Today's Free Picks for
Seattle under 84½ -105
Posted on April 5th
In 2021, the Mariners enjoyed their winningest season since 2003, going 90-72 despite allowing more runs than they scored. It, of course, ended with the most excruciating of heartbreaks, as the city of Seattle watched Tyler Anderson surrender four runs over 1.2 innings—more than the Mariners’ offense would manage over the entirety of the game. Of course, it wouldn’t matter anyhow, as the Mariners didn’t control their own destiny, but it didn’t ease the familiar pain of being on the precipice, only to fall just short.
The difference between 2021 and the near-playoff clinches of the various 2010s teams was the feeling in Seattle; and that prevailing feeling was that they were gonna do it. This was the beginning. This wasn’t a one-off thing. With Robinson Canó and Félix Hernández, it always felt like a swan song. If, and we mean if, the Mariners managed to weasel their way into the playoffs—they, of course, did not—the sense was that the next year could be the year that they unravel. With a mediocre farm system and a rapidly aging core, there was never much of a future to speak of, if we were being honest with ourselves.
Somehow, the Mariners of today are quite a different story. Perhaps the biggest difference is that the Mariners’ farm system has quite literally gone from dead last to first (by some outlets), and it speaks to the strength of their system. The Mariners have combined this top-ranked farm system with an improving major-league roster and—for the first time since signing Canó—are showing a willingness to spend. They have already made key acquisitions in Robbie Ray and Adam Frazier, but bolstering their roster could sustain last year’s feeling that sustained contention was finally on the horizon. We’ll see.
We cannot overstate how many publications and public opinions we have heard hyping up the Mariners. It’s constant and it’s a big warning flag. The narrative we have heard is that the M’s won 90 games last year and this year they are better. That may be true but last year was an outlier. You see, to score less runs than you allow and win 90 games might not happen for another 100 years. The Mariners were on the extreme side of both luck and overachieving. Regression is almost 100% inevitable.
The Mariners ranked just 20th by Deserved Runs Created (DRC+) and declined the club option of one of their best hitters, Kyle Seager. While they’ll miss his power, the acquisition of Adam Frazier might be just about an even trade-off in terms of overall production but we highly doubt that. Seager is/was great while Frazier has done what? Hit 10 jacks and knocked in 53 runs in his best year? Big deal.
There are several players who could very well take a step (or leap) forward. Abraham Toro will look to cover the bulk of third base reps for now, but aside from a strong minor league campaign, he doesn’t have much of a major league track record that will instill confidence. The roster has other holes: no left-fielder for instance and the lack of a true center fielder. They do, however, have four right-fielders so there is depth at right field should three guys go down.
We suppose Frazier provides the Mariners flexibility as a super-utility type and is better cast in that role than a starting second baseman, but you could do far worse, and the Mariners have. Last year, their second basemen slashed .206/.284/.345.
Between their minor league numbers and respective prospect pedigrees, it’s reasonable to expect that at least one of Jarred Kelenic, Toro, or Evan White enjoys something of a breakout season, and Julio Rodríguez is already projected to be one of their best hitters. Depending on such an outcome is risky at best, though, and this team requires significantly more additions to project as an 85 win team (or more). The Mariners are loaded with promising hitters, but they don’t have a star, and they’re also lacking for hitters with meaningful track records, thus, we’re not sure why the media is salivating over the M’s. Baseball history is lined with can’t miss prospects who did squat once they made it to this level and were being counted on. It may work out but the more likely scenario is that most of the promise will be just that for at least another year or two.
Onto the pitching with meaningful departures consisting of Yusei Kikuchi and James Paxton with pretty much nothing to compensate other than more promise. The Mariners have poured most of their resources into pitching development since Jerry Dipoto arrived in Seattle, and they’re just beginning to reap the benefits. Logan Gilbert represents the first prominent pitching product that Dipoto drafted and developed, and he spent much of his rookie campaign looking the part of a major-league starting pitcher.
Given that the Mariners’ pitching prospects are starting to slowly claw their way onto the big-league roster, it makes sense that they supplement with proven talent. Enter Robbie Ray, who posted an 82 Deserved Runs Against (DRA-) and 3.5 WARP on his way to a Cy Young award and immediately slots in as the Mariners’ ace. He represents upside in a rotation that is severely lacking in it and also takes some pressure off of the younger guys.
Yusei Kikuchi’s unorthodox contract structure was something of a failed experiment—but the Mariners had more success with another overseas acquisition in Chris Flexen. And while Flexen’s peripherals weren’t great (112 DRA-), there’s value in bulk innings, and he looks the part of a league-average starting pitcher. After some early-2021 struggles, that figures to be around where rotation stalwart Marco Gonzales slots in, as well.
Justus Sheffield’s days as a starting pitcher seem to be behind him, and Justin Dunn appears to be tracking that way as well. This is an underwhelming group—its value is more in providing a large quantity of innings rather than quality and besides that, Robbie Ray may be due for regression, especially after getting paid and starting pitchers are worth a fraction of what they once were because they rarely go five innings anymore (can’t be too careful, ya know).
If the Mariners hadn’t established themselves as a reliever factory before, then they certainly have now. Just a year after getting encouraging production out of Anthony Misiewicz, Kendall Graveman, Taylor Williams, and Austin Adams, they found a way to get the most out of an entirely different group of relievers. J.T. Chargois, Casey Sadler, and Drew Steckenrider all posted strong numbers for the Mariners, but it was Paul Sewald who went from non-roster invitee to posting a 62 DRA- and 30.3 K-BB% over 64.2 innings in 2021 and anchored the bullpen.
While they’ll be hard-pressed to repeat their success, they’re not only returning every reliever outside of Sean Doolittle, they’re gaining stud relievers. Ken Giles is set to return after missing virtually all of 2020 and 2021, and Andrés Muñoz will look to weaponize his 80-grade fastball and wipeout slider. Assuming full health, both could slide into prominent roles in an already talented bullpen.
How many times have we heard how good a bullpen is and then they can’t get an out? Look, relievers are starters that could not make it as such. They’re as erratic as Lindsay Lohan on a bender. They get hot and they get cold. Year-to-year, month-to-month or week-to-week, bullpen numbers fluctuating like crazy is common. If you’re counting on the M’s bullpen to push them close to 90 wins, let us know how that works out for you.
We cannot end this without discussing the AL West. We have seen several publications and have heard several people discuss the dropoff in competition. Oakland is projected to win just 70 games. Texas is projected to win just 73. The Angels always under-achieve and the Astros lost some key players. Yeah, you can go with that if you like but if you are counting Oakland out, you haven’t seen Moneyball. Texas spent some serious dough in the off-season and the Angels have the most feared duo in the entire league. What if the Angels actually play to their capabilities this year and Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani stay healthy? They might win 95 games. The Mariners might actually finish dead last in the division but they are this year’s sexy pick to contend. Don’t buy the hype.
In closing, the Mariners were far and away the most fortunate team in MLB in 2021. Their record says they were a 90-win team, and their Pythagorean record suggests a 76-win team; their true talent level was likely somewhere in between the two. It’s exceedingly unlikely that they’ll manage to outperform their Pythagorean record as massively as they did last season. They’re relying on a plethora of promise and a bullpen to contend. They have talent on the way, and they have the means to acquire talent but those jumping on the M’s bandwagon are at least a year too early.
Seattle u84½ Wins -105 (Risking 4.20 units - To Win: 4.00)