Last month, we published our best Seattle Mariners outfields list. Now, we’re turning our attention to determining the best Mariners infields ever.
As with our outfield comps, we’re relying on the Baseball Reference version of wins above replacement (bWAR) since B-R permits us to capture the approximate value individual players provided at particular positions during a season.
As with the outfield conversation, we’ll discuss the top-3 groups illustrated above. We’ll also reflect on two other units I thought were worthy of mention – 1990 and 2016.
This version of the Mariners finished 26 games out of first place, although the infield boasted a future Hall of Famer – Edgar Martinez.
Martinez would eventually transition to designated hitter where he’d cement his Cooperstown legacy, but he was the starting third baseman in 1990.
Davis played one more year with Seattle before a short stint with the Angels. He’d retire in 1992 owning most franchise records for offense until Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr, Álex Rodríguez, and Jay Buhner supplanted him. That said; “Mr. Mariner” still holds the team record for home runs by a rookie (27).
A 22-year-old rookie named Tino Martinez would also make 19 first base starts. Tino eventually became the club’s main first baseman until the Mariners traded him to the Yankees after the 1995 season.
Long-time Mariner Harold Reynolds won his third consecutive Gold Glove in 1990 and led the team in stolen bases. Moreover, his 4.8 bWAR was third best among MLB second baseman behind Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg (7.1) and Julio Franco (6.8).
First baseman David Segui played just 233 games in a Mariners uniform, but was great in 1998. During the 1999 season, Seattle dealt the son of former pitcher Diego Seguí to the Blue Jays for Tom Davey and Steve Sinclair.
Fun fact: Cora’s .355 OBP as a Mariner is the best ever by a Seattle second baseman edging out Robinson Canó (.353) for the top spot.
Third baseman Russ Davis came over with Sterling Hitchcock from the Yankees in exchange for Tino Martinez, Jim Mecir, and Jeff Nelson. Although we recently proved the Yankees don’t always fleece Seattle in trades, Davis’ performance wasn’t particularly memorable from a statistical standpoint.
The team signed Seattle native John Olerud to play first base, which proved to be a shrewd pickup by then-GM Pat Gillick.
Olerud won the first of his three Gold Gloves with the team in 2000. He also delivered wit his bat with a team-best 45 doubles. The only teammates with a better batting average and OBP than the former WSU Cougar were Edgar and A-Rod.
Bell initially replaced Cora at second base in 1998, but transitioned to the hot corner. The current manager of the Reds shared the position with Carlos Guillén before taking over the position on a full-time basis in 2001.
This would be Rodríguez’s last season in a Mariners uniform. Fans vilified him for leaving Seattle for more money, but there’s no disputing A-Rod’s greatness. He ranks top-3 in franchise history in batting average, OBP, and SLG. Only three players have a higher bWAR – Griffey, Edgar, and Ichiro.
Most of the key infielders from the previous year remained on the roster, but there were two significant changes. The first was Guillén drawing the unenviable assignment of replacing A-Rod.
Overall, Guillén performed admirably delivering the ninth best bWAR (3.3) by an MLB shortstop. After the 2003 season, the team traded the Venezuelan to the Tigers for compatriot Juan Gonzalez and infielder Ramón Santiago. The deal worked out well for Detroit, not so much for the Mariners.
Guillén would be a four-time All-Star for the Tigers. Meanwhile Gonzalez never reached the majors and Santiago spent most of two seasons with Class-AAA Tacoma before being released and re-signing with Detroit.
The other game-changer was the club signing a familiar name to replace McLemore at second base – Brett Boone.
Yes, I know Bobby Ayala wasn’t a fan-favorite.
Boone’s encore with Seattle was incredibly productive with the USC alum finishing third in MVP voting in 2001. Eventually, he’d earn three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers before leaving the team for the last time during the 2005 season.
This would be the Bell’s last year as a Mariner. The team dealt him to the Giants for Desi Relaford after the season.
The most recent entrant on our list is the first infield of then-new general manager Jerry Dipoto. Most of the main contributors were holdovers from the previous regime with two exceptions at first base.
As long-time Mariners fans know, first base has been a black hole for the franchise since Olerud’s departure in 2004. Dipoto attempted to address the issue by landing Adam Lind from the Brewers for prospects Carlos Herrera, Daniel Missaki, and Freddy Peralta.
Herrera is still in the Brewers’ minor league system, while the team released Missaki last year.
The most successful of the three thus far is Peralta. The 23-year-old has been scuffling lately, although he did start the second game of the season for the Brew Crew.
Unfortunately, Lind didn’t live up to his advanced billing of possessing good on-base ability. In the three seasons leading up to his Seattle arrival, the left-handed hitter had a .364 OBP. With Seattle, he produced a .286 OBP, which ranked 22nd among 23 among MLB first baseman with 400-plus plate appearances.
Sharing time with Lind was Korean import Dae-ho Lee. Known for his prodigious power, Lee clubbed 14 home runs and produced a league-average 101 OPS+ in 317 plate appearances.
Individually, Lind and Lee didn’t deliver spectacular numbers, although they collectively managed to hit 30 dingers.
While first base continued to be an enigma, Canó solidified the middle infield and lineup.
Essentially, the 2016 season was Canó‘s best during his five-year stay in the Emerald City.
Canó’s double play partner – Ketel Marte – was just 22-years-old and in his first full big league season. Realistically, Marte’s biggest contribution to the Mariners was being a trade chip along with Taijuan Walker in the deal bringing Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura over from Arizona.
Having said that, Marte has developed into a fine player with the Diamondbacks leading the majors in triples last year. Walker is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Kyle Seager delivered career bests in every significant offensive category and bWAR; he even netted a few MVP votes. Unfortunately, Seager’s banner season appears to be an outlier that now fuels unrealistic expectations for the North Carolina alum.
During our outfield piece, we discussed the worst outfield in Mariners franchise record. We’re not going to do that with the infield.
Instead, we’ll simply illustrate Seattle’s best infielder seasons ever – based on bWAR.
|All-Time Mariners Infield
In case you’re wondering, the worst Mariners outfield ever was the 1983 crew with a combined -0.7 bWAR. If you want to reminisce about that 101-loss team, you can find everything you’d like to know here
So when will the Mariners have a great infield again?
Probably not this year, but it’s worth nothing the 2019 infield has delivered 1.4 bWAR of value after 19 games. That’s better than what several Seattle clubs – including the 1983 squad – delivered in a full season.
My Oh My.