The Seattle Mariners are coming out of a rebuild that began after the 2018 season. It started with a bang. A few, actually. James Paxton was shipped to the Bronx, Mike Zunino to Tampa, and we all know about the deal with the New York Mets. A year ago we saw the first significant signs of the club crawling out its rebuilding stages toward contention. They fell just shy of a playoff berth in 2021, but it was another step in the right direction, nonetheless. But the Mariners are not the only club primed to go from ‘rebuild’ to ‘contender’ soon, and as early as 2022. When I look at clubs of this ilk, I think of a handful of factors in terms of how good a shape they’re in for the future. Financial Situation – Payroll flexibility based on perceived limits – Ownership’s perceived financial commitment Farm System & Young talent – I don’t care about org and individual rankings here, I care about how the system can help the big club, considering the roster’s current needs and weaknesses – How many young players (that don’t qualify as prospects) are there with extended club control that carry impact upsides? Current Core – How good is the current core? – Core trend: Aging players maybe leaving prime or already near the end? Younger core still trending toward peak? How many established core types are there already? Recent Trends – How well did the team/some of the young key and core perform in 2021? – What’s the trend and ETA of the better prospects, especially those nearing the majors? Looking around the league, here are the clubs that appear to be in a similar place as Seattle, having underwent a rather large-scale rebuild, now showing major signs of becoming a consistent contender — and their Big Four Factors. But first, here are some examples of clubs that broke out of their rebuilds in recent seasons and who do so over the next few years. 2020: Chicago White Sox The Sox won, 63, 73, 76, 78, 67, 62, and 72 games from 2013-2019 (.424). then went 35-25 in 2020 (.599) and won 93 games this past season. The breakout in 2020 led to a Wild Card loss, but it clear they were ready to unseat the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians in the American League Central, and they did that in ’21. The Sox are in very good shape in terms of payroll (60 grade), thanks to the club’s masterful work in trades (Lance Lynn, for example), and avoidance of potentially payroll-crippling contracts (largest deal is Yasmani Grandal‘s 4/$73M deal that expires after 2023. Their farm system (30 grade on a 20-80 scale) is now one of the worst in baseball, but the roster (70) is littered with young impact players, such as SS Tim Anderson, 3B Yoan Moncada, OF Eloy Jimenez, budding star Luis Robert, and RHPs Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease. 2021: Toronto Blue Jays The Jays actually made the postseason in 2020, but in a 60-game season at 32-28 and an extended playoff slate. The real breakthrough was winning 91 games (.562) in 2021 and setting themselves up for a division title run in 2022. Toronto’s payroll situation is very good (70), despite three players earning $20 million or more annually. Until Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette starting getting paid what they’re worth, the Jays won’t have a single worry about a payroll squeeze. 2023: Texas Rangers After the signings of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager the Rangers are committing to winning again, but unless they’re really aggressive with pitching the rest of the offseason, 2022 won’t be a year they compete all season. Next year is a legitimate possibility, however, and I don’t believe they’ll be a bad team in ’22 — I’d assume some pitching/run prevention additions before the start of the year and about a .500 club. The Rangers have never been elite spenders in terms of team payroll, but they have been top 10 four times, 2012-2015, and while contending maintained a top-half payroll. The belief in the industry is they’ll ultimately return to top-10 status, and they maintain tons of flexibility (70) after the two big signings. The roster still isn’t good (40), at least as of January 22, so there’s a ways to go before real damage will be done on the field. The farm system (55) is solid, however, and included near-ready talents such as RHP Jack Leiter, 3B Josh Jung, and C/1B Sam Huff. Texas is going to be good at some point relatively soon. 2024: Baltimore Orioles The Orioles might have the game’s best position player prospect and best pitching prospect in Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez, and certainly are among the elite farms (80) in the game. They also have a few pieces on the big-league roster in Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle, and Trey Mancini, but there’s no real chance at legitimate contention in 2022, and 2023’s chances might be dependent largely on free agency, which is why ’24 seems most likely for them. Also contributing to that time frame is the fact their best talents are indeed those prospects, including RHP DL Hall, OF Colton Cowser, and LHP Gunnar Henderson. That’s going to take a few years to sprinkle about the 26-man. The current state of the projected 26-man (40) is very 2020 Mariners in that some kids are starting to show up, there are a few established players, but other than John Means there’s very little happening in rotation success, though Jorge Lopez has mid-rotation upside if he can throw more strikes. 2022 While none of these clubs are going to peak this coming season, there’s a real chance for each of them to produce a legitimate breakthrough in the win column, and ultimately contend for at least a Wild Card spot, regardless of whether or not the new CBA results in expanded playoffs. Detroit Tigers 2019: 47-114 (.292)2020: 23-35 (.397)2021: 77-85 (.475)Payroll: 72Young Talent: 71Current Core: 51Recent Trends: 62Overall: 65 Detroit is in terrific shape and have added Javier Baez to the mix this offseason. Their young guns — Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal — haven’t young much yet, but Spencer Turnbull and Michael Fulmer have, and Baez fellow newcomer Tucker Barnhardt, Akil Badoo (108 wRC+), Miguel Cabrera and Jeimer Candelario (119) will get help from the farm soon. A.J. Hinch already has proven he’s good with younger players and Year 2 could be a rather large breakthrough for the Tigers. The young talent is among the elite in baseball and there’s as much payroll flexibility as GM Al Avila will ever need to build a winner in Motown. Seattle Mariners 2019: 68-94 (.426)2020: 27-33 (.450)2021: 90-72 (.556)Payroll: 70Young Talent: 73Current Core: 49Recent Trends: 63Overall: 65 The roster overall still has holes, but the core (Mitch Haniger, Marco Gonzales, Robbie Ray, J.P. Crawford, Ty France) is being joined by budding youngsters with massive upside. Jerry Dipoto has lined up extensive payroll latitude with the arrival of many of the club’s best prospects (Jarred Kelenic, Cal Raleigh, Logan Gilbert, Julio Rodriguez) — including a wave of arms that could contribute as early as 2022 — and an abundance of hungry players looking to earn time (Abraham Toro, Luis Torrens, Kyle Lewis). Miami Marlins 2019: 57-105 (.352)2020: 31-29 (.517)2021: 67-95 (.414)Payroll: 61Young Talent: 63Current Core: 43Recent Trends: 54Overall: 53 Miami has starting pitching — perhaps to spare, which could come in handy over the next several months — but the lineup needs even more help than that of the Tigers and Mariners. They didn’t make any significant additions in November, but expect a few lowkey bats added to the mix, and maybe even an impact trade involving a starting pitcher that lands a middle-of-the-order hitter. Kim Ng has operated with impressive discipline, considering how often other clubs are calling about trading for pitching, but don’t expect her to be quiet all winter. There is some money to spend, and the Marlins can make a move in the oddly-vulnerable National League East. Still, and depending how the club proceeds once the lockout is lifted, there’s a chance it’s a year early to expect the Fish to truly contend for the first time in a full season since 2009.Go!

The great Corey Brock at The Athletic penned a piece Wednesday discussing results from a Seattle Mariners fan survey, and I thought the results were interesting. Interesting enough I’m here to toss out my own responses to the survey questions. The questions range from Jerry Dipoto’s job approval to confidence the team is headed in the right direction, and everywhere in between. Here we go. How confident are you that the Mariners are headed in the right direction? Among those that responded in the survey, 53.4% said they were very confident the club was on the right path, while 41.8% said they were somewhat confident. That leaves just 4.8% ranging from unsure to not confident at all. My Vote: Very Confident There’s absolutely zero question the Mariners are headed in the right direction. There’s question whether they get where they want to go — or where fans want them to go — but anyone voting anything but very confident here hasn’t been paying attention during the rebuild — a three-year trek from 68 wins to a 73-win pace in 2020 to 90 wins in 2021. It’s just plain fact they’re on the right path. How would you rate the job Jerry Dipoto has done during the rebuild? The options: Poor, Below Average, Too Soon to Tell, Fair, Solid, Excellent. Too soon to tell doesn’t actually exist here considering the question, which states “has done during the rebuild” meaning “so far.” No one with a real clue responds with anything below solid, which was the prevailing reply at 62%. Just 27% responded excellent. Let me explain why excellent is the only answer. Dipoto was handed a club with aging and/or fading stars (Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager) in 2016 and asked to make the best of it without the opportunity to spend toward more wins with that core. During the first three years under Dipoto — the three prior to the start of the rebuild — the Mariners won 86, 78, and 89 games, contending into September twice, despite the obvious issues with the roster and no significant resources on the farm or in term so payroll flexibility. Not special, but they finished second, third, and third in the division. After 2018’s 89-win campaign, Dipoto and friends began a total rebuild. A full-bore, all-out tear-down. Now, when this occurs in Major League Baseball, the result is generally 5-7 years of 85-plus losses: see Astros, Houston, White Sox, Chicago, et al. But since then, Seattle has had just one season of such awfulness, 2019. As the club heads toward 2022, the farm system is among the elite in baseball — a complete 180 from 2015 when it was generally considered among the 3-5 worst — and the payroll flexibility the club has created with smart decisions and discipline is among the greatest assets to an individual club in all of baseball right now. Every avenue is open for Seattle, and that’s excellent work by those making those decisions. That’s Dipoto and crew. We don’t know if Dipoto is a good GM yet. You have to win — get to October, do some damage — before that’s even part of the equation. But there’s absolutely no denying the tremendous job done to date to put the club in the position they are in at present. It’s an A+ performance by Dipoto and the rest of the baseball people during the rebuild. Stop with the nonsense. Don’t conflate finishing the job with the performance during the rebuilding process. How confident are you that the Mariners will make the postseason in 2022 or 2023? Fans are fairly confident, as they should be. If this was just 2022, I’d vote unsure. With 2023 included, I’d check very confident, which is to say I’d be at leas mildly surprised if they didn’t make it one of the next two years, whether playoff is expanded or not. How confident are you that ownership will build a consistent winner? Fans are less confident here, and so am I, though I’m a lot more confident than most. I’d vote somewhat confident here because of the inclusion of the term ‘consistent.’ But it’s pretty clear John Stanton and the rest of  First Avenue Entertainment are committed to building a winner. Fans will be more convinced every additional dollar spent this winter once the lockout is lifted. Whether they spent consistently remain to be seen, but I don’t anticipate winning, rebuilding, winning, rebuilding, etc. Which position player would you like to see the team acquire this offseason? The options: Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Seiya Suzuki, Trevor Story, Michael Conforto. Of course, the answer is all of them, but if you have to pick one we’re picking Correa, right? I would vote that way. If we start considering contract terms, among other factors, I lean Story, Bryant, and Conforto, in that order. Which Mariners pitching prospect do you believe in the most? The options: George Kirby, Emerson Hancock, Matt Brash, Brandon Williamson, None of these I’m assuming ‘None of these’ actually represents ‘other’ more than just none, but I’d go Kirby here, without other qualifications in the question. I believe in Brash and Williamson as much as Kirby in terms of 2021 alone, but overall, Kirby’s the guy with the best combo of stuff, upside, floor, and ETA. Who do you predict will lead the team in saves? The options: Diego Castillo, Drew Steckenrider, Andrés Muñoz, Paul Sewald, Ken Giles I’d lean Steckenrider here, until we learn more about Giles’ health situation when spring camp opens. Sewald would be a very close second, partially because I’m not 100% convinced Steckenrider is on the roster in April. In three years, what kind of player do you predict Julio Rodríguez will be? The options: Just a guy, Average, borderline All-Star, One of the best in the game You’ll have to click on the link to see what fans think, but I’m somewhere between average and borderline all-star. If the question was changed to five years, I’d be more firmly on the all-star choice, and closer to whatever ‘one of the best in the game’ means in this context. Three years just isn’t very long, and for all we know Rodriguez may not debut in the bigs until June. How many games do you predict the Mariners will win in 2022? The options: 70-75, 75-80, 80-85, 85-90, 90+. In this case, 90+ actually means 91 or more since 90 wins is included in 85-90. As we sit here on January 19, I’m in the 85-90 camp, based on the current roster and the worst-case scenario the rest of the way. But 91 or more is well within reach. If the season started tomorrow, I’d vote 80-85. What’s your go-to food (and why) at T-Mobile Park? (Top five food responses) I very rarely eat at games, but the fans had a wide variety of replies to this, including the second most disgusting thing sold at the ballpark, garlic fries. What’s the best thing about being a Mariners fan? This was an open question on the survey and there are numerous answers, including 1.8% who said the broadcasting, 1.6% who said Edgar Martinez, 1.6% who said I love baseball, and 9.6% who said the ballpark. My favorite answer, however, is hope, chosen by 9.1% of the respondents. Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.Go!

