Luis Castillo, George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller, and Bryan Woo make up arguably the best pitching rotation in the American League. It's safe to say the Mariner pitching staff is locked in for next season, barring a trade to augment a heavy right-handed lineup. There are a few options on the free agent market and some possible trade targets for the president of baseball operations, Jerry Dipoto, to solidify, which now looks like an incomplete offense.
SS - Crawford
CF - Rodriguez
1B - France
RF - Canzone
3B - Urias
LF - Marlowe
2B - Rojas
Trade for Max Kepler, a proven lefty bat.
While the top of the lineup is solid, STEAMER projects one through five as above-league average (100 wRC+); it gets awful murky fast. Trusting Dom Canzone to take the next step, Luis Urias to bounce back to 2022 levels, and Cade Marlowe to cut down an exceedingly high strikeout rate (33%) is too much wishful thinking for most Mariner fans' taste. Grabbing a proven left-handed bat (or two) to balance the lineup and take pressure off of the bottom third is imperative. That's where Max Kepler comes into the picture.
MLB insider Shannon Drayer recently joined Seattle Sports, Wyman, and Bob, stating that the Mitch Garver signing wouldn't be the last bat this team would acquire this offseason. There's been a lot of smoke connecting the Mariners and Twins this offseason, mainly due to the apparent match in needs. Minnesota wants to cut payroll and add controllable starting pitching, and the Mariners need proven offensive pieces to add depth to a top-heavy lineup. Kepler would be a perfect addition to the lineup. However, it will probably cost Emerson Hancock or Bryan Woo unless Dipoto gives up a heavy prospect package headlined by Gabriel Gonzales or Jonatan Clase.
Dole out the cash for Joc Pederson, a righty masher.
If prospect hugging and keeping the rotation intact is the route of choice, Dipoto could sign lefty slugger and playoff hero Joc Pederson. According to SPOTRAC, Pederson's contract should land in the neighborhood for two years for $30M. Yes, that takes a big chunk out of the Mariner's budget, reportedly in between $30M and $35M, and anywhere between $18M to $22M left, but Pederson has much to offer.
He's a proven run producer who mashes righthanded pitching (.241/.351/.786) and would provide quality depth in the bottom half of the lineup. There are a few warts, mainly his defense in left field and heavy platoon splits, but beggars can't be choosers at this point in the offseason. The key is getting better, and signing Pederson would do that.
We discussed the chances of signing free agent Cody Bellinger, arguably the top bat on the free agent market and a perfect fit for this lineup. He'd be option three in this case, and with reports that the lefty slugger wants a contract north of $200M, signing him would exhaust the entire budget. While I'd love to see Bellinger in a Mariner uniform this spring, it's probably more of a pipe dream. That's why I'd lean toward Dipoto leaning into a tried and true formula of targeting someone we had no clue was on the radar (Mitch Haniger, Dom Canzone).
Rescue a blocked prospect, Austin Shenton from AAA purgatory.
A former Mariner farmhand, Austin Shenton, is blocked in a deep Tampa Bay farm system. The 25-year-old infielder can provide quality depth in the infield corners and already has the organizational philosophy of dominating the zone down pat (94 BB/154 SO).
Shenton wouldn't be an everyday starter, but he'd be a great platoon partner for Luis Urias at third base. Additionally, he would provide a high-upside bat that the Mariners are already familiar with, considering they drafted him in 2019. He'd also cost significantly less in prospects, which should appeal to Dipoto, and general manager Justin Hollander.
A perfect world would have Dipoto picking up two players to augment the lineup. While Bellinger would be a fantastic get, the front office's route of choice is the more cost-conscious approach. The projected opening day lineup would look something like the table below (with STEAMER projections)
SS - Crawford
CF - Julio
RF - Kepler
DH - Garver
C - Raleigh
1B - France
LF - Pederson
3B - Urias
2B - Rojas
Snagging Kepler and Pederson aren't the sexy moves most fans are clamoring for, but they are both 2-win players at their best. Raising the floor of this team has always been the safest route to sustained success. Adding proven. lefty bats that control the zone and prove lineup depth could be the key to unlocking the potential of a team that's more than set on the mound.