Salk: Did the Mariners ‘find a way’ to get better this offseason?

Jan 31, 2024, 8:40 AM | Updated: 12:16 pm

Seattle Mariners Jerry Dipoto Scott Servais...

The Seattle Mariners' Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais at T-Mobile Park on July 18, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Baseball is a complicated game with players trying to synthesize reams of information in a very short amount of time. It’s no wonder that the best are often those that can simplify their approach and find a way to concentrate only on what matters most.

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It is to that end (I think) that we have heard some of the sayings that have come out of the current Seattle Mariners baseball operations group. When they began the rebuild before the 2019 season, they told themselves “Patience is the shortcut.” They wanted to make sure decisions were made in the best interest of the long-term future. They didn’t want to get seduced by quick fixes or shortcuts. They wanted to build a base that would serve them for years to come.

There is no doubt that plan needed to change once the nucleus was assembled and playoff contention became a reality. Unfortunately, we all know what happened next.

Last season, they failed to capitalize on their momentum. They passed on impact bats and invested around the margins. The moves almost universally backfired, and it all culminated in president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto’s ill-fated comments at the end of the season about teams that win at a 54% clip, and Cal Raleigh’s message to the front office to do more to help the team. Fans were understandably and rightly furious.

Unfortunately, while that was the public lowpoint, things were about to get much, much worse. A few weeks later, they traded the popular Eugenio Suárez to Arizona, and we found out that the budget promised to Dipoto and company had been reduced. Instead of getting an opportunity to add to his team, Jerry and general manager Justin Hollander would need to live within their current means. They would need to get better without spending any more.

I wasn’t there when they found out about their new reality, but I bet it was rough day. If it was me, I’d be kicking the nearest objects (water buckets, maybe?) and screaming about the unfairness of it all. Then I’d start down a path of self-pity and sarcasm, considering giving up or plotting ways to fight back.

Maybe they did exactly that. But if so, it didn’t last too long. Instead – or eventually – they developed a new mantra: “Find a way.”

It is simple but incredibly powerful.

Want to add offense but can’t afford to sign the premier available free agent bats? Find a way.

Want to bring impact to your lineup but don’t want to trade your strength of young starting pitching? Find a way.

Need to compete with the massively successful Rangers and Astros in your own division but have only a fraction of their resources? Find a way.

Can’t convince ownership to make a legitimate run at the modern Babe Ruth? Find a(nother) way.

Watching your RSN income go up in smoke while the Dodgers use theirs to sign every good player to previously unseen contracts? Find a way.

And that is exactly what they have done.

They have rebuilt the offense without spending an extra dime. Looking at the projected Seattle Mariners lineup, there will likely be only four position players from last season starting on opening day. Is it better? Time will tell, but they’ll likely project for more offense when the major statistical programs are finished. And while they didn’t add the kind of top-tier impact most clamored for, they also should have considerably more depth and balance than they did a year ago.

The strikeouts should be lower. The professional at-bats should be more common. And the bottom of the lineup will likely include more players like Ty France and fewer like Tommy La Stella.

I’m not here to tell you this is an elite offense (it likely isn’t), but I do think it will be deeper, more balanced, and more consistent than a year ago.

To accomplish that, the Mariners front office had to take some risks. New additions Mitch Haniger, Jorge Polanco and Mitch Garver have all dealt with significant injuries in their career and will be difficult to count on for a full season. The bullpen has gone from a major strength to a real question mark. They haven’t added a ton of starting pitching depth. And they gave up the long-term potential of Jarred Kelenic and prospect Gabriel Gonzalez, two young players who could thrive elsewhere.

Those are real concerns and may end up derailing this season. But compared to the alternative – doing nothing and running it back with roughly the same group – this seems like a much better plan.

As Mariners insider Shannon Drayer aptly explained last week, this offseason was tough for fans to swallow because there wasn’t much there for them to latch onto. The familiar and hotly rumored names didn’t arrive. The payroll didn’t increase. Some known quantities were shipped out of town. There wasn’t a signature new player or exciting signal that the team was “all-in” on going for a championship. In those regards, it felt like more of the same.

From a total perspective, I would grade the Mariner offseason a C-plus. That grade was lower before the Polanco deal this week. They are once again failing to capitalize on their nucleus and they missed on chances to add impact to their lineup with Juan Soto and others. But from a baseball operations perspective, this is an A grade. Given the constraints placed upon them (and how late they learned of them), they did yeoman’s work in recrafting a lineup without giving up any of their top assets.

I also wonder if their “find a way” mantra will trickle into their offensive philosophy.

Man on third and one out? Find a way to get him in.

Down a run late? Find a way to get on base rather than swinging for the fences.

Facing a dominant starter? Find a way to get his pitch count up and win it late.

Challenged by the dead ball months in your home ballpark? Find a (different) way to score runs.

I don’t know how this season will play out and I’ve learned my lesson about making bold predictions. I won’t blame you for a second if you aren’t buying what the team is selling. The Rangers and Astros are likely both better teams, the Yankees added Juan Soto, and it’s hard to imagine anyone is better than the Dodgers. Plus other clubs have improved, and we still don’t know where big names like Matt Chapman and Cody Bellinger will land.

But I do believe that, when healthy, the Mariners have a deeper and more balanced lineup than a year ago. And last year’s lineup, despite all the frustration, actually finished with the 12th most runs in the league. They also have a devastating starting rotation and they can still opt to deal from that position of strength if they really want to.

I’m no happier with the budget constraints than you are. And I’m guessing Dipoto, Hollander and their staff were even more frustrated than anyone by the limits. But they did what professionals have to do. They found a way to improve.

Hopefully their team will do the same on the field.

More on the Seattle Mariners

What Dipoto Said: Where does Mariners’ pitching depth stand now?
Mariners add speedy Samad Taylor to fill out 40-man roster
Dipoto: Why longtime trade target Jorge Polanco fits Seattle Mariners ‘perfectly’
Mariners Trade Breakdown: Who is new 2B Jorge Polanco?
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