Why Mariners didn't add big bat at Deadline

August 4th, 2022

NEW YORK -- On Deadline Day, there was far more chaos on the field for the Mariners than off, capped with one of their biggest wins of 2022. Hours earlier, Seattle acquired three veteran depth pieces, but more notably, didn’t land an impact bat, which looked like a strong need.

The decision was related to the dearth of such players, the high cost to acquire them and the Mariners’ banking on their three best hitters -- Julio Rodríguez, Ty France and Mitch Haniger, all sidelined -- serving as Deadline upgrades. France could be back Friday, Haniger is on a Minor League rehab assignment and Rodríguez is “feeling much better” after being hit by a 98 mph pitch last weekend.

“We do look forward to getting a pretty big I guess influx of talent back from the IL in addition to the three players we added [Tuesday], plus Luis Castillo,” Dipoto said. “So, all in all, a pretty productive time for us.”

What about the bats they missed out on acquiring?

The Mariners checked on Juan Soto early, but after learning the Nationals’ asking price -- which Washington successfully netted in an all-time blockbuster-- Dipoto’s staff bowed out without making a formal offer and turned its sights on Luis Castillo, who wowed in his Mariners debut.

Cubs outfielder Ian Happ seemed like a strong fit, but league sources said Seattle felt otherwise, and the fact that he wasn’t moved suggests interested teams weren’t willing to meet Chicago’s asking price. The same goes for catcher Willson Contreras, who is a rental, has poor defensive numbers and would’ve taken the bulk of the reps from Cal Raleigh. So would’ve Christian Vázquez, who went from Boston to Houston. The Mariners were looking to supplement, but not replace Raleigh, which they did by acquiring Curt Casali.

Reds infielder Brandon Drury’s 20 homers this year look appealing, but a source suggested there was trepidation over playing home games in Cincinnati’s hitter-friendly ballpark -- especially after Jesse Winker’s 200-point drop in slugging percentage going from Cincinnati to Seattle. Drury, a rental, was dealt to San Diego.

The Mariners last year pursued Whit Merrifield, yet he’s experienced significant decline and went into the Deadline unvaccinated before being traded to Toronto and deciding to get the vaccine. Andrew Benintendi, who was traded from the Royals to Yankees, was also placed on the restricted list when Kansas City traveled to Toronto because he was unvaccinated. Teams with unvaccinated players not allowed to play in Toronto during the postseason will be at a major disadvantage, and if the season ended today, that’s where the Mariners would play the Wild Card Series.

Vaccination aside, the Mariners already have Dylan Moore in the role that Merrifield would’ve played, and Moore has been a more productive player (1.4 WAR to 0.7, per FanGraphs).

Houston got a big boost with Trey Mancini, but the Mariners already made the decision to acquire Carlos Santana five weeks ago for the DH/first base hybrid to supplement France, necessary at the time due to France’s left elbow sprain.

When Haniger returns, he’ll need occasional DH days, and Kyle Lewis is already taking a chunk of those. Lewis is only playing outfield a few times per week due to limitations with his knee, but his power is a weapon when he’s available. A combination of Rodríguez, Haniger, Lewis and Winker is what the Mariners are rolling with.

“The biggest thing that sometimes gets lost or glossed over when you think about all the magical things that you can do during a Trade Deadline is you only get 26 roster spots,” Dipoto said. “And these players have to fit and coexist on a roster.”

Acquiring Castillo cost the Mariners three of their top five prospects, per MLB Pipeline, and also removed the capital needed to acquire Soto, who was the only true blockbuster bat moved. Soto would’ve made so much sense for Seattle -- a lefty-swinging power threat and the best pure hitter in the game, who isn’t a free agent until after 2024 -- and though the Mariners were willing to mortgage the farm, they weren't to that extent.

“We didn't get too far down the road,” Dipoto said of Soto. “The way it went with us is, like we are prone to do, we check in with everybody on everything and make sure that we've turned over all those stones. And we did that with the Nats on Soto and pretty early on, we understood that the asking price was just going to be too much for us to bear.”

A grander inquiry of how the roster was constructed in Spring Training is a question for another day, but based on how Dipoto’s staff assembled this 26-man contingent, there weren’t obvious fits to upgrade the lineup.

So, they’re banking on their injured players returning -- and that everyone remains healthy all the way into and throughout October. It’s a roll of the dice, perhaps a big one, and it’ll hinge on if the Mariners can snap a 20-year playoff drought.