2022 Organization Of The Year: Seattle Mariners
Late in the 2018 season, as the dog days of August turned into the stretch run, the Mariners were clinging to fading hope. A possible surge in the final weeks might have allowed Seattle to sneak into the postseason as the second American League wild card and end an embarrassing postseason drought that dated back to 2001.
It was during those August days four years ago, when a veteran-laden Mariners team would continue to fizzle, that general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais were faced with the realization of what they had as a team—and what it could never be in its existing form.
Even with established players like Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, James Paxton, Mike Zunino and a young Edwin Diaz on the roster, both Dipoto and Servais understood that they were further away from being a winner than those writing their paychecks realized.
The Mariners’ roster was aging and the farm system was barren, having ranked last in Baseball America organization talent rankings heading into 2018. In reality, one big-money free agent would not fix those issues.
So in a September meeting with then-president and CEO Kevin Mather and chairmen John Stanton and Chris Larson—about a week before Seattle was eliminated from postseason consideration—Dipoto and Servais made their feelings known. They outlined a modified rebuilding plan, later referred to as a “step back,” that would lead to consistent future success within three to four years, instead of the typical five to seven years that is typical for baseball rebuilds.
“We didn’t know how they’d react,” Dipoto said of the plan. “We felt like we were always going to be short even with adding one more piece. Even more importantly, it felt like the timing wouldn’t work, because the integral parts of that club were going to age out in the not-so-distant future.
“We looked at it from just about every angle.”
Four years later, Dipoto watched as products of that “step back,” including 2018 first-round righthander Logan Gilbert, hard-throwing reliever Matt Brash, acquired in a 2020 trade with the Padres; and 2018 third-round catcher Cal Raleigh, helped clinch the Mariners’ first postseason berth in 21 years.
Gilbert and Brash combined to toss nine shutout innings, and Raleigh crushed a walk-off homer for a 1-0 victory. The Mariners not only made the postseason but defeated the Blue Jays in the American League Wild Card Series before eventually being swept in three games by the Astros in the AL Division Series they could have easily won.
The realized results of that “step back” rebuilding plan—Seattle entered 2022 with the top farm system in baseball—and a talented homegrown nucleus led by No. 1 prospect-turned-Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez should lead to future success.
Mix in a continued investment in amateur scouting and player development, and the Mariners are the Baseball America Organization of the Year. It is Seattle’s first win in the 41st iteration of the award.
“I’m just so incredibly proud of what we’ve done as a team, from our ownership and front office to Scott and his staff, to our scouting and player-development staff—and most especially all of our players in the clubhouse,” Dipoto said in the clinching celebration.
“That’s what excites me the most, is that we did it the way we believed we could when we started this rebuild a couple years back.”
After the Mariners decided to rebuild, the team culled their big league roster via trades, accumulating prospects to supplement a farm system that went from worst in 2018 to first in 2022.
As Rodriguez, Gilbert, Raleigh, outfielder Jarred Kelenic, who was acquired in one of “step back” trades; 2019 first-round righthander George Kirby and other draft picks succeeded in the minor leagues, the Mariners climbed the rankings. Rodriguez (No. 2) and Kirby (No. 12) entered 2022 ranked as two of the top overall prospects in baseball.
Rodriguez, Raleigh and Gilbert ranked as three of the Mariners’ top four players by WAR in 2022. None was more important than a trimmed-down and faster Rodriguez, who forced his way onto the Opening Day roster with a brilliant spring training, shook off early struggles in April and blossomed into a budding superstar in his first big league season.
The 21-year-old Rodriguez hit .284/.345/.509 with 28 home runs, 25 doubles, 75 RBIs, 40 walks and 25 stolen bases in 132 games. He made the AL all-star team and put on a show at the Home Run Derby, reaching the finals.
Rodriguez became just the third rookie in MLB history—and the first player in his debut season—to reach 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases. He also became the fastest player in history (125 career games) to reach those feats, surpassing Mike Trout in 2012 (128 career games).
Rodriguez might have reached 30-30 if not for two stints on the injured list in the second half where he missed 21 games.
“He’s a generational-type player,” Servais said. “And fortunately for us, he’s going to have a Mariners uniform on for a long, long time. It’s fortunate for our fanbase and really the whole industry of baseball. This guy’s special.”
