Potential Outfield Options For M’s

The Seattle Mariners need outfield help. That’s not exactly a secret. Virtually every preview of the Mariners’ offseason has mentions the need to add corner outfielders. General Manager Jerry Dipoto said as much when he told Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times “we do need some help in the corner outfield.”

Where will Dipoto turn to make improvements to his outfield? Obviously, we don’t know. But, it’s fun speculating and considering the possibilities. After all, it’s Hot Stove season, right?

Last week, Prospect Insider Jason A. Churchill identified several free agent and trade options who could potentially cover the corner outfield spots for the Mariners. All of the players Jason mentioned make sense for Seattle. But, I thought I’d take a stab at identifying more potential trade targets.

Some of the names on my list aren’t new to trade speculation, but most won’t be a good fit for the Mariners. Conversely, others may not be household names, but they could end up making more sense. Let’s get started.

Brett Gardner
The New York Yankees’ left fielder would represent a significant upgrade on the base paths and in the field for the Mariners. Having said that, the 33-year-old’s offensive production was relatively similar to Seattle’s 2016 Opening Day left fielder — Nori Aoki — and would come at a much higher cost. Look at a side-by-side comparison of both players to see what I mean.

Player Age PA XBH% SB% BB% SO% AVG OBP SLG wRC+ DRS fWAR
Brett Gardner 33 634 5.5% 80% 11% 16.7% .261 .361 .362 97 12  2.4
Nori Aoki 34 467 6.9% 44% 7.3% 9.6% .283 .349 .388 106 -4  1.2

 

Gardner’s 12 defensive runs saved (DRS) were third best among major league left fielders and helped earn him the first Gold Glove award of this nine-year career. Moreover, his 80-percent stolen base success rate was significantly better than Aoki’s 44-percent rate.

Still, based on weighted runs created plus (wRC+), Aoki was slightly better than Gardner last season. For those not familiar with wRC+, it’s a good measure of a hitter’s overall effectiveness that takes into account the effects of the park and league they play in. League-average is always 100. If you’d like to know more about wRC+, you can find more information at FanGraphs.

One important caveat regarding the play of both players is their 2016 platoon success — or lack thereof in Aoki’s case. Entering last season, the left-handed hitter had performed well against southpaws. But, he slashed .227/.299/.258 against lefties in 2016 and was eventually converted into a platoon player. In contrast, Gardner was better against left-handers — .247/.313/.331 — and served as an everyday player.

Regarding cost, Gardner is set to make a total of $24 million for the next two seasons, with a $2 million buyout for 2019. Since his contract is relatively affordable, general manager Brian Cashman would likely expect a relatively large haul for the fan favorite and longest tenured Yankee.

Andrew McCutchen
The Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder endured his worst season since debuting with the club in 2009, posting below average numbers in hitting, defense, and base running. Now, he’s the subject of trade speculation. Here’s a review of his 2015 and 2016 statistics. The differences are obvious.

Year PA AVG OBP SLG HR% SO% BB% XBH% wRC+ DRS XBT%
2015 685 .292 .401 .488 3.4% 19.4% 14.3% 9.1% 146 -8 29%
2016 675 .256 .336 .430 3.6% 21.2% 10.2% 7.9% 106 -28 27%

 

Defensively, McCutchen ranked last among major league center fielders with -28 DRS last season. When asked about this by Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pirates GM Neal Huntington acknowledged that McCutchen’s poor DRS “catches your attention.” But, the longtime GM of the Bucs suggested his star player’s metrics were negatively impacted by his playing shallower with a pitching staff that was under-performing.

While that Huntington’s explanation may help McCutchen’s shockingly bad 2016 DRS, it’s worth noting the former Most Valuable Player averaged -9.5 DRS between 2014 and 2015. Are the metrics a red flag warning that his skills are prematurely eroding or simply case of bad positioning in the field? Any potential buyer must consider that risk.

It may surprise some fans that McCutchen’s base running has significantly declined in recent years. Although never viewed as a prolific base thief, he stole 20-plus bases during each of his first five seasons as a big leaguer. Since 2015, he’s stolen 17 bases and caught stealing once more than he was successful in 2016.

Besides his issues with swiping bags, McCutchen has been below average at taking the extra base when a teammate gets a hit. To see what I mean, look at the extra base taken percentage (XBT%) column on the preceding table.

Baseball Reference defines XBT% as the percent of times a runner advances more than one base on a single or two on a double. In 2016, the Pirates’ center fielder took the extra base just 27-percent of the time. League-average last season was 40-percent.

It’s possible that McCutchen’s sub-par offensive production can be pinned on a thumb injury that plagued him during the first four months of the season. Through July 31, the right-handed hitter slashed .241/.311/.409. In August and September, he rebounded nicely with .284/.381/.471. Those numbers are very similar to his career norms.

