Image: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
by Daniel Mueller
2021 Record: 90-72 (.556 win%, 2nd in Division)
2021 Payroll: $83,837,448 (25th)
Projected 2022 Lineup:
1. 2B Adam Frazier, .264 AVG/.328 OBP/.381 SLG, 2.0 fWAR
2. 1B Ty France, .272 AVG/.346 OBP/.457 SLG, 3.0 fWAR
3. DH Jesse Winker, .270 AVG/.364 OBP/.467 SLG, 2.9 fWAR
4. RF Mitch Haniger, .245 AVG/.322 OBP/.459 SLG, 2.2 fWAR
5. 3B Eugenio Suarez, .215 AVG/.305 OBP/.419 SLG, 1.9 fWAR
6. LF Jarred Kelenic, .233 AVG/.309 OBP/.434 SLG, 1.7 fWAR
7. CF Julio Rodriguez, .273 AVG/.342 OBP/.460 SLG, 2.6 fWAR
8. SS J.P. Crawford, .257 AVG/.333 OBP/.386 SLG, 3.1 fWAR
9. C Tom Murphy, .216 AVG/.295 OBP/.393 SLG, 1.1 fWAR
Projected 2022 Rotation:
1. Robbie Ray, 191.0 IP/3.70 ERA/1.17 WHIP, 3.5 fWAR
2. Marco Gonzales, 184.0 IP/4.61 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 1.5 fWAR
3. Chris Flexen, 171.0 IP/4.43 ERA/1.31 WHIP, 1.6 fWAR
4. Logan Gilbert, 141.0 IP/4.17 ERA/1.21 WHIP, 1.8 fWAR
5. Matt Brash, 114.0 IP/4.21 ERA/1.36 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR
Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:
1. Paul Sewald, 67.0 IP/3.76 ERA/1.18 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR
2. Drew Steckenrider, 66.0 IP/4.43 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR
3. Ken Giles, 56.0 IP/3.91 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 0.3 fWAR
The Mariners vastly overperformed their expectations in 2021, winning 90 games and finishing just two games behind the Yankees and Red Sox in the American League wildcard race. Thus, going into the winter of 2021, the Mariners were looking to supplement a developing young core by making some big moves to improve their roster.
The first of which came when Seattle inked reigning Cy Young winner Robbie Ray to a five-year, $115 million deal with a full no-trade clause and an opt-out after 2024. Ray will look to build upon last year’s dominance and headline a Mariners starting rotation that lost a few arms in Tyler Anderson, James Paxton, and 2021 all-star Yusei Kikuchi, who signed to play with Ray’s former club, the Toronto Blue Jays.
The second major move Jerry Dipoto and company made was a post-lockout trade with the Reds, sending starting pitcher Justin Dunn, outfielder Jake Fraley and pitching prospect Brandon Williamson to Cincinnati in exchange for Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez. Winker, the highlight of the trade, is coming off of his first all-star season with the Reds in which he put up monster numbers, including a mind-boggling 1.070 OPS against right-handed pitching. Winker will slide right into the heart of Seattle’s order, splitting time between left field and designated hitter.
Suarez, the other piece in the trade, is more of a wildcard. Ironically, just like his new teammate Robbie Ray, Suarez found breakout success after leaving the Tigers in the 2014 offseason. With the Reds, he mashed 34 homeruns in 2018 and a whopping 49 dingers the following year, then seemed to fall off a cliff in 2020 and 2021, posting an abysmal 80 OPS+ in 145 games last season. The Reds seemed to have included Suarez in the deal in order to relieve themselves from the burden of having to pay him over $30 million over the next three seasons. However, the Mariners are hoping that he can be more than that and return to his previous form to provide them with some right-handed thump.
Outside of the Robbie Ray signing and Winker-Suarez trade, Seattle made a few more acquisitions this offseason, adding a versatile infielder in Adam Frazier and a bullpen arm in Sergio Romo. Frazier, also a first-time all-star in 2021, spent most of the first half of the season as Major League Baseball’s hit leader, and was shipped off to the Padres at the trade deadline. After a disappointing second half of the year in San Diego, the Mariners decided to take a flier on Frazier, acquiring him from the Padres in exchange for prospects Ray Kerr and Corey Rosier.