Marco Gonzales Mariners

Lately, I’ve been mulling over a handful of free agent signings that occurred prior to the MLB lockout. Specifically, ones involving left-handed starting pitchers. For me, these deals are a subtle reminder of how valuable Marco Gonzales is to the Seattle Mariners. Perhaps that sounds like hyperbole to some of you. After all, one of the southpaws joining a new club this offseason is Robbie Ray, who signed with the Mariners. The 2021 AL Cy Young Award winner undoubtedly raises the ceiling of the starting rotation. Having said that, my initial comment isn’t an emotional exaggeration. Yes, the hard-throwing Ray’s average pitch velocity is nearly 8-MPH faster than Gonzales’. Plus, the newest Mariner is a strikeout machine specializing in missing bats. On the other hand, Gonzales strikes out hitters at a rate much lower than the league average. And let’s not overlook last season. Ray had a career-year, which is why he’s the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner. Conversely, the first half of Gonzales’ 2021 season was one of the worst in MLB and included a month-long IL stint with a flexor strain. Still, once we expand our view of the pair, similarities begin to emerge. Marco & Robbie Ray undoubtedly had the better 2021. But it’s worth noting that Gonzales pivoted from a forgettable first half to help lead the Mariners to the brink of the postseason and the team’s first 90-win season since 2003. And that’s where we first begin to see statistical parallels between our Seattle southpaws. Gonzales had a 2.70 ERA in the second half of the 2021 season, which was relatively the same as Ray’s (2.53). Furthermore, opposing hitters had a .639 OPS against Marco compared to a .644 OPS when facing Ray. Again, virtually identical. But there’s more to consider. Let’s compare Gonzales and Ray since the beginning of the 2018 season when Gonzales permanently joined Seattle’s rotation. The larger sample size highlights that there are multiple similarities. We also see categories where Seattle’s 2021 Opening Day starter had an edge over his new rotation-mate. It’s not difficult to make a case that Gonzales is every bit the pitcher Ray has been since Opening Day 2018. Perhaps even better. The Gonzaga product averaged more innings/start, while allowing fewer base runners and damaging contact less often. On top of that, an advanced metric suggests Gonzales was more valuable than Ray over the last four seasons. Whether you prefer the Baseball Reference version of wins above replacement (bWAR) or the one produced by FanGraphs (fWAR), Gonzales delivered greater value to the Mariners since 2018 than Ray was to the two clubs he played for during that span – the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays. Perhaps the most significant difference between Gonzales and Ray is the length and terms of their current contracts with the Mariners. Spoiler alert: there are huge disparities. According to Spotrac, Gonzales is under contract through 2024 thanks to a four-year/$30 million extension signed with Seattle. The team also holds a $15 million option for the 2025 campaign. Meanwhile, Ray’s five-year/$115 million deal includes an opt-out the he can exercise after the 2024 season. At that time, he’ll have to choose whether to stay under contract with the Mariners, negotiate a new contract with the team, or re-enter free agency. Like I said, huge disparities. Some of you may suggest that Ray is making substantially more than Gonzales because he hit free agency just after winning a Cy Young Award. Absolutely true. Still, his new deal is also a reflection of the value teams are placing on quality starting pitching in the current marketplace. It’s that market value, which helps underscore Gonzales’ importance to the Mariners. To see what I mean, let’s contrast the Fort Collins, Colorado native to Ray and other noteworthy free agent lefty starters signed this offseason. Comparing Southpaws The following illustrates the stats of Gonzales, Ray, Eduardo Rodríguez, Rich Hill, Andrew Heaney, Alex Wood, and Steven Matz since the beginning of the 2018 season. It’s not a comprehensive comparison and only includes a few metrics I commonly share with you. But you can see Gonzales’ production numbers put him in good standing with the names listed below. Despite being on par with this gaggle of crafty lefties, Gonzales will be making significantly less money this year than all but one of these starters. The lone exception is Rich Hill, who turns 42-years-old in March. 2022 Base SalariesRobbie Ray ($21 million)Eduardo Rodríguez ($14 million)Alex Wood ($12.5 million)Andrew Heaney ($8.5 million)Steven Matz ($8 million)Marco Gonzales ($5.5 million) Source: Spotrac Obviously, there are many factors that impacts a player’s leverage at the negotiating table and ultimately their salary. Most of them are out of their control. Putting that aside, based on his performance since 2018, Gonzales’ contract represents a momentous bargain for the Mariners. We’ve established that Gonzales’ production since 2018 puts him on the same level as noteworthy lefties from the current free agent class. Most of whom are making considerably more money than him in 2022. But there are several other factors I’d like to discuss that further emphasize the importance of the the 19th overall pick of the 2013 draft to a franchise attempting to break its decades-long postseason drought this year. Availability The preceding table reveals a wide range of games started (GS) by Gonzales and our free agent starters. Rodríguez missed the 2020 season due to COVID-19 complications. But he’s been relatively healthy other than several lower leg injuries. That said, Hill, Heaney, Matz, and Wood have each had multiple IL stints due to a series of injuries, including arm-related issues. Meanwhile, Gonzales and Ray have remained relatively unscathed in that regard. Although we intuitively realize that being there for the team is critical, it’s still worth reiterating that Gonzales and Ray have been more available than the vast majority of their peers. Only 15 starters have made more starts than Ray’s 100 since Opening Day 2018 with Gonzales taking the ball one less time. Going The Distance When it comes to remaining in games, Gonzales staying power is unmatched compared to the arms we’ve been discussing. Since 2018, he’s finished the seventh inning 27 times. Seven-Plus Inning Starts (2018-21)Marco Gonzales (27)Andrew Heaney (17)Eduardo Rodríguez (11)Robbie Ray (10)Rich Hill (8)Steven Matz (7)Alex Wood (6) It turns out that Gonzales fares well when compared to all of MLB over the last four seasons, not just the left-handed free agent class. Only 14 starters have completed the seventh frame more often the 29-year-old has. That said, three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw (28) is the only left-hander ahead of him on that list. To be fair, how long starters are allowed to go in this era varies greatly depending on the philosophy of their club. In reality, going deep into games doesn’t happen as often as it did back in the day. Therefore, we shouldn’t judge pitchers too harshly just because they don’t pitch through the seventh inning more frequently. Still, a starting pitcher capable of regularly going late into games helps relieve the pressure facing the bullpen. This matters for teams during an arduous six-month season. Bulldog On The Mound Since 2018, Gonzales essentially has the same number of seven-plus innings starts as Kershaw – a future Hall of Famer. This is no surprise to Mariners fans, who’ve become accustomed to his fiercely competitive nature. Despite not having an overpowering fastball, he consistently ranks well among peers when the pressure is on. You can get a sense of that tenacity by reviewing how hitters have performed against him with runners in scoring position (RISP) and where his numbers ranked against pitchers facing 400-plus hitter with RISP. At the risk of belaboring the point about Gonzales’ influence on the outcome of games he starts for the Mariners, there’s one more number I’d like to share with you. Per Baseball Reference, Gonzales’ 4.2 Win Probability Added (WPA) since 2018 ranked 23rd among starters. For context, Ray’s 2.6 WPA comes in at number-43. For those unfamiliar with the metric, WPA attempts to capture a hitter’s or pitcher’s impact on his team’s win expectancy in games he plays in. If you’d like to know more about this stat, David Appelman, creator of FanGraphs, provided a helpful explanation with additional links discussing WPA here. Finally Since coming over in the deal sending Tyler O’Neill to the Cardinals during the 2017 season, Gonzales has ascended to become the leader of the Mariners’ rotation. That’s unlikely to change anytime soon – at least that’s how I see it. Sure, Ray deservedly grabbed the spotlight when he signed in November and projects to take over the starting staff’s number-one spot. There’s also a wave of dynamic young arms projected to reach Seattle soon with Logan Gilbert already entrenched in the rotation. And let’s not overlook Chris Flexen, who had a breakout 2021 campaign. Still, Gonzales is the lone Seattle starter with a record of sustained superior performance. Gonzales not only rates extremely well when compared to left-handed starters from the current free agent class. He’s consistently been top-30 among his peers dating back to 2018. All of that excellence has come at a bargain price. Yeah, Marco isn’t going anywhere. The more I think about it, Marco Gonzales deserves a pay raise. My Oh My…Go!

About two months ago, we first discussed free agent Michael Conforto as a potential upgrade option for the Seattle Mariners lineup. With the MLB lockout nowhere close to ending, why don’t we dig deeper into Conforto’s potential fit with the Mariners? Let’s begin by reflecting on the left-handed hitter’s 2021 season, which didn’t go as planned. Untimely Setbacks The first hurdle Conforto encountered in 2021 was a COVID-19 diagnosis shortly before the beginning of Spring Training, which may help explain his .211 AVG and .649 OPS in April. After bouncing back in early-May, he suffered a hamstring injury that resulted in the Seattle, Washington native appearing in just 125 games and producing average-ish offensive numbers for the season. The 2021 version of Conforto was a far cry from what New York Mets fans had come to expect from a hitter who led Mets position players in OBP, SLG, OPS+, and WAR during a breakout 2017 campaign. Not only that, his 134 OPS+ during his four best seasons (2017-20) suggests he was one of baseball’s more productive hitters. On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. It turns out Conforto compared very well to contemporaries with 1,500-plus plate appearances during 2017-20. The former Oregon State Beaver had blossomed into a superb big-league hitter, who possessed a productive blend of power and on-base ability. Entering 2021, Conforto appeared primed to make a big splash in free agency after the season. There was even speculation that the Mets would attempt to sign their star outfielder to a contract extension. No deal was struck and, alas, the season didn’t go well for player or team thanks to that balky hamstring. All Things Considered It’s worth noting that Conforto’s agent, Scott Boras, expects his client will ink a long-term deal this offseason despite an underwhelming 2021. When we contrast the 10th overall pick of the 2014 MLB draft to several prominent twenty-somethings in his free agent class, it becomes clear why Boras feels this way. Conforto’s stat line compares favorably with his peers’ production numbers since the beginning of 2017. While Conforto shares statistical similarities to Kris Bryant, Corey Seager, and Carlos Correa, it’s important to recognize that these hitters are primarily infielders. Conversely, Conforto is a corner outfielder, who doesn’t appear to possess the potential for positional versatility of these three players. Still, Conforto’s numbers do suggest he deserves mention when we discuss premium free agent bats. Another positive in Conforto’s favor, an ability to hit the ball to all fields and deliver positive results throughout his career. What intrigues me most about this skill is the opposite field power demonstrated during his four best seasons. Since the beginning of his breakout season through the end of 2020, Conforto’s .669 SLG and .428 wOBA both ranked 13th among 93 hitters with 300-plus balls hit to the opposite field. Among left-handed hitters, his SLG and wOBA ranked seventh and eighth best respectively. Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is a sabermetric version of on-base percentage (OBP) that credits hitters for how he reached rather than treating all on-base events as equals, as OBP does. For instance, a double is more valuable to run production than a single, a home run more than a double, etc. MLB league-average wOBA = .319 To take the subject of “oppo-power” a step further, the following illustrates the 10 left-handed hitters with the most opposite field home runs in 2017-20. As you can see, Conforto ranks seventh on list that includes four MVP award winners – Joey Votto, Christian Yelich, Freddie Freeman, and Bryce Harper. Okay, I suspect some of you are saying Conforto’s overall numbers are great. But it’s tough to overlook his disappointing 2021 production. Why should Mariners fans believe the Redmond High product can bolster the team’s lineup in 2022 and beyond? Fair enough. Let’s discuss an advanced metric, which gives me a great amount of confidence about Conforto’s offensive outlook moving forward. Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls.  A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA = .316 According to Statcast, Conforto’s .350 xwOBA ranked within the top 30% of MLB in 2021. Recognizable names with a similar xwOBA to the former Mets outfielder included Bryant (.346), Starling Marte (.347), 2020 AL MVP José Abreu (.348), Yoán Moncada (.350), Bo Bichette and Mariners right fielder Mitch Haniger (.354). The fact Conforto had a superb xwOBA in a disappointing season suggests to me that the seven-year veteran can deliver numbers reminiscent to his 2017-20 output in the future. This is a hill I’m willing to defend without reservation. Health Matters During our November conversation regarding Conforto, I briefly noted that he experienced hamstring tightness in September 2020 and then the subsequent strain last year. At the time, I pondered whether the hamstring could become a chronic problem. With this in mind, let’s briefly review his injury history. Two notable injuries have affected Conforto during his seven seasons in the majors. There’s the hamstring we’ve already mentioned. Plus, a shoulder separation that occurred while swinging at a pitch in August 2017 and subsequently required season-ending surgery. Although the All-Star played 153 games and continued to reach base at a high rate the following season, he wasn’t making as much loud contact. That said, his power fully returned in 2019-20. Conforto’s previous injuries aren’t a concern for me, especially for a player entering his age-29 season. Having said that, the onus will be on team physicians to assess his physical readiness before any contract is signed. Defensive Maneuvers Although he played some center field early in his career, Conforto likely holds down a corner outfield spot with his new club. Naturally, he’ll likely see an occasional designated hitter assignment to rest his body. To be clear, I’m not suggesting Conforto can’t or won’t be an occasional center field option. But it appears more likely he’ll be a regular left or right fielder this year. My rationale is based on career DRS at each position. Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) quantifies a player’s defensive value compared to peers. It is calculated in different ways depending on position. However, the main component determining DRS is always how a defender converts batted balls into outs. Zero DRS is league-average. A positive number is above-average, negative is below-average.  As you can see below, the numbers suggest that Conforto’s best defensive position is not center field. That said, we should always remember that advanced metrics are most useful in large samples. His center field experience is spread over a four-season span (2016-19). The most starts he had at the position in any year was 56 during the 2018 campaign. Conforto’s Defensive Numbers At Each OF Position LF (2,045 innings / 10 DRS) CF (1,137.1 innings/ -15 DRS) RF (2,615.1 innings/ 3 DRS) Conversely, Conforto has spent the vast majority of his MLB career patrolling left or right field. However, he last played left field in 2018 and has served as the Mets’ primary right fielder ever since. Based on his career DRS, I suspect Conforto can deliver average or slightly better corner outfield defense into his early thirties. Roster Machinations While we’re on the topic of defensive positioning, the notion of adding a corner outfielder to the Mariners’ major-league roster doesn’t concern me. I realize a segment of the fan base doesn’t agree with me. They believe the organization has enough outfielders. From their perspective, Haniger is entrenched in right field and Jarred Kelenic isn’t going anywhere. Plus, Kyle Lewis is still on the 40-man roster and let’s not forget highly touted prospect Julio Rodriguez. On the surface, the Mariners’ roster does appear to be teeming with outfielders. But is it? Haniger is a fan favorite thanks to helping propel Seattle into wildcard contention and writing a heartfelt letter to Mariners fans in the Players’ Tribune shortly after the season. But the Cal Poly product is a season away from free agency with no indication that team and player will agree on a contract extension. As we saw with Kelenic in 2021, it can take time for young players to become established major leaguers. His superb September is reason for optimism. But now, he must demonstrate he can sustain that success over a season. With that in mind, Rodriguez could potentially endure the same struggles that swept up Kelenic whenever he makes his MLB debut. Unfortunately, we don’t know whether Lewis will be ready for Opening Day. President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto said as much prior to the lockout. Hopefully, the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year is ready and able. But hope is not a strategy. Also, we still really don’t know whether Lewis will be a star or something else for the Mariners. So, yes. I do believe there would be room for Conforto in Seattle’s 2022 outfield rotation. Many Mariners fans think Scott Servais should’ve been Manager of the Year after leading the team to 90 wins in 2021. If he’s that good (I think he is), he’d figure out a way to juggle Conforto, Haniger, Kelenic, and whatever other options are available. Also, when was the last time the Mariners had too many good outfielders? It’s a problem worth creating, if the opportunity to do so presents itself. Finally Perhaps pursuing Conforto won’t make sense to the Mariners. Dipoto may prefer adding an outfielder capable of playing center field on a regular basis, which is a genuine need for the club. Maybe the team reaches an extension agreement with Haniger prior to Opening Day. Doing so might diminish the team’s appetite to make a substantial financial commitment to another corner outfield bat. On the other hand, Conforto’s history of productivity is an appealing option. Considering he’s still entrenched in his prime, it’s reasonable to expect Conforto to deliver production reminiscent to his career averages into his thirties. If that’s the case, he would be a strong positive influence on any lineup – including Seattle’s. Sometime before Opening Day, blogosphere prognosticators will proclaim bounce back candidates for 2022. Conforto is sure to be a popular choice. Perhaps he chooses to rebound as a member of his hometown Mariners and help the franchise earn a postseason berth for the first time in two decades. Wouldn’t’ that be something? My Oh My…Go!