Year PA AVG OBP SLG SO% BB% wRC+ Hard Contact %
Apr-Jul 431 .241 .311 .408 24.8% 8.1% 92 33.1%
Aug-Sep 244 .284 .381 .471 14.8% 13.9% 131 40.2%

 

Relatively speaking, McCutchen’s salary isn’t exorbitant. He’s set to make $14 million next season. If the 30-year-old returns to form, any potential buyer will be getting superb value. If he’s actually facing the onset of his decline, his new club can choose to not pick up his $14.75 million option for 2018 and pay a $1 million buyout.

One indisputable attribute is McCutchen’s durability. He’s averaged 154-games-per-season since 2010. Moreover, his strong work ethic and outstanding performance symbolize the most successful stretch the franchise has enjoyed in two decades. That’s why he’s a fan favorite and the face of the franchise.

Dispatching such a player wouldn’t be easy for the Pirates or their fans, although having to deal veterans with trade value is the harsh reality that small market clubs must endure in order to remain competitive.

J.D. Martinez
With Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila on record stating his club’s payroll will be decreasing, many observers look at Martinez as a potential trade chip. As with his teammate Cameron Maybin — traded to the Los Angeles Angels last week — the 29-year-old will be a free agent after next season.

Any potential buyer who wrests Martinez away from the Tigers is likely to get a strong offensive performer. Over the past three seasons, the right-handed hitter slashed .299/.357/.540, while averaging 28 home runs-per-season and a 144 wRC+. The issue facing potential trade partners may determining where he fits on the field, if at all.

While Martinez’s on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) ranked number-15 in the major leagues among hitters qualified to batting title consideration, his work as a defender was far less valuable. His -22 DRS was worst among big league right fielders last season. He did have 4 DRS in 2015, but he rated as an average or worse defender in previous seasons.

It’s worth noting that Martinez doesn’t rate well as a base runner either. His -2.2 base running runs (Rbaser) ranks in the lower 10-percent of players with 400 or more plate appearances in 2016. In some ways, he’s much like Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz, except younger. Prolific at the plate, but below average at defense and base running.

The Tigers’ right fielder is set to earn a relatively affordable $11.75 million next season. Therefore, fitting him into a contender’s budget would be relatively easy. With that said, I’d expect that prospective buyers would have to overbid in order to get one year of Martinez thanks to the relatively weak free agent market.

Nick Markakis
When Markakis left the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent in 2014, there were concerns about his impending neck surgery swirling around him. Since then, the 33-year-old has slashed .282/.358/.386 and averaged 157 games during his two seasons with the Atlanta Braves.

The left-handed hitter is a below league-average slugger, but he’s superb at reaching base. Since arriving in Atlanta, Bryce Harper, Jose Bautista, and George Springer were the only right fielders to better the Glen Cove, New York native’s .358 on-base percentage (OBP).  Much of his on-base success comes back to his excellent bat control and control of the zone. Last season, he had an 88.2-percent contact rate — eleventh best in the big leagues — and a 10.4-percent walk rate.

Not only does Markakis bring value to his club offensively, he’s a plus-defender. Last season, his 10 DRS ranked fourth in the majors among right fielders. Only Mookie Betts, Adam Eaton, and Jason Heyward were better. With two years and $22 million remaining on Markakis’ contract, he would be an appealing target for any club looking to add a regular player with on-base ability and strong defensive skills.

All of these attributes makes Markakis alluring to potential buyers, but they’re also justification for GM John Coppolella to hold on to his veteran outfielder. Coppolella told David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his club has “one of the best outfields in all of baseball, and we don’t want to break that outfield up.” Getting Markakis will be costly to any potential trade partner.

Jackie Bradley Jr
Although both sides deny the rumor, the Mariners reportedly turned down a deal to acquire Bradley from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for reliever Charlie Furbush during the 2015 season. At the time of this purported conversation between the teams, Bradley had yet to live up to the promise expected from a first round draft choice. Much has changed since.

After struggling during the first three months of 2015, Boston sent Bradley to Class-AAA Pawtucket for most of the month of July. When he returned, he slashed .276/.361/.564 during the remaining two months of the season and has been a different hitter ever since. Here’s a comparison of his combined production for his first three seasons to his 2016 output. The across-the-board improvement is staggering.

Year(s) G PA H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG
2013-15 238 785 149 41 6 14 13 0 66 221 .213 .290 .349
2016  156 636 149 30 7 26 9 2 63 143 .267 .349 .486

 

Thanks to Bradley’s blend of superb offense and defense — his 11 DRS ranked number-four among center fielders — he delivered 4.8 wins above replacement (WAR). So much has changed since June 2015.

Considering Bradley is just 26-years-old and under team control through the 2020 season, it’s no surprise that his name has been suggested as potential trade chip if the Red Sox pursue a top-notch starting pitcher like Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. If that’s truly the case, it’s difficult conceiving how the Mariners could realistically have a shot at acquiring Bradley.