Romo, who the Mariners added via free agency, will be a solid addition to what already was a deep, underrated bullpen. Romo is coming off of a down season with the Athletics where he posted a 4.67 ERA in 66 appearances out of the pen, recording 3 saves and 12 holds. The Mariners are hoping that Romo, like Suarez, can bounce back and have a productive season in Seattle.
2022 Season Preview:
The sky’s the limit for this young, blossoming Mariners squad. The main group of players that helped this team win 90 games and almost make the playoffs is back, now with a few shiny new acquisitions. Starting behind the plate, Tom Murphy will begin the season as Seattle’s everyday catcher. Murphy, who will likely be backed up by Luis Torrens, is not expected to be very productive at the plate, but will provide the Mariners with solid defense behind it.
Sometime during the season, however, Murphy is likely to lose much of his playing time, as Seattle will be promoting former prospect Cal Raleigh. Raleigh, who struggled in first taste of the bigs in 2021, still has the potential to take over the everyday job and the Mariners will look to give him plenty of opportunities to prove it over the course of the year.
First base will be occupied once again by Ty France after he put on a very impressive 2021 campaign, both at the dish and with his glove. Getting the majority of the starts at second base is the aforementioned Adam Frazier, who will look to provide some versatility for the team. J.P. Crawford is the everyday shortstop, as he has finally started to show some of the flashes of the player he was supposed to be when he was a highly touted prospect in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. Crawford is projected to be a league-average hitter in 2022, with Gold Glove caliber defense.
The Mariners have had their fair share of infielders cycle in and out of the everyday lineup, but for the majority of the past decade, one of those corner positions was locked down by one man. Fans in Seattle will probably do a double-take the first time they gaze down the third base foul-line, as long-time Mariner Kyle Seager is now retired and there will be a new face manning the bag in Eugenio Suarez. Suarez, who was acquired from the Reds this offseason, will have to fill the shoes of a fan-favorite, and it won’t be easy.
The outfield is where the Mariners can boast most of their talent. The veteran of the group is right fielder Mitch Haniger, who has had an impressively consistent career, including an all-star appearance in 2018 and an OPS+ above 105 in each of the past four seasons. The rest of the outfield positions will likely feature a rotation of Jesse Winker, Jarred Kelenic, and Julio Rodriguez.
Winker, who is the worst defensively of the trio, will split much of his time between outfield and designated hitter, as his bat is just too good to be kept out of the lineup on days where manager Scott Servais wants his young guys out in left and center. Kelenic, who, at 22 years old, is somehow now the youngest of the bunch, has experience at all three outfield positions.
After starting the preseason as a Top 5 prospect in all of baseball, Kelenic made his major league debut in 2021 and struggled, posting a .181/.265/.350 slashline in 337 at-bats. Despite this, Kelenic still has all the potential in the world, and a 2022 breakout campaign should not surprise anyone. Last of this talented group is Julio Rodriguez, who may be the most hyped Mariner outfielder since Ichiro and Griffey Jr. Rodriguez, who just turned 21 this past winter, tore up every single minor league level he played at, and the expectations are that he will do the same in the big leagues.
One thing notable about this year’s Mariners squad is that they possess much more depth than they have in recent years. Along with the players currently slotted into Seattle’s everyday lineup, the Mariners have some quality players off the bench as well, in Evan White, Kyle Lewis, Abraham Toro, and Dylan Moore. Unfortunately, White, who underwent left hip surgery, and Lewis, who is rehabbing a banged up right knee, will both begin the season on the injured list. White, who became the first rookie to win a Gold Glove in 2020, will look to improve his hitting enough to play himself and his into the Mariners lineup.
