Upstart Mariners look to shake up AL West

March 27th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- For the first time in 21 years, the Mariners will hang a new postseason banner in the T-Mobile Park rafters on Opening Day. The drought that had seeped into the team’s identity for so long has been shifting into a distant memory all spring.

“We now have a team that has some postseason experience,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We've got some young players that are continuing to get better. We've acquired some new players that are going to help us along the way, so there's a lot going in the right direction.”

The roster is as deep and the outlook is as bright as it's been in Seattle in a long time, but they still must go out and take it.

What needs to go right?
Aside from the health of their pitching, more run production will be vital for the club to take the next step. They were more consistent in the second half, yet still too boom-or-bust with the bats. They sought to address this issue by trading for second baseman and right fielder , both upgrades from their incumbents.

“I think for me, it's just if we go out and play our brand of baseball,” left-hander said. “We’ve got some new guys in that clubhouse, added some thump to our lineup. I'm pretty excited about that. And I don't know … I think we're having a lot of fun.”

Great Unknown
Will the workloads of and linger?

Kirby threw 156 2/3 innings last year, including stints in the Minors, more than double his output of 67 2/3 innings from 2021. And Gilbert also had a massive uptick, from 124 1/3 to 185 innings. Both pitchers said that they were gassed in the weeks after the Mariners were eliminated from the postseason, but they’ve also been touted as among the most diligent in the organization with arm-care routines.

“I feel good,” Kirby said after striking out nine Dodgers on Wednesday. “I’d like to see the velo go up a little bit, but I think that’ll come as the season goes along. But I’m fired up and ready to go.”

The Mariners have more rotation depth than ever before, with being stretched out while preparing for a bullpen role, and Bryce Miller (No. 2 Mariners prospect) and Emerson Hancock (No. 4 Mariners prospect) on the cusp of reaching the Majors. But the health of Kirby and Gilbert will be paramount.

Team MVP Will Be: CF
Who else? In one short year, Rodríguez went from being one of MLB Pipeline’s top prospects to one of baseball’s emerging stars. All signs point to 2023 being an even more monster season than ‘22, when he was the near-unanimous AL Rookie of the Year Award winner -- leading a loaded class that also included Jeremy Peña, Steven Kwan and Adley Rutschman.

“My whole approach a year ago, I can definitely tell you, it was basically to do the best I can in my preparation and then let everything else take over from that,” Rodríguez said. “There were definitely a lot of surprises going around. I’m going to do the same thing.”

Rodríguez is well aware that you can only win ROY once in a career -- but MVP is a whole different story.

Team Cy Young Will Be: RHP
It’d be easy to point to the former Cy Young Award winner (Ray) or the two youngsters that have that eventual potential (Kirby and Gilbert), but Castillo showed in a three-month stretch last year that, on his best days, he’s among the premier pitchers in baseball. He’s also stated that winning the Cy Young is his top goal this season.

“I’m here for a full season and I’m going to be prepared to see if we can take the team even further, if we can,” Castillo said through an interpreter. “It’s also important for me to get ready and give 100 percent of what I can give to the team.”

Bold Prediction: They will win the AL West
They’ve made it no secret that winning their first division title since 2001 is “a realistic goal” -- notable commentary given that the club can be more grounded with its public objectives. And maybe it’s even more plausible than when Spring Training began given all the attrition in Houston, with Jose Altuve sidelined 8-10 weeks, Yordan Alvarez being slow-played and Justin Verlander departing in free agency.

The Mariners were firmly on the Astros’ radar last year; maybe 2023 is the year they finally supplant the division’s established order.