To mount a serious challenge for the AL West division title next year, the Seattle Mariners must improve its lineup. Getting more production from the team’s infielders would certainly move the Mariners’ offense in the right direction.

Perhaps the position most in need of an offensive shot in the arm is second base. Abraham Toro demonstrated good on-base ability, but below-average power after arriving in late-July. Even with Toro, the .653 OPS of Seattle second baseman ranked 27th in MLB.

Then there is third base.

With Kyle Seager expected to become a free agent this week, the Mariners need a new regular third baseman for the first time in 10 years. That said, it is possible the team moves Toro to the hot corner where he has accumulated 5 defensive runs saved (DRS) in 59 starts and 546.2 innings.

So, how might the Mariners address the need for more offense from second and third base?

Hard to tell, but Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto has suggested his team would pursue the type of players it had not courted in years.

With this in mind, I identified pending free agents capable of helping the Mariners win in 2022 and beyond. There were others who could potentially help. But I focused on six high-profile names since Dipoto implied Seattle would aim higher than usual in the marketplace.

Before we start, a few business rules.

Notes

+ Anyone with a club or player option will not be discussed. So, no José Ramírez, Nolan Arenado, etc.

+ Positional versatility was important, although it was not a prerequisite for inclusion. Same with postseason experience.

+ Sorry, no talk about dollars or contracts.

+ Unless otherwise noted, assume rankings are against qualified hitters.

+ Assume the pending free agent’s team can make a “Qualifying Offer” unless noted otherwise. Teams signing a player with a QO are subject to losing draft picks. If you want to know more about the QO, you can read about it here. Bottom line: players with a QO will cost their new clubs both money and draft picks.

+ The age you see on tables reflect how old players will be on July 1, 2022.

In no particular order, my candidates.


Marcus Semien, 2B/SS

Age
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
xwOBA
OPS+
31
.265
.334
.538
.368
.329
133
MLB
.247
.321
.418
.314
.315
100

Selling points: Since the beginning of the 2019 campaign, Semien has the highest fWAR (15.4) and the fifth most home runs (85) and doubles (91) in MLB. This puts the Cal alum in a select group of players with over 80 home runs and doubles – Bryce Harper, Freddie Freeman, Rafael Devers, and José Abreu.

In 2021, Semien hit a career-high 45 home runs with Toronto. A club forced to use three different ballparks as its home field due to COVID-19 international travel restrictions. Something that may pique the interest of Mariners fans, Statcast projects 47 of his batted balls would have been a home run in T-Mobile Park.

Originally a weak fielding shortstop with Oakland, Semien developed into a Gold Glove contender at the position in 2018-19. This season, the San Francisco, California native moved to second base with his new club and finished third among second baseman with 11 DRS.

Potential concerns: This is nerdy, but worth sharing. The .039 difference between his .368 wOBA and .329 xwOBA was the third highest gap among hitters with 500-plus plate appearances.

Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should have happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) does not influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing.

This disparity matters to me because wOBA is what actually happened to batted balls, while xwOBA gives us a sense of what should have happened. A large positive gap suggests a player’s numbers may not be sustainable.

Something else to consider; Semien’s 48.1% fly ball rate was eighth highest in MLB. Perhaps this not a big deal. But fly balls historically do not generate the same level of success at T-Mobile Park as they do in other locations.

Since 2019, the offensive numbers of visitors to T-Mobile Park rank in the bottom third of MLB.

T-Mobile Park Fly Ball Stats (and MLB Rankings)*

.261 AVG (21st)
.262 OBP (19th)
.840 SLG (22nd)
.444 wOBA (22nd)
.454 xwOBA (22nd)
17.1 HR/FB% (22nd)
312 feet average distance (T-29)

*Visiting players since 2019

It certainly appears the potential exists for fly ball hitters to lose some offensive value at T-Mobile Park.

Thoughts: Am I suggesting the Mariners should avoid Semien? No. But it is reasonable to temper expectations on what he may be able to do in Seattle. Would the right-hander hitter represent an upgrade? Yes, at second base, third base, and shortstop. How much is unclear to me.


Carlos Correa, SS

Age
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
xwOBA
OPS+
27
.279
.366
.485
.364
.372
131
MLB
.247
.321
.418
.314
.315
100

Dipoto recently suggested to Mike Salk of 710 ESPN Seattle that the Mariners’ shortstop moving forward was  J.P. Crawford. But what if Crawford tells the team he is amenable to moving to another position if it led to making the roster better?

Since we do not know the answer, we will discuss Houston’s All-Star shortstop.

Selling points: Correa’s 5.8 fWAR is only bested by Semien’s among players expected free agents. Moreover, the native of Ponce, Puerto Rico registered 21 DRS, which led MLB at every position – not just shortstop.

Oh, and Correa will play three more years before reaching his age-30 season.

Postseason experience is a topic we will mention often during our discussion. Correa certainly has his share of it. All told, he has over 70 playoff games and three World Series on his résumé.