Special enough to agree to a contract extension that could reach up to 18 years and pay out $470 million.
Raleigh, a switch-hitting catcher, led all MLB catchers with 28 homers while establishing himself as an everyday option and team leader. Gilbert (13-6, 3.20 in 32 starts) and Kirby (8-5, 3.39 in 25 starts) combined for 317 strikeouts, 71 walks in 315.2 innings.
Dipoto also made savvy trades and non-star signings during the “step back” phase. In 2020, he swapped veteran catcher Austin Nola and fringe relievers Dan Altavilla and Austin Adams for starting first baseman Ty France, reliever Andres Muñoz, backup catcher Luis Torrens and outfielder Taylor Trammell.
France was an all-star in 2022, and Muñoz was the team’s best arm out of the bullpen.
The Mariners have high hopes for powerful 22-year-old righthander Prelander Berroa, whom they acquired in a minor deal with the Giants for utility infielder Donovan Walton.
That rebuilt farm system provided enough prospect depth to allow Dipoto to make a splash at the trade deadline. He outmaneuvered the Yankees and Cardinals by sending four minor leaguers, including touted shortstop prospects Noelvi Marte and Edwin Arroyo, to the Reds for 29-year-old righthander Luis Castillo, the top starting pitcher on the trade market.
Buoyed by the financial resources that had already allowed them to sign lefthander Robbie Ray to a five-year, $118 million in the offseason and lock up Rodriguez to a potentially massive contract extension, the Mariners reached a five-year, $108 million contract extension with Castillo.
With Ray and Castillo under contract, and Gilbert and Kirby under club control for five more seasons, the Mariners’ rotation has locked in four power arms. It’s an enviable position to be in, with a slew of talented young minor league arms in an organization that has shown the ability to find and develop pitching.
While Seattle fell in the farm system rankings because of trades and prospect graduations, Dipoto was optimistic as always.
“This will sound a little self-serving, and I may have referenced it as delusional, but we think our farm system is as good as it was before,” Dipoto said. “The talent is just located in different places.
“We have a lot of good young players at the (Rookie) to Low-A levels that haven’t yet had enough track record to develop the credibility to rise in the third-party industry rankings as individual players.
“We think they have very high ceilings. We don’t feel like we emptied the farm.”
Dipoto listed shortstop Cole Young, the 2022 first-round high school shortstop from Pennsylvania; 18-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Gabriel Gonzalez, 2021 first-round catcher Harry Ford, third baseman Tyler Locklear, outfielder Lazaro Montes and shortstops Michael Arroyo and Axel Sanchez. Only Locklear is older than 21.
As for the pitching, the Mariners had three earn pitcher of the year honors in his minor league: Low-A Modesto righthander Joseph Hernandez in the California League, High-A Everett’s Berroa in the Northwest League and Double-A Arkansas righthander Taylor Dollard in the Texas League.
Former Georgia righthander Emerson Hancock, the sixth overall pick in 2020, had a strong showing this season after missing time with a lat injury, while flame-throwing righthander Bryce Miller could be the first prospect pitcher called up in 2023 as a spot starter or a reliever.
“We are not in a better place than we were three years ago, when Gilbert, Kirby, Julio and Kelenic were all rising, but we are well ahead of where we were when we needed a restocking of our farm system five years ago,” Dipoto said. “We don’t view our system as having taken a big step back. It just got younger.”
With goals of winning the American League West and reaching the World Series within reach, the Mariners will need to add another middle infielder and at least one corner outfielder this offseason via free agency, trade or both. Dipoto, already man of many transactions, is motivated to make moves.
But bear in mind: the Mariners finished second to the Angels in the wooing of Shohei Ohtani in 2017. They will almost certainly make a strong push, including a huge financial commitment, to sign the two-way star when he becomes a free agent next offseason.
“That’s the most exciting part of this—what we’ve done throughout this process over these last three to four years, building something that has sustained value,” Dipoto said. “Our big league team is young and fun. We do have more talent coming through our system. There are impact players on the way.
“We’ve built a really good young foundation to build upon, and we’ll continue to find ways to get better.”