Frankie Montas

Word came out Wednesday the Seattle Mariners are expected to pursue more starting pitching once the lockout ends, per the great Corey Brock of The Athletic. While most expected the club to go after two legitimate arms to add to the rotation, the initial expectation was maybe a frontline type, plus a relatively reliable back-end starter to better bridge the gap from starter to bullpen, and turn over the rotation over on a winning note more often than they could in 2021. But the fact such a basic concept (adding more rotation help) would come out during the lockout after two absolutely dead weeks in Major League Baseball (thank you, owners, you’re all losers), is at least a bit peculiar, and I think begs the question of whether or not this means Seattle might be more aggressive with the rotation as a result of things on the offensive side getting a bit murky. Well, if you ask me the answer is ‘no.’ Absolutely not. In fact, I think the opposite is more likely to be true. I believe PoBOps– yes, I’m sticking with that sorta-acronym —  Jerry Dipoto sees an opportunity, perhaps one they weren’t sure would be there when the offseason began. The opportunity to do all they want to do with the lineup, plus address the rotation more aggressively than expected. Considering how assailing Seattle is willing to be with dollars, and how flexible they’re capable of being defensively, both on the infield and in the outfield in terms of who plays where and how often, there’s no reason to believe, somehow, some way, the lineup won’t be significantly better in 2022, even if they add exactly zero mashers. For me, a masher is a legit, reliable, middle-of-the-order bat that generally ranks among the top 20 or so in baseball year-in, year-out. They’d bat 2-3-4 in EVERY lineup in baseball. Juan Soto is a masher. Bryce Harper is a masher. Some are just good hitters, like Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and Manny Machado. They all fit somewhere, but they don’t always measure up well to the best in the game. — Churchill Whether it’s easy to see on paper because of names such as Trevor Story Kris Bryant, Michael Conforto, et al, or it takes a bit more squinting, the Mariners are fixing the offense. Side note: There is a way the Mariners offense is average or better without adding Bryant, Story, or Conforto, using a bit more of a quantity-over-quality approach, not that Dipoto and the Mariners prefer that.  Point is, betting against the club accomplishing their goals with the offense and adding multiple pieces to the lineup that raise the floor and the ceiling of their run-scoring abilities is superbly unwise. But the key to the entire offseason may end up being the Robbie Ray signing. Adding Ray to the top of the rotation, then hammering away and piecing together at least an average offense with upside, opens the door for a game-changing move: Adding another frontline starting pitcher and scaring the diapers off the Houston Astros, who have set a goal to win the American League West for the fifth time in six years. To demonstrate this, I’ll put names to the equation. Let’s assume the below transactions all get done — I used these because they are relatable, sensible, and realistic: Sign OF Michael Conforto to 1-year deal Trade for OF Raimel Tapia Sign IF Trevor Story to 5-year deal Sign RHP Chad Kuhl to a 1-year deal Sign LHP Martín Pérez to 1-year deal You’d have a projected lineup as follows (I’ll use my personal preferred order here, not what I think Seattle would actually do) — 2022 Steamer wRC+ in parenthesis. Adam Frazier, 3B (100) Ty France, 1B (122) Trevor Story, 2B (107) Mitch Haniger, OF/DH (115) Michael Conforto, OF/DH (121) Kyle Lewis OF/DH (103) J.P. Crawford, SS (103) Tom Murphy/Cal Raleigh, C (combined 91) Jarred Kelenic, OF (103) At least on paper, this is a solid lineup (not a below-average bat in the lineup per Steamer projections), and doesn’t include an infusion of Luis Torrens versus left-hand pitching, Abraham Toro spelling Frazier (mainly versus LHP), and Tapia taking over defensively in center and shifting Lewis to a corner late in games. And it doesn’t include Julio Rodriguez, whom I do not believe has a great chance to make the Opening Day roster but will see the majors for a good chunk of 2022, and he comes with a higher floor at the plate than did Kelenic last season. There’s a lot to like with that lineup. Sure, we could replace Story and Conforto with Bryant and Kepler, or go even further down the quantity theory I noted above, but you get the point. Seattle has a great chance to put up some crooked numbers more regularly in 2022 and beyond. Let’s say that lineup is about average. Could be better, but the catchers and Kelenic are far from surefire solid contributors. They have questions to answer. We know bullpens are volatile, but Seattle expects to be at least OK there to start the year with Ken Giles joining Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, Casey Sadler, Diego Castillo, Andrés Muñoz, Erik Swanson, and Anthony Misiewicz, among others. The rotation, as it stands, is Ray, Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen and Logan Gilbert. While Matt Brash, George Kirby, and Brandon Williamson, in some order, could each contribute in 2022, the No. 5 starter in this case would be either Kuhl or Pérez, whom I’ve signed to big-league, incentive-laden deals, followed by Nick Margevicius, Justin Dunn, and Justus Sheffield. The club, in some other recent seasons, would justify going to camp as-is. But after the winter we just put together for them, adding Tyler Anderson or Michael Pineda isn’t taking full advantage. What would be? Making the move. We know Dipoto does not feel moving top prospects is necessary to check off all the boxes for his club this winter, and that he’s not going to do it unless he feels the deal is a no-brainer. And he’s right. It’s not necessary. It’s not necessary to move any significant young talent this winter … unless a 95-win 2022 season is right there for the taking. And it very well could be, because the club acted early and landed one of the better rotation pieces on the market. There’s been a lot of buzz about Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds this offseason, but in the scenario we’ve drawn up here, the move is adding another frontline starting pitcher. It’s making Gonzales the No. 3, Flexen the No. 4, and Gilbert the No. 5 with a silver bullet. It’s handing Scott Servais and Pete Woodworth a chance to match up well with every team, every game, no matter who is on the hill. It’s eliminating the games the club opens with a significant disadvantage on the mound, something we’ve seen all too often the last two decades in Seattle. Maybe they feel good about Carlos Rodon‘s arm and he’s the answer. Otherwise, the trade route is how Dipoto adds another frontline starter. We’ve discussed a lot the ideas of Oakland Athletics right-handers Chris Bassitt, and Frankie Montas, and lefty Sean Manaea, as well as the three righties in Cincinnati, Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Tyler Mahle. But there’s also a pair of former Mariners farmhands to consider in Miami right-hander Pablo Lopez, and Brewers righty Fredy Peralta. Both the Marlins and Brewers want to contend in 2022, and are taking steps to doing so, but there are a lot of easy-to-see reasons why each club would entertain moving the arms. The key for Seattle is trade cost. Julio Rodriguez is not getting traded. Jarred Kelenic is not getting traded. George Kirby is not getting traded. I also don’t believe Noelvi Marte is getting traded, either, because while I think it’s worth moving him for four years of Bryan Reynolds, I don’t see how moving Marte and his ceiling for two years of a No. 2 or 3 starting pitcher is sensible. It’s simply not good value. Emerson Hancock‘s value is crimped in a lack of pro development and the fact he was shut down with a shoulder, um, thing we’ll call it for now, to end this past season, so he’s not going anywhere, either. But why not Brash? Williamson? Connor Phillips? Adam Macko? Alberto Rodriguez? Zach DeLoach? Levi Stoudt? Milkar Perez? Juan Then? The Mariners have several prospect I have ranked outside the Top 5 that would be inside the Top 5 of probably half the league or more. Stoudt is an underrated trade piece, despite being 24 already and having a short pro resume, because he tops out in the upper 90s and has a changeup that projects to 65-70 grades. I’m not saying Stoudt can headline a deal for Montas or Castillo or Lopez or Peralta, but he could be a pretty nice second piece. There’s no reason two years of Castillo, Montas, Mahle, or Gray should cost Rodriguez, Kirby, Kelenic, or Marte. If another club wants to include a top 40 talent to headline such a trade, good luck, Mets. And, obviously, Manaea and Bassitt are in their walk years, making each a bit less expensive to acquire than the other group, though clubs do tend to overvalue such players because of the idea players perform better heading toward free agency (Story would like a word), and the perceived value of draft-pick compensation, but neither are warranting top-5 talent from a top farm system. Lopez and Peralta are different stories. They’re also less likely to be seriously discussed by their respective teams, and they’d likely be more expensive since they’re each under club control for three more seasons. Each comes with more risk than the aforementioned group, though Mahle has a lot in common with Peralta — short track record of success in the majors as a starting pitcher. When all is said and done this offseason, the question may be whether or not what clubs such as Seattle might be willing to offer in young talent is enough to convince the Reds to deal Castillo. I think Gray is getting traded, however, so for the sake of this exercise once again, let’s add this transaction to the board: Mariners acquire RHP Sonny Gray from Cincinnati for LHP Brandon Williamson (No. 7), OF Zach DeLoach (10), RHP Luis Curvelo (29). This is just a best guess at this point. The trade market for such starters has yet to be set. If anything, the price will be higher. But it’s also not the point here, so let’s not fuss over semantics Now, in addition to the promising lineup and bullpen we’ve discussed already, the rotation looks pretty darned good: Robbie Ray, L Sonny Gray, R Marco Gonzales, L Chris Flexen, R Logan Gilbert, R It also may give the Mariners a surplus of starting pitching if and when the likes of Brash and Kirby force their way into the mix, but that is a legitimate contending five-man rotation. The No. 6-12 starters are Brash, Kuhl, Perez, Margevicius, Dunn, Kirby, Sheffield, in some order. For reference, the average playoff team uses 11-12 starters a year, and at least nine made five or more starts for all but four playoff teams over the past four seasons. Gray isn’t a prototypical No. 2, he’d ideally be a No. 3 in the same way Ray is probably more of a No. 2 (unless he takes his game up yet another notch, a topic for the next Baseball Things episode) Yep, get greedy. That’s what the Mariners should do with the rotation this winter, despite the fact they have promising arms on the way. Ray’s signing to a five-year deal, and having Gonzales under contract through 2025, allow the club to move one of their pitching prospects, or even two theoretically, without tossing out an alarming measure of quality depth. Brock’s report shouldn’t surprise anyone. Seattle needs another starter, plus some depth additions on small MLB deals or NRI-style acquisitions for spring. But they might be in a prime position to do it all his winter, and honestly, I didn’t see that coming. There’s a load of work to be done before any of the above lines up, but I’d bet the house the lineup is handled and Dipoto and company get the chance to start 2022 with the best team the franchise has fielded in 20 seasons. And if they get that chance I find it difficult to believe they won’t jump.Go!

Seattle Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto has repeatedly stated that his team needs to add a middle-of-the order bat this offseason. Could free agent Kris Bryant be the hitter needed to bolster the Mariners’ lineup? Some fans view Bryant as an ideal match for Seattle. The four-time All-Star’s primary position is third base and longtime third baseman Kyle Seager just left to test free agency. Furthermore, Bryant has demonstrated the capacity to play multiple positions, an attribute Mariners management values. Still, I suspect a segment of Mariners fans are dubious to signing Bryant to a long-term deal. An understandable sentiment likely fueled by two principal concerns. Challenges at remaining available in recent years and a noticeable decline in production after initially approaching superstar status. So, does a match between Bryant and the Mariners make sense? Before rendering an opinion, let’s dig into Bryant’s versatility, availability, and productivity. Afterwards, a fun comp that may provide a smidge of perspective on the potential value Bryant could bring to the Mariners. Or, maybe it won’t. You can decide. Multi-Position Weapon? In 2021, Bryant demonstrated a unique blend of positional versatility and offensive productivity. He became one of only three players to appear in 10-plus games at first base, third base, and each outfield position in a season and post an OPS+ of 100 or greater. Cory Snyder did it with the Giants in 1992. So did Andy Van Slyke as a Cardinal in 1984. On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. At first blush, Bryant’s ability to play multiple positions and deliver with his bat are big selling points in his favor. But there’s an important factor to keep in mind. He moved around the diamond much more in 2021 than any other season of his career. Bryant was always viewed as a versatile fielder since debuting with the Cubs in 2015. However, as the preceding graphic illustrates, he played more third base than the combined total of other positions each season until this year. Call me a skeptic, if you please. But it appears Chicago attempted to elevate his trade value by moving him around the diamond more often than ever. After acquiring Bryant in late July, the Giants utilized him as a corner outfielder at approximately the same frequency as the Cubs. However, the veteran played third base on a more regular basis in San Francisco than in the Windy City. Regardless of Chicago’s motivation to move Bryant around more in 2021, one thing is certain. A third baseman capable of playing average-or-better defense in a corner outfield spot could be a big plus to a postseason contender. That said, expecting the Las Vegas, Nevada native to spend significant time in center field in the future seems like a reach. At least it does to me. Before 2021, Bryant started just one game in center field. All told, he’s played five complete games at the position in his career. Four this year with the Cubs, the other during his rookie season. Moreover, he hasn’t demonstrated the quickness normally associated with regular center fielders. This year, Bryant had a 27.9 ft/sec sprint speed, which was eighth best among third baseman with 100+ competitive runs. That same sprint speed would’ve been top-10 for left or right fielders. However, it would’ve ranked 20th among center fielders. Can Bryant be a center field solution? Sure, but it would be unreasonable to expect more than an occasional appearance going forward. Especially as the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year enters his third decade. Roll Call When discussing potential free agent infielder targets for the Mariners last month, I noted Bryant had played in 78% of his teams’ games since the beginning of the 2018 campaign. Not a terrible number. But worthy of mention when assessing a 29-year-old position player likely to receive a commitment of five-plus years from his next team. Kris Bryant’s Games Played Since 20152015 (151) 2016 (155) 2017 (151) 2018 (102) 2019 (147) 2020 (34)* 2021 (144) *60-game season Since player availability is a cornerstone component of their value to a team, I decided to review Bryant’s health history. With the help of his Baseball Prospectus page, I cobbled together a list of instances the San Diego alum missed three-or-more games due to injury. The list is relatively short, although it is compressed. As you can see, 2018 was the year health challenges influenced Bryant’s readiness most. The root cause, a shoulder unable to properly heal during the regular season. Despite the balky shoulder, Bryant managed to slash .259/.354/.412 in the 26 games following a second IL stint. The damaged wing did appear to affect one crucial component of his offensive arsenal – home run power. He hit just 13 dingers in 2018. Bryant rebounded nicely in 2019 with strong offensive production, which resulted in his third All-Star team selection. However, the right-handed hitter once again encountered difficulties during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. He spent time on the IL with a sprained finger, but also struggled with back, elbow, and oblique issues. In the end, Bryant delivered his worst slash line (.206/.293/.351) of his career. Once again, Bryant bounced back in 2021 delivering the production and versatility we’ve already discussed. But some of you may have a hard time overlooking his recent health-related issues. After all, the second overall pick of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft hasn’t played in 150 games since 2017. Even worse, injuries have affected his offensive prowess in two of the last four seasons. Reasonable concerns considering Bryant enters his age-30 season next year. Still, it’s worth noting a pair of recognizable 2021-22 free agent infielders actually played in fewer games than Bryant did since 2018 and appear to have maintained a high market value. Games Played Since Start of 2018Freddie Freeman (539)Marcus Semien (536)Trevor Story (503)Anthony Rizzo (498)Javier Báez (495)Kyle Seager (480)Kris Bryant (427)Carlos Correa (391)Corey Seager (307) Corey Seager playing in just 56% of scheduled games since 2018 didn’t discourage the Rangers from signing the 27-year-old to a 10-year/$325 million contract last month. Whether Carlos Correa matches or exceeds Seager’s deal is unknown at this time. But Correa appears destined to make a big splash in free agency once the MLB lockout ends. Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect Bryant and his agent, Scott Boras, will also be seeking a lucrative long-term contract this winter. Diminishing Returns Health not only affects availability; it also impacts a player’s ability to deliver positive results. In Bryant’s case, it’s not difficult to determine when injuries affected his performance most. Bryant’s career is easily divided into two phases. His first three seasons (2015-17) when he appeared in 94% of Chicago’s games and was arguably a top-10 player in MLB. The subsequent phase when he appeared in 78% of scheduled contests wasn’t as kind to him health-wise, which is clearly reflected in the numbers. At this point, Bryant’s diminished production has probably soured some of you on his with the Mariners. Fair enough. But consider this; his 2018-21 numbers were still very good. When I searched for hitters with a similar bWAR and OPS+ to Bryant’s since the beginning of the 2018 season, several familiar names popped up. bWAR/OPS+ Since 2018Yasmani Grandal (432 games / 10.6 bWAR / 126 OPS+)José Abreu (499 games / 10.5 bWAR / 126 OPS+ / )Kris Bryant (427 games / 10.5 bWAR / 122 OPS+)Anthony Rizzo (498 games / 10.2 bWAR / 123 OPS+)Yuli Gurriel (480 games / 10.4 bWAR / 117 OPS+) To be clear, comparing Bryant to the above players doesn’t erase the reality of his struggles to remain available in recent years. But it’s worth mentioning that since 2018 he’s delivered approximately the same value and offensive production as the 2020 AL MVP (José Abreu) and the 2021 AL batting champion (Yuli Gurriel). Fun Comp Time When considering Bryant’s injury issues since 2018, a current Mariner’s name kept popping into my head – Mitch Haniger. Think about it. Haniger has persevered through a gauntlet of injuries since debuting with Seattle in 2016. Despite the Cal Poly product’s health challenges, a vocal segment of Mariners fans is demanding the team sign him to a contract extension. So, how did Haniger and Bryant match up statistically this year? There were similarities, although there were also differences worthy of mention. Haniger is a year older and played in seven more games than Bryant. But they had a similar strikeout rate, SLG, OPS+, and bWAR. That said, Haniger clobbered significantly more home runs. Meanwhile, Bryant held a distinct edge at reaching base that is readily on display with a superior walk rate, OBP, and wOBA. Okay, I’m not trying to sell Bryant because his stats sort of look like a popular Mariner’s. But when you reflect on his injury challenges and slipping performance over the last four season, I suggest you at least consider the reality that Kris Bryant was essentially as valuable as Mitch Haniger in 2021. Perhaps a little more. What To Do? Adding Bryant would undoubtedly help strengthen the Mariners’ lineup. But there’s a distinct possibility that he never produces at an MVP-level again, as he did earlier in his career. Instead, Seattle may be getting an above-average hitter capable of moving around the diamond, who may not be available to play as often as other high-priced stars. Does that description sound like a good match for the Mariners? On a short deal, sure. But a long-term contract likely leaves Seattle fans feeling disappointed with the value Bryant ultimately delivers to their favorite team. My Oh My…Go!

