Larry Stone: Mariners are clear. This year, they want more than just to reach playoffs.
Published in Baseball
Teoscar Hernandez said that as the playoff pairings were being determined down the stretch of the MLB season last year, he heard talk among his team — the Blue Jays at the time — that they preferred to face the Mariners.
Hernandez’s reaction? Au contraire.
“I was one of the ones to say no, because of the really good team they had,” Hernandez said at Wednesday’s annual pre-spring training luncheon at T-Mobile Park. “They had a really good pitching staff, starting and relievers. I didn’t want to face that in the playoffs. I wasn’t happy.”
Sure enough, Seattle swept the best-of-three wild-card series in Toronto — after which Hernandez was traded to the Mariners in November in the M’s splashiest offseason move.
Now the Mariners believe that Hernandez’s apprehension should be heeded throughout the league from the very start of the 2023 season.
These kickoff luncheons — and I’ve been to every one since 1996 — are often a delicate blend of optimism and caution. The idea is to sell hope but not foster unreasonable expectations.
But after an offseason in which a predominant storyline was the Mariners’ refusal to engage in free agency at anything but a fringe level, their top officials expressed confidence they have a team that can — and should — compete at the highest levels. It’s not like they went overboard Wednesday and guaranteed a World Series victory or anything like that, but they made it pretty clear they feel this is a season in which much more is possible.
The arc of baseball operations honcho Jerry Dipoto’s outlook has progressed from the long-term but speculative promise of the “step-back” program instituted after the 2018 season through the increasingly bullish rebuild.
Coming off an unexpected 90-win season of 2021, the Mariners said at last year’s luncheon that they had the team to end their 20-year playoff drought. After accomplishing that feat and winning 90 games again in 2022, the Mariners are aiming even higher in 2023 — and not couching their forecast with nearly the customary caution. Dipoto, general manager Justin Hollander and manager Scott Servais on Wednesday weren’t even backing down from the notion that they could end the Astros’ stranglehold on the AL West.
They are well aware that Houston finished 16 games ahead of the Mariners last year and then swept them in the division series en route to the World Series title. But they are also well aware of how competitive the M’s were in all three of those playoff losses to Houston.
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