The Mariners' 5 biggest offseason questions

October 29th, 2020

SEATTLE -- After the most unusual season in Major League history, the Mariners head into the winter with a stronger feel for where they stand in their rebuild.

Sixty games was certainly better than none when it came to evaluating their youngsters, but uncertainties do remain and other situations have arisen now that the 2020 campaign is in the books and the Hot Stove season is officially underway following the conclusion of the World Series.

Here are five questions facing the Mariners this offseason:

1. Do they stick with the six-man rotation?
Both manager Scott Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto have already indicated they’d like to continue the program that worked so well this past season, when they felt the extra day of rest allowed Marco Gonzales to go deeper into games and stay fresh through an outstanding two-and-a-half-month schedule and also was beneficial for their young starters. Particularly coming off the shorter season, it would be smart to limit innings a bit over the long haul as pitchers build back up to six months in 2021.

But there are some challenges. Expanded rosters in 2020 allowed the Mariners to carry extra relievers, so using a sixth starter didn’t take away from the bullpen. But if rosters return to 26 players with a required 13 position players -- as was the initial plan in ’20 -- a six-man rotation only leaves seven relievers.

Additionally, next year’s schedule won’t be as compressed as this year’s, when the Mariners played 30 games in the first 31 days and 60 games in 66 days overall. Seattle has two off-days in the first nine days next season and 22 off-days spread through its 162-game slate. That means with a six-man rotation, starters are really pitching closer to once every seven days instead of six. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is different.

2. When will the next wave of talent arrive?
The Mariners patiently stayed with their long-term plan this year, keeping outfielder Jarred Kelenic and right-hander Logan Gilbert -- MLB Pipeline's Nos. 9 and 35 overall prospects, respectively -- at the alternate training site rather than rushing them to the Majors. Both will likely start next season in the Minors, but they could be added to the big league club pretty quickly if they appear ready.

Catcher Cal Raleigh and outfielder Taylor Trammell are two others who might not be far away if they play well early, and relievers Sam Delaplane, Wyatt Mills, Aaron Fletcher and others figure to be on call as well.

3. How will they bolster the bullpen?
The Mariners are pretty set with their youthful position-player group and they have stocked up well on promising young starters. So while they might add one veteran to the rotation -- and former Mariners Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are among pending free agents -- much of the free-agent energy will go toward a bullpen whose 5.92 ERA was the worst in the American League.

Rookies Joey Gerber, Yohan Ramirez and Anthony Misiewicz showed promise, but there’s plenty of room for some veteran help. While relievers tend to be the most unpredictable free agents, there are some intriguing possibilities, topped by the A's Liam Hendriks, the Dodgers' Blake Treinen, the Braves' Shane Greene and former Mariner Alex Colome of the White Sox. The Padres' Kirby Yates and the Blue Jays' Ken Giles, former closers coming back from injuries, will also be on the market.

Whether the Mariners land one of those marquee names is uncertain, but Dipoto almost certainly will sign or trade for three or four relievers who have MLB experience.

4. Are there outfielders for the outfield now?
One of the interesting things about this past season was how the Mariners survived defensively with only one true outfielder for much of the year: Kyle Lewis in center. The two corner spots were manned regularly by primary infielders. Of the 120 corner-outfield starts, 81 went to Tim Lopes (23), Dylan Moore (20), José Marmolejos (16), Sam Haggerty (11), Dee Gordon (10) and Shed Long Jr. (one).

The other 39 corner starts were filled by regular outfielders: Phillip Ervin (13), Mallex Smith (12), Braden Bishop (seven) and Jake Fraley (seven).

The Mariners expect -- or hope -- to have Mitch Haniger back next season in right field, and that could be huge if he’s healthy. The utility infield group handled itself well in the outfield for the most part, but clearly there is room for Haniger as well as the much-anticipated promotion of Kelenic.

Should Haniger not be healthy or Kelenic’s arrival delayed, the Mariners have options with their versatile utility group. The more interesting question figures to be how and when other top prospects Trammell and Julio Rodriguez eventually fit in if all goes well, though that decision is likely a year or more away.

5. Where do Moore and Ty France play?
Moore had a breakout season offensively while playing every position except catcher. He’ll likely head to Spring Training next year as the favorite for the starting job at second base, where he took over after Long struggled. But where does that leave Ty France, who split time between second, third and designated hitter after being acquired from the Padres on Aug. 30?

France figures to eventually be the replacement at third base for Kyle Seager, but Seager still has one year and $18 million remaining on his contract and was an integral part of the lineup in 2020. If Moore is the primary second baseman, that leaves France mostly at DH. Then again, as we were reminded in '20, many things happen even during a 60-game season, so the versatility of those players and ability to fill in where needed is a definite plus.