When labor peace returns to major league baseball, the Seattle Mariners will still need to add a middle-of-the-order bat. One oft-mentioned candidate to fill that role is Trevor Story, formerly of the Colorado Rockies. Would signing Story make sense for the Mariners? Just last month, we discussed Story along with several other free agent infielders. At the time, I expressed apprehension over the super-charging effect Coors Field has on the statistics of Rockies hitters and how Story might perform once he played his home games elsewhere. A review of Story’s career home and away splits reveals the basis for my concern. We see that he delivered excellent production in Denver’s mile-high elevation. Conversely, the right-handed hitter was average-ish when on the road with the exception of a well-above average strikeout rate. At this point, some of you have probably seen enough and would prefer that the Mariners steer clear of Story. Understandable sentiment, but an article by a super-smart baseball analyst helped soften my stance on his extreme splits. Before getting into that any further, let’s quickly consider the park the Texan has called home for six seasons. Doing so will pay off later in our discussion. Hitter’s Paradise We all know Coors Field is an ideal venue for hitters. The prevailing belief is Denver’s thin air affects pitch movement and permits batted balls to travel farther. But we shouldn’t take this to mean that the lone byproduct of the ballpark’s 5,200-foot elevation is a high home run rate. Don’t get me wrong. There have been 1,401 home runs hit at Coors Field since the beginning of the Statcast era in 2015. That’s a lot. However, more homers have been clobbered at three other ballparks during the same period – Oriole Park at Camden Yards (1,581), Yankee Stadium (1,514), and Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark (1,468). That said, the Mile High City does lead the majors in another category by an overwhelming margin – non-home run hits. Most Non-HR Hits In Statcast Era Coors Field (Denver) – 8,986 Fenway Park (Boston) – 8,464 Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City) – 8,279 Chase Field (Phoenix) – 8,022 PNC Park (Pittsburgh) – 7,967 Comerica Park (Detroit) – 7,959 Target Field (Minneapolis) – 7,901 Oracle Park (San Francisco) – 7, 882 Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore) – 7,674 Nationals Park (Washington, DC) – 7,622 It turns out that Coors Field’s spacious outfield, designed to offset its mile-high elevation, actually generates many hits that don’t leave the park. This helps explain why Rockies players have won 11 batting titles since the franchise’s inaugural season in 1993. Now that we’ve reviewed the benefits of Coors Field to hitters, let’s get back to discussing Story’s home/away numbers. Bumpy Road As noted earlier, something I read convinced me to take a second look at Story’s so-so numbers away from Coors Field. It was a piece authored by Mike Petriello of MLB.com discussing the Coors Field effect when Nolan Arenado was traded by Colorado to the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this year. A key takeaway for me was road numbers of hitters tend to improve once they become former Rockies. Petriello suggested that adjusting to hitting away from Coors Field is far more challenging for Colorado players than some of us may realize. With this in mind, I reviewed how the road wOBA of notable former Rockies changed once they left the organization. Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is a sabermetric version of on-base percentage (OBP) that credits hitters for how he reached rather than treating all on-base events as equals, as OBP does. For instance, a double is more valuable to run production than a single, a home run more than a double, etc. MLB league-average wOBA this year = .319 Arenado, former Mariners Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta, Dexter Fowler, Corey Dickerson, and D.J. LeMahieu became established major leaguers with Colorado before moving on. The following illustrates each player’s road wOBA during their final two seasons with the Rockies and their first two campaigns after leaving the team with one exception – Arenado has just one year with the Cardinals. As you can see, every player enjoyed more road wOBA success after leaving the Rockies. This suggests there should be an improvement in Story’s away numbers, assuming he signs with a new club. For this reason, I feel much better about his home/away splits. That said, there are other issues regarding the 29-year-old we should consider. A Tough Year This is more perception than reality, but many pending free agents seem to have a career-year as they enter the market. That was not the case for Story. Colorado’s first round pick in the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft slashed .251/.329/.471 with a 100 wRC+. Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantities how a hitter’s total offensive value compares with the league average after adjusting for park effects. League-average is always 100. Therefore, a wRC+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 wRC+ would be 20-percent below average. Story’s overall season numbers were pedestrian, especially for someone considered by many to be an elite player. But it’s important to note that his production rebounded considerably during his final 50 games. Story’s .377 wOBA and 123 wRC+ over the final two months of the season were certainly more palatable than what he produced beforehand. The issue confronting prospective suitors (and their fan bases) is what version of Story will suit up on Opening Day? The strong August-October performer or the scuffling hitter from the four months prior? The answer to these questions depends on Story’s health. What Was The Problem? In September 2018, Denver Post writer Kyle Newman reported Story was suffering from elbow inflammation and soreness, which led to a five-game absence. The All-Star shortstop returned for the final seven games of the season and then helped the Rockies win the NL Wild Card game by going 3-6 against the Cubs in Chicago. Unfortunately, his elbow began barking again this year. Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post noted in May that Story suffered the same issue he encountered in 2018. This time, an IL stint was required. Perhaps this was the root cause of his 2021 struggles. To this point, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic suggested Story’s elbow issue could affect his market value at the trade deadline. In his late-July article, Rosenthal mentioned Story had committed six throwing errors, which was one shy of his career-high. Normally considered a defensive whiz at shortstop, he finished the season with 11 throwing miscues. Rosenthal also included a video of a poor throw on a routine play as potential evidence of an arm problem. Realistically, we shouldn’t put much weight into a video replay of one bad play. On the other hand, a nerd with a much bigger brain than mine does plant a seed of doubt regarding Story’s arm strength. After the season, Petriello was asked on Twitter about Story’s throwing. His reply illustrated the number of throws Story made topping 75-MPH. My takeaway from this graphic is he made virtually no throws over 85-MPH this season. I’m also left with the impression that his arm strength was showing signs of degradation in 2020. extremely quick and dirty b/c I don’t have time for more but every Story throw 74+ over the last few years (w/o attempting to discern intent) and I will hear there’s some “yikes” within this pic.twitter.com/3GkW9aTpzR — Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) October 28, 2021 What might Story’s elbow issue and its potential effect on his throwing mean to teams interested in signing the free agent? The answer likely depends on an organization’s needs and the player’s wishes. Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish believes the Mariners would play Story at play second base to protect his elbow and permit Gold Glover J.P. Crawford to remain at shortstop. That seems like an appropriate course of action, although it’s unclear whether Story is amenable to changing positions to become a Mariner. Home Field Disadvantage? Okay, let’s assume three things happen in 2022. Story is a Mariner, he hits better on the road, and the elbow doesn’t affect his throwing or hitting. If these things become reality, there is another factor we should discuss. Story would be playing half his games at a venue likely to depress his offensive production – T-Mobile Park. To see what I mean, take a look at the home and away splits of the Mariners with the highest wOBA during the Statcast era. All but two delivered better production away from the Emerald City. The negative effect T-Mobile Park has on most hitters makes forecasting Story’s production as a Mariner somewhat problematic. Sure, he’ll probably hit better on the road. But we know his home numbers will be significantly worse away from Denver. Especially in Seattle’s pitcher-friendly venue. Having said all that, the influence ballparks have on offense varies by MLB venue. It’s part of the business. Some help hitters, others favor pitchers. In the end, the cream will rise to the top. That’s why hitters like Nelson Cruz, Robinson Canó, Jean Segura, and Mitch Haniger were All-Stars as Mariners despite the challenge of playing half their games at T-Mobile Park. Where does that leave Story? How Good Is He? To answer this question, I compared Story to 51 shortstops with 1,000-plus plate appearances since his MLB debut in 2016. It’s an imperfect evaluation, but it should provide a measure of insight into where he stands among his peers. I tend to believe that Story will continue to have home run power away from Coors Field. His career 4% home run rate on the road is better than the 2021 MLB average (3.3%). Then again, I do have reservations about his on-base ability moving forward. Story had a good, but not great career .340 OBP despite benefitting from the large Coors Field outfield. This is attributable to high strikeout and unremarkable walk rates that probably remain stable with a change of address. We shouldn’t ignore this factor when assessing his fit with the Mariners. Yeah, But… Assuming good health, I’ve warmed to the notion of Story’s becoming a Mariner. Yes, there are valid concerns to consider. But there is so much to like about him. Story is capable of providing a unique blend of plus-power and speed on the bases not seen in Seattle since the days of Ken Griffey Jr., Álex Rodríguez, and Mike Cameron. Still, fans should consider the possibility that he’ll be a different type of run producer away from Colorado. An aging Story without the benefit of Coors Field may reach base less often but retain his home run power. That isn’t necesarily a bad thing for the Mariners. It’s what Seager and Haniger have become in recent years. The new version of Trevor Story I’ve imagined may not repeat the prolific stats once produced with the Rockies. But he’d be capable of helping transform the Mariners into a legitimate threat in the AL West division. Does that work for you? It does for me. My Oh My…Go!

According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, the Seattle Mariners and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray have agreed to a five-year contract worth $115 million that has a player opt out after the third season. By signing Ray, the Mariners have accomplished one of several key offseason priorities – raise the ceiling of the starting rotation. There’s much to like about Ray, who instantly becomes Seattle’s best starter. With the Toronto Blue Jays this year, the left-hander was top-five among AL starters with 130-plus innings in ERA, WHIP, AVG, and xwOBA. Only free agent Carlos Rodón (34.6%) and Gerrit Cole of the Yankees (33.5%) had higher strikeout rates than the newest Mariner. Another strength of Ray’s in 2021 was a knack for remaining in games, which explains his AL-best 193.1 innings pitched. The Tennessean also led the junior circuit with 23 quality starts with the Blue Jays going 16-7 in those contests and Ray posting a 2.05 ERA. Another factor about Ray that Mariners fans may embrace is the possibility that pitching in T-Mobile Park aids the 30-year-old in a way not normally considered, except by nerds like me. Ray’s 44.2% fly ball rate was fourth highest in the majors this year and we all know that balls hit into the air don’t necessarily travel as far in Seattle as other places. Shortest Average Fly Ball Distance 2019-21 (feet)T-Mobile Park (Mariners) – 314 loanDepot park (Marlins) – 314 Oracle Park (Giants) – 314 Citi Field (Mets) – 315 Dodger Stadium (Dodgers) – 316 Oakland Coliseum (Athletics) – 316 Citizens Bank Park (Phillies) – 316 As we recently discussed, Seattle pitchers appeared to gain an advantage from the T-Mobile effect on fly balls in 2021. Conversely, the staff delivered somewhat pedestrian results on fly balls when playing on the road. Perhaps Ray also benefits from pitching his home games in the ballpark at the corner of Edgar & Dave. Doing so certainly appeared to help Chris Flexen and Tyler Anderson this year. While there’s a tremendous amount of good news surrounding the newest addition to Seattle’s rotation, we should discuss potential concerns with Ray and his future with the Mariners. After all, the team just committed five years and $115 million to the eight-year veteran. First up, Ray’s susceptibility to the long ball. In 2021, Ray surrendered 33 home runs, which was fourth most in the majors. Not only that, he’s allowed 142 homers since the beginning of the 2016 season. No pitcher coughed up more during that period. Hopefully, the T-Mobile effect we just discussed helps reduce the number of dingers Ray allows next year. Even if pitching in Seattle helps with Ray’s home run tally, the issue likely to receive the greatest scrutiny moving forward will be a long history of allowing free passes. This season, the All-Star’s control was superb – better than the league-average. But that hasn’t been the case throughout his big-league career. Ray’s Walk Rate Through The Years*2014 (8.1%) 2015 (9.0%) 2016 (9.2%) 2017 (10.7%) 2018 (13.3%) 2019 (11.2%) 2020 (17.9%) 2020 (20.1%) 2020 (14.4%) 2021 (6.7%) *MLB average BB% for starting pitchers in 2021 was 7.7% Considering the organization’s emphasis on controlling the strike zone, Seattle must feel comfortable Ray has exorcised the walk demons. To that point, Keegan Matheson of MLB.com noted earlier this season the 2021 Cy Young winner made adjustments to his pitch usage and delivery that permitted him to take advantage of his raw talent. In the end, it led to a $115 million contact with the saber-centric Mariners. Signing Ray will cost the Mariners their third-highest pick in the June 2022 MLB Amateur draft. But that’s a small price to pay (along with $115 million) to acquire for a starter capable of raising the floor of the team’s rotation in 2022 and beyond. While adding Ray is great news for the Mariners and its playoff-starved fan base, more is needed to field a postseason rotation in 2022. Remember, the 2021 Mariners rotation wasn’t good enough to seriously contend. 2021 Mariners Rotation Rankings 4.61 ERA (19th) 20.1 SO% (23rd) 7.7 BB% (11th) 4.66 FIP (22nd) .255 AVG (21st) .314 wOBA (15th) .318 xwOBA (18th) Even the stability of mid-season acquisition Anderson, emergence of Logan Gilbert, and second-half rebound of Marco Gonzales wasn’t enough to put a shine on the team’s season numbers. Currently, the Opening Day rotation projects to be Gonzales, Ray, Gilbert, Flexen, and a gaggle of youngsters vying for the final spot in the rotation. At the moment, it’s reasonable to view Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, and Matt Brash as the top candidates since they’re currently on the 40-man roster. That said, we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of other starters in the pipeline entering the mix either in Peoria or during the regular season. Potential Rotation Help In The M’s Farm SystemGeorge KirbyEmerson HancockBrandon WilliamsonIsaiah CampbellLevi StoudtJuan Then While the notion of using young arms to round out the rotation sounds cool and fun, doing so at the beginning of the season is fraught with risk. This year, we witnessed top prospects Sheffield and Dunn struggle once they were thrust into full-time service. Even Gilbert scuffled upon arriving from the minors before finally stabilizing late in the season. For this reason, adding at least one more established starter to the mix makes too much sense. Whether that starter is the same caliber as Ray or free agent Marcus Stroman, or a reliable veteran like Anderson is unclear. But a team can never have enough starting pitching. We saw that in 2021 with the Mariners and even a premium organization like the Dodgers. Having said all that, it’s only the week after Thanksgiving Day. So, there’s still plenty of time for Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto and his staff to identify and acquire more help for the starting rotation. Based on previous comments made by Dipoto regarding the offseason, the team likely adds at least one more MLB-ready arm. Knowing this should generate some semblance of optimism among beleaguered Mariners fans. Even with a potential lockout looming later this week. My Oh My…Go!

