What The 2024 Seattle Mariners Need To Do In Order To Stay First In The AL West


Despite their best efforts to the contrary, the Seattle Mariners find themselves in first place in their division a third of the way through the Major League Baseball season.

With the ability to consistently win at least two games out of six of the nine series they’ve played in May, the team is currently three games up in the division. They have done it on the back of a rotation that has kept them in nearly every game and a cobbled-together offense that has manager Scott Servais frantically plugging healthy bodies into available spots.

After starting slowly in both the 2022 and 2023 seasons, being in first place in the division before the end of May is a breath of fresh air for the Mariners. However, there are certainly storm clouds on the horizon for the team.

Big offseason acquisitions Mitch Garver and Jorge Polanco, who were supposed to shore up designated and second base, respectively, have been both hurt and bad. While first baseman Ty France and star outfielder Julio Rodriguez are putting up respectable batting averages, neither is hitting for power. The starting rotation has been fantastic, but any time they are less than perfect, the team struggles to back them up at the plate.

If they hope to continue to compete for a playoff spot when Houston and Texas wake up from their early season struggles, some things are going to have to change.

The Mariners are currently in first place despite the fact that over the last several weeks, they have had a roster that had a second baseman who is unable to hit and stayed on the active roster despite being unable to play for six straight days, a designated hitter/ backup catcher who can’t hit who was also unable to play for large parts of the last week, a utility infielder who was rarely used, a backup catcher who can’t hit, forcing the starting catcher to routinely be used at designated hitter and/or get inserted into his “day off” game halfway through.

The team has some roster flexibility, and they finally started to use it this past week. Here are some changes the team can keep making to stay in first place.

Here are some things the Mariners can adjust in order to stay in contention:

1. Mitch Garver needs to catch. The 33-year-old got behind the plate for the first time this season this week against Houston, and while he didn’t catch the whole game, it gave hope the Mariners may still be able to wring some value out of his contract. Currently, the Mariners have Garver, Seby Zavala, and Cal Raleigh on their roster as catchers. Raleigh is the everyday starter and is scuffling at the plate this season, but he has prodigious power and is an excellent defensive catcher. Garver had yet to appear in the field this season until this week and has been struggling mightily at the plate despite being the team’s designated “hitter.” Zavala is a strong defensive catcher but somehow even worse at the plate, and usually catches once a week to give Raleigh a day off. However, his bat is so anemic that it usually forces Raleigh back into the game partway through as a pinch hitter. If he can catch even once a week it likely spells the end for Zavala’s time as a Mariner. MLB teams have players like Zavala scattered across minor league rosters to help mentor young pitchers, so should the need arise for another catcher, the Mariners could certainly find one.

2. Taking Zavala off the roster would create a spot that the team could fill with one of several options from the minor leagues. The biggest and best possibilities are Tyler Locklear and Harry Ford. Locklear is a 23-year-old first baseman who was raking at AA Arkansas before earning a promotion to AAA Tacoma this week. He is the No.8 prospect in the Mariners system and the closest to being major league ready. With Garver struggling to get going at the plate, the Mariners have increasingly returned to the rotating cast at designated hitter that they used last season. Locklear could slot into designated hitter and rotate with Ty France at first base. Like many players on the big-league roster, Locklear also ran a high strike-out rate at AA, whiffing in 28% of his plate appearances, so calling him up in the near future would give the team time to evaluate him before deciding if they need to commit resources to a midseason trade for a bat.

Ford is the team’s No. 2 prospect and is also hitting well at AA. Unfortunately for him, he plays catcher. As noted earlier, the team is already juggling players at the catcher spot. However, unlike any of the catchers on the major league roster, Ford possesses enough athleticism that he could theoretically play another position, at least in the short term. While he wants to be a catcher long term, and the team has shown no propensity to play him elsewhere, it will be telling if he should suddenly start making appearances in left field for AA Arkansas that the team is thinking about calling him up. He was drafted as a catcher-outfielder, but he would likely need some minor league games in the field before a potential call-up, as you don’t want a player re-learning to play the outfield at the big-league level.

Even if he doesn’t move to the outfield, Ford could still join the team as part of a three-headed catcher/designated hitter rotation, although that would be less than ideal.

3. Play the hot hands. The team already appears to have made the decision that utility player Dylan Moore is going to get to play until he hits a slump. The team recently sent down third baseman Luis Urias and sent Jorge Polanco to the injured list. Those two moves opened more time for Moore at both second and third base, and he figures to stay there even when Polanco returns from the injured list. The Mariners have several needs: second base, first base, outfield, and designated hitter, and Moore can be a band-aid at several of them while the team tries to figure out longer-term solutions. The Mariners recently called up prospect Ryan Bliss to take over for Polanco at second base, where he will share time with Moore, and outfielder Jonaton Clase, who will share time with Moore and a pile of other players as the team tries to find anyone who can hit to bracket Julio Rodriguez in center field.

If the Mariners can use the flexibility they have in the roster to plug as many holes as they can until the offense can come to life, they may be able to generate enough offense to keep the team afloat at the top of the division, especially with the pitching being as dominant as it has been. With the team often unwilling to invest the resources in money or prospects to acquire significant offensive improvements, squeezing as much offense as they can from internal options may be the Mariners’ only hope of getting back to the playoffs.

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