Even though the 2023 season did not end the way the Seattle Mariners wanted it to the club was still good at something that has become a hallmark of the Mariners in the Jerry Dipoto era: having a strong bullpen. The Mariners had a top-six bullpen in terms of both ERA and Wins Above Replacement according to Fangraphs this year. However, that bullpen faded down the stretch and had a negative WAR in September and October when the team faded from playoff contention.
Was the bullpen the sole reason Seattle missed the playoffs in 2023? No, absolutely not. It probably isn't even a top-five reason as to why for fans. However, after the Mariners traded Paul Sewald they relied heavily on Andres Muñoz in save situations and put a lot of pressure on the rest of the bullpen. Muñoz had a 4.35 ERA in September and October so that really put the M's in a bind because they couldn't fully trust their closer in the final month of the season.
To alleviate the stress that was put on Muñoz and the rest of the bullpen in 2023, the Mariners should go out in free agency and sign superstar closer Josh Hader. Ever since breaking into the big leagues in 2017 with the Milwaukee Brewers Hader has been a high-end reliever. He started out as a multi-inning fireman with the Brewers but this past year he did not pitch more than one inning in any outing. It came out that he did not want to in September because the Padres weren't in playoff contention, hopefully, he would reconsider in Seattle if he was on a multi-year contract and in a playoff race.
The numbers show just how elite Hader has been in his career. From 2018-2021 he was worth over two WAR in each full season he played(Only was worth 0.3 WAR in 2020). Then after being traded midseason from Milwaukee to San Diego he struggled but then returned to his elite form in 2023. He had a 1.28 ERA in 56.1 innings and a 2.69 FIP. He also was worth 1.7 WAR and had 33 saves. Adding Hader to the Mariners bullpen would change the dynamic of the team going forward.
For many years having an elite bullpen with multiple shut down arms has been a crucial part of being a playoff team. The Texas Rangers are challenging that a bit this postseason but if we think back to the Kansas City Royals teams that had one of the best bullpens of the decade shut down teams after the 6th inning. If they had a lead after five or six innings, they won the game.
If Seattle signed Hader they could put him in the ninth-inning role to give them a traditional elite closer. If we look at other teams in the playoffs still alive this year we see the Astros have a closer in Ryan Pressley who has been one of the games best for years. The Phillies have Craig Kimbrel who is one of the best closers of all time. Having an elite closer makes everyone feel better about their team at the end of games and it also pushes everyone down into better roles for them.
Putting Hader in the ninth inning role lets Scott Servais use Andres Muñoz in the eigth inning or before if needed ot put out a big fire. Back when Servais had Edwin Diaz to give the ball to in the ninth he had Alex Colome to pitch the eighth inning. That was a great one-two punch in the final two innings and Muñoz and Hader could be even better. Then the Mariners could use Matt Brash and Justin Topa in the 6th or 7th innings with lefties like Gabe Speier and Taylor Saucedo to use in lefty matchups.
Suddenly the Mariners bullpen seems a lot more reliable in 2024. If the Mariners starter goes six innings in their start and hands a three run or smaller lead to the bullpen then the Mariners can go to Brash, Muñoz, and Hader to shut the game down. That also sounds like a lot of strikeouts and a lot of games won by the Mariners. Adding Hader won't be a cheap endeavor but it would be a worthwhile one.
Based on some other reliever contracts given out in the past few seasons a 3-5 year deal worth about $15 million per season would make sense. Everyone wants to see the Mariners eclipse the 90-win mark in 2024 and break through and win the American League West. A great way to do that is to sign a top closer and let him turn your bullpen into possibly the best bullpen in franchise history.