A Season of Growth For Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners will not be playing postseason baseball this season, but there’s no reason to feel disconsolate.

Rarely do expectations align with reality. Coming into the 2021 MLB season, ESPN projected the Seattle Mariners to finish with a 70-92 record. There was some slight excitement for a few young players including outfielders Taylor Trammell, Jarred Kelenic, and also with first baseman Evan White.

Outside of the combination of the 2020 rookie of the year Kyle Lewis and J.P. Crawford, there wasn’t a lot to be optimistic about as a Mariners fan. In fact, for most fans, enthusiasm was the anticipation for the top prospect Kelenic to receive the call up.

Not only did Seattle exceed expectations by finishing with a 90-72 record, but they showed significant growth as a team throughout the season. Put into perspective, their 90-win season is the most as a franchise since the 2003 season. Unfortunately, their 90 wins wasn’t enough to secure a spot in the MLB playoffs.

What they Mariners cannot do, is dwell on this. The most important task for this upcoming off-season is to build on this season and aim to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

General Manager/President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto is already focused  on what this winter will bring for Seattle.

“At this point we are shockingly close to what we thought our timeline was going to be. I do think having a 90-win season and seeing a city energized by our play is an advantage for us, but in 2018 we had those assurances from ownership. Here recently it has been doubled down. We are definitely committed to making this team better, and John and our ownership group understand what that means. That’s an exciting thing for us because we did a lot of work over these last couple of years to create this opportunity, and we want to take advantage of it.”

Both Dipoto and Mariners Manager Scott Servais believe it’s imperative to improve both the offense and the rotation.

“We would like to add offense wherever the offense comes from. It would be hard to imagine one of those players not manning some infield position. There is an opportunity to use that DH slot in a creative way like we did this year. We are just looking to add talent,” Dipoto said.

Right-fielder Mitch Haniger had an impressive 2021 campaign. Haniger hit 39 homeruns, 100 RBI’s, and finished with .804 OPS. Unbelievably so, he was right there in a race for “home-run king” with Shohei Ohtani, Salvador Perez  and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and others.

It’s highly likely Seattle locks him up long-term this off-season. One of the biggest decisions will be what to do with third baseman Kyle Seager. He’s the player that has shown loyalty to this franchise. But, he had an inconsistent 2021 season. Which will make it unlikely the Mariners pick up his $20 million club option.

Assuming that’s what Seattle decides, that could give them a ton of salary flexibility. The starting rotation still has some room for improvement. Chris Flexen remained pretty solid on the mound all season and picking up Tyler Anderson at the trade deadline in hindsight looks genius. Other than those two, the Mariners should be aggressively looking at new options this free agency.

Yusei Kikuchi was named an All-Star after his performance in the first-half of the season. But, the second half the season Kikuchi faltered to just a 1-5 record in his last 13 starts, which is why he was shut down and Seattle gave Anderson a shot. Kikuchi will likely opt-in for his $13 million player option, but Seattle should still look at other options to finish the starting rotation.

The bullpen could possibly use an arm or two, but honestly towards the end of the season this was likely the strongest part of this Mariners team. With closer Paul Sewald, relievers Drew Steckenrider and Casey Sadler on the mound, it helped shorten games for the club and made things easier for Servais. One or two more arms wouldn’t hurt — especially if they have plans to play ball in October next season.

It’ll be time to finally address the hot corner at third base this off-season as well. Ty France and Abraham Toro both came up through the minors as third baseman, but moved to the other side of the field. Could one of them be moved to third base for the 2022 season? Someone that will provide an extra reliable bat in the lineup that could play some third and also DH will be critical to find this off-season.

Since the off-season is so far away, it’s essential to look back at this season as a success for the Mariners. Not necessarily a moral victory since they did miss the playoffs, but a significant amount of players have to improve in order for this team to win 90 games. Looking at the future of this club, things should only get better.

They still have one of the top five farm systems in all of baseball. It’ll be exciting to see whether Julio Rodríguez starts in Triple-A or not. Along with Rodríguez, the Mariners have at least three other prospects in the MLB’s Top 100 prospects list. Shortstop Noelvi Marte spent most of this season in Low-A Modesto, so he’ll likely move up.

In addition to that, right-handed pitchers George Kirby and Emerson Hancock who are both former first-round draft picks will be looking to improve this off-season and climb the ladder as well. With an overachieving season of growth for the Mariners, this off-season will play a huge factor if they can take the next step.