After 20 seasons in the wilderness and on the outside looking in, the Mariners finally returned to the playoffs in 2022. Following years of close, and not-so-close calls, they reached the postseason and even made some noise in October. They swept the Blue Jays on the road in the AL Wild Card Series, including a memorable comeback in Game 2 after trailing by seven runs at one point.
The ALDS went pretty brutally for them, as they lost three games to the Astros in heartbreaking fashion, getting swept with an 18-inning loss in the T-Mobile Park finale. However after so long away from the postseason, it’s hard to say their 2022 was anything but a success.
Now, the question is: Can they build on that in 2023 or are they destined to return to the golf course by the time autumn kicks into full swing?
2022 record: 90-72 (2nd, AL West; lost in ALDS)
2023 FanGraphs projection: 85-77 (2nd, AL West; 3rd Wild Card)
Last year at the trade deadline, the Mariners made one of the biggest splashes of any team, when they landed Luis Castillo from the Reds. The pitcher was the best arm on the market, and while they paid a pretty big price, it was a successful move for Seattle. In the playoffs, he allowed three total runs in 14.1 innings across his two starts. Towards the end of the season, they made a move to ensure that Castillo would be a Mariner for the long term, signing him to a five-year, $108 million extension.
To the dismay of some Mariners fans, it appears that this and the Julio Rodríguez extension (which more affects the latter part of this decade) are going to be the lone truly massive moves going into the 2023 season. While there’s still time, Seattle hasn’t quite gone all-in after finally breaking through last season. Beyond that, they have lost some from last year’s team, as Mitch Haniger, Jesse Winker, and Carlos Santana have all left after putting up over-100 OPS+ seasons.
However, Seattle have made some moves to try and shore up what they lost. For one, they lost Winker because they used him in a trade to acquire Kolten Wang from the Brewers. Second base was the only position the Mariners had last year where their regular starter was a genuine below average hitter, so he should help in that department (also, Winker was barely above replacement-level anyway for Seattle in 2022 after an All-Star 2021 in Cincinnati). Beyond that, they added slugger Teoscar Hernández from the Blue Jays, trading a minor leaguer and reliever Erik Swanson. They also picked up former All-Star AJ Pollock on a one-year deal. Those additions should help supplement an offense featuring the likes of Rodríguez, Eugenio Suárez, Ty France, and others.
Outside of all the changes, the Mariners will also be hoping for steps forward from several of their young players. Rodríguez burst onto the scene in impressive fashion with an All-Star and Rookie of the Year-winning 2022. The latter was no small feat considering the kind of debut that runner-up Adley Rutschman had in Baltimore, but Rodríguez did an incredible job. Considering that he put up a 5.3 fWAR and a 146 wRC+ at just 21 years old, the sky is the limit for a man who looks like he could be one of the faces of baseball for a long time.
In addition to Rodríguez, Cal Raleigh, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby are among the good young players who Seattle will be hoping develop even further this year. They also still have former top-five prospect Jarred Kelenic around. He’s been pretty bad so far in his career, but is still only 23.
The FanGraphs projections have Seattle back in the playoffs as the last Wild Card. Even with the changes to the Astros’ roster, they probably still have a ways to go to catch up to Houston. The FanGraphs projections have the defending World Series champions at 90 wins, but that feels too low. Beyond that, Houston has somewhat owned the Mariners in recent years. Even having their best season in years, Seattle still went just 7-12 against the Astros last year, and that’s not counting the ALDS sweep.
The Mariners breaking their playoff drought last year was one of the better stories in baseball. This year for them, it’s going to be about seeing whether or not they can take the next step.
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