SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners’ young core, now veterans, fueled by last year’s letdown

Mar 28, 2024, 9:14 AM

Seattle Mariners Cal Raleigh...

Cal Raleigh of the Seattle Mariners celebrates a home run on Sept. 11, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The ending to the 2023 Seattle Mariners season was a bitter pill to swallow.

“We kind of all just sat around the locker room and we expected to play the next day, and we didn’t,” said first baseman Ty France. “We were one, upset, but two, confused. We weren’t sure what to do after the last game because the whole year we preached playoffs, and then we didn’t get there and we were like, ‘What do we do now?’ We just go home.”

At home for J.P. Crawford, there was little solace.

“It sucked, to be honest,” the shortstop said. “Everyday in the offseason you are thinking about just one game. What could I have done? One game – to help my team win at least one game. Over the course of time you can’t wait to get back and get the next season started, so you can make changes and just put it in the past and put this bad omen we had last year and just turn the page.”

Breakdown: What the Seattle Mariners bring north this year is very different

The page will not be turned until the Mariners get back to the playoffs, and truth be told, this team clearly has higher goals. For utility player Dylan Moore, the disappointment will be kept in reach because in 2024 it should be useful.

“It’s pretty easy. You just remember what it felt like to be on your couch watching those teams that you played against the whole season win and having a good time, and you do everything you can to not feel that again,” Moore said. “For me, that’s as simple as it can be. Every time you are thinking about, ‘This is an early morning, this is hard to do, I maybe don’t want to do this,’ you just think about that feeling you had at the end (of the season), and you don’t want to feel that and you push through to the end.”

Falling back can be a part of growing up, and for the once young core of the Mariners, it is now part of their DNA.

“Every year, teams come in and they say, ‘Yeah, we want to win the World Series this year,'” France said. “Like, that’s obviously everyone’s goal, but a lot of times it’s just words. This group we have that feeling of not having that success. So when we come in to camp and say, ‘Hey, the World Series is our goal,’ it means more to us this year.”

From what we saw this spring in Peoria, Ariz., it is clear it means more. Players reported earlier and more ready than ever before. Their eyes and ears were open to the new messaging on offense, and they went about their work – be it in drills or spring games – with a purpose. The disappointment of the offseason no doubt had something to do with it. But so did what followed, with the Mariners in the news for all the wrong reasons and uncertainty in what exactly the club would be the next year, as payroll-slashing moves were made early with popular veterans traded.

President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, general manager Justin Hollander and manager Scott Servais did not leave the remaining Mariners players hanging, however, as they stayed in touch with the young veterans. Disappointment in not making the postseason is one thing, questions about your organization another. If there was any silver lining to what for a long time looked like a disaster of an offseason, it’s that the lines of communication were opened. The double whammy of disappointment and disaster could have splintered the team. Instead, it appears to have pulled them closer together.

“Sometimes you have to get there,” Dipoto said. “You have to get to moments of frustration. You have to struggle. You have to go through your adversity. Our players I think come into this camp with a much better understanding about how much we care about them, about the systems and programs that we’ve put in place that have allowed them to either develop or improve.

“I think they’ve always had a great appreciation for our coaching staff and how hard they work. I think this this offseason maybe gave them a better feel for what we do at a front office level and and that we’re human. We make mistakes too – God knows I’ve made plenty of them through the years. But to have a player population that tolerates the mistake and says, ‘Alright, but we got better?’ I made mistakes at the start of the offseason for sure. Hopefully I didn’t make them at the end. And we’re heading in the right direction.”

Center fielder Julio Rodríguez, who will enter the season looking every bit the part of the next American League MVP, agrees.

“I watched some of the (postseason) games and it was frustrating in a way, but at the same time we kind of showed that it’s not so out of reach,” Rodriguez said. “To see people that you kind of battle against, that you go kind of toe-to-toe and that you fight like game in, game out, and see somebody like that take it the whole way? I feel like it shows that it’s not so far away. I feel last year was a big learning experience for us.”

Unlike past years with this group, they now have a lot to lean back on when things get tough. And they will at some point – they almost always do in a 162-game season. But they’ve taken their lumps, they’ve learned, and while they have brought in outside help, they have a group that has come up together. And at the core of that group are now veteran players with a deep connection.

Whether drafted or traded for by the Mariners, the group of Crawford, France, Julio, Moore, Mitch Haniger, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby and Cal Raleigh were all meant to be part of a championship team in Seattle. They were part of the vision when the step back following the 2018 season took place. As Raleigh sees it, it is time to pay off that gamble.

“We were very fortunate,” Seattle’s catcher said. “We came in in a time where the big league team wasn’t like what it is now. They were paving the way for us and we’re very blessed in that sense, we got to move quickly. They put a lot of eggs in our basket. I don’t think any of us would have ever thought we would be in the situation where we are now. It’s just crazy to think because (when) you’re coming up, you’re never like, ‘Alright, it’s going to be so long,’ you know?

“I know what I want to do in my dream, but to see us achieving that is really fun and it just means more when it’s guys that you’ve come up with, guys that you know we’ve worked with for years and years now. And it’s special, and it means a little more especially when you’re drafted by this team. When you come up with these guys, when you know these coaches, and when I come in here every day it’s like a family in here, so it’s important. But at the same time, now it’s go time. This is what what’s meant to happen. Now it’s time to go out there and perform and do what we were supposed to do. And this is kind of all how the plan is supposed to have been all along. It’s just an exciting time. It’s time to roll.”

More on the Seattle Mariners

Salk: Scars remain as Mariners return, but hope isn’t far away
Dontrelle Willis: Mariners’ rotation provides ‘quality every single day’
Why Mariners hitters are embracing new approach to offense
Inside how the Mariners’ pitching lab gets most out of relievers
Why Jeff Passan ‘flirted’ with picking Seatte Mariners to reach World Series

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