Mariners ready for spring training with eyes set on division fight
SEATTLE - The Seattle Mariners are set to head to spring training in Arizona carrying significant expectations of success. Such expectations have been a rarity for the Mariners over the last 20 years.
But coming off their first playoff appearance since 2001 that saw a series victory over the Toronto Blue Jays and three narrow defeats to the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros, the Mariners can realistically view themselves as being among Major League Baseball's upper tiers.
"That'll be the goal every year is to win the division, get into the postseason and try to do some damage," Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said on Wednesday. "We've never been more convinced of this team's ability to do those things. And we were at the end of last season. So I think that goes for all the players in the clubhouse. It goes for us in the front office, our staff. We do feel like we got meaningfully better this offseason and we are a deeper, more complete team than we were at the end of last season."
While it's still uncertain whether the Mariners have done enough to upgrade their roster to challenge for a title, the team truly believes they have made the team better.
Trades to acquire Teoscar Hernández and Kolten Wong have bolstered roster deficiencies in right field and at second base, respectively. The trade deadline addition last season of Luis Castillo gives the Mariners a true No. 1 starter to pair with rising youngsters Logan Gilbert and George Kirby. Free agent signing A.J. Pollock gives the team a veteran platoon bat to pair with Jarred Kelenic in left field, and Julio Rodríguez has a year of experience under his belt after a debut season that earned Rookie of the Year honors.
"We are invested in continuing to get better, whatever that means. So the goal is to win the division. We feel like that's a realistic goal, and we're going to do the best we can," Dipoto said.
While the Mariners pushed the Astros hard in the playoffs, they finished 16 games behind them in the AL West. Closing the gap on Houston remains a daunting challenge ahead. And Seattle will likely have more competition in chasing the Astros within the division this year as well.
"We’re not the only team that’s gotten better," manager Scott Servais said. "Our division has gotten better. Everybody has made some moves to improve, so it’ll be very competitive."
The Mariners were 17 games clear of the Los Angeles Angels, 22 games ahead of the Texas Rangers and 30 games clear of the Oakland Athletics. Despite the struggles from the rest of the division, the Mariners were still just 41-35 against their Al West foes.
But Seattle has more quality starting pitchers than available rotation slots. The bullpen is still stacked with productive returners, and Rodríguez and Cal Raleigh return to the lineup after breakout campaigns in 2022. It's a team that has plenty reason to be optimistic about the season ahead.
"This is the deepest team we've had since I've been here," Servais said. "From our starting pitching to the bullpen to the regular lineup to the guys on the bench, they can all play and they’ll play a huge role in allowing us to get back to the playoffs -- and hopefully, like I said, winning the division."
Dipoto said that catchers Cal Raleigh and Tom Murphy are both fully cleared for baseball activity and will be ready for the start of spring training.
Raleigh had surgery to repair an injured thumb that hampered him significantly through last year's postseason. Raleigh caught a bullpen from Marco Gonzales on Tuesday in Arizona before flying to Seattle for the team's media sessions on Wednesday.
"I think it's pretty normal now. I've got a good scar on there. Had surgery down in LA with Dr. (Steven) Shin and it went great," Raleigh said. "The training staff, have been in touch with them it feels like every single day this offseason talking through it and make sure everything's good. I went down to Arizona about two weeks ago and finishing up down there and it's been great. You know, we still have a ways to go as far as like, you know, rehab, strengthening, some little things here and there."
Dr. Shin also performed the surgery on Russell Wilson's "mallet" finger injury during the 2021 NFL season.
Murphy played in just 14 games last year before needing to have surgery to address rotator cuff and labrum issues in his left shoulder.
"We really missed Murph last year," general manager Justin Hollander said. "Not just what he brings on the field, and obviously the production has been really strong when he's been out there, but his leadership in the clubhouse in preparation. … The additives that Murph brings to the table in game prep are really things that you don't get to see out here. The confidence he instills in the starter when he's working with that starter that night to stick with a game plan to bring out the best in that starter, to be creative and making adjustments in game when one thing is working and something else is not. That's just it's unquantifiable huge value to our club, and we missed it when he wasn't around last year."
Infielder Sam Haggerty has also been cleared for full baseball activity, but he isn't as far along as Raleigh or Murphy. Haggerty injured his groin in the last series of the regular season stealing second base.
"He started his full baseball activity, I believe, last week, and he's been hitting for quite some time now. So Hag's in a good place," Dipoto said.
Infielder Dylan Moore had a bit of a setback in his recovery from core muscle surgery.
"Nothing to create concern as it relates to Opening Day. We will get a better idea once we're down in Arizona, but in a pretty good place," Dipoto said.
Relievers Andrés Muñoz (foot) and Paul Sewald (elbow, heel) are both progressing from offseason surgeries as well.
"We anticipate both guys being ready to throw in games while we're in Arizona and we'll forecast once we get there," Dipoto said.
First baseman Evan White has dealt with multiple injuries that have included a sports hernia and a hip flexor over the past two seasons.
"Evan White is full baseball activity," Dipoto said. "Right now our medical training team believes Evan is as healthy as he's been since the first incident back in 2021. He is forecast to come in to spring training healthier than he has in multiple years. I think that's everybody."
Reliever Casey Sadler is heading to camp on a minor league deal with a spring training invite after missing all of last season following shoulder surgery. Sadler was coming off a career season in Seattle where he made 42 appearances with a 2.48 ERA and a .143 batting average against in 2021.
"Really excited to see what Casey looks like live again," Dipoto said. "… He was such a big part of our 2021 team and, you know, if we get that version of Casey Sadler with the bullpen group that we currently have, that just takes us to a different level and we'll need something to replace the loss of Eric Swanson, who is a real contributor for us. But Casey has a chance to do that. He's done it before."
World Baseball Classic participants:
Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said that he expected seven players from the organization to play for their countries in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
Julio Rodríguez, Teoscar Hernández and Diego Castillo are all set to play for the Dominican Republic. Eugenio Suárez will play for Venezuela. Matt Festa will pitch for Italy. Matt Brash will pitch for Canada, and former first-round pick Harry Ford will play for Great Britain.
Dipoto said that Luis Castillo won't pitch for the Dominican Republic in the event.
"He's going to be in camp with us and that is something that we are pleased with that he'll be there," Dipoto said. "It's a choice that we made together and excited to see him from beginning to end."
Dipoto added that the list of players participating isn't entirely final. Sam Haggerty had been a part of Italy's preliminary roster. However, his participation is likely dependent on the status of his ongoing rehab from injury.
Dipoto said that Brash's participation in the WBC came with the understanding he would continue as a reliever with the Mariners and wouldn't be stretched out as a starter.
"We don't want to toggle him back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation," Dipoto said. "We want him to be one or the other and he was on board with the idea of coming in as reliever and competing in that way where he was just awesome for us last year."