Brock Holt
Injuries limited Bradley’s teammate to just 94 games and his offensive numbers suffered as a result. But, the 28-year-old has a record of good on-base ability — .332 OBP during 1469 plate appearances since 2012 and has a reputation for being a Swiss Army knife in the field.

Holt had 64 appearances in left field, 17 at third base, eight at second base, seven at shortstop and five in right field. The defensive metrics favor him as a corner outfielder with 15 DRS during 1,062 innings since 2014. At the other positions, the numbers indicate below average glove work.

Depending on Boston’s offseason plans, the versatile Holt could be available. The Red Sox starting outfield is currently comprised of Bradley, 21-year-old Andrew Benintendi, and Mookie Betts. Highly compensated third baseman Pablo Sandoval is expected to return after missing last season due to shoulder surgery, plus two other infielders — Travis Shaw and top prospect Yoan Moncada — will be candidates for playing time also.

While Holt wouldn’t be as costly to acquire as the previously mentioned, his versatility is valuable, and he’s under team control through the 2019 season. In other words, he won’t be found on the discount rack.

Corey Dickerson
The 27-year-old could be one of those “buy low” options that Dipoto has sought in the past. But, he’s a bit of an enigma. That’s true about most buy low types I suppose. After spending the first three seasons of his career with the Colorado Rockies, Dickerson was a member of the Tampa Bay Rays last season and his stat line took a hit.

Year Tm G PA XBH% HR% BB% SO% BA OBP SLG
2013-2015 COL 265 925 11.9% 4.2% 6.8% 21.4% .299 .345 .534
2016 TBR 148 548 11.5% 4.4% 6.0% 24.5% .245 .293 .469

 

Certainly, no one expected Dickerson to deliver the same production he did during his three years in the high altitude of Coors Field. But, the challenge is determining what to expect from him during his second season away from Colorado. When I reviewed the four-year veteran’s 2016 season, I noted a couple of issues regarding his splits. Specifically, he got off to a slow star and struggled at his new home field.

Split PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Home (season) 260 .213 .273 .377 72
Home (Apr-Jun) 113 .183 .239 .327 43
Home (Jul-Oct) 147 .237 .299 .415 93
Away (season) 288 .273 .310 .550 127
Away (Apr-Jun) 128 .242 .280 .558 121
Away (Jul-Oct) 160 .298 .331 .543 132

 

While Dickerson’s overall numbers improved during the final four months of the season, it’s clear he scuffled at Tropicana Field. Will his struggles continue next year? That’s impossible to know, especially since his home numbers were an extremely small sample size. Assuming his post June numbers are indicative of future performance, Dickerson could be an intriguing alternative for the Mariners. A change of scenery candidate, perhaps?

From a fiscal standpoint, Dickerson projects to make $3.4 million in arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors. That’s approximately half the salary Seth Smith will earn in 2017. Plus, he’s under team control through the 2019 season.

A word of caution — Dickerson has pedestrian numbers against left-handed pitching. In 310 plate appearance versus southpaws, he’s slashed .244/.290/.354. In essence, the Mariners would potentially be getting a younger, cheaper version of Smith without any certainty that Dickerson would provide offensive production similar to Smith’s work at the plate.

Scott Van Slyke
I know that seeing the name “Van Slyke” on my list may make some Seattle fans gasp, especially after Scott’s father and former Mariners coach — Andy Van Slykeskewered the club’s second baseman Robinson Cano in a 2015 interview. Perhaps, such a deal would be a non-starter for team management. But, I’m going to Andy’s son anyway.

Van Slyke’s season ended early due to issues with his wrist that plagued throughout the season and eventually led to September surgery. Assuming he’s ready by the start of the season, the five-year player could potentially provide a buyer with a right-handed bat capable of hitting southpaw pitching rather well — .262/.366/.479. Van Slyke’s overall career slash of .249/.331/.424 in 821 career plate appearances signals that he wouldn’t necessarily have to be used exclusively in a platoon role.

In the outfield, Van Slyke is slightly above average, plus he’s started 25 games at first base. Perhaps, the 30-year-old isn’t the ideal fit as a full-time outfielder. But, he could potentially give Seattle some measure of insurance and roster versatility by serving as an alternative to left-handed hitting first baseman Dan Vogelbach.

Financially, Van Slyke is entering his first year of financial eligibility and projects to make $1.3 million. But, Bill Plunkett of The Orange County Register suggests he may be “prime candidate” to be non-tendered. With that in mind, it may not make sense for any interested parties to swing a trade for the Dodgers’ outfielder.

If Van Slyke were cut loose by Los Angeles, he’d be an interesting option for a team like the Mariners, who could use a corner outfielder capable of playing another position — such as first base.

Finally
It’s quite probable that Dipoto will acquire players not listed here or prominently mentioned by the national media — he’s pretty good at doing that. With that said, the eight names I’ve presented provide perspective on what the Mariners are looking for and the challenges they’ll face when attempting to fill their needs. Personally, I can’t wait to see what the Mariners do.

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