Potential concerns: This season, Correa played in 148 games. But since the start of the 2017 season, the first overall pick of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft has appeared in just 71% of his team’s games. A recurring problem has been nagging back issues that have sidelined him several times.

Thoughts: Correa immediately becomes the best player on many teams the moment he signs the dotted line on a new contract. That certainly applies to the Mariners. For this reason, the two-time All-Star should be on Seattle’s initial shopping list.


Kris Bryant, 1B/3B/OF

Age
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
xwOBA
OPS+
30
.265
.353
.481
.356
.342
124
MLB
.247
.321
.418
.314
.315
100

Selling points: After a down 2020, Bryant delivered superb production with the Cubs and then the Giants after the team acquired him prior to the MLB trade deadline in July. Excluding the 2020 season, the second overall pick of the 2013 draft has averaged 33 doubles and 27 home runs since debuting in 2015.

Although Bryant could fill a need at third base for the Mariners, a key component of his value is the ability to play all over the diamond.

Starts By Position In 2021
1B – 10
3B – 47
LF – 35
CF – 13
RF – 33

Bryant also has extensive postseason experience with 44 playoff game appearances. Most recently, he went 8-18 with a home run in five games with San Francisco this year.

Something else to be mindful of, Bryant was dealt in-season. Therefore, the Giants can not offer the San Diego alum the Qualifying Offer.

Potential concerns: Since the beginning of the 2018 season, Bryant has played in 78% of his team’s games due to injuries. Not a terrible number. But it is something to consider since the Las Vegas, Nevada native will play into his mid-to-late thirties with his next club.

Thoughts: Bryant is a superb all-around player capable of helping a contender at multiple positions. That flexibility is certainly appealing to the Mariners, a club with multiple holes to fill in the infield and outfield.


Trevor Story, SS

Age
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
xwOBA
OPS+
29
.251
.329
.471
.341
.333
103
MLB
.247
.321
.418
.314
.315
100

Selling points: Despite having a down season, Story was top-10 among shortstops in doubles, triples, home runs, SLG, fWAR, wOBA, and xwOBA. Furthermore, his 28.7 ft/sec sprint speed was top-30 among players making 100-plus competitive runs.

The Irving, Texas native used his quick feet and savvy to steal 20 bases and be an outstanding base runner, which is reflected by a 6.4 BsR that was ninth best in MLB.

Base Running (BsR) is a comprehensive metric used by FanGraphs that accounts for success at stealing bases and other base running plays, such as taking the extra base and avoiding being thrown out on the bases.

In 2021, Story’s 9 DRS were fourth highest among shortstops. But this is nothing new for the Rockies’ the 1st round pick in the 2011 draft. Since the start of the 2017 campaign, his 55 DRS ranks fourth best among shortstop peers just behind Correa (58) and seventh among all players.

Concerns: Well, Story did have a down year, which may have been caused by an elbow injury. But the main issue with the two-time Silver Slugger winner is the 800-pound gorilla that stalks all Colorado players – home and away splits.

Trevor Story's Home/Away Splits (2017-21)
K%
BB%
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
xwOBA
Home
24.1
8.1
.301
.363
.590
.396
.355
Away
30.2
8.2
.242
.311
.440
.322
.313

These splits do not mean it is impossible for Story to perform well away from the mile-high elevation of Denver. But it is reasonable to expect some decline in production.

For example, Nolan Arenado had a nice first season with the Cardinals after being a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate with the Rockies. But he experienced at least a 60-point drop in AVG, OBP, and SLG. Then again, Arenado did hit 34 doubles and 34 home runs, which was similar to his 2019 numbers (31 doubles/41 HR).

Thoughts: Story is an excellent player and superb athlete, who would immediately make the Mariners lineup better. But there is a risk that he becomes more slugger than on-base guy after moving away from Coors Field and enters his thirties. It is an issue potential buyers will have to confront.

Considering Seattle is about to part ways with a 30-something power bat with low on-base ability, I am unsure of the fit. Perhaps time and Story prove me wrong. That would be fine by me.


Javier Báez, 2B/SS/3B

Age
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
xwOBA
OPS+
29
.265
.319
.494
.344
.320
117
MLB
.247
.321
.418
.314
.315
100

Selling points: Báez hit 31 home runs with the Cubs and Mets, which is a reasonable expectation moving forward. In the three seasons prior to a pandemic-shortened 2020, the right-handed hitter averaged 29 homers with Chicago.

Báez’s fly ball rate is slightly below league-average. But when he gets the ball airborne, home runs often follow. His 28.2% HR/FB rate was third highest in the majors behind two notable names – Shohei Ohtani (32.9%) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (32.1%).

What is intriguing about Báez’s home run tally is that Statcast projected that 35 of his batted balls would have been home runs in T-Mobile Park. That was the highest projection for the Bayamon, Puerto Rico native in any MLB stadium.

