Last Updated on June 12, 2018 by Luke Arkins

The PED-related suspension of Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano created a gaping hole on the club’s roster. Fortunately, the Mariners had Dee Gordon available.

At the time of Cano’s suspension, Gordon was playing center field. Management simply moved the 30-year-old to the position where he’s won a Gold Glove and earned two All-Star appearances.

Problem solved, for now.

The issue that will eventually confront the Mariners is what to do with Cano when he returns in mid-August. Recently, general manager Jerry Dipoto suggested to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN the 35-year-old won’t be Seattle’s full-time second baseman.

How the roster shakes out will be determined later. But one potential landing spot for Cano could be first base. Prospect Insider first broached the idea in 2015.

Still, it’s too early to get worked up about where Gordon and Cano play in August. A lot can change with the roster and the standings between now and then.

That said; the notion of Cano at first base made me wonder who exactly are the best first baseman in Mariners history. When I started digging, I expected a long list of players excelling at first base.

Not so much.

In fact, Mariner first basemen have collectively under-performed since the organization’s current postseason drought began in 2002. During that 18-year span, the position has a combined 100 WRC+.

Yep, that’s worst in the majors.

I’m not suggesting the Mariners have never had a quality first baseman — they did. But the team has endured extended periods of poor production from a position normally associated with power and offensive output.

To illustrate what I mean, I’ve identified the 10 Mariner first baseman with the highest wins above replacement (WAR) while playing for Seattle. There are familiar and beloved names, but the overall list isn’t very impressive.

Okay, let’s get going with a player who finally found success after leaving the Emerald City.

10. Justin Smoak (0.9 WAR)

Through no fault of his own, Smoak will forever symbolize the futility of Jack Zduriencik’s general manager tenure for many Mariners fans.

Zduriencik masterfully stole the former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee from the Philadelphia Phillies in December 2009. When the Mariners’ GM realized the southpaw wasn’t going to remain with Seattle after 2010, he flipped Lee during the season to maximize his value.

Seattle shipped the pending free agent and reliever Mark Lowe to the Texas Rangers for infielder Matt Lawson, pitchers Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke, plus Smoak — the centerpiece of the deal. Initially, the trade appeared to be a shrewd maneuver. In the end, it was was a dud for the Mariners.

Smoak was expected to anchor Seattle’s lineup for years. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for the former first round draft pick out of the University of South Carolina. In 496 games with the Mariners, the former Gamecock slashed .226/.308/.384 with 66 home runs.

Exacerbating Smoak’s situation, the fact the other pieces in the Lee deal didn’t pan out for Seattle either. Lawson never played in the majors, Beavan and Lueke had a combined 1.3 WAR as Mariners.

In October 2014, Smoak was waived by the Mariners and selected by the Toronto Blue Jays. It took the switch-hitter several years to blossom. But the 31-year-old has become a solid player, earning his first All-Star selection last year.

9. Danny Valencia (1.0 WAR)

When Seattle acquired Valencia in November 2016, most observers expected he’d serve as part of a platoon with rookie Daniel Vogelbach and occasionally play third base and the outfield.

Those expectations changed when it became abundantly clear during Spring Training Vogelbach wasn’t major league ready. As a result, the right-handed Valencia became the Mariners’ full-time first baseman.

By August, Dipoto acquired left-handed hitting Yonder Alonso to get the majority of first base playing time. Both Valencia and Alonso opted for free agency after the season.

8. Logan Morrison (1.3 WAR)

Morrison was part of the first major deal made by Dipoto after he took over as GM in September 2015. The Mariners traded “Lo-Mo” with Danny Farquhar and Brad Miller to the Tampa Bay Rays for Nate Karns, Boog Powell and C.J. Riefenhauser.

During his two seasons with Seattle, Lo-Mo was a popular player with fans and had his moments. Overall, he hit 28 home runs and a .241/.307/.398 slash line during 245 games as a Mariner.

7. Russell Branyan (3.4 WAR)

“Russell the Muscle” signed a one-year deal with the Mariners for the 2009 season and left for the Cleveland Indians afterwards. But the story doesn’t end there. Zduriencik reacquired Branyan from Cleveland in June 2010 for Ezequiel Carrera and Juan Diaz.

In 173 games as a Mariner, Branyan clubbed 46 homers and posted a .508 slugging percentage. His tenure was short, but the Georgia native left his mark with tape measure homers like the one in the preceding video.

6. Paul Sorrento (3.5 WAR)

In 1996, Sorrento had the unenviable task of following in the foot steps of Tino Martinez, who was traded to the New York Yankees. Martinez was arguably the second-best first baseman in Mariners franchise history at the time.

All things considered, Sorrento lived up to the challenge delivering strong production during his two-year stint in Seattle. The former Florida State University Seminole averaged 27 home runs and notched a .869 OPS as a member of the Mariners.

5. David Segui (3.8 WAR)

The Mariners signed the son of former big league pitcher Diego Segui to replace Sorrento. Just like his predecessor, the Louisiana Tech University product delivered outstanding results.

During 233 games in a Mariners uniform, Segui slashed .300/.356/.473 with 28 home runs and 58 doubles.

In July 1999, Seattle kept the first base door revolving by trading Segui to the Toronto Blue Jays for Tom Davey and Steve Sinclair.

4. Richie Sexson (5.5 WAR)

Sexson, who signed a free agent deal with Seattle in December 2004, got off to a good start with his new ball club. But things eventually became dicey for the graduate of Brush Prairie, Washington High School.

The second-half of Sexon’s time as a Mariner was fraught with poor production and injuries. For a large segment of fans, that’s what they remember most vividly about the veteran of 12 big league seasons.

Sexon’s Jekyll & Hyde Stint In Seattle
2005-06 314 1319 73 .264 .353 .522
2007-08 195 783 32 .210 .303 .392

In the end, the 6-foot-7 slugger was unceremoniously released by the Mariners in July 2008. The reason given by the team was Sexson’s bad attitude.

3. Tino Martinez (7.7 WAR)

Drafted in the first round out of the University of Tampa by the Mariners in 1988, Martinez played five full seasons with Seattle. Overall, the left-handed hitter posted an .801 OPS and belted 200 extra base hits — including 88 home runs.

Rather than risk losing Martinez to free agency, the Mariners shipped their star first baseman with Jim Mecir and Jeff Nelson to the New York Yankees for Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock.

2. John Olerud (17.1 WAR)

Already a well-established major league hitter, Olerud returned to his hometown in 2000 providing solid offense and defense and helping Seattle reach the postseason.

Perhaps more amazing, the slow-footed first baseman managing to hit for the cycle twice.

In four full seasons with the Mariners, Olerud slashed .285/.388/.439, while earning three Gold Gloves and his second career All-Star selection.

The former Washington State University Cougar was also a key member of the record-setting 116-win team that reached the 2001 ALCS.

1. Alvin Davis (20.1 WAR)

“Mr. Mariner” was the first great player for a franchise that had few good players prior to his arrival. Moreover, he became the first member of the Mariners’ Hall of Fame in 1997.

Davis won the 1984 AL Rookie of the Year and owned most of the club’s offensive records until greats such as Ken Griffey Jr, Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, and Jay Buhner burst on the scene.

Still, Davis’ .381 OBP ranks second only to Edgar among players with 3,000-plate appearances with Seattle. Mr. Mariner also continues to hold the club record for home runs by a rookie (27).


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