After Frazier, Ray, what's next for Mariners?

November 30th, 2021

Jerry Dipoto never viewed the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement on Wednesday at 8:59 p.m. PT as an unofficial deadline to get going with his offseason checklist. But with the addition of All-Stars Adam Frazier and Robbie Ray in a 72-hour stretch, he’ll at least have some clarity on where his roster stands if there’s a transaction freeze.

The Mariners entered the free-agent frenzy that has taken the MLB landscape by storm over the past few days by agreeing to terms with Ray on a five-year, $115 million contract -- the richest that Dipoto has dealt in Seattle. Beyond adding the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, the Mariners’ president of baseball operations also landed Frazier, the coveted infielder he attempted to acquire from the Pirates at last season’s Trade Deadline before falling short.

So, what’s next?

A significant chunk of free agents, including many who on paper looked like strong fits for the Mariners, came off the board during the chaos of the past few days, including utility man Mark Canha and center fielder Starling Marte to the Mets and starting pitcher Kevin Gausman to the Blue Jays. The Rangers have also poached not one, but two, among the loaded shortstop class: Corey Seager (10 years and $325 million) and Marcus Semien (seven years and $175 million).

The Mariners were never in on Seager given his price tag, but Semien seemed like a logical fit given his transition from shortstop to second base last year and the Mariners’ infield needs for a high-end run producer. However, he is 31 years old and his deal with Texas -- which well exceeded most projections -- will take him through his age-37 season.

After the Frazier trade became official on Saturday, Dipoto said that the club had two offers on the table to free agents, including one that was “notable.” A source told that Semien was not one of those, and that not extending the 31-year-old an offer was not related at all to the club acquiring Frazier, who like Semien has mutli-position versatility, an attribute that Dipoto’s front office values greatly. It’s unclear if one of the two offers was to Gausman, the All-Star who was linked to Seattle and who has reportedly agreed to a five-year, $110 million deal with Toronto.

Kris Bryant and Trevor Story, All-Stars with big-time power, are both 29, which might make them more appealing for the six-plus-year deals that they will both likely net. Most projections peg them in the $150 million-plus range. Javier Báez, who reached a six-year, $140 million agreement with the Tigers early Tuesday, was also linked to Seattle, though his fit didn’t seem as strong given that he’s the most free-swinging hitter in baseball and the Mariners live by their mantra of “control the zone.”

Story would cost Seattle its fourth-highest pick in next year’s Draft because the Rockies extended him a qualifying offer, and he would also need to change positions because the Mariners have firmly committed to J.P. Crawford at shortstop. Story has never played center field, one of Seattle’s positional voids, albeit to a lesser extent, but his athleticism and arm make him a curious option there.

Bryant played third base for a bulk of his seven years with the Cubs, including his MVP season in 2016, when he helped Chicago snap a 108-year World Series title drought. But he’s played all over, and most of his time with the Giants last season was in the outfield. Again, this front office loves versatility.

The qualifying-offer attachment isn’t a huge deterrent in the club assessing its targets, for Story and others, one source said, and it’s quite possible those rules will change under the new CBA. Ray rejected one from Toronto, which will now receive Seattle’s third-highest pick next year if the same system is in place.

Of the eight free agents remaining who rejected qualifying offers, three would address Seattle’s needs: Story, outfielder Michael Conforto and utility man (and former Mariner) Chris Taylor. Signing Ray signaled that a front office that so greatly covets its Draft picks will part with them for the right free agents.

There's also a strong possibility that the Mariners address their infield needs via trades. Oakland has made it clear to other clubs that it is willing to listen to offers, and Dipoto said at the GM Meetings that "we like them all" when asked about All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson.

“My thought on where we are at this stage and in the offseason is that this month has been a bit of a rush,” Dipoto said on Saturday. “It's been fun, where the activity with in discussing trade with other teams, the interaction and meeting with free agents. We initially had planned to sit down with three or four and that number has doubled in short order.

“It's been really fun to watch. You can't help but enjoy it as a baseball person or fan.”