Báez had a solid .775 OPS against right-handed pitching, which would have ranked second on the Mariners among righty hitters. That said, he was particularly formidable when confronting left-handers with a .926 OPS. Why does this matter?

In 2021, Seattle had a .695 OPS versus southpaws, which ranked 26th in the majors. Only the Rangers were worse in the AL.

The fleet-footed Báez stole 18 bases thanks to a 28.6 ft/sec sprint speed that was also top-30. That said, his aggressiveness can lead to an occasional gaffe on the bases. Then again, he did manage to have a 58 XBT%, which tied for seventh best in MLB.

Extra Bases Taken Percentage (XBT%) from Baseball Reference refers to how frequently a runner advances more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double.

Defensively, Báez was a whiz at multiple positions. This year, the 2020 Gold Glove winner at shortstop accrued 3 DRS at two different positions – second base and shortstop. Moreover, he has 7 DRS in 65 career starts at third base.

In the postseason, Báez has played in 36 games, including the Cubs’ 2016 World Series title run when he was NLCS MVP.

Báez cannot be offered the Qualifying Offer after being traded to the Mets in July.

Potential concerns: Among 187 players taking 750-plus swings this year, Báez’s 40.5% whiff rate was second highest in MLB. For context, Mitch Haniger led Seattle regulars at 29.8%.

As a result of Báez’s propensity to swing and miss, his 33.6% strikeout rate was third highest in the majors. Furthermore, the two-time All-Star owned a 5.1% walk rate, which was tenth lowest. Not the “control/dominate the zone” profile the Mariners champion.

Thoughts: Báez is a dynamic playmaker capable of energizing any team. The issue for any potential suitor, including the Mariners, will be stomaching his high swing and miss style to get the energizing production he can potentially deliver.


Chris Taylor, INF/OF

Age
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
xwOBA
OPS+
31
.254
.344
.438
.338
.327
110
MLB
.247
.321
.418
.314
.315
100

Selling points: Taylor’s 2021 numbers tapered off in the second half. But his final numbers resemble what he has produced since debuting with Seattle in 2014.

Career Stats
.261 AVG
.337 OBP
.438 SLG
109 OPS
.336 wOBA
.321 xwOBA

Taylor’s 28.8 ft/sec sprint speed was twentieth best in 2021. That is a smidge faster than Báez (28.6). The eight-year veteran also swiped 13 bags and was caught just once. Furthermore, his 6.5 BsR ranked eighth.

Of all the players discussed, Taylor is the most versatile from a defensive standpoint. The fifth round pick of the Mariners in the 2012 MLB draft started 10 or more games at five positions.

Starts By Position In 2021
2B – 33
SS – 19
3B – 9
LF – 16
CF – 48
RF – 19

Potential concerns: Taylor’s 32.7% whiff rate was sixteenth highest in MLB, while his 28.7% strikeout was eleventh worst. If he were with the Mariners, he would have been wedged between Dylan Moore (29.4%) and Jarred Kelenic (28.1%).

Taylor will be 32 next August. Does this matter for a player dependent on his legs to play multiple positions? Perhaps, although his sprint speed has remained constant since he became a regular in 2017.

Thoughts: Taylor had a great postseason and was dealt away in a trade Dipoto has acknowledged as one of his worst. For these reasons, the Emerald City return of the former Virginia Cavalier makes too much sense for many Seattle fans.

Sentimentality aside, the Mariners have multiple holes to fill across the diamond but wants to maintain the flexibility to introduce young players into the lineup. Thanks to Taylor’s excellent blend of positional versatility and offensive value, he could help his former club on both counts.

My Oh My…

Got a take on what you just read? Talk about it here!

Image courtesy of Jeff Chiu / AP Images
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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

2 Comments

  1. You gotta think Jerrys dream scenario would be able to sign both Taylor and Bryant. That would greatly lengthin the lineup with star power and give the team the defensive flexibility they covet so much.
    Crawford – SS
    French – 1B
    Bryant – 3B
    Hanigar – RF
    Lewis – DH
    Taylor – CF
    Kelenic – LF
    Toro – 2B
    Raliegh – C
    Add at least 1 front end starter through trades and the M’s would be instant contenders.

  2. You mention they’re listed in no particular order. All things being reasonably equal, here’s my order:
    1. Taylor (terribly underrated, tremendous all-around player, clutch performer, can play wherever he’s needed)
    2. Correa (team leader, solid defensive SS with superb arm, very good hitting SS with power)
    3. Semien (versatile & consistent, excellent offensively & defensively)
    4. Bryant (better offensively than defensively, best positions are 3B & LF)
    5. Story (great defensively, non-Coors Field offense takes a big dive but is more than acceptable for a quality SS)
    6. Báez (see comments below)

    Obviously a team’s specific needs can affect the order. And I wouldn’t even consider Báez. He’s too inconsistent & erratic both offensively & defensively, and not a solid team player like the others on the list.

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