We are back in business with baseball season finally here. It’s been a turbulent off-season with free agency shifting dozens of high-profile MLB players to new teams. The Tampa Bay Rays made some unpopular trades that nobody will worry about because they seemingly keep finding ways to succeed. The Toronto Blue Jays ended up being the landing spot for George Springer and Marcus Semien. The new ownership of the New York Mets came with plenty of money, used to acquire various stars from across the league including: Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, James McCann and Jonathan Villar. The Washington Nationals ended up with Kyle Schwarber, Josh Bell and Brad Hand. Everybody in the NL Central division seemed intent on cost cutting and left the division a desolate wasteland, bound to produce the worst division winner seen in recent memory.
Meanwhile, in the NL West, the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers built a juggernaut in hopes to contend for the title for years to come. The Dodgers landed Tommy Kahnle and Blake Treinen while extending Justin Turner for two more years. They also dropped big money on reigning Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer to the tune of three years and a revolting $102 million. The Padres successfully won the bidding wars for Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, while also landing the likes of Víctor Caratini, Jurickson Profar and Kim Ha-seong. They capped the off-season by extending Fernando Tatís Jr. through 2034, earning a total of $340 million during that time.
What did the Seattle Mariners do in this time frame? They re-signed James Paxton on a one-year deal and landed three relief pitchers in Rafael Montero, Chris Flexen and Ken Giles. While not slouches, it was far from splashy, which is strange considering General Manager Jerry Dipoto’s trigger finger when it comes to trades. Still, maybe this is the payoff for all of the trades over the last several years. The Mariners will come into this season with five of the MLB’s top 100 prospects and a few more fringe prospects that should also see playtime this year.
Donovan Walton has already seen a little bit in 2020, with middling success. This year though, he will likely be joined by the likes of Cal Raleigh and Logan Gilbert who are surely eager to make their debuts. Meanwhile, Kyle Lewis will be coming off a rookie of the year campaign and Evan White is going to hope his barrel rate and exit velocity transfer into hits this year. They’re a young core of players that I’m sure the Mariners are more than happy to build around.
The returning faces are nothing to slouch at either. Kyle Seager is returning as the longest-tenured Mariner on the roster, looking to bounce back from a rough couple of years. Dylan Moore had a breakout year in the 60-game season in 2020 and if all goes well he will continue to improve as a power threat. J.P. Crawford is an elite defensive shortstop and posted a .255 batting average in what is considered a down year for him. Mitch Haniger will also be returning for the first time since June 2019 when he fouled a baseball directly into his groin when he wasn’t wearing protective gear. He has since endured three surgeries but is playing in Spring Training and getting on base.
Luis Torrens will return at catcher, joined this time by Tom Murphy who broke his foot prior to the 2020 season. Murphy was a well above average bat, so supposing he can return to form, he will be very valuable going forward.
The depth of the lineup will feature some familiar faces as well. Ty France was acquired from the Padres as a corner infielder last year but likely isn’t going to see much actual play there amidst the likes of Seager and White. His bat is invaluable so it’s likely he sees extended play as a designated hitter or even at second base. Also likely to make the roster are Shed “funniest name in the majors” Long and Sam Haggerty, though the latter should be quite worried.
Coming over the horizon is one Jarred Kelenic, a name spoken in hushed whispers around the country. He averages out as the number three prospect in baseball (right behind Wander Franco and MacKenzie Gore) and although he might not make the Opening Day roster, there’s a good chance he’s called up as early as mid-late April. His ego is big and his bat bigger, and left field is there for the taking should the Mariners decide he’s ready.
The Mariners will likely run back their six-man rotation that was quite controversial last year. However, the pickups of Paxton and Flexen make it seem far more reliable, especially if Justin Dunn builds upon his solid performance last year. The bullpen itself is a question only the baseball gods can answer, but Rafael Montero will look to be the new closer and pitch in only the highest leverage situations.
Could the young core finally come to fruition in the form of a successful season? Is it time to get hopes up that the Mariners might make playoffs for the first time in literally 20 years? I am certainly excited to find out.