The Seattle Mariners added a second baseman today. But not that second baseman. Instead, Seattle acquired Adam Frazier from the Padres for minor leaguers Ray Kerr and Corey Rosier. While Frazier is not the marquee name some Mariners fans were hoping for, the 29-year-old is a good start to the offseason for President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto. Financially, adding Frazier has little impact on the Mariners’ payroll. Per MLB Trade Rumors, he projects to earn $7.2 million in his final season before free agency. Even with his estimated salary added, Seattle’s 2022 player budget is hovering around $48 million when we include guaranteed contracts and current arbitration-eligible players. Beyond the dollars and cents, Frazier should prove to be a big on-field asset for his new team. For the moment, Frazier projects to play second base, a position of need for the Mariners since the departure of Robinson Canó after the 2018 season. The left-handed hitter’s presence not only addresses a glaring infield hole, it lengthens a lineup that ranked near the bottom of MLB. A Valuable Bat With a 25.2% hard hit rate that ranked 131st among 132 qualified hitters this year, Frazier’s bat doesn’t possess much pop. However, the Mississippi State product was one of the better hitting second baseman and even tied Houston’s Jose Altuve for most hits. Frazier’s Rankings Among MLB Second Baseman167 Hits (T-1st) 33 2B (5th) 5 HR (16th) 10.9 SO% (2nd) 7.4 BB% (8th) .310 AVG (1st) .373 OBP (2nd) .414 SLG (11th) .344 wOBA (8th) 116 wRC+ (6th) Despite a lack of power, the control-the-zone approach of Frazier is a quality the Mariners value in hitters. To that point, his 12.4% swing and miss rate was fifth lowest in the majors last season. For context, J.P. Crawford led Seattle with the 20th best rate (15.5%). Frazier also hits the ball to all fields, which means he doesn’t deal with defensive shifts on a regular basis. In 2021, he faced a shift during just 18.1% of his plate appearances and produced a respectable .324 wOBA. Platoon-wise, the handedness of pitchers hasn’t affected Frazier’s productivity. The six-year veteran boasts a career 120 wRC+ against right-handers and 114 wRC+ when facing southpaws. It’s worth noting Frazier’s numbers declined after the Pirates dealt him to the Padres in July. That said, he did slash .318/.381/.420 in the final month of the season when the Friars were fighting to stay alive in the postseason race. Another fact we shouldn’t overlook – Frazier had a career-year in 2021. Therefore, it’s possible he doesn’t achieve the same level of success with the Mariners next year. Still, the Georgian represents a potentially significant improvement over what Seattle received from its second baseman this year. Even if he doesn’t duplicate his 2021 production next season. To illustrate this point, I compared Frazier’s career averages to the numbers collectively delivered by Mariners second basemen in 2021. Also included, Seattle’s MLB rank in each category. As you can see, Frazier represents the opportunity for a major upgrade over what the Mariners received from the second base position this year. Obviously, the player has to perform up to his career averages and remain healthy. But it’s reasonable to expect that Frazier can deliver in 2022. In a broad sense, Frazier’s offensive profile is similar to Crawford’s. Neither player relies on power to produce offense. Instead, they focus on putting bat-to-ball and using excellent plate discipline. Just for fun, I compared their combined numbers for the past two seasons. It’s likely Frazier hits near the top of the Mariners’ order. Perhaps he leads off or follows Crawford in the number-two spot. Regardless of where he appears in the lineup for manager Scott Servais, Seattle’s newest player should provide more RBI opportunities for Ty France, Mitch Haniger, and everyone else hitting behind them in 2022. Better Defense Too Not only should the Mariners receive an offensive boost from Frazier, he’s capable of playing providing strong second base defense. Since the start of the 2019 season, his 18 defensive runs saved (DRS) rank third best among MLB second baseman with 1000-plus innings. Furthermore, the sixth round of the Pirates in the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft is capable of moving around the diamond. Frazier’s Career Starts (And DRS) By Position2B – 402 (16 DRS) LF – 79 (9) RF – 20 (-2) CF – 5  (0) 3B – 3 (0) SS – 1 (-1) End Game With the Padres wanting to create budget flexibility, the Mariners were able to simultaneously oblige San Diego and add a player in his prime capable of enhancing their lineup and defense. Even better, Dipoto did so without parting with significant prospect capital. Now, we wait to see what the Virginia Commonwealth alum does for an encore. As of Thanksgiving weekend, Frazier projects to be Seattle’s Opening Day second baseman with Abraham Toro the most likely option to man third base for Servais. But so much could change in a good way for the Mariners between now and Opening Day. Thanks to Frazier’s positional versatility and relatively low salary, Dipoto can continue to aggressively pursue premium, high-dollar free agents at multiple positions. That means studs like Marcus Semien or Trevor Story remain in play for the Mariners. And that’s the most exciting part of today’s deal for me. My Oh My….Go!

A quick review of Park Factors readily available at sites like ESPN and Statcast reinforces a truth long known to Seattle Mariners fans. T-Mobile Park is a pitcher-friendly venue. Just for fun, I decided to search for rotation trade candidates capable of benefitting from the Mariners’ home field advantage. And what advantage am I referring to, specifically?  Baseballs don’t fly as far in Seattle. The T-Mobile Effect It’s true. Over the past five seasons, fly balls hit in the ballpark at the corner of Edgar & Dave have averaged the shortest distance travelled of any MLB venue. Shortest Average Fly Ball Distance (in feet)T-Mobile Park (Mariners) – 314 loanDepot park (Marlins) – 314 Oracle Park (Giants) – 314 Citi Field (Mets) – 315 Dodger Stadium (Dodgers) – 316 Oakland Coliseum (Athletics) – 316 Citizens Bank Park (Phillies) – 316 The “T-Mobile Effect” isn’t a new concept. Others have written about. But it’s an important dynamic that shouldn’t be overlooked, even during an era where putting the ball in the air is a popular strategy with hitters. To see what I mean, let’s compare the Mariners’ home and away stats on fly balls in 2021. In Seattle, the hometown nine’s staff produced significantly better results than the MLB averages included on the preceding table. Yet, the same group was essentially league-average when toeing the mound away from T-Mobile Park. Considering the Mariners’ staff collectively performed so well on fly balls at home, it’s reasonable to believe starters with above average fly ball rates may benefit from calling T-Mobile Park home. For proof of this theory, look no further than an unexpectedly good Seattle acquisition from last offseason – Chris Flexen. Straight Outta Korea By now, Mariners fans are familiar with Flexen’s back story. A 14th round pick of the Mets in 2012 given few major-league opportunities before New York released him in 2019. A year later, the 27-year-old reinvented himself with the Doosan Bears of the Korean Baseball Organization before becoming Seattle’s best starter in 2021. While Flexen finally enjoyed MLB success as a Mariner, opposing hitters were noticeably more productive against the righty when he wasn’t pitching at T-Mobile Park. Particularly in the power department. As you can see, Flexen had good overall numbers and was decent on the road. But he was special at home. Perhaps not so coincidentally, fly balls didn’t travel as far and were converted into outs more often at T-Mobile Park compared to everywhere else the Californian competed this year.  Discovering and signing Flexen to a multi-year deal proved to be a coup for Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto and his staff. Perhaps Dipoto and crew could find a similar starter on the trade market capable of using the team’s park factors to his benefit. Let’s consider four potential candidates. Help Wanted The first name on our list is someone Mariners fans have seen on a regular basis since 2019. I’ve suggested in the past that he’s an underrated performer. That’s not the case anymore. Chris Bassitt, RH – Athletics The 32-year-old was superb regardless of location this year with a 3.15 ERA that was 19th best among starters. Still, he’d be a perfect fit for T-Mobile Park. Bassitt’s 91% fly ball out rate at the Oakland Coliseum was the best recorded at home by any starter this season. Moreover, his 9.2% HR/FB rate was sixth lowest within the same group. And who was ranked just ahead of him at fifth? Chris Flexen. Fun fact: At 299 feet, 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes was the only starter with a lower average fly ball distance than Chris Bassitt (300). Most baseball observers believe the low-revenue A’s will shed payroll this offseason. Especially after the team allowed three-time Manager of the Year Bob Melvin to sign with the Padres. If Oakland actually goes into sell-mode, trading Bassitt will likely be a priority considering he’ll be a free agent after next season. Tyler Mahle, RH – Reds Mahle was excellent in 2021, although the 27-year-old could potentially deliver even better numbers if his home games weren’t in Cincinnati. At Great American Ballpark, Mahle’s 56.6% out rate on fly balls was the worst in the majors. Yet, his 76.9% out rate on the road was 17th best. It’s conceivable that the Newport Beach, California native could be a star at T-Mobile Park. With the Reds also reportedly looking to trim their budget, Mahle has been the subject of trade speculation. Cincinnati’s seventh round pick in the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft is entering his second year of arbitration-eligibility and will be a free agent after the 2023 season. Zac Gallen, RH – Diamondbacks Several of Gallen’s home/road splits look relatively stable, although the ball did travel further and produce more damage when he was pitching in the desert. The New Jersey native’s 21.1% home run/fly ball rate at Chase Field was the sixth highest home park rate in the majors. Conversely, his substantially better 11.1% rate away from Phoenix was top-30. That’s essentially the same as top free agent starter Kevin Gausman (11.2%) and 2021 AL MVP Shohei Ohtani (11.3%). Gallen is the youngest candidate on our list and also has the most club control remaining. For these reasons, the Diamondbacks may not be interested in moving the North Carolina alum. Especially after the club recently hired long-time Astros pitching coach Brent Strom to fill the same position with Arizona. Nick Pivetta, RH – Red Sox Pivetta intrigues me the most. Not only did the 28-year-old have extreme home/away splits, he’s originally from Victoria, Canada. So, there’s a Pacific Northwest connection, which would make his acquisition even more fun. Sentimentality aside, there’s no denying that Fenway Park isn’t a welcoming place for fly ball pitchers. Since the beginning of the 2019 season, hitters have an MLB-leading .545 wOBA on fly balls at the historic yard. Coors Field was second highest at .531. Knowing all that, it should surprise no one that Pivetta’s home numbers were suboptimal. Pivetta is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason and potentially a free agent after the 2024 season. Whether the Red Sox would entertain moving a starting pitcher with so much club control remaining is unclear. Especially after the team just lost free agent starter Eduardo Rodríguez to Detroit. Assuming the Sawx were amenable to trading Pivetta, he’d be a prime candidate to reinforce Seattle’s rotation. A Few Other Good Men Although our focus was on trade candidates, there are several free agents capable of using the T-Mobile Effect to their advantage – Gausman, Max Scherzer, Rich Hill, and Kwang Hyun Kim. Anthony DeSclafani was originally on my list until he re-signed with the Giants. Oh, and let’s not forget former Mariner Tyler Anderson. Anderson was a stabilizing force for the Mariners’ rotation after coming on board in late-July. The southpaw enjoyed an impressive 80% fly ball out rate at T-Mobile Park compared to a below-average 68.4% rate at every other ballpark he pitched in this year. Perhaps the Mariners and Anderson eventually conclude that the 31-year-old remaining in Seattle makes sense. Finally It’s important to remember that surrendering fly balls at T-Mobile Park doesn’t necessarily guarantee positive outcomes. For example, visitors had a 1.000 SLG against Yusei Kikuchi this year. That’s better than his 1.271 SLG on the road, but both numbers were awful.  That said, I do believe the potential does exist for the Mariners to find a few pearls capable of flourishing in Seattle due to their fly ball success. Just ask Chris Flexen.  My Oh My…Go!

J.P. Crawford Mariners

During a recent cross-country flight, I had a long overdue “aha” moment. I realized that by publicly declaring J.P. Crawford was their starting shortstop moving forward, the Seattle Mariners were essentially limiting opportunities to improve the roster this offseason. And what spurred my pea-brain to see clearly, while jetting along at approximately 30,000 feet? An excellent article by Mike Petriello of MLB.com discussing top free agent shortstops. Specifically, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Javier Báez, and Marcus Semien. In it, Petriello ranked these players in categories ranging from offense to speed to age. That’s when I finally grasped the obvious. The Mariners shouldn’t be averse to moving any player on the current roster to another position, if doing so improves the team for 2022 and possibly beyond. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that the Mariners move past Crawford – far from it. The 16th overall pick of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft is an excellent player. Not only that, he provides intangible leadership qualities that Seattle needs as it attempts to transition from rebuild-mode to contention. My issue is the team’s insistence that he’s the only choice at shortstop when there is a free agent class flush with premium shortstop talent. Yet, that’s exactly what Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto did when remarking to media members, including Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish. In Dipoto’s words, Crawford was Seattle’s shortstop moving forward. “One of the first conversations I had this offseason was with J.P,” Dipoto said. “I told him, ‘Hey, you are our shortstop. You will see that we are courting other shortstops, but it is with the understanding that the inquiry is made with the intent that that player is willing to move to another position.’” With my brain and eyes now wide-open thanks to Petriello’s evaluation of the “Big Five” shortstops, the Mariners’ approach baffles me. So, I took to Twitter to express my dismay. Probably won’t be a popular opinion on this website, but…I don’t understand the overt willingness of the #Mariners to bestow the long-term starting shortstop job to a player with a career 94 OPS+. — Luke Arkins (@luke_arkins) November 14, 2021 A team as offensively-challenged as Seattle has essentially opted to preemptively quash the notion of landing a top free agent shortstop with a more productive bat than Crawford’s, unless they are willing to change positions. How does such a strategy make sense? Crawford was a key contributor to the Mariners’ underperforming lineup in 2021. But the left-handed hitter ranked closer to mid-pack than the top-of-the-heap in most offensive categories when compared to his peers. These numbers don’t justify passing on the players Petriello discussed solely because they won’t move to another position. J.P. Crawford vs 26 Qualified MLB Shortstops 2B (1st) HR (19th) SB (24th) BB% (13th) K% (8th) AVG (10th) OBP (11th) SLG (22nd) wOBA (19th) xwOBA (19th) wRC+ (14th) BsR (26th) DRS (6th) fWAR (14th) It’s plausible that some of the Big Five shortstops would entertain a position change to sign with the Mariners. I get that. But Seattle is always a tough-to-sell destination to free agents due to its relatively isolated location. Why make the recruiting effort even more challenging with the hardline stance that Crawford isn’t moving off shortstop? What’s that you say? Crawford is a Gold Glove defender at shortstop? Yes, he is. So are Correa and Báez, who both have more established records as elite-level defenders than Crawford. And while the 26-year-old does hold an edge over the other three guys, every Big Five member possesses a considerably more productive bat. Instead of taking a posture that may potentially discourage free agents from considering Seattle, why not project a more accommodating approach at shortstop and across the diamond? Consider this. As mediocre as the Mariners’ offense was in 2021, at least five of eight field positions appear set to be filled by incumbents. All of them weren’t productive hitters. Potential M’s Opening Day Starters1B – Ty France 2B – TBD SS – J.P. Crawford 3B – TBD OF – Mitch Haniger OF – Jarred Kelenic OF – TBD C – Cal Raleigh/Tom Murphy Crawford, Ty France, and Mitch Haniger were the only consistent performers from the names listed above. Rookies Jarred Kelenic and Cal Raleigh have plenty of potential. So do Abraham Toro and Luis Torrens. But these four youngsters have yet to put together a productive MLB season. Adding to the uncertainty, 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis is dealing with a chronic knee issue that’s clouding his readiness for next season. Beyond the Mercer alum’s health issues, we still don’t quite know what he may become with the Mariners. Oh, and lest not forget that Kyle Seager and his 35 home runs left via free agency. Obviously, the TBD next to second base, third base, and one outfield spot symbolizes an opportunity for Dipoto to significantly upgrade the lineup. But what kind of mixed message is Seattle sending to free agents by insisting they remain open to changing positions when it won’t waver on moving the current shortstop to anywhere else on the field? Something else to consider. Dipoto’s comments leaves the impression that Crawford is the team’s long-term answer at shortstop. But will both player and team be able to or want to reach a multi-year pact to keep him around? Under the current CBA, Crawford is eligible for free agency after 2024 – his age-29 season. If he were to sign a deal with the Mariners right now, he could be signing when his market value is at its lowest. From Seattle’s perspective, how much is the team currently willing to pay a plus-defender with an average-ish bat? Perhaps not as much as Crawford may believe he can get as a free agent in three years. After all, belief in himself and his teammates helped propel the Mariners to 90 wins this season. So, why wouldn’t he have faith in his ability to continuously improve and then maximize his value on the open market? Looking forward, it’s certainly possible that leaving Crawford at shortstop turns out to be Seattle’s best move for 2022 and beyond. Especially if ownership actually ponies up the money to acquire premium hitters/defenders like Semien, Story, or Báez to play second base and third base. I’m just leery of the team taking a hardline stance that opposes the thought of moving any player to another position when doing so could potentially make the Mariners better. Finally, it’s important to note the extremely obvious. Mariners management knows infinitely more about building baseball teams and developing players than this dumb blogger. Maybe the mega-brains project Crawford flourishing as a hitter, which is why club officials are fine with keeping him at shortstop. If this outcome became reality, my concerns would be squashed into a big, fat nothing-burger and I’d be more than okay with that. Let’s face it, any fan of baseball has to love the way J.P. Crawford plays the game. It’s why I’d prefer seeing him remain in the Emerald City for many years. Even if he had to move to second base or third base. My Oh My…Go!

