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THE MOJ: Pitching, defence still front-and-centre as Ms chase playoff return

Seattle Mariners will a new look as team looks to rebound from last season
“We’re built on pitching and defense and that will never change because that’s how you win. Hopefully you add the right offensive pieces to be more consistent which I believe we have done,” - Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais. MLB.COM photo

PEORIA, Arizona - Coming off a 90-win season in 2022 which saw the Seattle Mariners snap a 20-year playoff drought, expectations were high that the club could take the next step in 2023.

Unfortunately, the Mariners regressed to 88 wins and missed out on a wildcard spot by a couple of games.

If Seattle is to return to the American League playoffs in 2024, they’ll have to do so with a roster that’s seen some major changes.

The Mariners offense still revolves around superstar outfielder Julio Rodriguez, with first baseman Ty France, catcher Cal Raleigh and shortstop J.P. Crawford returning to provide support. But this team will definitely have a different look to it when it opens the season at T-Mobile Park versus the Boston Red Sox on March 28.

Three starters from last year’s team – third baseman Eugenio Saurez, outfielders Jarred Kelenic and Teoscar Hernandez – are no longer with Seattle. They’ve been replaced by the likes of infielders Jorge Polanco and Luis Urias, who were acquired from Minnesota and Boston respectively as well as outfielder Luke Raley, who comes over from Tampa Bay.

There’s also a familiar face returning in outfielder Mitch Haniger, who spent five years with the M’s from 2017 to 2022 before injuries derailed his career. Mitch Garver was also signed as a free agent from the World Series champion Texas Rangers and is expected to be the club’s primary designated hitter.

The current roster configuration means more options on a daily basis for Mariners manager Scott Servais.

“I guess there could be. You’re talking about three guys that were playing pretty much every day when they were healthy. We’ll have a little mixing and matching with Luke Raley and Dominic Calzone (in the outfield) when Mitch Haniger has days off,” explained Servais, who is now in his ninth season guiding the M’s and is the second-longest tenured skipper in the league behind only Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash. “At third base, you’re looking more at a platoon type (situation) with Rojas and Urias. There could be more of that at those positions than we’ve seen in the past. Then again, if you hit, you play. If you’re hot, you’ll stay in the lineup.”

While the Mariners might not have as set of a lineup as in previous seasons, Servais feels confident about his team’s depth and their ability to produce.

“I think we’ve raised the floor with our bench guys. There isn’t such a steep drop-off from our starting group. When every game really matters and you’re in the heat of the battle, it’s really hard to give those starters a day off if there’s a significant drop-off. I don’t think the drop-off is as significant as it has been in the past,” Servais noted.

The strength of the ballclub is a starting rotation that is among the best in baseball with Luis Castillo, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert leading the way.

Youngsters Brian Woo and Bryce Miller round out the rotation and Servais is very excited about their upside.

“Both of those players are very young and improved a lot. Bryce Miller improved as much as any young pitcher I’ve ever seen while he’s been in the big leagues. That’s really hard to do – make adjustments on the fly at the highest level - and he was able to do it. Brian Woo is still making those adjustments with his secondary pitches but the upside with those two is really high. When it’s clicking and their secondary pitches are working, they can roll through any lineup in this league,” said Servais.

The bullpen, which was very good last year, has some question marks heading into the season. Andres Munoz returns as the primary closer but a key piece in Matt Brash will begin the season on the injured list with an elbow issue. Jackson Kowar, a former top prospect with the Royals who was acquired from Atlanta in the Kelenic deal, was diagnosed with a torn UCL and will undergo Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile Gregory Santos, who popped last year with the Chicago White Sox, is dealing with a lat injury and his status for the season opener is in question.

With those injury concerns, the Mariners were forced to sign former Astro Ryne Stanek to a deal a couple of days ago and he’ll join returnees Gabe Speier, Trent Thornton and Tayler Saucedo in the bullpen.

As for the recipe for success in 2024, it’s pretty simple according to Servais.

“We’re built on pitching and defense and that will never change because that’s how you win. Hopefully you add the right offensive pieces to be more consistent which I believe we have done,” stated Servais.


* Gone are the days of a sprinkling of Canadian players in organized baseball. The Cactus League in Arizona boasts a strong contingent of players from just British Columbia. The most notable is Ladner’s James Paxton, who is projected to be the third starter in the rotation for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Abbotsford’s Cade Smith has had an impressive spring and is in the running for a spot in the Cleveland Guardians bullpen. Pitcher Carter Loewen – another Abby product - is in camp with the San Diego Padres while pitcher Adam McKillican, a native of Comox, is looking to move up the Colorado Rockies minor league chain.

* Your agent was walking the backfields of the Mariners facility on the first day of workouts for all of the organization’s minor league players and initiated a chat with one of their coaches on the logistics of the whole operation. Turns out the coach was Mariners Minor League Field Coordinator Louis Boyd, who played his minor baseball in North Vancouver. Boyd spent some time in the M’s organization as a player then got into managing. Boyd won a Northwest League title with Everett in 2021 which earned him a promotion to his current post. Boyd is based out of Tsawwassen but spends three weeks a month during the season visiting all of Seattle’s six farm teams. He’s also responsible for the organization’s roving minor league instructors and their monthly assignments.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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