Drayer’s Preview: Has Mariners’ lineup improved enough for 2024?

Feb 16, 2024, 10:30 AM | Updated: 10:38 am

Seattle Mariners Garver Mitch...

Mitch Garver of the Texas Rangers hits a home run against the Toronto Blue Jays in 2023. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

(Cole Burston/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners will once again be led by their pitching in 2024, and while it’s not hard to see both the starting rotation and bullpen ranking among the game’s best should they come out of spring training healthy, as a longtime baseball person on the pitching side once pointed out the perhaps not-so-obvious in going against a popular adage, “Pitching and defense does not win games. You can’t win without at least one run.”

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The question for the Mariners heading into the season is have they done enough to help the pitching? We take a look.

The group of position players probably looks quite different than most both in and out of the organization would have expected heading into the offseason. Budgetary restraints forced Jerry Dipoto and Justin Hollander to subtract before they could add to the roster, and even then, high-ticket items were out of reach. But slowly, an interesting lineup was formed. Is it improved?

Included in the “subtract” were the three strikeout percentage leaders on the club: Teoscar Hernández and Eugenio Suárez, who fell firmly into the “you can live with the strikeouts if they hit the home runs” category, and the still developing Jarred Kelenic.

The trio represented big power potential in the lineup, but that potential did not materialize in 2023 with Hernández posting an OPS of .741, Suárez .714 and a .670 mark for Kelenic after May 1 and a second-to-worst on the team .356 slugging percentage. In comparison, three of the new additions fared better in ’23 with Mitch Garver OPSing .870, Luke Raley .824 and Jorge Polanco .789.

A quick note: It is tough to know who of this group of departed Mariners would have been back under normal circumstances.

Hernández would have been extended the qualifying offer, which he likely would have declined. While his agent pointed out on social media that his offense was not suited for T-Mobile Park, his market was slow to develop. Would the Mariners have been interested at a lower price?

While Suárez showed some decline offensively, his glove and leadership were a big plus for the team. With a limited trade market at third base, had the Mariners been able to spend to add significant offense elsewhere, he would have been back.

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The Kelenic decision would have been interesting. There is belief in his talent, but the biggest question was whether that talent was going to be realized in Seattle. Kelenic himself seemed to question this as well in a number of comments he made to Atlanta media since the trade.

All three no doubt will be followed closely by those who look to grade the moves. That will mean little, however, if the Mariners are able to return to the postseason.

That will ride on the shoulders of the pitchers, but the ability for the offense to carry for stretches would go a long way in taking that step forward. What does Scott Servais have in his new array of bats?

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For starters, depth of lineup.

If you were not dazzled by the names that were brought in, take a look at the group in total, all 13.

The Mariners entered September of last season with a group of bench/platoon players of Jose Caballero, Dominic Canzone, Cade Marlowe, Dylan Moore, Brian O’Keefe, Mike Ford and Sam Haggerty. From that group also came a DH.

In comparison, the 2024 roster has a full-time DH in Garver. The bench/platoon group includes Canzone, Moore, Mitch Haniger, Seby Zavala, Luis Urías and Josh Rojas. If the Mariners leave spring training healthy, their 26th man is an established MLB player and Haggerty starts the season in Triple-A.

As for lineups, Servais prefers to go left-right in the lineup where he can, and with the additions there is more balance. Depending on the pitching they are facing, lineups will be different every day, but with Polanco a switch hitter, 1-2-3 can be inked in with J.P. Crawford, Julio Rodríguez and Polanco at the top.

After that, mix and match with Garver, Cal Raleigh and perhaps a healthy Mitch Haniger figuring into the middle of the lineup spots. Then things get interesting with tons of questions in what follows.

Does offseason work at Driveline pay off for Ty France? Can Urías bounce back to 2021-’22 form? Dom Canzone flashed some big power last year, but with just 182 big league plate appearances, what exactly is he at the big league level? Raley is only slightly more proven in the bigs. The projections don’t like him in ’24, but the Mariners do. How are the two younger outfield bats handled?

If the “interesting” turns into good, this lineup is greatly improved from last year. That, of course, is a big if. There is also the not-so-good possibility that comes with the “interesting.”

Health is a huge question mark as durability has been an issue for Haniger, Garver and more recently, Polanco. Lack of track record is a question with Raley and Canzone. With the depth, and perhaps even more second half, the Mariners can afford a hiccup with the younger players and perhaps an injury to one of the vets, but health will be critical to success in 2024.

An area of potential concern is the defense. While the lineup appears to have taken a step forward, the defense takes a hit, and that will impact the pitching.

The Mariners enjoyed some of their better outfield defense last year, and that will look different in 2024. Kelenic’s glove will not be replaced, although it is interesting the Rays trusted Raley in center field from time to time last year. Canzone did not inspire confidence on the the corners, but it was learned after the season that he was dealing with injuries and perhaps warrants a second look.

The infield defense could prove more concerning with none of the additions being plus gloves. There is help remaining on the free agent market in the form of Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman, a situation that is worth keeping an eye on.

Last but very not least, the Julio factor.

By all accounts he is primed to take a step forward. It’s hard to see a step forward by Julio not being a step forward for the Mariners’ offense in general. And if that step forward is a MVP season, it is hard to see the Mariners not returning to the postseason. No small order, but with the air Julio breathes, it should be part of the conversation. Still, that’s a bonus.

The Mariners enter the season not relying on a MVP season from their young superstar, rather, they will rely on a more complete lineup to stay healthy and productive.

Is it enough? We shall see.

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

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