Mariners 'committed' to better fortunes in '24

October 2nd, 2023

SEATTLE -- The Mariners found themselves in unfamiliar territory for the first time in more than three years when they arrived at T-Mobile Park on Sunday. They were playing a regular-season game that had no impact on their postseason fate, a 1-0 win over the Rangers.

“This might be the first one,” manager Scott Servais said pregame.

Even so, George Kirby threw the knuckleball that he’s hinted has been in his back pocket all season while twirling six scoreless innings, while the Mariners’ lone run came via a bases-loaded groundout from Dominic Canzone, of all outcomes.

But after the disappointment of being eliminated on Saturday, Sunday was more reflective in nature, beginning with Cal Raleigh addressing his comments from the night prior by specifically apologizing to his teammates if it was perceived that he was directly calling players out.

“That being said, I'm not going to apologize for wanting to win,” Raleigh said, “and wanting to bring a World Series to this city. They deserve it. The fans do and this our organization does, and I'm committed to doing that.”

Raleigh’s comments on Saturday night were blunt yet honest. Multiple players said in passing that they didn’t feel disrespected and had no issue with what the catcher said, which mostly centered on his belief that the front office must add external talent this offseason. Raleigh did not take questions after his statement on Sunday.

“I respect Cal a tremendous amount and he's really established himself as kind of a veteran guy on this team,” Ty France said. “And he's put himself in that position to be able to speak openly. ... He's a very passionate player and teammate. If he has any issues with people, he's usually one to grab you and tell you personally.”

France echoed Raleigh in his desires to make strides this offseason, though the first baseman focused more on himself after a disappointing season. Julio Rodríguez shared a similar sentiment, saying that the 2023 season is “definitely something we’ve got to build on. Regardless of the results right now, regardless of the situation that we're in, we've got to keep on going. We've got to keep moving forward.”

Raleigh’s comments on Saturday were revealing because they echoed what many frustrated fans have voiced since last offseason -- that the front office didn’t do enough as the team's perceived window for a World Series opened. And after falling just short of the playoffs this year, there’s a belief within the clubhouse that urgency must be heightened within these often-finite periods to contend, at least more than it was last winter.

“Cal had some great comments yesterday,” said J.P. Crawford, whose voice has a great deal of influence in the clubhouse. “I know there was a big controversy about that earlier this morning, and I'm with him on that. I think we need to go out there and really make a move to help this team win.”

Added Logan Gilbert: “Cal is the best in what he does for this team, especially. It can't be overstated. … Every team would be better by adding big players. That's just how the league works. I don't think it's a shot at all at the people we have here.”

Raleigh is among the foundational centerpieces for the foreseeable future, along with Rodríguez and Crawford. But beyond that trio, the Mariners' position-player nucleus within this contending window is more unclear.

France acknowledged that a major rebound is vital as he eyes his 30th birthday next July. Eugenio Suárez is an infectious presence, but he also experienced diminished power and is under contract only one more year. Teoscar Hernández, who finished with 26 homers, did not play Sunday, perhaps by design given the game’s inconsequence and his impending free agency. He’s a likely candidate for a qualifying offer, though he will also be among the best hitters on a light free-agent market.

Jarred Kelenic returned from his self-inflicted injury rapidly, but then he had just one extra-base hit in his final 15 games and didn't homer after June 9. Second base has been a question mark in Seattle since the club traded Robinson Canó, though Josh Rojas showed some promise.

Seattle’s starting rotation was among MLB’s best for the first five months, but its hiccups in September -- when it ranked seventh worst by FanGraphs’ wins above replacement -- were among the leading causes of the club’s demise.

And with Houston reaching the postseason for the eighth time in nine seasons and Texas passing the Mariners in 2023, the American League West is among MLB’s most competitive divisions.

It all points to an offseason of reckoning. And even after his emotions calmed on Sunday morning, Raleigh recognizes it as much as anybody.