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Mariners have resources to make moves after 88-win season but it might not be in free agency

Dipoto asks fans for patience as Seattle builds roster

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Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais, left, pulls starting pitcher Luis Castillo from a baseball game against the Texas Rangers during the third inning, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Seattle.
Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais, left, pulls starting pitcher Luis Castillo from a baseball game against the Texas Rangers during the third inning, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson) Photo Gallery

SEATTLE — Jerry Dipoto heard the concerns coming out of the Seattle Mariners’ clubhouse after the team was eliminated from playoff contention on the final weekend of the regular season.

And while he acknowledged the comments made by Cal Raleigh, J.P. Crawford and others, the president of baseball operations for the Mariners doesn’t necessarily believe going out and signing high-profile free agents is the answer to make Seattle better than the other clubs in the AL West.

“I don’t know that the solutions to our problems are big-name players. I’m not sure that we have big problems,” Dipoto said Tuesday, two days after the Mariners wrapped up an 88-win season that left Seattle two games shy of a playoff spot. “Would I like to have big-name players? Sure, I think we all would.”

The conclusion to the Mariners’ season was a messy finish filled with missed opportunities and boiled-over frustration that emerged in the final days after the team fell short of a second straight trip to the postseason.

Seattle went 12-17 over its final 29 games and 7-9 over its last 16 games, 13 of those against playoff teams. The Mariners were eliminated last Saturday, while Texas celebrated clinching its playoff spot in the opposing clubhouse.

That led to some players — most notably Raleigh — speaking out about coming up short. Raleigh apologized the next day, but several teammates echoed similar feelings.

It was ultimately the frustration from a season that ended with unfulfilled expectations after Seattle snapped a 21-year playoff drought and reached the AL Division Series last year.

“We fell short of expectations. And expectations are great,” manager Scott Servais said. “I talked about it in spring training. They were raised dramatically than how they’d been in the past and I look for it to be up there again because in my mind we are as good as the Astros and Rangers, except for one or two games. And that’s what it comes down to.”

Seattle’s management acknowledged there were mistakes made last offseason. The moves to bring in Kolten Wong, AJ Pollock and Tommy La Stella to bolster the lineup around the likes of Crawford, Raleigh and young superstar Julio Rodríguez didn’t work out and left the Mariners having to make up ground after a subpar first few months.

Dipoto, however, appeared to take issue with growing sentiment among fans that have grown tired of moves that have allowed Seattle to become more competitive, yet not enough to be a true championship contender.

“The reality is if what you’re doing is focusing year to year on, ‘What do we have to do to win the World Series this year?’ you might be one of the teams that’s laying in the mud and can’t get up for another decade,” Dipoto said. “So we’re actually doing the fan base a favor in asking for their patience to win the World Series while we continue to build a sustainably good roster.”

While Seattle is likely to be aggressive in adding bats, starting pitching doesn’t seem likely to be a priority this offseason. The Mariners expect to get Robbie Ray back from Tommy John surgery sometime following the 2024 All-Star break after he pitched in one game this season. Marco Gonzales (nerve issue) and Emerson Hancock (shoulder) are both expected to be ready for the start of spring training.

And when Seattle goes looking for bats, hitters who make contact will be the priority. The Mariners were second in baseball in strikeouts with 1,603 in 5,500 total at-bats. They hit just .247 with runners in scoring position and struck out a league-high 430 times in those situations.

How they go about making those additions seems more likely to be via trade than going heavily into free agency, as has been the approach in previous years. But management insists there is money available to spend and fewer holes to fill.

“I think we have plenty of resources, both player resources — avenues to trade for players — and I think we have plenty of financial resources to build a championship-level club,” general manager Justin Hollander said. “As Jerry alluded to earlier, we have an unbelievably high floor right now.”

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