It’s a promising start to what could be an even more fruitful offseason -- one that has already seen their AL West counterparts also get better, with the Astros signing 2020 AL MVP José Abreu and the Rangers making the biggest splash yet by landing two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom.
That said, Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto and GM Justin Hollander say that they’re not done adding.
Here’s what to look out for next week in San Diego:
• Sunday, Dec. 4: HOF Contemporary Era Ballot results released (Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling)
• Monday, Dec. 5: All-MLB Team announced
• Tuesday, Dec. 6: Inaugural Draft Lottery, AL/NL Relievers of Year announced
• Wednesday, Dec. 7: Rule 5 Draft
The Mariners have already significantly upgraded their lineup with Hernández and Wong, who combined for 4.9 wins above replacement last year, per FanGraphs, compared to the 1.9 from Mitch Haniger and Adam Frazier, though injuries sidelined Haniger for three-plus months. But with a lineup that at times could be boom or bust, most notably in an ALDS loss to Houston, they’d like to keep adding.
“Corner outfield is a spot where we feel like we could add another bat, having just subtracted a bat,” Hollander said. “So yeah, it's definitely something we're looking at. And as we get into San Diego, I'm sure we'll be talking about hundreds of different ways we can add to the position. We have DH days, we have corner outfield days available, so that's something we'll continue to look at.”
And Seattle began addressing its bullpen reinforcements by signing veteran Trevor Gott to a one-year deal this week.
Potential trade candidates
As Dipoto often says, “you have to give to get,” and with his front office having made its most impactful transactions via trades, it’s likely it will continue to use that avenue this offseason. As one of the better organizations in pitcher development (see: Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Matt Brash, et al), Seattle has a surplus of arms it could leverage, much like the club did with Erik Swanson in acquiring Hernández.
The most logical candidate is Chris Flexen, who backed up his 2021 Pitcher of the Year performance with a solid ‘22 that ended in a bullpen role after the club acquired Luis Castillo. The 28-year-old is due $8 million after triggering a vesting option for accruing 300 innings from ‘21-22, making him an affordable starting option.
The Mariners fielded calls on Flexen at the Deadline, but the club held on to him as insurance for Kirby and Gilbert reaching career-high workloads. They also explored moving Marco Gonzales, who is due $19 million the next two years, with a $15 million team option for 2024.
If Seattle deals from its starting depth, Brash -- who thrived after transitioning to the bullpen -- could move back to the rotation. They also have top pitching prospect Emerson Hancock on the cusp. Speaking of…
Prospect to know: Emerson Hancock, RHP
The No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 Draft and the No. 2 prospect in Mariners’ system per MLB Pipeline, Hancock’s first two pro seasons were marred by injuries: first, right shoulder fatigue; then a right lat strain last Spring Training that delayed his ‘22 debut until mid-May. But once healthy, the former University of Georgia standout thrived, posting a 3.75 ERA and a 22.3% strikeout rate while holding hitters to a .219/.299/.393 (.692 OPS) slash line in 21 starts.
In a farm system that is still talented despite the recent graduations of Kirby, Brash, Julio Rodríguez and more, Hancock is perhaps the most prominent prospect on the verge of making an impact in 2023.
Rule 5 Draft
The Mariners have had success in the Rule 5 Draft, though with a 40-man roster that reached 37 following the Gott and Wong moves plus more pressing needs for impact talent, they may look at other avenues to find buy-low talent.
As for players they may lose in the Rule 5 Draft, reliever Travis Kuhn (No. 28 prospect) may be a candidate. As MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo recently wrote, the 19th-round Draft pick in 2019 missed a lot of bats (10.8 K/9) in Double-A in '22, but he continued to struggle with command (5.3 BB/9) -- perhaps the reason why Seattle left him and his high-90s fastball and upper-80s slider combination unprotected. That said, Kuhn fits the mold of the type of reliever who gets moved in the Rule 5 Draft.
Burning question: What will they do next?
It’s vague but also indicative of where things stand. The free-agent market saw the first huge domino drop via deGrom, which could lead to more traction, and in turn, might spur movement -- and urgency -- across the league. That said, the Mariners have created more roster clarity.
“There's not really a benefit other than that you create some level of certainty about what you have going forward,” Hollander said. “I don't think we were in a particular hurry to do anything early or late or anything in between. It was just when the right opportunities came along.”