Despite just missing the postseason, the Seattle Mariners had a great season. Next year though, the team and its fan base cannot be satisfied with anything that does not result in a playoff berth. Preferably, an AL West division title. To accomplish such a feat, the starting rotation must improve. Even if free agent starters Yusei Kikuchi and Tyler Anderson returned for 2022, the Mariners’ staff would still require attention. With the pair, Seattle starters did not impress. Mariners Rotation Rankings 4.61 ERA (19th) 20.1 SO% (23rd) 7.7 BB% (11th) 4.66 FIP (22nd) .255 AVG (21st) .314 wOBA (15th) .318 xwOBA (18th) Realistically, the Mariners cannot settle by acquiring starters only capable of replacing the value of Kikuchi and Anderson. Instead, the organization must aim higher. With this in mind, I identified eight candidates capable of raising the ceiling of Seattle’s rotation. Before naming names, a few business rules. Notes + Pitchers missing all or most of the 2021 season were not considered. This includes Justin Verlander, James Paxton, and Noah Syndergaard among others. + There will no talk about dollars or contracts. Boring. + Unless otherwise noted, assume rankings are against qualified pitchers. + Assume the free agent’s team can make a “Qualifying Offer” unless noted otherwise. If you want to know more about the QO, you can read about it here. Spoiler alert: players with a QO will cost their new clubs both money and draft picks. + The age on our tables reflects how old players will be on July 1, 2022. Here are my candidates. Max Scherzer, RH Selling Points: Scherzer was everything the Dodgers could have hoped for when they acquired him in July. The 14-year veteran finished the season top-5 in fWAR, ERA, FIP, SO%, BB%, WHIP, and xwOBA. Now, he is in contention to win a fourth Cy Young Award. Something that may pique the interest of Seattle fans beyond his overall awesomeness. Scherzer’s 48.3% fly ball rate was the highest in the majors this season. As we noted when discussing free agent infielders, fly balls at T-Mobile Park do not lead to bad outcomes for pitchers as often as they do at other locations across MLB. T-Mobile Park Fly Ball Stats (and MLB Rankings) 2019-21.261 AVG (21st) .262 OBP (19th) .840 SLG (22nd) .444 wOBA (22nd) .454 xwOBA (22nd) While we are on the topic of batted balls, Scherzer’s 18.2% line drive rate was fourth lowest this year. Considering hitters had a .637 AVG and .907 SLG on line drives, that is another of many reasons the eleventh overall pick in the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft will appeal to serious-minded contenders. Since Scherzer was acquired in-season, the Dodgers cannot pin the Qualifying Offer on him. Concerns: Time waits for no one and it will not wait for Scherzer, who turns 38 next July. Does this mean he falls off a cliff next season? No. But it is worth noting he was unavailable to pitch Game 6 of the NLCS due to a dead arm. The grind of the Nationals’ World Series run also affected the St. Louis, Missouri native in 2019. Thoughts: It is true that Scherzer is on the back nine of a distinguished career. But the Mizzou product is called “Mad Max” for a reason. He is a tenacious competitor with a Hall of Fame pedigree. There is an intangible benefit to having such a presence on a team. Even if he ended up being a little closer to a mere mortal. Eduardo Rodríguez, LH Selling Points: Rodríguez’s ERA and wOBA suggest a below-average performer. However, I believe the Venezuelan can be a top-20 pitcher. Why my optimism? Rodríguez’s .289 xwOBA tied for 17th best among 99 pitchers facing 500-plus batters this season. Who tied with him? A potential Cy Young Award finalist we will discuss shortly – Robbie Ray. Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA this year = .319 What immediately struck me on the preceding table is the large disparity between Rodríguez’s below-average wOBA (highlighted in red) and his superb xwOBA. In fact, the 0.41 difference between the two metrics is the largest for any of our 99 pitchers. This major imbalance is relevant because wOBA is the actual outcome of batted balls, while xwOBA is what should have happened based on launch angle and exit velocity. A large positive gap for a pitcher suggests the results should have been better on balls in play than they were. So, what drove Rodríguez’s significant discrepancy between wOBA and xwOBA? Perhaps the issue was the defense behind him. Only 66.7% of ground balls opponents hit against Rodríguez were converted into outs by Boston defenders. That was the lowest conversion rate for any pitcher allowing at least 150 ground balls. In fact, the Red Sox ranked last in the majors at turning grounders into outs. Another appealing aspect about Rodríguez was his knack for avoiding loud contact. The left-hander’s 33.7% hard hit rate was second lowest among starters with 120-plus innings. Entering the season, there was concern over Rodríguez’s durability after he missed 2020 due to COVID-related myocarditis. But 31 starts and 157.1 innings pitched should have dispelled any apprehension. Rodríguez’s age should influence potential suitors. He does not turn 30 until April 2023 making him one of the youngest starting pitchers on the market. This should matter to a club like the Mariners that wants to create a long competitive window. Concerns: Rodríguez does not throw particularly hard with his four-seam fastball averaging 92.6-MPH this season. That in of itself is not necessarily an issue. But his four-seamer velocity has dropped two MPH since his MLB debut in 2015. Is that a problem? Perhaps not, but it is something worth considering when investing in a pitcher long-term. Thoughts: Assuming good health, Rodríguez should be a top target by clubs, including the Mariners. He could potentially anchor a contender’s rotation. Kevin Gausman, RH Selling Points: Gausman was top-10 in multiple categories with personal bests in innings, ERA, FIP, WAR, WHIP, and xwOBA.  Furthermore, the LSU alum was a workhorse for the Giants tossing 192 innings and delivering 20 quality starts, which tied for fourth most in the majors. Since Gausman accepted the Qualifying Offer last season, he is ineligible to receive it this season. Concerns: It is reasonable to wonder whether a pending free agent having a career-year can deliver similar success over the duration of a long contract. After all, Gausman did suffer some regression in the second half of the season. Following the All-Star break, his numbers were close to league-average or worse in some cases. Gausman’s Second Half Stats (And MLB Rankings*) 4.42 ERA (52nd) .276 AVG (72nd) 1.37 WHIP (67th) .332 wOBA (57th) .322 xwOBA (54th) *Among 88 starters facing 250-plus hitters Perhaps Gausman’s second-half swoon is attributable to throwing a career-high number of innings in 2021, which was 30 more than he tossed in 2019 and 2020 combined. Something else to at least consider. Gausman has been a different pitcher since joining the Giants in 2020. This becomes apparent when you compare his 2020-21 production with San Francisco to the previous two seasons he spent with three different clubs. It should be noted that Gausman’s home/away splits this season were very similar. Thoughts: Am I suggesting Gausman is a flash in the pan or cannot succeed outside of San Francisco? Absolutely not. But clubs will have to determine whether they believe he can repeat his 2021 success or is likely to regress to his 2018-19 version. Having said all that, we should remember that Gausman was the fourth overall selection of the 2012 draft. He has always possessed the pedigree to pitch this well. Perhaps his recent success is simply a matter of putting everything together and finally harnessing the talent that was always within him. Robbie Ray, LH Selling Points: Ray also had a career-year and was undoubtedly an ace for the Blue Jays in 2021. The 12th round pick of the Nationals in 2010 led the AL with 193.1 innings and was top-six in the majors in ERA, SO%, WHIP, AVG, and xwOBA. Furthermore, he proved capable of going deep into games and delivering outstanding results with an AL-leading 23 starts quality starts led AL. As with Scherzer, hitters tend to put the ball into the air when facing Ray. His 44.2% fly ball rate was fourth highest this season. Perhaps this would play well in T-Mobile Park. Concerns: On the other hand, Ray is susceptible to the long ball. This year, he allowed the fourth most home runs (33). Since the start of the 2016 season, the southpaw has surrendered 142 dingers – the most in MLB. Part of the issue is the Tennessee native allowed a lot of noisy contact. In 2021, his 42.9% hard hit rate was highest among starters this season. The bigger issue to ponder with Ray is his massive improvement in walks allowed in 2021 compared to recent seasons. Will he be able to sustain this success moving forward? Ray’s Walk Rate Through The Years*2014 (8.1%) 2015 (9.0%) 2016 (9.2%) 2017 (10.7%) 2018 (13.3%) 2019 (11.2%) 2020 (17.9%) 2020 (20.1%) 2020 (14.4%) 2021 (6.7%) *MLB average BB% for starting pitchers in 2021 was 7.7% Thoughts: An important issue for interested buyers will be projecting which version of Robbie Ray they will be signing to a multi-year deal. Will it be the league-leader of 2021? Or, will clubs be signing up for the below-average pitcher from 2018-19 with the 4.53 ERA and 13.1% walk rate? Marcus Stroman, RH Selling Points: Dating back to the start of the 2017 season, Stroman’s 3.48 ERA is tenth best among starters throwing at least 600 innings. The Medford, New York native delivered more of the same this year with a ninth-best 3.02 ERA. With an average-ish 21.7% strikeout rate, Stroman is not a swing and miss pitcher like many of his contemporaries. Instead, his specialty is generating grounders. In 2021, the seven-year veteran had a 50.8% ground ball rate, which was seventh highest in MLB. He also demonstrated pinpoint control with a top-20 walk rate. Stroman is an athletic performer and an excellent defender. The Gold Glover’s 17 defensive runs saved (DRS) since the start of 2016 is third best among pitchers. Other than a 10-day IL stint for shoulder fatigue in 2018 and a torn calf prior to the start of the 2020 season, Stroman has been healthy. Even with those maladies, the first round pick of Toronto in 2012 has averaged 30 starts and 174 innings annually since the start of the 2016 campaign. This does not include 2020 when he took the COVID opt out. Since he accepted the Qualifying Offer in 2020, Stroman is ineligible to receive it again. Concerns: The sizeable -.033 gap between Stroman’s wOBA and xwOBA was the most negative among our group of 99 starters. What drove a disparity that suggests he might not have been as good as his conventional stats? Although Stroman’s ground ball and walk rates were very good, opponents still managed to make loud contact. The Duke alum’s 41.8% hard hit rate was third highest among qualified starters. Something else to consider regarding Stroman’s wOBA-xwOBA imbalance, defense (good or bad) does not factor into xwOBA. The Mets ranked ninth in DRS this year. Thoughts: While Stroman did allow a lot of hard contact in 2021, we should not lose sight of the fact he was top-30 or better in multiple categories. Perhaps that was a byproduct of having a strong defense behind him. Having said that, his history of availability should not be overlooked. It is something his new team’s GM will likely cite at Stroman’s introductory press conference. Ideally, Stroman’s propensity to generate ground balls would work best on a team that emphasizes strong infield defense. I can think of a club in the Pacific Northwest that satisfies that requirement. Anthony DeSclafani, RH Selling Points: Our last entrant also had a career-season in San Francisco with personal bests in innings pitched, ERA, WHIP, FIP, and fWAR. DeSclafani was one of just five pitchers with two complete game shutouts this year, while his 3.17 ERA was 13th best in the majors. Furthermore, the former Florida Gator was top-20 with a .223 opponent AVG and 6.2% walk rate. Concerns: DeSclafani is another pending free agent pitcher having a career-year. As we have already discussed with the others, the issue for prospective suitors will be assessing whether the sixth round pick of Toronto in 2011 can sustain this year’s good fortune. DeSclafani’s wOBA-xwOBA difference does give us reason to take pause. His wOBA was 16th best among our group of 99 starters, but his xwOBA ranked 35th. This is likely a result of having a strong San Francisco defense behind him. Speaking of the City by the Bay, DeSclafani’s home/away splits were relatively the same in 2021 with one exception – home runs. In 14 games at Oracle Park, he allowed 4 home runs compared to 17 in 15 road contests. DeSclafani’s health history also merits discussion. He missed the beginning of the 2020 season due to a rotator cuff problem and made just seven starts for the Reds. This year, shoulder fatigue led to a brief IL stint in August. Furthermore, the New Jersey native missed the 2017 season due to a UCL issue that did not require Tommy John surgery. Something else worth mentioning. DeSclafani did see his ERA jump from 2.68 at the All-Star to 4.03 for the remainder of the season. This may be attributable to his August shoulder fatigue and the truncated 2020 campaign that affected pitchers across the league this year. Thoughts: If healthy, DeSclafani can energize a contender’s rotation. But that may an “if” some teams, including the Mariners may not want to invest in long-term. Finally Of all the position groups the Mariners may address via free agency, starting pitching comes with the most risk. Then again, the right additions would reap the greatest reward – a postseason berth and eventually World Series contention. For me, the risk is worth taking. Adding two starters this offseason with at least one being a top free agent would go a long way towards making the Mariners a serious threat for the AL West title. And perhaps much, much more. My Oh My…Go!

