If there is one thing baseball is good at, it’s tradition. (OK, so that point could be debated with the changes over the last few years.) Tradition around here states that the beginning of the season means that it’s time for Playing Pepper! This is the fifteenth season–a decade and a half!–of the series that helps you get ready for the season by going around the league and talking with people that live and die with their teams. Bloggers, former bloggers, podcasters, we’ve got them all as we take a tour of MLB and play some pepper! If you get inspired to make some predictions during this series, this contest is open to fans of all teams so enter today!
Streaks are made to be broken and last year Seattle snapped the longest current playoff drought in the major leagues, earning the Wild Card and then extending their postseason to what is now the second round. Can the Mariners sustain their success and build upon it. We’ve got some Seattle followers who can enlighten us!
C70: The streak is over and we’re finally talking about a Seattle playoff team. What are your thoughts about how the team addressed needs this winter and what they look like going into 2023?
Tim: I would have preferred to see the Mariners be more aggressive in free agency this offseason and add at least one more bat. The M’s roster has a solid talent base locked in place for the next several seasons with cost certainty – look no further than Julio’s 18-year megadeal and Luis Castillo‘s 5-year pact at a relative bargain for an ace. I thought they were in an ideal place to risk overpaying for an immediate upgrade, especially an experienced bat a little past their prime who would not demand a long-term deal. A player like Jose Abreu or Michael Brantley, both unfortunately Astros, would have gone a long way towards making me feel better about this offseason.
C70: Obviously we’re big fans of Kolten Wong over here. How excited are you to get to see him play and do you think the Mariners will look to extend him?
Tim: I liked Kolten Wong as a Cardinal! I’m not upset he is starting for the Mariners, but to be honest, he doesn’t get me too excited. I expect him to be an upgrade over Adam Frazier. I also think Jesse Winker is the best player in the trade that netted Wong, though I don’t think Winker was likely to bounce back if he had stayed in Seattle. I suppose this was a win-win trade but there is a possibility that it looks like Milwaukee fleeced Seattle. I also do not expect the Mariners to extend Wong, mostly because I believe that M’s ownership is conservative with spending, to put it generously. I’m not sure there is anything Wong could realistically do that would make the Mariners open up their pocketbooks for him.
C70: Julio Rodriguez made his debut and showed everyone what the hype was about. Did he surprise you at all with his early success and what does he do for an encore?
Tim: YES! How couldn’t his success be a surprise?! It was historically good! I thought a season more like Bobby Witt Jr.’s was a more likely outcome – and that’s no slight to Witt, who had a promising rookie year. Julio’s encore is more of the same, though if you want something more specific, Jerry Dipoto said last year that he told Julio he doesn’t think he can have a 30/30 campaign. I think Julio sets his sights on that and it’s a realistic goal.
C70: With Rodriguez established, is there a rookie or player with little MLB time that will make an impact this season?
Tim: There are two areas where I expect unproven players to log significant time with the Mariners this year – left field and the bullpen. Jarred Kelenic will be given every chance to grab hold of the left field job and never look back, but if he doesn’t, Taylor Trammell will be waiting in the wings when he gets back from surgery to remove his broken hamate bone. If neither of them are the answer, then Cade Marlowe, or maybe even Evan White (who we last saw winning a gold glove at first base in 2020) could be possibilities. Also, the Mariners pitching staff is loaded, but got lucky with few injuries last year, including none to starting pitchers. I expect a few more IL stints this year and that will open up some innings for untested arms. Prelander Berroa has garnered the most attention in spring training, so I will mention him specifically. There are others too. I think it’s safe to predict that somebody will emerge, like Paul Sewald a few years ago and Andres Munoz last year.
C70: What’s the best case, worst case, and most likely scenario on how 2023 plays out?
Tim: Best case: World Series champions. I am disappointed in the M’s offseason, but the pitching staff is somewhere between great and elite, and Julio could carry the offense with a contribution from someone else in the lineup each night. It’s not that hard to see how the best version of the Mariners could run the table.
Worst case: 76-86, miss playoffs, leapfrogged in the division by both the Angels and Rangers. Bad luck with injuries, Cal Raleigh, Julio Rodriguez, and Eugenio Suarez take steps back from last year, and nobody pans out in left field.
Most likely scenario: A repeat of 2022. Probably a few less victories, but fighting with the Blue Jays for home field advantage in a wild card series and making the playoffs again – maybe even scoring a run (or more!) at home this time around.