Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

If Major League Baseball had a forever bridesmaid, she would be the Seattle Mariners.

So many times has this team been so close to breaking out and truly establishing so uniquely special. From Ken Griffey’s Kingdome days to Ichiro’s immediate influence to Julio Rodriguez today, it’s not as though Seattle hasn’t had a fair shake. Not many remember, but the team’s miracle run to the ALCS in 1995 literally saved the franchise from relocation to Tampa.

Last year seemed primed for Seattle making noise in the AL West, and they did. The Mariners were actually tied with the Astros for first place on September 1. And per usual, in typical Mariners fashion, they crumbled and went 12-18 in the seasons final month. Cue a missed playoff berth as Houston and Texas tied, and the Mariners sat just two games behind them both.

Another offseason past us and Seattle has revamped, retooled, and cut dead weight to try and make another run at October. The pitching is there and was the AL’s best in 2023.

Is this the year when the bats finally return the favor?

Greatest Addition: Jorge Polanco. It’s great when a team makes a move that fills an immediate need, like Polanco does for the Mariners at second base. It’s even better if that player’s bat diversifies the lineup. The veteran switch-hitter was acquired from the Twins for three pitchers last month and hit .255 with 14 home runs in just 80 games last year.

Polanco isn’t a great defender, but is average enough to give Seattle some help at third base and shortstop. His bigger question mark, rather, is his health. He hasn’t played a full season in two years, turns 31 in July, and could be a free agent next winter. Polanco has plenty of incentive to show up and show out in Seattle’s infield.

Greatest Loss: Eugenio Suarez. Forget that he led the AL in strikeouts two years straight. Suarez was a slick fielder and durable, reliable bat in Seattle. His home runs dipped to 22 from 31 in 2022, but Suarez still had 96 RBI.

Unfortunately for Mariners fans, Suarez’s $11.2 million salary was moved for depth. Josh Rojas will be fine filling in at the hot corner, but Seattle has no infield prospects ready to debut. Replacing Eugenio Suarez and his home run bat could prove a hard mountain to climb.

Greatest Strength: Strong pitching anchor. Seattle can breathe a little easy knowing that the pitching rotation is strong if the bats are slumping. A three-headed sea hydra of Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby leads the pitching staff. In fact, acquiring Castillo from the Reds is what cost Seattle the infield depth that’s missing in wake of trading Suarez.

And it’s all worth it. Castillo is near untouchable when he has his four and two-seam fastballs working, plus his slider. Gilbert’s five-pitch mix also features great control, and Kirby’s sinker might be the best no one’s heard of.

The bats may be the key to the Mariners making the playoffs, but they aren’t even in the October conversation without these three.

Greatest Weakness: The cupboard is bare. Even with the incredible Julio Rodriguez, the Mariners are fast approaching uncharted waters. The minor league system is fairly bare right now with no can’t miss names on the way. Maybe Emerson Hancock gets some innings this year and Jonatan Clase debuts in the outfield, but I digress.

Otherwise, the Mariners’ top-ranked prospects are just too young. An astounding 13 of the team’s Top 30 prospects from last year are under 21 years old. General manager Jerry Dipoto had better have some more tricks up his sleeve. It might not be long before this team runs out of magic and finds itself lost at sea.

Do the Mariners have any hope in 2024? Maybe a little bit? Trading for Luke Raley and signing Mitch Garver add some pop to a lineup that already ranked 11th in home runs last year and 12th in runs scored, but struck out too much and were streaky at drawing walks. Moreover, the pitching alone might be good enough to keep the Mariners competitive.

But as of now, the last AL Wild Card spot is probably Seattle’s ceiling. Unless, of course, the Astros’ arms behind Justin Verlander fall flat on their face and/or the defending champion Rangers suffer a power outage.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.