The majority of the 2024 Mariners roster is set.
After vowing to upgrade the offense following a disappointing 2023 season, Jerry Dipoto and company went out and signed DH Mitch Garver, re-acquired outfielder Mitch Haniger from the Giants to complement Dominic Canzone in a platoon, and made a trade with the Rays for outfielder/first baseman Luke Raley, who absolutely mashed for the better part of last season.
Comparing 2023 results, Garver is an upgrade over Mike Ford and the turnstile at DH that Seattle ran out. Haniger is an outfield platoon boost over AJ Pollock (and should bring plenty of veteran leadership to a clubhouse he is well familiar with), and Raley is an improvement over Jarred Kelenic. Ford, Pollock, and Kelenic are no longer with the organization.
In a lot of ways, the Mariners have improved their offense moving into 2024 after managing to finish top ten as a team by wRC+ a season ago. Paired with a top-five rotation and bullpen, there is reason to feel a lot better about the direction this team is headed than just a couple weeks prior.
All of that said: Are they truly done adding this winter?
One thing that Dipoto has continued to state all offseason, and as recently as this weekend, is that payroll will go up in 2024. The Mariners’ payroll was at $140 million at the end of 2023. It is currently projected to sit at $132 million for 2024. So, if they are going to continue to spend, what could that look like?
Let’s consider a couple of their different options.
Make One Big Free Agent Splash
If payroll increases, one would assume Dipoto doesn’t mean by a singular dollar. So let’s hypothetically say they have the budget to go from $140 million to $150 million in 2024. That currently leaves them with roughly $20 million to spare.
With their biggest vacancy currently sitting at third base, would they entertain the idea of bringing in Matt Chapman?
By far the top third baseman in the free agent class, Chapman has yet to sign and his market has been pretty quiet over the last couple weeks. The Giants have been rumored to have interest, and a reunion in Toronto is possible, but nothing appears imminent.
Chapman had an up-and-down year at the plate in 2023, largely carried by an MVP-level month in April (.384/.465/.687/1.152). Still, he has posted 3.5 fWAR or better in each of his last five full seasons, he hits the ball extremely hard and he is one of the game’s premier defenders. Inking him to a contract would make the Mariners objectively better.
The big question is his price tag. If Chapman’s market is around five years for $90-95 million, this would make a lot of sense for the Mariners. Yet if Chapman, who has Scott Boras running his campaign, is in search of a contract over $150 million, then this is likely not in Seattle’s cards.
Cody Bellinger, the other marquee bat remaining, is more of a pipe dream. He will be more expensive than Chapman and would also force Dipoto to get creative with additional roster building, as the outfield seems to be set with Julio Rodríguez, Raley and the combination of Haniger and Canzone in a platoon.
Targeting Rhys Hoskins would be a cheaper move compared to signing Chapman or Bellinger. Hoskins, after missing the full 2023 season, will likely command around $15-17 million in AAV, a price that can keep the Mariners shopping cart in the name-brand aisle.
Yet once again, the aforementioned roster-building questions arise. Ty France can no longer play the hot corner. He is built to be a first baseman and cannot simply be moved across the diamond with the snap of a finger. So yes, Hoskins is another possibility. But still one that will force countermoves.
Trade is Dipoto’s middle name, isn’t it?
There are still a couple of deals that the Mariners could swing, especially ones revolving around third base.
For a while, there was the idea that the Mariners could trade one of their young arms for Isaac Paredes. But after dealing away Robbie Ray, flipping Bryce Miller or Bryan Woo is unlikely. Therefore, Paredes is all but off the table.
Trades for less expensive yet productive third basemen are more plausible. For example, if the Giants land Chapman, that would make J.D. Davis a potential trade candidate for the Mariners.
Davis posted a wRC+ of 118 or better for four straight seasons before putting up a 104 mark in 2023, proving he has a track record as an impact bat. He also draws a healthy dose of walks, with his BB% sitting at 9.5% or higher every year since 2020. The flip side is his strikeout rates can get a little ridiculous, climbing above 32% in ‘22 and ‘23. But he only has one year of club control remaining, so the cost for him would not be substantial.
Jorge Polanco is another trade candidate who has just a year of control left (though his contract has a team option for 2025). He makes a little more sense, as he has held a wRC+ of 118 or better in each of his last four full seasons, including a 33-home run campaign in 2021. He also walks a lot and throws up a much more manageable K% (it has climbed the last three seasons, but still sat under 26% in 2023).
Polanco did not grade well overall as a defender this past year, but the majority of his troubles came at second base. He plays league-average defense at third by both DRS and OAA. He will cost a little more than Davis, but considering his $9.5 million salary for 2024, he is well within Seattle’s range.
Dipoto also mentioned that the remainder of his team’s payroll flexibility could be saved for mid-season moves as well.
This could simply mean the money it will cost for call-ups and adding players to the major league roster. It could also mean saving up for the trade deadline when the Mariners may need to add a couple of pieces, specifically on the offensive side of the ball.
There is also the chance of additional in-house extensions. They have already extended Rodríguez, J.P. Crawford and Luis Castillo. George Kirby, Logan Gilbert and Cal Raleigh are additional extension candidates, and all will soon get more expensive once they hit arbitration.
It takes two to tango of course, and with Raleigh represented by Boras, the chances of an extension on his end might be slim. Still, keeping at least one of their young arms long-term should be another priority for the ballclub.
Overall, the Mariners have money left to work with – however they plan to spend it. If Dipoto and ownership keep true to their word about payroll going up in 2024, along with their desire to truly compete for a World Series, more moves are in order.