Sailors enter the offseason with palpable optimism after playoff drought
SEATTLE – Much like the franchise’s previous 45 seasons, the Seattle Mariners’ 2022 campaign fell short of its goal of reaching the World Series.
But unlike so many of these previous seasons, the optimism for what lies ahead doesn’t seem unwarranted.
“The goal is to win the World Series. And we want to improve and that means better everywhere,” general manager Justin Hollander said Wednesday.
The Mariners ended a 21-season streak without reaching the playoffs by earning a Wild Card berth and advancing to the ALDS for the first time since 2001. A tremendous weight was finally lifted from the shoulders of the franchise and many young stars look set to carry the team into the future.
If the team can make meaningful additions to the roster this offseason, the Mariners can enter 2023 as real contenders to break another barrier as the only franchise to never reach the World Series.
“We’ve had a terrific year. Really excited about the progress we’ve made. We’ve also finished 16 games with the Astros or whatever,” Hollander said. “… We want to improve and that means better everywhere. I think we have high expectations for the group that we have to improve. And we also know that we probably have to increase the group a bit so that it can come through trade , development, free agency, but I think we want to improve.”
Here are just a few of the many topics covered by Hollander, President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto and Manager Scott Servais during their season-ending press conference on Wednesday:
– Jesse Winker
Dipoto said the reason Jesse Winker wasn’t with the team for the playoffs was because he was in New York for surgery on an injured left knee. He will also need surgery to fix the neck injury that put him on the injured reserve before the playoffs started.
“I think that’s been a factor throughout the year,” Dipoto said. “And the combination of knee and neck, impossible for me to tell you how it affected him. Especially since that was really the only version of Jesse that we’ve known or seen. This guy was an offensive player great for the five years before that and obviously didn’t have the offensive year he or we were expecting.
“There’s no reason why he stopped being the type of player he always was. He struggled with injuries. And I think it’s unfortunate that that happened during his freshman year in Seattle and it left people wondering what his real skills are.. Because Jesse is a good player and he’s always been a good player and I’m sure he’ll bounce back and be a good player .”
Winker had a very bad season in his first year in Seattle. Winker only hit .219 with a .688 OPS (over base strike percentage). He hit .305 with .949 OPS last year at Cincinnati and was a career .288 hitter with .888 OPS in five years with the Reds.
“I felt he was frustrated because he knows what a good player he is,” Servais said. And he’s frustrated that he’s not helping us more because he knows that’s what I’m doing. I can really hit and be an offensive force and it wasn’t happening for him.”
Winker was also one of the worst defensive players in the sport. He had -16 points recorded by Fielding Bible, which was tied for sixth most in all of MLB. Even though Winker can return to form offensively for next year, his defensive shortcomings make him nearly unplayable on the court.
But Winker is under contract for next season and he will be part of next year’s squad unless they trade him in the offseason. So finding a way for Winker to be at his best for next year is still a priority for the Mariners.
“The most important thing is that you have to get healthy,” Servais said of Winker. “You have to deal with the knee. The neck problem is a real problem. It’s something that got worse over the year, crept in at a very inopportune time for him just at the end here and was taken care of from that and moving on to next year is the most important thing for him and for us right now.”
– Julio Rodriguez
Julio Rodríguez suffered a small fracture to his left pinky finger while sliding at second base during his brace in the eighth inning of Saturday’s loss to the Astros.
“Wound very similar to what [Eugenio Suárez] experienced in Anaheim,” Dipoto said. “Believe it happened on Saturday night that was found and its release is a physical release on Monday. It will resolve without any consequences in about a month, we think.”
– Andrés Munoz
Muñoz will need surgery to fix a foot injury that has been bothering him throughout the season.
“He’s likely to have a procedure to fix this, which may take a bit longer than the other guys, but we don’t expect that to affect his 2023 season,” Dipoto said.
Raleigh will see a specialist to examine his injured thumb. He had a fractured thumb and a torn UCL which hampered him for the final weeks of the season.
“The physical and emotional toughness that he showed in the last six weeks of this season when he was playing a lot and especially in September when he was playing with a pretty painful injury, especially when you’re catching baseballs that are flying at very high speed with unpredictable movement. I can’t say enough about the work that Cal did and worked his way through and had some massive moments for us,” Dipoto said of Raleigh.
Dipoto said Lewis is no longer considered injured and they’ll have to wait and see how we handle the offseason and head to spring training to figure out where he goes next.
“We’ll see him in the spring and hopefully we’ll see the dynamic version of Kyle Lewis that we saw in 2020 and we saw at specific times in 2022,” Dipoto said. “It’s been a tough road for Kyle. He’s a very talented player who can change the course of your roster if he shows up ready to go.”
No personnel changes planned:
Servais said there were no plans to change his coaching staff at this stage.
“We have a good thing going right now and no reason to shake it up at all,” Servais said.
Decisions on the list:
Haniger is expected to be a free agent this winter after playing the past six years for the Mariners. The Mariners can offer him a qualifying option for next year for $19.65 million that would work much like restricted free agency in the NFL.
A qualifying offer can be made up to the fifth day after the World Series, and a player then has one week to accept. If Haniger receives a qualifying offer and does not accept, the Mariners would receive a draft pick as compensation at the end of Round 1 or at the end of Competitive Balance Round B, with placement depending on many factors.
Haniger said he wants to stay in Seattle, and the Mariners said Wednesday that dialogue remains open with Haniger’s representatives.
“I loved Mitch when we acquired and I love him now,” Hollander said. “I’ve probably texted or talked to his agent more than any other in the last two years up to a playoff inclusion. deal with Mitch, but the players work a long time it’s time to get to free agency. It’s really hard to get six years of service to get there. And I know that Mitch, although he wants to be here, also wants to assess what else is there. So we’ll keep talking.”
Haniger had a career year for Seattle in 2022 with 39 home runs and 100 RBIs along with a .253 batting average in 157 games played. However, a bout with COVID-19 and a sprained ankle forced Haniger to miss most of the first four months of the year. He’s hit .246 with 11 home runs and 34 RBIs in 57 games for Seattle this year.
“We love what he brings to the table and I think everyone in our group would identify Mitch as the guy who is preparing for the moment as much as anyone and that’s a positive cultural thing that really has a value. We’re going to weigh that as we go into the offseason,” Hollander said.
– Shortstop/Second Base
The Mariners need extra help in their middle field this offseason. Plenty of shortstops will be available in the free agent market this winter, headlined by Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, Dansby Swanson and Carlos Correa, who can opt out of his contract with the Minnesota Twins.
The Mariners are happy with JP Crawford as a shortstop option. There’s a good chance he’ll remain their starting shortstop next year, as Dipoto said his preference would be to sign someone to play second base.
However, Dipoto left a slight slit of the door open for a discussion on that topic should they land a free agent on the spot this offseason.
“Our big preference would be if we could land a shortstop who would like to go play second base,” Dipoto said. “But we’re not going to close the door on anything in that regard. JP is our shortstop and he’s an emotional leader for us. We think he does a really good job in everything that we do. asked him to do.
“He will line up for us on opening day at shortstop and the goal is to find someone to put around him. And if we find someone who plays shortstop, that person could most likely move to second base. But that’s a discussion for then and not now. JP is our shortstop. We signed with him to play shortstop and that’s what we have. intention to do.