3 Takes: Big questions about Seattle Mariners halfway through season

Jun 27, 2024, 10:59 AM | Updated: 10:42 pm

Seattle Mariners Josh Rojas Julio Rodríguez...

The Seattle Mariners' Josh Rojas celebrates with Julio Rodríguez after scoring on June 16, 2024. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners hit the midway mark of the season earlier this week, which makes it the perfect time to reflect on the first half and look ahead to the second half.

Watch: Mariners prospect slugs four homers during historic night

As the Mariners sit atop the AL West at 46-37, how do you evaluate their performance over the first three months? What moves should they make at the trade deadline? And how will they ultimately fare the rest of the way? writers Brent Stecker, Zac Hereth and Cameron Van Til give their thoughts on those questions and more.

Checking in on the Seattle Mariners

1. What grade would you give the Mariners’ first half of the season?

Brent Stecker: Here’s how I’m going to look at it. Forget about everything you’ve seen thus far this season. You don’t know that the Seattle Mariners had a 10-game lead before the last road trip. You don’t know the ins and outs of the offensive struggles. All you know is that through 83 games, the Mariners lead the AL West by 4 1/2. Feels pretty good, right? I’d rate that feeling an A-minus. Could be better. And when you do factor in other things like the aforementioned 10-game lead and how Houston and Texas left the gate wide open, it should be better. But hey, not gonna argue with a decent division lead with room to grow.

Zac Hereth: Considering all the things that have gone wrong so far, it’s pretty encouraging that Seattle is nine games above .500 and leading the division. How much more could you ask for when your star slugger (Julio Rodríguez) is going through a power outage, your offseason additions have disappointed and two of your presumed top-three bullpen arms haven’t thrown a single pitch this season? With that being said, I’ll go with a solid B. There’s no doubt this team could (and probably should) be better, but the expectation that the M’s would be cruising to wins by wide margins while being an offensive force is unrealistic. It’s just not how the team is built.

Cameron Van Til: The Mariners are a tough team to evaluate, given the stark contrast between an elite starting rotation that’s among the best in baseball and a struggling lineup that’s been among the worst. So far, their impressive arsenal of arms has been enough to outweigh the issues at the plate. Seattle is nine games over .500 and leads the AL West by 4 1/2 games, while sporting the fourth-best record in the AL and the eighth-best in the majors. To me, that feels like a B-plus. Plenty of questions remain and there’s certainly lots of room for improvement. But the starting rotation deserves its credit and the M’s are firmly a playoff-caliber team, which this grade reflects.

2. Who or what been the most pleasant surprise?

Stecker: Trent Thornton and his iconic sport goggles deserve some attention. Acquired last year after he was designated for assignment by Toronto, the 30-year-old right-hander was pretty good in 2023 for Seattle and has been even better this season. He has a 3.22 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and .190 opponent average with nine holds and a save in 36 games. Good thing the Mariners have him, too, because he bailed them out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 5-2 win over the Rays. On the topic of relievers, Kentwood High and UW Huskies product Austin Voth needs a shoutout, too. He’s got a 3.62 ERA, is tied with Thornton for the best opponent average among M’s relievers at .190, and has the best WHIP out of Seattle’s bullpen at 0.93 in 33 games.

Hereth: Josh Rojas. Does much more need to be said? Rojas has cooled off at the plate since his red-hot start, but still holds the second-best batting average (.251) and second-best on-base percentage (.318) on the team among hitters with at least 200 at-bats. He’s also been rock-solid defensively with five outs above average at third base, tied for the AL lead. It’s become clear this season why the Mariners insisted on Rojas being a part of the return package for Paul Sewald last summer, because he looks like the type of a gritty player that’s the glue of a championship team. When good things are happening for the Mariners, Rojas has a knack for being in the middle of it.

Van Til: Josh Rojas’ defense. I could also go with Rojas as a whole, but I’ll focus specifically on his fielding. The Mariners had more than a decade of elite glove work at third base with Kyle Seager and Eugenio Suárez, but after trading Suárez this past offseason, there were massive defensive question marks at the hot corner. Rojas has completely wiped away those concerns. As Zac mentioned, Rojas is tied for the AL lead with five outs above average at third base. He also has eight OAA overall, including his work at second base and left field. He’s come a long way since his time with the Diamondbacks, when he logged minus-nine OAA in 2021 and minus-five in 2022. Mariners infield coach Perry Hill continues to work wonders.