Lewis, the Rookie of the Year of that same 2020 season, has much to prove as well, as a torn meniscus and a bone bruise kept him out of the lineup for much of last year. Toro may be the most intriguing of the bench group, as he was about league average at the plate for Seattle after coming over in a trade with Houston, but is currently projected a 116 wRC+ for the upcoming season. If he can play up to this projection, Toro will be a valuable piece for Seattle, especially if a player like Eugenio Suarez or Adam Frazier underperforms. Last is Dylan Moore, who was poor offensively for Seattle last year after putting up an .855 OPS in the shortened 2020 season. Even if continues to struggle at the plate in 2022, Moore’s defensive versatility will likely keep him on the roster, as he spent time at five different positions for Seattle last season.
The Mariners’ 2022 rotation will be headlined by reigning Cy Young winner and newly signed ace Robbie Ray. Ray will look to add stability to a rotation that has severely lacked it in recent years. After him is fellow lefty Marco Gonzales, who has quietly had himself a successful tenure in Seattle. In each of the past three seasons, Gonzales has registered an ERA under 4 and he even, in 2020, led the American League with a 0.9 walks per nine and a 9.14 strikeout per walk ratio. Now, he hasn’t necessarily come close to these numbers in any of his full seasons, but now that the Mariners have Ray, they don’t need Gonzales to be the ace anymore and he can help them win games as a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm.
Next up is Chris Flexen, who came out of nowhere last season to post a 115 ERA+ for Seattle after an abysmal three year stint with the Mets and a trip to the KBO. His 5th percentile whiff rate and 9th percentile strikeout rate in 2021 both suggest that he may be in store for a bit of regression in 2022, but the Mariners are hoping that he can pick up where he left off last year and provide them with some quality starts.
Logan Gilbert and Matt Brash round out the rotation in Seattle and both players have a lot to offer for the future of this club. Gilbert is a former top 100 prospect who performed just under league average in his rookie campaign in 2021. However, reports from spring training suggest that each of his pitches have vastly improved, and he is poised for a big year in 2022.
Brash is a promising young arm for the Mariners, yet to make his major league debut. Slotting in at 98th on MLB’s top 100 prospects list, he provides Seattle with another guy they can develop into a quality starter to add to their young core. Waiting in the wings is yet another top prospect in 24 year old George Kirby, who has the potential to be a top of the rotation arm, and will likely get the call to the majors sometime this season.
Much like with their hitting, the Mariners come into 2022 with a lot of bullpen depth. So much depth, in fact, that Seattle will not be operating with a set closer, but will pick and choose who shuts the door on a game-by-game basis. The three top candidates are Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, and Ken Giles. Sewald, another former Met who revived his career with the Mariners, posted a 3.06 ERA and 11 saves with Seattle last season. Steckenrider was even better, finishing the year with a 2.00 ERA and 14 saves.
Giles, who is finally ready to make his Mariners debut after missing the entire 2021 season recovering from Tommy John Surgery, registered a 1.000 WHIP and 2.27 FIP in his last true full season with the Blue Jays in 2019. Even with the talent of these three righties, there’s a chance that none of them will be closing games for Seattle by the end of the season, as the Mariners have flamethrower Andrés Muñoz.
Muñoz, who also spent most of 2021 recovering from Tommy John Surgery, throws a hundred-mile-an-hour heater like it’s nothing, and is currently projected a 3.27 ERA in 2022. Among the other arms the Mariners will be throwing out are Diego Castillo, Anthony Misiewicz, Erik Swanson, Sergio Romo, Yohan Ramirez, and spot starter Justus Sheffield.
The Mariners are finally starting to build the foundation of a team that could feasibly be contending for the next decade plus. A few of their young guys have already graduated from prospect status, while others are set to make their impacts this year, and even more are slated to join the team within the next few seasons. For the first time in just about 20 years, one can finally say that the Mariners are building a team worth watching. Fans in Seattle have so much to look forward to in 2022.
Record Prediction: 86-76
This may be surprising at first, given that Seattle won 90 games just last season. However, their 2021 run differential shows that the Mariners suffered from a bit of good luck, and analytics show that they should have really only won about 76 games. Nevertheless, the roster has improved greatly since then and provided guys like Kelenic, Rodriguez, and Gilbert continue to develop, this team should become very good, very fast. With the Athletics trading just about their entire team away and the Astros losing Carlos Correa, the AL West is going to be more wide open in 2022 than it has in years, and the Mariners have a real shot at taking the division.
