ESPN’s Schoenfield: Grading Mariners’ offseason, their potential in 2024

Feb 14, 2024, 10:50 AM | Updated: Feb 15, 2024, 11:25 am

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodriguez...

Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners is congratulated by Ty France on Aug. 17, 2023. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

In early January, the Seattle Mariners’ offseason was hardly being looked at as being good. In fact, ESPN’s David Schoenfield gave the Mariners an F grade in his Jan. 9 piece for ESPN.com.

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But just over a month later, things are looking much better for Seattle after a flurry of moves revamped the MLB roster. The Mariners have acquired second baseman Jorge Polanco, outfielders Mitch Haniger and Luke Raley, and breakout reliever Gregory Santos since Schoenfield last gave out offseason grades.

So where do things stand with the Mariners now? Schoenfield joined Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy on Tuesday to break it down.

“It’s funny, I’m actually working on my final offseason grades, although there’s still a lot of players out there that haven’t been signed,” Schoenfield said. “But I think I’ve been a little harsh on the Mariners, and certainly I think these last two deals will raise that grade.”

Those last two deals were for Polanco and Santos.

The Mariners’ front office, Schoenfield said, was “handed a bad deal” in terms of payroll this offseason. That’s led president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto to have to get creative in order to address the roster.

“He’s had to finagle and deal his way through this offseason. And given that, I think he’s done a pretty good job,” Schoenfield said. “Is this an A (grade) offseason? No, of course not. I probably give it a C. Are they any better (than last year)? Potentially, yes. I think the lineup might be slightly better than last year.”

Where do the Seattle Mariners stand in the AL West?

The Mariners went 88-74 last year, finishing two games out of the AL West lead. That wasn’t good enough to make it back to the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Houston Astros won another AL West crown while the Texas Rangers were a wild card team. Those two division rivals met in the ALCS, with the Rangers beating the Astros and ultimately winning the World Series.

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As we sit here in mid-February, Schoenfield again thinks it will be a close finish in the AL West in 2024.

“I see it as Seattle (has the) pitching edge, Houston, overall edge, Texas, offensive edge,” he said. “I think it’s gonna be another tight three-team race.”

How good is the Seattle Mariners’ starting rotation?

As noted there, Schoenfield is high on the Mariners’ starting rotation. How good can that group be?

“No doubt it’s potentially right up there as good as any rotation (in MLB),” he said. “We know how good these top three are with (Luis) Castillo, (Logan) Gilbert and (George) Kirby, and I think this is the year George Kirby becomes the staff ace. I think he’s a Cy Young contender.”

The keys, Schoenfield said, are two pitchers who were rookies last year: Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo. Those two combined for 43 starts and 219 innings last year, and while they played big parts in Seattle contending for a postseason berth, they both have some work to do.

“They both need to develop a pitch to get lefties out,” Schoenfield said. “Lefties hammered both of these guys. The concern (of) can they make it through 30 starts and 150-160 innings? That’ll be a big test.”

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Schoenfield said the other big concern with the Mariners’ rotation is a lack of depth beyond the planned five-man rotation.

“They traded Robbie Ray and they traded (Marco) Gonzales,” he said. “You don’t really even have a No. 6 starter, so that’s the big concern if somebody gets injured.”

What’s next for Julio Rodríguez?

The Mariners have one of the game’s brightest young talents in star center fielder Julio Rodríguez, who had a very good second MLB season, though it came with a lot of ups and downs.

“It’s all about the consistency, right?” Schoenfield said. “Let’s be honest, the first couple months last year were really disappointing. He turned it on in the second half, so his final stats looked basically like a match for his rookie year.”

Ultimately, Rodríguez slugged 32 home runs and drove in 103 runs while swiping 37 stolen bases. He was an All-Star for the second time, won his second Silver Slugger Award and finished fourth in American League MVP voting. Rodríguez also just turned 23 in December.

“He’s young enough where we if expect more, is that unfair? No, that’s his ability, that’s his talent level is to be an MVP candidate, not just a top-10 MVP guy,” Schoenfield said. “He’s got to cut down the strikeouts, cut down on the chase rate. But he’s at that age, he has the experience now that I think he’ll do that. And Shohei (Ohtani) is not in the (American League) anymore, so that MVP race is a lot more wide open than it’s been. He has the ability to do that.”

The rest of the outfield

Outside of Rodríguez, the Mariners’ outfield will look mighty different in 2024 compared to 2023.

Rodríguez will still roam center field, but Teoscar Hernández signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency and Jarred Kelenic was traded to Atlanta. Seattle acquired Haniger and Raley in trades on the same day, and the Mariners also have Dominic Canzone, who the team acquired last summer at the trade deadline.

“It’s gonna be a lot of mix and matching, platooning,” Schoenfield said of the Mariners’ outfield. “Mitch Haniger, we all love Mitch, it’s nice to have him back. He’s going to be a huge key. He was injured last year with the Giants and did not have a good year. (He’s 33 years old) so it’s kind of a precarious age for him. I’m worried about him. I like some of the young guys. Luke Raley I thought was a nice acquisition from Tampa Bay. He’s got some power and he can slide in place at first base if needed. Canzone, he has some potential, Cade Marlowe has potential. Those guys are gonna get an opportunity and we’ll see who steps up.”

Listen to Bump & Stacy’s full conversation with David Schoenfield at this link or in the player near the top of this story.

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