The Seattle Mariners surprised many during the 2021 season, finishing with a 90-72 record and only 2 games out of the American League Wild Card. While the -51 run differential might cause some to question the legitimacy of last season’s success, the organization made it clear they meant business moving forward by their activity this offseason.
While the organization has started to reap the benefits of their rebuild at the Major League Level, getting debuts from notable prospects Taylor Trammell, Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert last season, the farm system also still ranks among the best in all of baseball.
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It was clear entering the offseason that Seattle needed to add to their infield. While the team acquired Abraham Toro in a pre-deadline deal with the Houston Astros last summer, there was an opening following long time third-baseman Kyle Seager getting his club option declined at the start of the offseason. While there were still teams showing interest in Seager, the 34-year-old officially announced his retirement from Major League Baseball in late-December.
To begin to address the infield needs, Seattle acquired Adam Frazier in a trade with the San Diego Padres before the lockout in late-November. The 30-year-old Frazier has appeared in parts of 6 Major League seasons, where he has hit for a 103 wRC+ and a .327 wOBA over 2,443 plate-appearances.
While Frazier has always been known for his above average hit tool, his breakout offensive performance during the 2021 season was largely BABIP driven. While Frazier was able to cut down on the strikeouts last season, he still possesses well below average in-game power and a worrisome batted ball profile which remained largely unchanged last season.
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While the addition of Frazier will help an offense that ranked 22nd in Major League Baseball in runs scored last season, it was clear his addition alone was not enough to complete the Mariners offense.
Despite the fact the Mariners got a solid performance from rookie Logan Gilbert and a nice breakout from Chris Flexen last season, the rotation was another area of need for Seattle entering the offseason. While the Mariners have some starting pitching prospects nearing the Major Leagues (Matt Brash will probably even enter the season as the Mariners 5th starter), Justus Sheffield has struggled in his 174.1 career Major League innings and will be pitching mostly out of the bullpen moving forward.
The Mariners decided to address the lack of proven rotation depth by signing the reigning American League Cy Young Winner Robbie Ray to a five-year, $115 million contract.
The 30-year-old left-hander has pitched in parts of 8 Major League seasons and has a 4.00 ERA and a 4.04 FIP over 1,035.2 career innings. After struggling with consistency throughout his career, Ray had a very impressive 2021 season where he was among the best pitchers in all of baseball, finishing with a 63 ERA- and an 87 FIP- over 193.1 innings.
While Ray has been a higher strikeout pitcher throughout his Major League Career, he has also been very good at limiting hard contact. One area where Ray has struggled in the past is with free passes and one of the driving factors behind his breakout in 2021 was his ability to limit these free passes. Ray was able to walk batters at a rate of only 6.7% last season, which was by far the lowest of his career and well below his career rate of 10.3%.
The primary offering in Ray’s arsenal is a four-seam fastball which added some velocity this past season and typically sits in the mid-90’s. Ray was much better locating his fastball last season and was able to be much more effective with this offering than he was in 2020 as a result.
The best pitch Ray features is his slider, typically thrown in the upper 80’s-low-90’s. Ray’s slider uses around 40% active spin to tunnel well off his fastball and he was able to generate whiffs at a 45.8% clip with it this past season.
Ray also throws a curveball, which he has been decreasing his usage of, and a change-up which he has added to his arsenal over the past two seasons.
While Jarred Kelenic made his Major League debut last season and the organization has one of the top prospects in all of baseball in Julio Rodríguez nearing the Major Leagues, it was clear the previously discussed addition of Adam Frazier wasn’t enough to fix the offense. On March 14th, the Mariners made a major splash when it was announced they were acquiring Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Justin Dunn, Brandon Williamson and Jake Fraley.
It is clear that Seattle acquired Jesse Winker for his bat, however, he lacks the range in the outfield to play in centerfield and will fill in as the Mariners leftfielder. In parts of 5 Major League seasons, Winker has hit for a 132 wRC+ and a .379 wOBA over 1,523 plate appearances.
While many questioned whether Winker would hit for power early in his professional career, his massive breakout over the past couple of seasons is in large part driven by his ability to hit for more power. The 2021 season was Winkler’s best to date as he finished with 24 home runs, a 148 wRC+ and a .403 wOBA. While this is all true, it remains to be seen how Winker will do in the much less hitter-friendly T-Mobile Park.
Eugenio Suárez has spent parts of 8 Major League seasons playing with the Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds. While there were serious questions about his bat during his time in the Tigers organization, he was traded to the Reds as part of the return package for Alfredo Simon at the 2014 Winter Meetings. After being traded to the Reds, Suárez had a major offensive breakout before struggling the past 2 seasons. While Suárez has still displayed the power over these last few seasons, he has become extremely pull-happy.
While Suárez has had extremely productive seasons very recently, the motivating factor behind this trade for Cincinatti was to shed his salary from the books. The 30-year-old is slotted to open the season as the Mariners everyday 3rd baseman.
As the Mariners were in playoff contention until the final weekend of the season last year, it seems very likely that with the additions made this offseason and the talent in the farm system that the 20-year plus playoff drought will end sooner rather than later.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Savant and Fangraphs