April brings my favorite time of year, as the 30 Major League Baseball teams take to the field for the next several months before deciding who reigns above them all in the World Series in October. But to get there, each team has 162 games to prove that they deserve the title as much as anybody else. And of course, with baseball season comes the unrealistic optimism surrounding the fate of the Seattle Mariners, otherwise known as the “Is This Our Year?” season. Dare I say it’s the best I’ve felt about the team since… last year.
Of course, I would be amiss to leave out the critically important Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations that took place over the last several months that threatened to deprive us fans of baseball for this calendar year. Fortunately, negotiations came to a close with a few weeks to spare, adding one week to the end of the season to make up for the first week being pushed back.
The Seattle Mariners are on the top of everyone’s list of teams to watch coming into this year, and for good reason. Their story starts at the end of the 2021 season when they missed the playoffs by one game, defying all expectations and taking their playoff hopes down to the wire. Officially 20 years since their last playoff appearance, it was a bittersweet feeling to many. However, it did announce the opening of the competitive window for the Seattle Mariners, which management took full advantage of.
To start with the more boring aspects of the team, the catcher position remains exactly the same from 2021: Luis Torrens, Cal Raleigh, and Tom Murphy. Torrens barely qualified as a catcher as he mostly took reps at first base, if not just as the designated hitter. His defense was abysmal enough to remove him from the position, but his bat proved too valuable to leave. Raleigh is clearly the highest upside catcher, with Murphy expected to act as the veteran presence. Unless Raleigh lives up to his potential, this is likely the area of least inspiration for this roster.
Ty France will likely get the bulk of the first base opportunities, as he rose out of nowhere and turned in an exceptional 2021 season. Second base is likely either Abraham Toro or Adam Frazier. Frazier would be the obvious choice, but the Mariners have been outspoken as to how much they value Toro’s skillset. Expect Frazier to get the starting reps and Toro to play around the field and maybe split time with the other third baseman, Eugenio Suarez. Suarez is just two years removed from hitting a whopping 49 home runs, but has put in some sub-par years. If he can find some middle ground between those two extremes, he’ll prove quite valuable. Of course, that leaves the shortstop position, but nobody needs me to introduce JP Crawford. Crawford is the face of the franchise going forward and it’s hard to imagine anybody else at the position in the next few years. This infield setup leaves Evan White on the outside looking in, which is a bummer. His defense at first base is literally unmatched, but he needs his bat to step up in a major way to contend for a position.
If the infield could be considered crowded, the outfield is indescribably packed in with elite talent. Julio Rodriguez is all everyone is talking about right now, as the No. 2 prospect looks to be not just a franchise stud but a league-wide superstar. The young kid has all the tools necessary, with an electric personality to boot. He will likely be flanked by the other young star Jarred Kelenic, who will look to continue rebounding from a rough first half last year. The third outfield spot either goes to Mitch Haniger or recent acquisition Jesse Winker, with the other one seeing play at the designated hitter spot. This leaves other borderline players like Taylor Trammell and 2020 Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis struggling to find a spot on the field. There’s no such thing as too much talent, so the Mariners seem well-equipped in case of injury.
The rotation is as star-studded as any other in the league. The Mariners notably acquired reigning American League Cy Young winner Robbie Ray in free agency, who has already been promised the Opening Day start. Logan Gilbert, Marco Gonzales, and Chris Flexen have secured rotation spots as well, with the Mariners recently announcing that rookie Matt Brash will be operating out of the fifth spot, providing a flamethrower fastball and one of the dirtiest sliders you have ever seen.
The bullpen remains just as strong as last year, if not more so. Diego Castillo, Anthony Misiewicz, Drew Steckenrider, Paul Sewald and Casey Sadler are all returning to the roster after dominating throughout 2021. Notably, they will be joined by young stud Andres Munoz, who has spent the last year rehabbing his elbow. He can throw triple digits when he’s on, so if he can even come close to his potential he will be the one to watch. The Mariners also bolstered this bullpen with some veteran talent in Matt Festa, Ken Giles, and Sergio Romo. Erik Swanson, Yohan Ramirez, and Justus Sheffield will be looking to finally make it known that they deserve to be in the Major Leagues, but they have a sizable buffer of expectations with how incredibly talented their peers are. If you couldn’t tell, Mariner fans have every reason to be on their couch or at the park watching this team put together something special. By the time this article comes out, they will already be a few games into the season from their opening series against Sonny Gray and the Minnesota Twins. Expect nothing less than the best from this squad and bring them to their first playoff appearance since 2001!