Red Sox Rival #6: Seattle Mariners
In the 20 years since their last postseason appearance, the Mariners have never gotten closer to the promised land than they did last year. A 10-1 run at the end of September thrust them right into the heart of the wild-card race, and though they were eliminated on the last day of the season, their run awoke a suffering fanbase and gave hope for the future.
To their credit, the Mariners have continued to add to their already solid core. They began by signing Cy Young winner Robbie Ray to a five year/$115 contract. Ray’s 2021 season was unquestionably an anomaly, and though he is unlikely to ever repeat the performance, he has always been among the league leaders in strikeout rate and is well worth the $23-million-a- year price tag.
The Mariners also made a move to bolster their offense, acquiring All-Star Adam Frazier from the Padres for a pair of prospects. Frazier was one of the most coveted players at last year’s trade deadline with a .324 batting average but struggled to the tune of a .662 OPS in San Diego.
Still, Frazier is a career .281 hitter with solid on-base skills, and his versatility will allow his new employer to use him in a variety of ways.
Their most significant move, however, came just this past week. They shipped four players, most notably promising starter Justin Dunn, for power-hitting third baseman Eugenio Suarez and sweet-swinging lefty Jesse Winker. There are not many better pure hitters in the game than Winker, who has posted a 140 OPS+ over the last two years.
Winker has always had an exceptional eye and elite bat-to-ball skills, but he has taken his game to the next level by upping his isolated slugging from .181 in his first three years to .260 in the last two. Winker immediately slotted into the middle of the order and became arguably the best hitter on the team.
Though he may have been a salary dump and an afterthought in this trade, Suarez will also provide a boost to the squad. The third baseman has been undone by bad luck, as his .224 BABIP was the lowest of any qualified hitter despite barreling the ball at an elite rate. At the very least, Suarez will hit around 30 home runs and be an adequate replacement for the retired Kyle Seager.
The Mariners still have a number of holes on their roster, most notably at the back of their rotation and in their bullpen. They also have a heavy left-handed lineup that matches up poorly with a Red Sox team that just added two lefties to their relief corps. Still, a 90-win team adding four key pieces is eye-opening, and the Red Sox should expect a hard fight from the Mariners if they are in the wild card race.