Bad luck or underperformance? That is the question fans are asking of the the Seattle Mariners after the 2023 season. Seattle fought to the end, but ultimately 88 wins was not enough to propel the team to the playoffs in a tough American League.

Regardless of how last year ended for the Mariners, the focus now is on building for the 2024 campaign. With few free agents departing, this team will bring back the core of its roster from last year. What moves should the team make to improve for next season, and should the focus be on the trade market or spending money in free agency? Here are two moves the Mariners must make to return to the playoffs in 2024.

Trade for a new second baseman

The Mariners had no bigger weakness in 2023 than the second base position. Kolten Wong, acquired by Seattle in the offseason from the Milwaukee Brewers, was a complete bust. He batted just .165 with a dismal .468 OPS in 67 games with the club before the team mercifully released him. His replacement — Jose Caballero — was better, batting .221 with 26 stolen bases in 104 games, be he still managed an OPS of just .663. Overall, Mariners second basemen had a batting average of .205 on the year — worst in Major League Baseball — while their -0.8 WAR at the position was 23rd among 30 clubs.

The free agency market at the position does not offer the club many upgrades this offseason. Former Mariner Adam Frazier (now with the Baltimore Orioles) is the best second baseman available, which is not saying much considering that he also had an OPS under .700 on the year. This leads Seattle to the trade market. Two attractive yet affordable players available are San Diego Padres utility infielder Ha-Seong Kim and Oakland Athletics rookie Zach Gelof.

Kim is one of the best defenders in the game and was a first-time Gold Glove recipient in 2023 while playing mostly at second base while also filling in at shortstop and third base. His bat is not too bad either, as he posted an OPS of .749 with 17 home runs and 38 stolen bases. the South Korean has improved in just about every category at the plate in each of the last two seasons. Gelof came on strong in the last few months of 2023, posting 14 homers and 14 stolen bases in just 69 games while finishing with an OPS of .840. That combination of power and speed is a rare find at the second base position.

Neither Zach Gelof nor Ha-Seong Kim are among the elites at the second base position, but both are strong all-around players who are still improving, making them ideal additions for a Mariners team in desperate need of a consistent second baseman.

Sign first baseman Carlos Santana

The other position where the Mariners noticeably lacked production was first base. Ty France made 158 appearances there but managed a dismal 12 homers and 58 RBI after hitting 20 home runs and driving in 80 runs in 2022 (while playing 18 fewer games a year ago). He was also dismal defensively, finishing with a defensive WAR of -1.4. Veteran Carlos Santana might not be the flashiest replacement, but he has proven to be a consistent player both with the glove and the bat.

Santana had an OPS of .747 last year (France's was .703) while finishing with 23 homers and 86 RBIs (both his best since 2019). He was also one of the best defensive first basemen in all of baseball, providing 11 defensive runs saved above average — the best among all MLB first basemen in 2023. The addition of Carlos Santana at first would solidify a major need for the Seattle Mariners.