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2022 Record: 90-72
Second place, AL West
Team ERA: 3.59 (8th)
Team OPS: .705 (14th)
What Went Right
Despite a 19-29 start, the Mariners were able to not only get into the postseason for the first time since 2001, they swept the Wild Card Series against the Blue Jays to advance to the ALDS. There’s several reasons for that, but it’d be impossible to not start “what went right” without talking about Julio Rodriguez. The wunderkind made the Opening Day roster, and after a slight hiccup to begin the year, he hit .284 with an .853 OPS, slugged 25 homers and stole 27 bases; all this while missing 30 games due to injuries. As good as J-Rod was, it was the pitching that carried Seattle into the playoffs. Luis Castillo was acquired in a deal with Cincinnati near the deadline, and the 29-year-old was strong with a 77/17 K/BB ratio and 3.17 ERA in his 11 starts with Seattle along with 7 1/3 scoreless innings against Toronto in that Wild Card round. George Kirby pounded the strike zone in his rookie campaign with a 133/22 strikeout-to-walk mark in his 25 starts with a very respectable 3.39 ERA, and also fired six scoreless innings in his playoff start. Those two along with Logan Gilbert (3.20 ERA) and Robbie Ray (3.71, 212/62 K/BB in 189 innings) gave Seattle one of the most formidable rotations in baseball, and arms like Andrés Muñoz (2.49, 96/15), Paul Sewald (20 saves, 2.67) -- among several others -- saw Seattle have one of the best bullpens in the American League as well. Rodríguez was the offensive star, but eight-of-nine regulars for the Mariners finished with an OPS+ above 100. Cal Raleigh swatted 27 homers including a walk-off roundtripper to clinch the postseason, and Eugenio Suárez went deep 31 times while looking like the answer at third base.
What Went Wrong
Because of that poor beginning to the year, the Mariners were never in contention to win the AL West even with a sensational finish, and the Astros were able to sweep Seattle in that ALDS -- although all three games were exceptionally close, including an 18-inning 1-0 loss in the finale. Jesse Winker was acquired to be a middle-of-the-order presence, and while he did draw 84 walks, he also hit just .219 with a .344 slugging marking in his first -- and very possibly last, based on recent reports -- season with the Mariners. Mitch Haniger dealt with injury issues again that limited him to just 57 contests, and his .736 OPS in those games wasn’t what Seattle was hoping for in what could be his last season in the PNW. Adam Frazier did not come close to his All-Star efforts from the year before with a .612 OPS, and players like Abraham Toro, Jarred Kelenic, Kyle Lewis and more either didn’t play well, spent time on the injured list or both.
**Ty France was outstanding over the first 70 games of the season, hitting .316/.390/.476 with 10 homers. After sustaining a shoulder injury, however, France was ineffective over his final 70 appearances with a .687 OPS and 51/15 K/BB ratio over 302 plate appearances. As concerning as that finish was, there’s now a fairly large sample of the former San Diego prospect being an effective offensive player, and while he continuously told reporters he was healthy, one has to wonder if he was truly healthy down the stretch. France isn’t an elite option, but should be a solid fantasy first baseman again in 2023.
**Matt Brash -- another former San Diego prospect -- won the final spot in the rotation, but after registering a 7.65 ERA and walking 17 hitters in 20 innings, the Mariners sent Brash to Triple-A Tacoma and converted him to the bullpen. It paid off, as the 24-year-old held hitters to a .548 OPS, registered a 2.35 ERA and struck out 43 hitters against 16 walks in his 34 appearances out of the bullpen. It’s possible Seattle could give Brash another chance to start, but he likely begins 2023 as a relief option, and he’s a name to keep an eye on in both the short and long-term.
**Raleigh was also sent down to Tacoma after an awful start, and on May 15, the switch-hitting backstop was hitting .065/.194/.161 while looking like anything but a potential fantasy option. Even with an exceptionally low .240 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), Raleigh registered an .807 OPS while homering 25 times while looking like one of the better defenders behind the plate. Even with the low BABIP, fantasy managers can’t guarantee that Raleigh will contribute in the average category, but the power is legit. There’s a lot to like about his future based on what he showed for the majority of the 2022 season.
**Kelenic was awful in his rookie season in 2021, but a strong finish in September suggested that the former top prospect could be a helper in his second season. Nope. In fact, he was worse in his 54 contests with a .141 average, .534 OPS and 61/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 181 plate appearances. Keep in mind that Kelenic is still only 23 until July, and in 86 games with Tacoma, he hit .296/.366/.557 with 63 extra-base hits, 18 of those homers. Fantasy managers cannot count on Kelenic in redraft leagues, but there’s still reason -- fading reason, but reason -- to have some long-term optimism.
**Gilbert’s season should certainly be considered a success because of the numbers listed above, but there are some reasons for concern based on the metrics. He ranked in the bottom fifth percentile in hard hit percentage, the bottom three in average exit velocity, and was below-average in several other Savant categories. The eye test suggests he pitched better than those numbers suggest, and keep in mind this was his first full year of MLB pitching. You can make an argument that both regression and ascension is coming pretty easily. This writer is betting on the latter.
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Team Needs: Bats. Seattle certainly needs to address the middle infield, be it as an upgrade for J.P. Crawford or a true second baseman. With Haniger and Winker very possibly gone, they are also going to need to add at least one corner outfielder, and even if one comes back they’ll need depth in that area as well. The future for the Mariners looks exceptionally bright, but if they’re going to catch the Astros, Seattle is going to have to make significant upgrades in their lineup.