The Seattle Mariners front office has yet to come out of free agent hibernation. In fact, the only moves made thus far have been received quite poorly by fans. Dumping Jarred Kelenic, Marco Gonzales, and Eugenio Suarez in exchange for a few prospect pitchers, a backup catcher, and a struggling infielder was not seen as any sort of improvement to the rost. However, given the corresponding decrease in team payroll that followed these moves, could the Mariners still be poised to make a splash before spring?
No arbitration decisions have come out just yet but the guaranteed salaries are as follows (all data from FanGraphs):
- Luis Castillo - $24.1 million
- Robbie Ray - $23.0 million
- Julio Rodriguez - $12.2 million
- J.P. Crawford - $11.0 million
- Dylan Moore - $3.1 million
- Andres Munoz - $2.0 million
Here are some estimates on arbitration salaries:
- Ty France - $7.2 million
- Logan Gilbert - $4.9 million
- Luis Urias - $4.7 million
- Josh Rojas - $3.5 million
- Justin Topa - $1.5 million
- Trent Thornton - $1.4 million
- Sam Haggerty - $800K
Along with an estimated $14.8 million paid to pre-arbitration players and $2.25 million owed to the Braves for Evan White's contract, Seattle is already at a payroll of ~$115 million.
How Much is Left in the Budget?
In 2023, the Mariners had a total payroll of $127.7 million, 18th in MLB and comfortably below the league-average mark of $165.7 million. This is both good and bad news. On one hand, it means that Seattle still has quite a bit of room before having to deal with any luxury tax penalties. On the other hand, teams rarely make big jumps in spending without a total change in ownership so the Mariners will probably still be around the same budget as they had last year.
Spotrac is estimating a total payroll of $136.6 million with all undecided salaries while FanGraphs is estimates a slightly more forgiving $139.9 million. Both of these figures represent the roster as is, meaning neither one is assuming additional signings from now until later. This means that assuming the front office wants to hover around where they were last year in terms of spending, you're looking at your roster for 2024.
What Can Be Done?
If the team has to work with the amount of money that they have, there are a couple of players whose contracts stand out as particularly inflated. Robbie Ray's $23 million salary is exceptionally heavy given that he's still recovering from Tommy John and he may opt out after 2024. Ty France's estimated arbitration salary of $7.2 million doesn't necessarily line up with his below-average production at the plate and limited defensive capabilities, so finding a way to trade him could be a way to open space. Luis Urias was below replacement level last year and is estimated to receive $4.7 million, roughly the same amount as Logan Gilbert. It would be surprising if he ends up as the full-time third baseman for the Mariners but may be a stand-in until better options become available.
Aside from Ray, the contracts of France and Urias are still drops in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. Realistically the biggest obstacle facing Seattle is still its frugality. Consistently in the bottom half of total spending, the team has yet to find the same success as the Rays, Orioles, and Diamondbacks when it comes to getting value for money.
With teams like the Dodgers committing to $1 billion in free agent contracts this offseason alone and the Mets paying Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander almost as much as the entire payroll of the Cleveland Guardians, the Mariners simply cannot and will not compete on spending. Realistically, the team will either have to invest heavily into analytics and development or resign to being a middle-of-the-pack baseball team until bigger, looser pockets take over the organization.