Another thing playing to Seattle’s advantage is their deep and talented farm system, which they can pull from to acquire a huge piece or two if they find themselves in the playoff race at the trade deadline. The Mariners are a team full of untapped potential, ready to skyrocket into contention as soon as everything clicks. Even if it doesn’t happen this year, huge strides will be made in the formation of the identity of this team, and 2023 will bring even more talent in the emergence of guys like Noelvi Marte and Emerson Hancock. Regardless, baseball in Seattle will be fun once again in 2022, and you won’t want to miss out on it.
Player to Watch #1: Robbie Ray
The centerpiece of Seattle’s busy offseason, Robbie Ray will don the navy blue and northwest green after a career year with the Toronto Blue Jays. In his 2021 Cy Young winning campaign, Ray registered a 2.84 ERA, 1.045 WHIP, and 248 strikeouts, leading the American League in all three. 2021 was Ray’s best season since he was an all-star in 2017, where he recorded a 163 ERA+ and a league-leading 12.1 K/9. Interestingly enough, Ray is the all-time career leader in strikeouts per nine. Yes, you read that correctly.
Ray’s 11.21 K/9 mark is higher than the likes of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, and every other qualifying pitcher in the history of the sport. Thus, it will be interesting to see if Ray can sustain his historic punch-out frequency over the course of this season, as he is currently projected a 11.72 K/9 in 2022, which would raise his historic mark even further. Even if Ray cannot top his record-breaking strikeout numbers, the Mariners would be happy with any level of production close to last season’s, as they haven’t had an ace-caliber arm to headline their rotation since Felix Hernandez in the early 2010’s.
Player to Watch #2: Julio Rodriguez
Seattle just keeps pumping out young studs. After bringing up former top-five prospect outfielder Jarred Kelenic last season, the Mariners have another one on the way, and somehow, he may be even better. Julio Rodriguez slotted in at number five on MLB.com’s 2021 preseason top 100 prospects list, right behind his teammate Kelenic. Since then, he has raked, recording a 1.001 OPS in 74 games between High-A and AA last season. Entering Spring Training this season, most experts and projections had Rodriguez starting 2022 in the minors, with his estimated major league debut coming sometime in May.
However, as he has continued to tear through opposing pitching this spring, he has pushed that timeline up exponentially, with many now saying that it would be a disservice to keep him off the Opening Day roster. When Rodriguez does finally get the call to the majors, expect him to develop into a player the Mariners will want to keep in their lineup for years to come. On top of his stupendous hitting ability, Rodriguez has the range and arm to be a plus defender at every outfield position, along with the speed to be a base-stealing threat. All signs point to Rodriguez following the likes of Juan Soto and Ronald Acuña Jr, becoming another exciting young phenom we’re all going to be watching for the next decade.
Player to Watch #3: Ty France
Currently slated to finish second on the team in wOBA is a guy drafted in the 34th round. Ty France was never a big college name, or a Top 100 prospect, but the infielder finished 2021 as Seattle’s WAR leader, and second in the American League in defensive runs saved as a first baseman. This breakout season, in which France recorded a .291/.368/.445 slashline, came as a major surprise to many. This included the Mariners, who a year prior rewarded Evan White with a six-year, $24 million contract to play the same position.
When France was originally traded to Seattle from the San Diego Padres at the 2020 deadline for Austin Nola, Austin Adams, and Dan Altavilla, he was arguably the least enticing player of the three in the Seattle’s return. The biggest name of the trio at the time was then top prospect and outfielder Taylor Trammell, who has been extremely disappointing in Seattle. The other player in the Mariners’ haul was the previously discussed reliever Andrés Muñoz, who himself has started to develop into a pretty good piece, but nevertheless has not had the major league success France has had thus far. If France, who is projected a 125 wRC+ this season, continues to mash and play elite defense, he may find himself alongside Kelenic and Rodriguez as a key piece of a soon-to-be contending Mariners squad.
Categories: 2022 Season Preview