3. Who or what been the biggest disappointment (beside the slow start for Julio Rodríguez)?

Stecker: The road record. It’s great that the Mariners have turned T-Mobile Park into a fortress, jumping out to a 27-12 record at home. But the impact of that is lessened by the fact that Seattle has scuffled to a 19-25 mark in away games. Give the M’s credit for figuring out how to build a team around their ballpark, but their moves at the deadline need to help them get better on the road. Of course, just hitting better in general would help, too.

Hereth: The offensive offseason additions. While the Mariners didn’t break the bank to sign Shohei Ohtani or send a massive haul to San Diego for Juan Soto, the additions they made to the lineup this offseason were more promising than last year, and they should have improved this offense. Mitch Haniger’s struggles aren’t as surprising, but Mitch Garver and Jorge Polanco’s production falling off to the levels they have is a head-scratcher. Those guys need to be better for this team to make a real postseason push.

Van Til: The widespread underperformance on offense. Every lineup will usually have one or two hitters going through a down year, but the sheer number of underperforming hitters in Seattle’s lineup is jarring. Of the 10 Mariners with at least 150 plate appearances, eight have an OPS that’s below their career average – including four hitters (Jorge Polanco, Mitch Haniger, Julio Rodríguez and Mitch Garver) whose OPS is at least 140 points below their career number. There eventually has to be some sort of regression to the mean, right?

4. If you could acquire two specific players at the trade deadline, who would they be?

Stecker: How about a couple of guys with the same last name who aren’t related (as far as we know)? Arizona first baseman Christian Walker and San Francisco reliever Ryan Walker both seem perfect for Seattle’s needs. Christian Walker is a veteran, ballpark-proof masher who would be a rental, so it keeps his price down. Ryan Walker, meanwhile, is a local product from Arlington High and WSU with a funky delivery, great numbers and plenty of club control. The only problem is both of their sub-.500 teams remain firmly in the jumbled mess that is the National League’s wild card race, so who knows if they’ll actually be available.

Hereth: I’ll stick with the offense here, but a left-handed reliever or starter is a close third. New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso is a no-brainer to me. Excluding the shortened 2020 season, Alonso hasn’t hit less than 37 home runs in a season, and his raw power shouldn’t have any troubles with T-Mobile Park. Alonso along with Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Isaac Paredes would really change this offense. Paredes hits for average, provides pop and has a low strikeout rate that the lineup would surely welcome. He’s under club control through 2027, so the cost would be steep.

Van Til: The Mariners’ situation necessitates a bold move, so I’ll go with Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The three-time All-Star has seen his power numbers decline since his 48-homer season in 2021, but he’s still produced an impressive 126 OPS+ over the past three seasons. It would cost a lot to acquire Guerrero, given that he’s still only 25 and is under club control through next season, but he’s the type of big-time bat who would bolster this lineup with both his power and his career .280 batting average. It might be tough to acquire another impact bat in addition to Guerrero, but I’ll go with Angels left fielder Taylor Ward as the second player. He has a 118 OPS+ over the past four seasons and is under club control through 2026.

5. What’s your prediction for the rest of this Seattle Mariners season?

Stecker: Seattle really has no choice but to push all the chips in to win the AL West for the first time in 23 years, and what the Mariners do at the trade deadline is going to only make them more dangerous into October. I think they’ll win 95 games, win both an AL Wild Card Series and ALDS, but run into an AL East team that knocks them out in the ALCS. Sounds like a lot of good baseball in Seattle’s future.

Hereth: The Mariners do make a splash at the deadline with a trade on nobody’s radar. They get a serious scare from Texas or Houston (or both) down the stretch, but pull away in September for their AL West crown since 2001 at 92 wins. They reach the ALDS and play a must-see five-game series with Cleveland, and homefield advantage helps the 93-win Guardians reach the ALCS.

Van Til: The Mariners make their most aggressive trade deadline move in years and it pays off in a big way down the stretch. With an improved lineup and a healthier bullpen, the M’s win 94 games and capture their first AL West title since 2001. As the No. 3 seed in a loaded AL playoff field, they win their wild-card series and then beat the Guardians in a dramatic five-game ALDS before falling to the Orioles in the ALCS.

More on the M’s from Seattle Sports

Lefko: Julio’s struggles magnify Mariners’ need to add impact bat
How much did bumpy road trip hurt first-place Seattle Mariners?
‘Mr. Mariner’ Alvin Davis shares his advice for struggling Julio Rodríguez
A team that could help Mariners at trade deadline in multiple ways
Drayer: Why Seattle Mariners’ needs may include another starting pitcher

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