Unexpectedly, the Mariners Need to do the Unexpected Again


Unexpected: At the trade deadline in 2023, the Mariners dealt away to Arizona one of MLB’s most reliable relievers, Paul Sewald, in exchange for OF Dominic Canzone and INF Josh Rojas. Sewald helped the Diamondbacks reach the World Series, and in 2023 Canzone hit .215 in 135 at-bats, and Rojas hit .272 in 125 at-bats.

Unexpected: After becoming the game’s hottest team in August, the Mariners had a 9-17 September, including seven losses in the final 10 games, all in-division, to miss the playoffs by one game.

Unexpected: In the club’s annual media post-mortem, Mariners baseball boss Jerry Dipoto told fans of the only MLB team never to have appeared in the World Series that the club was doing them “a favor” by being careful and patient in player acquisition while avoiding financially reckless pursuit of hitters for a one-and-done title.

Totally Expected: The remarks registered a nine in the 10-point Sports Public Mockery Scale.

Unexpected: After the field and rhetorical flops, rather than redoubling their financial commitment for 2024 to fix a one-dimensional roster, the Mariners stayed below the MLB average in payroll by acquiring second-tier hitters with injury histories while losing key relief pitchers to injury and trades.

Unexpected: As the 2024 regular season passes the quarter pole, the Mariners, despite a below-average offense, lead the American League West with a 24-20 record, having won 20 of their previous 31 games.

As you may have surmised by now, a pattern has emerged. Nothing about the current Mariners has gone to standard baseball form. They are as predictable as puppies under a blanket. It’s not so cute when star Julio Rodriguez keeps running into his fellow fielders and running out of scoring chances on the bases, but the starting pitching has commanded center stage and kept his and management’s missteps mostly behind the curtain.

As they begin a 10-game road trip Friday in Baltimore and continuing to New York and Washington, the Mariners are tasked with not only sustaining success but prepping for moves to improve matters that avert another September swoon. To that end, a suggestion is forwarded here, in keeping with the theme of zigging when the conventional wisdom zags.

Seek relief pitching help. Not more hitting help.

One matter that has gone to form is that in Luis Castillo, George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller and, based on the small sample size of a start in the 4-3 win Wednesday to take a series from Kansas City — a fifth consecutive home series win, a feat not seen here since 2017 — a now-healthy Brian Woo, the starting rotation is about equal to any in MLB.

Given the epidemic of injuries to starting pitching throughout the game, Dipoto likely is already swamped with inquiries from teams desperate to trade for one of the Mariners’ aces, and the trade deadline isn’t until July 30. All spring and summer, he needs to say no.

The Mariners’ bullpen, strong last year and good so far this season, has the potential to melt faster than a Mt. Rainier glacier. Besides Sewald’s 2023 in-season departure, Isaiah Campbell and Justin Topa were traded in the off-season. Matt Brash has been lost until 2025 after Tommy John surgery. Prized acquisition Gregory Santos has yet to play because of a lat injury. Tyson Miller was traded recently just before being released, and Taylor Saucedo is out temporarily after injuring a knee covering first base.

Santos, Brash and holdover closer Andres Munoz were counted on to be a three-headed dragon of fireballers to wipe out what little remained after the work of the starting five. But standing alone in the back, Munoz leads the majors in four-out saves, including one Wednesday of five outs. He’s done the five-out trick twice in his career, both this month. He has 11 scoreless innings over eight appearances.

That success —  and its workload — is asking a lot. Then again, the same ask is being made throughout baseball. The increasing fragility of starting pitching, along with decisions driven by analytics, have shriveled the role of the big-money throwers and increased the role of throngs of interchangeable one-inning guys. This week in The Athletic, a well-researched story disclosed that nine of the 10 active Cy Young Award winners were out with injuries, prompting a long discussion about whether a fundamental, and dubious, change in the game was in the works. One anonymous executive was quoted as saying, “I think the game is totally broken from that standpoint.”

Per the story:

” . . . The leagues have largely stayed out of the way as teams’ analytics departments took the sport down a similar road: Overload the roster with eight relief pitchers who can throw a baseball 98 miles per hour. Then stop waiting around for the starting pitcher to get tired. Get him out of the game and cue the parade of fireballers out of the bullpen.”

The virtues and liabilities of the change are better discussed during the off-season. Right now, the Mariners and all teams must play what has been dealt. Fans may have to re-think their long-cherished complaints about ownership’s failures to invest in general, and specifically refusing to overpay big-ticket hitters to induce them to play in cold, faraway south Alaska. That’s so 2023.

Trading Sewald for two (when healthy) everyday starters in Canzone and Rojas, as well as acquisitions of slow-starting second baseman Jorge Polanco, outfielder Luke Raley and DH Mitch Garver, may be as good as the offense will get — as long as the Fab Five stays put. If the newcomer hitters reach near career averages, three runs a game is most times enough.

But if the Mariners are going to play 80 or so games of 3-2 and 2-1 outcomes, something unexpected needs to happen again. Unless the bosses are counting on the Texas Rangers (23-22) and Houston Astros (18-25) to play semi-dead all season, help needs to be found for Munoz and his fellow one-inning wonders. Protecting the Fab Five is the prime directive.

Art Thiel
Art Thiel
Art Thiel is a longtime sports columnist in Seattle, for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now as founding editor at SportsPressNW.com.


  1. Thanks, Art. Always inciteful. Question: When Forbes calculates the Mariners as the most profitable team in MLB, does that include revenue from other owned properties? HatsOff Grill/formerly Pyramid and ROOT Sports?

    • Forbes includes estimates of all media revenues. I don’t know whether revs from real estate development is part of the calculation. The properties may be organized for tax purposes under a separate entity.

  2. Some inside the game have suggested than pitchers who feel rushed may be at higher risk. I have no idea how anyone could calculate such a thing.

  3. Great insight as always Mr. Thiel. I’ve followed the Mariners since I was a kid that moved to Washington from Cali in 86. We listened to the radio for years, where I developed a key insight on this team. They get great draft picks, use them til they either leave via free agency, or trade them for questionable one year wonders, all while underspending, especially in the new team reality. 50 million more in payroll might win this team a World Series with the pitching, but they don’t care. Never have, never will.

  4. Oh, and I should add, they’re wasting a historic starting rotation, some of the best numbers modern baseball has ever seen. From a lifelong fan of the Mariners. I am beyond frustrated, but will still follow, because that’s what they count on.


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