Seattle Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto recently stated his team intends to improve run production and would target infield and outfield bats. That said, pursuing an offensive upgrade at catcher would be another way for the Mariners to raise the lineup’s floor this offseason. Consider this. Seattle catchers collectively hit .190 with a .595 OPS this year. Even though the MLB-averages for backstops in both categories are relatively low (.229 AVG/.697 OPS), there is definitely room for improvement in the Emerald City. With this in mind, I identified a pair of free agents who could potentially bolster the offense. Yes, you can go to any website that lists pending free agents and find more than two catchers. But I performed my search presuming the Mariners intend on Cal Raleigh being the starter in 2022 – at least at the beginning of the season. That means no big names or players who still want to be a starter. Perhaps my approach will be proven wrong. But that is the I direction I have chosen. Assuming the Mariners take the approach I just described, or are even interested in adding a new catcher, the team would likely want someone amenable to starting just a few times a week. This player should not be too long in the tooth in case Raleigh was lost for a few weeks. That excludes backstops in their late-thirties. With that, let us turn our attention to the catchers I found. Please note the age you see on the following tables reflect how old players will be on July 1, 2022. Yan Gomes Selling points: Gomes is not going to wow fans with his average-ish conventional stat line. But he has proven capable of providing consistent offense from the catcher position. Just compare his 2021 conventional slash line and OPS+ to his career production numbers. .247 AVG .299 OBP .421 SLG 98 OPS+ A sneaky good aspect of Gomes’ offensive production that I find promising was captured with a metric from Baseball Savant – xwOBA. Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should have happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) does not influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. Gomes’ .337 xwOBA was eighth best among 30 catchers with 250-plus plate appearances. Since xwOBA is a reflection of the quality and quantity of contact made by hitters (or allowed by pitchers), the one-time All-Star can definitely help a team’s offense next year. Defensively, the metrics like Gomes’ work behind the plate. The veteran receiver accrued 5 defensive runs saved (DRS), which was top-15 among backstops with 300-plus innings this season. Statcast rated him as an average framer. Potential concerns: Adding a catcher entering his age-34 season is certainly risky. Perhaps age-related regression explains the drop in Gomes’ first-half .760 OPS to .663 for the remainder of the season. Did he wear down or did the drop in offense have something to do with moving to Oakland at the MLB trade deadline? On that note, Gomes is ineligible for the Qualifying Offer because the Nationals traded him in-season. Realistically, he would not have received the QO anyway. Thoughts: Some Mariners fans would not be excited by the signing of a player of Gomes’ ilk. But the Sao Paulo, Brazil native’s presence would present an opportunity to improve run production received from the catching position. Manny Piña Selling points: In some ways, Piña is similar to Gomes – a player with the potential to improve catcher offense. That said, Piña rates better than Gomes defensively. Piña accrued 7 DRS tying him with former Mariner Mike Zunino, despite the fact Zunino caught 400 more innings. The Venezuelan also rated as a better-than-average pitch framer giving him the edge over Gomes in that category. Potential concerns: Piña is the same age as Gomes. So, there is that. Furthermore, the eight-year veteran only played in 75 games with 208 plate appearances with the Brewers in 2021. Piña’s struggled at the plate early in the season. But the right-handed hitter did clobber six home runs with a .834 OPS over the final two months of the season. Granted, it was in a backup role covering only 28 games. Thoughts: In a limited role, Piña could potentially help the Mariners. But it is tough to tell how much he could play in the event of an injury to the starter. His career-high for games played is 107, which happened in 2017. Gomes possesses a more distinguished career record than Piña, which makes me prefer him for the Mariners. On the other hand,  Dipoto could choose to stick with the catching duo of Raleigh and Tom Murphy. Perhaps Luis Torrens is also thrown into the backstop mix. Torrens appeared in 35 games behind the plate, but none after July 9. Regardless of the path that the Mariners take, the team must receive more production from its catchers. Yes, offensive expectations for the position should be tempered. But a low bar does not justify being a bottom-dweller in league rankings. Especially for a team with postseason aspirations heading into next year. My Oh My…Go!

It is no secret that the Seattle Mariners must improve run production to segue from fringy contender to serious postseason threat. We recently identified free agent infielders capable of helping Seattle’s offense. Now, let us turn our attention to identifying outfielders capable of energizing the Mariners’ lineup. Yes, I know. Mitch Haniger, Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, yada, yada, yada. They are all fine players. Some may become perennial All-Stars. But nothing is certain in life. The Mariners should be trying to improve the roster whenever the opportunity presents itself. Besides, baseball has a way of taking care of “excess” talent via injuries and/or poor performances. For example, take the health of Lewis, which is in question heading into the offseason. Right now, the Mariners face the possibility of entering next season without a true center fielder readily available on the 40-man roster or in the prospect pipeline. For this reason, adding someone capable of holding down the position once manned Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Cameron, and Franklin Gutierrez is a likely priority. Before talking players, a little housekeeping. Notes + Sorry, no talk about dollars or contracts. + Unless otherwise noted, assume rankings are against qualified hitters. + Assume the pending free agent’s team can make a “Qualifying Offer” unless you read otherwise. Teams signing a player with a QO are subject to losing draft picks. If you want to know more about the QO, you can read about it here. Bottom line: players with a QO will cost their new clubs both money and draft picks. + The age you see on tables reflect how old players will be on July 1, 2022. There are many interesting free agent outfielders. But I settled on four to review. Unfortunately, just one center fielder made the cut. The players we are about to discuss have blemishes, which may make them unappealing to the Mariners. Still, each is capable of improving a team’s offensive output next year. So, we will talk about them. Michael Conforto, LF/RF Selling points: Despite being limited to 125 games due to injuries, Conforto managed to produce a league-average 101 OPS+. Moreover, the Seattle, Washington native’s .348 xwOBA was second-best on the Mets behind Pete Alonso. Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should have happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) does not influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. What I find encouraging about Conforto’s xwOBA is that despite having a down year, he still ranked in the top 30% of the league. Since xwOBA essentially reflects the quality and quantity of contact a hitter is making (or a pitcher is allowing), I feel confident the left-handed hitter rebounds in 2022. Conforto’s also has a strong command of the strike zone. His 12.6% walk rate since 2018 is top-20 among hitters with 1,500-plus plate appearances. Potential concerns: The injury sidelining Conforto this season was a hamstring, which also affected him in 2020. Could this be a chronic problem moving forward or is it something he has put behind him? Conforto did suffer a power outage this year, which is reflected in a career-low .384 SLG. Having said that, the veteran of seven seasons did become more productive once healthy with 13 doubles, 14 home runs and a .445 SLG in his final 72 games. Defensively, Conforto’s -4 defensive runs saved (DRS) in right field this year ranked 13 of 19 among players with 750-plus innings at the position. Perhaps the recurring hamstring issue factored into the Oregon State product’s below-average glove work this year. Then again, Haniger essentially delivered the same defense for the Mariners (-5 DRS). Thoughts: Conforto is coming off a down, injury-plagued season. Therefore, he is persona non grata with some New York fans. But realistically, the tenth overall pick of the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft would help a club wanting to improve its outfield run production. Nick Castellanos, LF/RF Selling points: Castellanos was one of the most productive hitters in the majors this year. His 136 OPS+ tied for seventeenth highest with three outstanding bats – Joey Votto, Yordan Álvarez, and Giancarlo Stanton. Moreover, the Floridian was top-20 in hits, doubles, home runs, AVG, and SLG. Many times, it is “buyer beware” when a pending free agent has a career year, as Castellanos did in 2021. However, he does have a 115 OPS+ in nine MLB seasons. Plus, the right-handed hitter boasts a .363 xwOBA since 2015, which tells us he frequently makes quality contact. Potential concerns: With just eight starts in left field, Castellanos has primarily been a right fielder since the Tigers moved him from third base in 2017 due to defensive challenges at the hot corner. That said, advanced metrics do not favor him in the outfield. Remember that list of 19 players with 750-plus innings in right field this year? Detroit’s first round pick in the 2010 draft ranked 16th with -7 DRS. Furthermore, his -20 DRS in right field over the last three seasons ranked 15 of 15 among players with at least 1,500 innings at the position. Thoughts: Without doubt, Castellanos would provide a needed premium power hitter for the middle of Seattle’s lineup. The issue at is whether the Mariners would be willing to accept what appears to be a glaring defensive deficiency in order to get that bat. Tommy Pham, OF Selling points: Nerd alert — Only four players with 500-plus plate appearances had a larger negative gap between their wOBA and xwOBA than Pham’s -0.32 this season. This suggests the potential exists for better production in 2022. At least it does for me. Fueling my optimism is the knowledge Pham’s 47.6% hard hit rate was 24th best in the majors ranking just behind someone Seattle fans know all too well – Oakland’s Matt Olson (48.8%). Plus, his knack for earning free passes. Pham’s 13.9% walk rate was ninth best this year and this was not a fluke. In eight big-league seasons, he has walked at a 12.5% clip. Something else to consider, the Las Vegas, Nevada native’s bat has been much better when away from Petco Park during his two seasons as a Padre. Pham’s Home/Away Splits (2020-21) Home – 342 PA, 5 HR, .185 AVG/.316 OBP/.301 SLG Away – 344 PA, 13 HR, .265 AVG/.355 OBP/.436 SLG Perhaps a change of scenery is all Pham needs to revitalize his stat line. Whether T-Mobile Park, which historically has favored pitchers, is a better alternative is not completely clear. Still, it is worth noting that Statcast projected 20 of his batted balls would have been home runs at Seattle’s home field – five more than he actually hit this year. Potential concerns: Pham has generally hit a high percentage of ground balls in his career. This season, he had 48.8% ground ball rate, which was 26th highest in MLB. But the results were different in a bad way in 2021. Pham’s AVG On Ground Balls2015 (.267) 2016 (.300) 2017 (.289) 2018 (.267) 2019 (.269) 2020 (.275)2021 (.218) Is the decline in ground ball productivity an aberration or an indicator of age-related regression? Pham, who turns 34 next March, has possessed a sprint speed ranking around 80th throughout his career until 2021. This year, he ranked 152nd. After being a center fielder earlier in his career, Pham primarily played left field for the Friars in 2020-21, although he did start eight games in center field his year. Like Conforto and Castellanos, the metrics were unfavorable. Among 26 players with over 500 innings in left field, his -4 DRS tied him for 17th place with Joc Pederson. Thoughts: Due to his age, a multi-year commitment may not be in the cards for Pham. Still, it certainly appears the sixteenth round pick of the Cardinals in 2006 could help a contender’s lineup in 2022. Starling Marte, CF Selling points: Marte delivered above-average production for both the Marlins and A’s in 2021 at a position of need for the Mariners. On the surface, this immediately makes him appealing. Although Marte was not a big bopper with just 12 home runs this year, he did hit 27 doubles. The right-handed hitter was also disruptive on the base paths with 47 stolen bases, including 25 with Oakland after joining the team in late-July. An interesting tidbit regarding Marte, his 24.1% fly ball rate was fourth lowest in the majors. Why does this matter? We recently noted when discussing pending free agent Marcus Semien that fly balls in T-Mobile Park generally do not benefit batters. Since 2019, the offensive production of players visiting the Emerald City ranks in the bottom third of MLB. T-Mobile Park Fly Ball Stats (and MLB Rankings)*.261 AVG (21st) .262 OBP (19th) .840 SLG (22nd) .444 wOBA (22nd) .454 xwOBA (22nd) 17.1 HR/FB% (22nd) 312 feet average distance (T-29) *Visiting players since 2019 Conversely, Marte had the sixth highest ground ball rate (54.8%). Hitting a lot of grounders is not always a good thing. But it worked for the 10-year veteran. In 2021, MLB hitters had a .243 AVG and .221 wOBA on ground balls. Yet, Marte recorded a .332 AVG and .307 wOBA. That was not simply good luck. His ground ball numbers for the last four seasons were above-average – .299 AVG and .276 wOBA. Since he changed teams in-season, Marte is ineligible for the Qualifying Offer. Potential concerns: While Marte is a two-time Gold Glover, it is important to note that he earned his hardware in 2015-16 as a left fielder with Pittsburgh. In center field, the metrics suggest he has been slightly below average in recent seasons. Marte has averaged 121 games annually since 2016, a number affected by an 80-game PED suspension in 2017. This year, he appeared in 120 contests. Relying too heavily on a center fielder with regressing defensive numbers and availability challenges entering his age-33 season could be a recipe for disappointment depending on the length of commitment made to him. Thoughts: Marte would represent an immediate offensive and defensive upgrade in center field over what the Mariners had in 2021. Yes, his -4 DRS this year may not look impressive at first glance. But that number is superior to what Seattle has received in recent years and certainly from Kelenic this season (-16 DRS). On the other hand, the issue confronting any potential suitor is how long can the native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic stave off Father Time? If the Mariners do not sign Marte, look for President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto and his staff to pursue a trade for a player capable of playing center field on a regular basis. Otherwise, Seattle risks not securing the outfield upgrade needed for the team to take the next step in 2022. That next step is the postseason, in case you did not already know. My Oh My…Go!

