” that makes T-Mobile Park’s MLB-worst park factor less of a factor. With Raley coming from another pitcher-friendly park in Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field (28th in MLB park factor), the Mariners believe the bat will play in Seattle.

“We really are intrigued by his ability to mash right-handed pitching and to be a difference maker on both sides of the ball,” said Hollander. “That’s a hard thing to acquire in this market. Obviously the free agent market wasn’t brimming with position player options particularly in the outfield, and particularly left-handed ones. For us, it was an add we were really focused on.”

But with the power, Raley also comes with swing-and-miss, striking out at a rate of 31.5% in 2023. While reducing strikeouts has been a goal in retooling the Mariners’ lineup, Hollander pointed out the reality of the situation is the lineup will never be perfect with nine guys who never chase. The key is to have balance with the players they have acquired this offseason, which also includes designated hitter Mitch Garver.

“Obviously that is a part of Luke’s game, but it’s not a big part of Mitch (Haniger’s) game – although he will strike out some,” Hollander said. “And Mitch Garver really controls the strike zone well and is sort of a unique entity in that he is a middle of the order bat with power who makes awesome swing decisions, like a lot of the players on our team, and does not swing and miss … We feel good that we have in a lot of ways changed the dynamic of our roster.”

What do the Seattle Mariners have left to do this offseason?

It has been an interesting and perhaps harrowing path to the Mariners’ current roster. While neither Hollander nor Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto will discuss budget, subtracting before adding is not a comfortable way to start an offseason. It is clear their budget is limited and this is what they had to do if they wanted to make changes. And while there has been speculation about if last Friday’s moves would be the last moves they could or would make, Hollander indicated they were not.

“If we could add something to the bullpen to continue to take the pressure off (Matt) Brash and ‘Muni’ (Andrés Muñoz) and (Justin) Topa and (Gabe) Speier at the very back end of the game, that would be appealing to us,” he said. “Another position player, we want to be selective. We want to find the right person, the right set of skills to mix and match what we already do have. At what spot I don’t know, and what the free agent or trade market will offer we’re not sure yet, particularly on the trade market, but we do feel like we are working from a different position than we were a week ago. We would like to continue to add to it, for sure.”

What Seattle most likely will not do is trade another starting pitcher. In a media call Friday afternoon, Dipoto said the Mariners had explored trading a young starter to acquire what they needed offensively, and in the end they did not like what the team would look like at that point. All indications are the Mariners will lean into their pitching, a path Hollander said in October at an end-of-season press conference he would prefer to take.

“We have been about pitching, and we have been about being a young, energetic, athletic team, and that’s what we want to continue to be,” he said. “We want to supplement the pitching we have. When you are trading off your major league team, you are removing wins from the table. You are removing players who are going to contribute wins today. So the idea of trading today’s wins and getting back the same number of wins in a different shape? You look a little different but are you really any better by doing that?

“We explored a lot of different concepts this offseason and we will continue to explore them, but I think it is important for us to understand who we are and what we are built around. We did need to get more consistent offensively and I think we’ve started to address that. I’d like to continue do more if we can, if the market will allow, but I think that the re-balance and reshaping the roster, not tearing the core apart was real important to Jerry, myself, ownership, really the whole baseball ops group. When you have young pitching, it’s really hard to find. Don’t treat it lightly.”

The Hot Stove

More from Hollander can be found in the podcast (at this link or in the player near the top of this post), including:

• Why the Mitch Garver deal was done on Christmas Eve, and why for a period of time the M’s thought they had lost him.

• How a shift in baseball has affected this offseason.

• A look some of the work that goes into the pursuit and signing of free agents.

• Offseason check-ins on some current Mariners, including Julio Rodríguez, Bryce Miller, Ty France and Logan Gilbert.

• A look at new bench coach/offensive coordinator Brant Brown.

• Which players from the minors could debut in 2023.

You can also listen to the second hour of the show, which includes conversations with Raley and Texas Rangers broadcaster Jared Sandler, in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

The Mariners Hot Stove will air from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday nights on Seattle Sports 710 AM, SeattleSports.com and the Seattle Sports app until spring training. You can also find podcasts here of each full episode after they air.

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