To mount a serious challenge for the AL West division title next year, the Seattle Mariners must improve its lineup. Getting more production from the team’s infielders would certainly move the Mariners’ offense in the right direction. Perhaps the position most in need of an offensive shot in the arm is second base. Abraham Toro demonstrated good on-base ability, but below-average power after arriving in late-July. Even with Toro, the .653 OPS of Seattle second baseman ranked 27th in MLB. Then there is third base. With Kyle Seager expected to become a free agent this week, the Mariners need a new regular third baseman for the first time in 10 years. That said, it is possible the team moves Toro to the hot corner where he has accumulated 5 defensive runs saved (DRS) in 59 starts and 546.2 innings. So, how might the Mariners address the need for more offense from second and third base? Hard to tell, but Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto has suggested his team would pursue the type of players it had not courted in years. With this in mind, I identified pending free agents capable of helping the Mariners win in 2022 and beyond. There were others who could potentially help. But I focused on six high-profile names since Dipoto implied Seattle would aim higher than usual in the marketplace. Before we start, a few business rules. Notes + Anyone with a club or player option will not be discussed. So, no José Ramírez, Nolan Arenado, etc. + Positional versatility was important, although it was not a prerequisite for inclusion. Same with postseason experience. + Sorry, no talk about dollars or contracts. + Unless otherwise noted, assume rankings are against qualified hitters. + Assume the pending free agent’s team can make a “Qualifying Offer” unless noted otherwise. Teams signing a player with a QO are subject to losing draft picks. If you want to know more about the QO, you can read about it here. Bottom line: players with a QO will cost their new clubs both money and draft picks. + The age you see on tables reflect how old players will be on July 1, 2022. In no particular order, my candidates. Marcus Semien, 2B/SS Selling points: Since the beginning of the 2019 campaign, Semien has the highest fWAR (15.4) and the fifth most home runs (85) and doubles (91) in MLB. This puts the Cal alum in a select group of players with over 80 home runs and doubles – Bryce Harper, Freddie Freeman, Rafael Devers, and José Abreu. In 2021, Semien hit a career-high 45 home runs with Toronto. A club forced to use three different ballparks as its home field due to COVID-19 international travel restrictions. Something that may pique the interest of Mariners fans, Statcast projects 47 of his batted balls would have been a home run in T-Mobile Park. Originally a weak fielding shortstop with Oakland, Semien developed into a Gold Glove contender at the position in 2018-19. This season, the San Francisco, California native moved to second base with his new club and finished third among second baseman with 11 DRS. Potential concerns: This is nerdy, but worth sharing. The .039 difference between his .368 wOBA and .329 xwOBA was the third highest gap among hitters with 500-plus plate appearances. Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should have happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) does not influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. This disparity matters to me because wOBA is what actually happened to batted balls, while xwOBA gives us a sense of what should have happened. A large positive gap suggests a player’s numbers may not be sustainable. Something else to consider; Semien’s 48.1% fly ball rate was eighth highest in MLB. Perhaps this not a big deal. But fly balls historically do not generate the same level of success at T-Mobile Park as they do in other locations. Since 2019, the offensive numbers of visitors to T-Mobile Park rank in the bottom third of MLB. T-Mobile Park Fly Ball Stats (and MLB Rankings)* .261 AVG (21st) .262 OBP (19th) .840 SLG (22nd) .444 wOBA (22nd) .454 xwOBA (22nd) 17.1 HR/FB% (22nd) 312 feet average distance (T-29) *Visiting players since 2019 It certainly appears the potential exists for fly ball hitters to lose some offensive value at T-Mobile Park. Thoughts: Am I suggesting the Mariners should avoid Semien? No. But it is reasonable to temper expectations on what he may be able to do in Seattle. Would the right-hander hitter represent an upgrade? Yes, at second base, third base, and shortstop. How much is unclear to me. Carlos Correa, SS Dipoto recently suggested to Mike Salk of 710 ESPN Seattle that the Mariners’ shortstop moving forward was  J.P. Crawford. But what if Crawford tells the team he is amenable to moving to another position if it led to making the roster better? Since we do not know the answer, we will discuss Houston’s All-Star shortstop. Selling points: Correa’s 5.8 fWAR is only bested by Semien’s among players expected free agents. Moreover, the native of Ponce, Puerto Rico registered 21 DRS, which led MLB at every position – not just shortstop. Oh, and Correa will play three more years before reaching his age-30 season. Postseason experience is a topic we will mention often during our discussion. Correa certainly has his share of it. All told, he has over 70 playoff games and three World Series on his résumé. Potential concerns: This season, Correa played in 148 games. But since the start of the 2017 season, the first overall pick of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft has appeared in just 71% of his team’s games. A recurring problem has been nagging back issues that have sidelined him several times. Thoughts: Correa immediately becomes the best player on many teams the moment he signs the dotted line on a new contract. That certainly applies to the Mariners. For this reason, the two-time All-Star should be on Seattle’s initial shopping list. Kris Bryant, 1B/3B/OF Selling points: After a down 2020, Bryant delivered superb production with the Cubs and then the Giants after the team acquired him prior to the MLB trade deadline in July. Excluding the 2020 season, the second overall pick of the 2013 draft has averaged 33 doubles and 27 home runs since debuting in 2015. Although Bryant could fill a need at third base for the Mariners, a key component of his value is the ability to play all over the diamond. Starts By Position In 20211B – 10 3B – 47 LF – 35 CF – 13 RF – 33 Bryant also has extensive postseason experience with 44 playoff game appearances. Most recently, he went 8-18 with a home run in five games with San Francisco this year. Something else to be mindful of, Bryant was dealt in-season. Therefore, the Giants can not offer the San Diego alum the Qualifying Offer. Potential concerns: Since the beginning of the 2018 season, Bryant has played in 78% of his team’s games due to injuries. Not a terrible number. But it is something to consider since the Las Vegas, Nevada native will play into his mid-to-late thirties with his next club. Thoughts: Bryant is a superb all-around player capable of helping a contender at multiple positions. That flexibility is certainly appealing to the Mariners, a club with multiple holes to fill in the infield and outfield. Trevor Story, SS Selling points: Despite having a down season, Story was top-10 among shortstops in doubles, triples, home runs, SLG, fWAR, wOBA, and xwOBA. Furthermore, his 28.7 ft/sec sprint speed was top-30 among players making 100-plus competitive runs. The Irving, Texas native used his quick feet and savvy to steal 20 bases and be an outstanding base runner, which is reflected by a 6.4 BsR that was ninth best in MLB. Base Running (BsR) is a comprehensive metric used by FanGraphs that accounts for success at stealing bases and other base running plays, such as taking the extra base and avoiding being thrown out on the bases. In 2021, Story’s 9 DRS were fourth highest among shortstops. But this is nothing new for the Rockies’ the 1st round pick in the 2011 draft. Since the start of the 2017 campaign, his 55 DRS ranks fourth best among shortstop peers just behind Correa (58) and seventh among all players. Concerns: Well, Story did have a down year, which may have been caused by an elbow injury. But the main issue with the two-time Silver Slugger winner is the 800-pound gorilla that stalks all Colorado players – home and away splits. These splits do not mean it is impossible for Story to perform well away from the mile-high elevation of Denver. But it is reasonable to expect some decline in production. For example, Nolan Arenado had a nice first season with the Cardinals after being a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate with the Rockies. But he experienced at least a 60-point drop in AVG, OBP, and SLG. Then again, Arenado did hit 34 doubles and 34 home runs, which was similar to his 2019 numbers (31 doubles/41 HR). Thoughts: Story is an excellent player and superb athlete, who would immediately make the Mariners lineup better. But there is a risk that he becomes more slugger than on-base guy after moving away from Coors Field and enters his thirties. It is an issue potential buyers will have to confront. Considering Seattle is about to part ways with a 30-something power bat with low on-base ability, I am unsure of the fit. Perhaps time and Story prove me wrong. That would be fine by me. Javier Báez, 2B/SS/3B Selling points: Báez hit 31 home runs with the Cubs and Mets, which is a reasonable expectation moving forward. In the three seasons prior to a pandemic-shortened 2020, the right-handed hitter averaged 29 homers with Chicago. Báez’s fly ball rate is slightly below league-average. But when he gets the ball airborne, home runs often follow. His 28.2% HR/FB rate was third highest in the majors behind two notable names – Shohei Ohtani (32.9%) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (32.1%). What is intriguing about Báez’s home run tally is that Statcast projected that 35 of his batted balls would have been home runs in T-Mobile Park. That was the highest projection for the Bayamon, Puerto Rico native in any MLB stadium. Báez had a solid .775 OPS against right-handed pitching, which would have ranked second on the Mariners among righty hitters. That said, he was particularly formidable when confronting left-handers with a .926 OPS. Why does this matter? In 2021, Seattle had a .695 OPS versus southpaws, which ranked 26th in the majors. Only the Rangers were worse in the AL. The fleet-footed Báez stole 18 bases thanks to a 28.6 ft/sec sprint speed that was also top-30. That said, his aggressiveness can lead to an occasional gaffe on the bases. Then again, he did manage to have a 58 XBT%, which tied for seventh best in MLB. Extra Bases Taken Percentage (XBT%) from Baseball Reference refers to how frequently a runner advances more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double. Defensively, Báez was a whiz at multiple positions. This year, the 2020 Gold Glove winner at shortstop accrued 3 DRS at two different positions – second base and shortstop. Moreover, he has 7 DRS in 65 career starts at third base. In the postseason, Báez has played in 36 games, including the Cubs’ 2016 World Series title run when he was NLCS MVP. Báez cannot be offered the Qualifying Offer after being traded to the Mets in July. Potential concerns: Among 187 players taking 750-plus swings this year, Báez’s 40.5% whiff rate was second highest in MLB. For context, Mitch Haniger led Seattle regulars at 29.8%. As a result of Báez’s propensity to swing and miss, his 33.6% strikeout rate was third highest in the majors. Furthermore, the two-time All-Star owned a 5.1% walk rate, which was tenth lowest. Not the “control/dominate the zone” profile the Mariners champion. Thoughts: Báez is a dynamic playmaker capable of energizing any team. The issue for any potential suitor, including the Mariners, will be stomaching his high swing and miss style to get the energizing production he can potentially deliver. Chris Taylor, INF/OF Selling points: Taylor’s 2021 numbers tapered off in the second half. But his final numbers resemble what he has produced since debuting with Seattle in 2014. Career Stats .261 AVG .337 OBP .438 SLG 109 OPS .336 wOBA .321 xwOBA Taylor’s 28.8 ft/sec sprint speed was twentieth best in 2021. That is a smidge faster than Báez (28.6). The eight-year veteran also swiped 13 bags and was caught just once. Furthermore, his 6.5 BsR ranked eighth. Of all the players discussed, Taylor is the most versatile from a defensive standpoint. The fifth round pick of the Mariners in the 2012 MLB draft started 10 or more games at five positions. Starts By Position In 2021 2B – 33 SS – 19 3B – 9 LF – 16 CF – 48 RF – 19 Potential concerns: Taylor’s 32.7% whiff rate was sixteenth highest in MLB, while his 28.7% strikeout was eleventh worst. If he were with the Mariners, he would have been wedged between Dylan Moore (29.4%) and Jarred Kelenic (28.1%). Taylor will be 32 next August. Does this matter for a player dependent on his legs to play multiple positions? Perhaps, although his sprint speed has remained constant since he became a regular in 2017. Thoughts: Taylor had a great postseason and was dealt away in a trade Dipoto has acknowledged as one of his worst. For these reasons, the Emerald City return of the former Virginia Cavalier makes too much sense for many Seattle fans. Sentimentality aside, the Mariners have multiple holes to fill across the diamond but wants to maintain the flexibility to introduce young players into the lineup. Thanks to Taylor’s excellent blend of positional versatility and offensive value, he could help his former club on both counts. My Oh My…Go!

Looking at the latest baseball odds reflects just two teams left in the dance. Atlanta and Houston have a lot in common. The most telling commonality is pitching. Depth, in particular. Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins drew it up as well as anyone right here: the Mariners’ 2021 rotation wasn’t equipped to pitch the team to the postseason, let alone through it and to the World Series. This means the club has a lot of work to do. The club received well below-average production from its starting rotation in 2021, and despite the season-long loss of James Paxton, Ljay Newsome, and Nick Margevicius, and the five weeks Marco Gonzales missed, the fact they weren’t the worst rotation in baseball by a wide margin was actually quite impressive. Seattle ranked No. 19 in rotation ERA, No. 22 in FIP, No. 27 in xFIP, No. 23 in K%, No. 13 in BB% and No. 15 in total innings covered. The club, mainly GM Jerry Dipoto, has spoken publicly about adding to the rotation. There seems to be a sentiment, from perhaps inside the organization as well as fans and media, the Mariners simply need one very good starter at the top of their rotation, and they’re set for 2022. It seems the prevailing reason for this sentiment is the presence of pitching prospects, namely George Kirby, Matt Brash, and Brandon Williamson. I completely disagree the Mariners should be seeking one starting pitcher. Dipoto should be looking for two arms, even if neither are multi-year solutions. Why? Because banking on prospects is asking for trouble, and pitching depth is at the top of the list of common denominators among good teams, another topic Arkins covered. If Seattle wants to prove baseball is back, and they want to take a real step forward next season, the rotation must be addressed with aggression, and beyond one upgrade. There are essentially two ways to do that from outside the organization: Free agents and trades. Entering the 2022 season with a rotation of Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen, Logan Gilbert, the one acquisition we’re assuming, and presumably, either an in-house option such as Yusei Kikuchi, Justin Dunn, or Justus Sheffield, or with a re-signing of Tyler Anderson, isn’t going to inspire confidence, nor is it good enough to compete with the better teams in the American League. And the answer is no if you’re wondering if it’s OK to start the season with a rotation like that because Kirby, Williamson, or Brash may be up relatively early. Counting on consistent, big-league performance from any of the three is not a plan for success, it’s not a plan for winning. That’s a developmental plan. That’s a plan the club has executed three seasons in a row now. And while it went fine for Gilbert this past season, this is when we need to realize why the Mariners believe(d) in Gilbert as much as they did/do, and why that separates him from Kirby, Williamson, and Brash. We can talk about stuff all day — all three of the prospects have enough of it to get outs in the majors. Kirby throws enough quality strikes, too. But none of the three have the combo of stuff, command, and preparedness Gilbert showed the Mariners before he was called up in May, and they aren’t going to gain that between now and next June. That makes those three a bigger performance risk entering 2022 than was Gilbert entering last season, despite my belief Kirby is a better overall prospect than Gilbert ever was. Gilbert was pretty good in 2021, but had his ups, downs and stretches of struggles, and his presence in the projected rotation for ’22 already represents above-standard levels of risk. Seattle has no business simply ‘buying time’ with fringe arms as they wait for the prospects to poke their heads through the minors. The club’s acquisitions this winter should reflect an overall approach to winning next season. No two-month stop-gaps, no ‘holding a spot for’ the prospects. When the kids are ready, they must represent an upgrade to an existing arm in the rotation, or be utilized in a different role. It’s never a bad thing to have more starting pitchers than a club needs at a given time, but there’s no such thing as too much of it. The Mariners should add two quality arms that compete consistently and have a chance to give 160-200 innings next season, even if one of them is simply an average performer  — 4.2-4.3 ERA/FIP/xFIP, i.e., Kyle Freeland, Merrill Kelly, Logan Gilbert, Michael Pineda. Freeland and Kelly should be topics of trade discussion if their clubs are willing, and Pineda should be on a long list of free agents in which the Mariners show interest, as should Jon Gray, Steven Matz, and the obvious top arms on the market. In July, the Miami Marlins engaged a bit in talks for starting pitching (Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara) but nothing materialized, and now with the injury to Sixto Sanchez, and the likely aggressions the Fish show this offseason to start winning, it’s unlikely that changes. For now. Marquez’s presence on the list above is solely to acknowledge his existence. With the Rockies extending Antonio Senzatela, it appears Colorado will attempt to add to what they have, rather than trade off their best pieces and start again. The A’s may very well have a fire sale, and while I don’t typically love the idea of paying the freight on walk-year players, Manaea can pitch. But their entire rotation may be shopped, so stay tuned. Whether or not the Reds make any of their arms available remains to be seen, but I’m a Mahle and Castillo fan, and still see value in Gray and the very team-friendly two years left on his deal. Bieber is an intriguing yet worrisome potential target thanks to a shoulder injury and some questions about whether or not the sticky stuff aided his abilities in the mound to a significant degree, but he’s worth watching this winter, too. Corbin could be a buy-low option for a club that still sees No. 2/3 stuff, but he’s owed $82 million over the next three seasons, and I think the Nationals are more likely to try a retooling rather than cleaning house, anyway, but anything goes this winter. While Seattle attempts to fix a bad offense, increasing the impact provided by their rotation to better match up with their league foes is a must. A must. It’s not going to come from within, it’s not going to happen by magic, and the other competitive clubs aren’t each taking numerous steps back. Those clubs — Astros, White Sox, Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays — all are better set up in the rotation moving forward, and others, including the Angels and Tigers, are expected to pursue veteran arms, too. While the market isn’t rich with options and trades for impact arms may be too rich for anyone, nothing at all should be off the table. The how really isn’t all that important, however, and the names attached to the arms the club targets aren’t either. But the Mariners aren’t one additional starting pitcher away from properly preparing the roster to meet their 2022 goals. And for the first time in years, their goal of winning isn’t a pipe dreams lined with wafer-thin margins. It’s real, legitimate, and treating it as anything but would be a travesty.Go!