It is no secret that the Seattle Mariners must improve run production to segue from fringy contender to serious postseason threat. We recently identified free agent infielders capable of helping Seattle’s offense. Now, let us turn our attention to identifying outfielders capable of energizing the Mariners’ lineup.

Yes, I know. Mitch Haniger, Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, yada, yada, yada. They are all fine players. Some may become perennial All-Stars. But nothing is certain in life. The Mariners should be trying to improve the roster whenever the opportunity presents itself. Besides, baseball has a way of taking care of “excess” talent via injuries and/or poor performances.

For example, take the health of Lewis, which is in question heading into the offseason. Right now, the Mariners face the possibility of entering next season without a true center fielder readily available on the 40-man roster or in the prospect pipeline. For this reason, adding someone capable of holding down the position once manned Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Cameron, and Franklin Gutierrez is a likely priority.

Before talking players, a little housekeeping.

Notes

+ 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 you read 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.

There are many interesting free agent outfielders. But I settled on four to review. Unfortunately, just one center fielder made the cut. The players we are about to discuss have blemishes, which may make them unappealing to the Mariners. Still, each is capable of improving a team’s offensive output next year. So, we will talk about them.


Michael Conforto, LF/RF

Age
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
xwOBA
OPS+
29
.232
.344
.384
.322
.350
101
MLB
.247
.321
.418
.319
.314
100

Selling points: Despite being limited to 125 games due to injuries, Conforto managed to produce a league-average 101 OPS+. Moreover, the Seattle, Washington native’s .348 xwOBA was second-best on the Mets behind Pete Alonso.

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.

What I find encouraging about Conforto’s xwOBA is that despite having a down year, he still ranked in the top 30% of the league. Since xwOBA essentially reflects the quality and quantity of contact a hitter is making (or a pitcher is allowing), I feel confident the left-handed hitter rebounds in 2022.

Conforto’s also has a strong command of the strike zone. His 12.6% walk rate since 2018 is top-20 among hitters with 1,500-plus plate appearances.

Potential concerns: The injury sidelining Conforto this season was a hamstring, which also affected him in 2020. Could this be a chronic problem moving forward or is it something he has put behind him?

Conforto did suffer a power outage this year, which is reflected in a career-low .384 SLG. Having said that, the veteran of seven seasons did become more productive once healthy with 13 doubles, 14 home runs and a .445 SLG in his final 72 games.

Defensively, Conforto’s -4 defensive runs saved (DRS) in right field this year ranked 13 of 19 among players with 750-plus innings at the position. Perhaps the recurring hamstring issue factored into the Oregon State product’s below-average glove work this year. Then again, Haniger essentially delivered the same defense for the Mariners (-5 DRS).

Thoughts: Conforto is coming off a down, injury-plagued season. Therefore, he is persona non grata with some New York fans. But realistically, the tenth overall pick of the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft would help a club wanting to improve its outfield run production.


Nick Castellanos, LF/RF

Age
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
xwOBA
OPS+
30
.309
.362
.576
.391
.371
136
MLB
.247
.321
.418
.319
.314
100

Selling points: Castellanos was one of the most productive hitters in the majors this year. His 136 OPS+ tied for seventeenth highest with three outstanding bats – Joey Votto, Yordan Álvarez, and Giancarlo Stanton. Moreover, the Floridian was top-20 in hits, doubles, home runs, AVG, and SLG.

Many times, it is “buyer beware” when a pending free agent has a career year, as Castellanos did in 2021. However, he does have a 115 OPS+ in nine MLB seasons. Plus, the right-handed hitter boasts a .363 xwOBA since 2015, which tells us he frequently makes quality contact.

Potential concerns: With just eight starts in left field, Castellanos has primarily been a right fielder since the Tigers moved him from third base in 2017 due to defensive challenges at the hot corner. That said, advanced metrics do not favor him in the outfield.

Remember that list of 19 players with 750-plus innings in right field this year? Detroit’s first round pick in the 2010 draft ranked 16th with -7 DRS. Furthermore, his -20 DRS in right field over the last three seasons ranked 15 of 15 among players with at least 1,500 innings at the position.

Thoughts: Without doubt, Castellanos would provide a needed premium power hitter for the middle of Seattle’s lineup. The issue at is whether the Mariners would be willing to accept what appears to be a glaring defensive deficiency in order to get that bat.


Tommy Pham, OF

Age
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
xwOBA
OPS+
34
.229
.340
.383
.318
.351
103
MLB
.247
.321
.418
.319
.314
100

Selling points: Nerd alert — Only four players with 500-plus plate appearances had a larger negative gap between their wOBA and xwOBA than Pham’s -0.32 this season. This suggests the potential exists for better production in 2022. At least it does for me.

Fueling my optimism is the knowledge Pham’s 47.6% hard hit rate was 24th best in the majors ranking just behind someone Seattle fans know all too well – Oakland’s Matt Olson (48.8%). Plus, his knack for earning free passes.

Pham’s 13.9% walk rate was ninth best this year and this was not a fluke. In eight big-league seasons, he has walked at a 12.5% clip.

Something else to consider, the Las Vegas, Nevada native’s bat has been much better when away from Petco Park during his two seasons as a Padre.

Pham’s Home/Away Splits (2020-21)
Home – 342 PA, 5 HR, .185 AVG/.316 OBP/.301 SLG
Away – 344 PA, 13 HR, .265 AVG/.355 OBP/.436 SLG

Perhaps a change of scenery is all Pham needs to revitalize his stat line. Whether T-Mobile Park, which historically has favored pitchers, is a better alternative is not completely clear. Still, it is worth noting that Statcast projected 20 of his batted balls would have been home runs at Seattle’s home field – five more than he actually hit this year.

Potential concerns: Pham has generally hit a high percentage of ground balls in his career. This season, he had 48.8% ground ball rate, which was 26th highest in MLB. But the results were different in a bad way in 2021.

Pham’s AVG On Ground Balls
2015 (.267)
2016 (.300)
2017 (.289)
2018 (.267)
2019 (.269)
2020 (.275)
2021 (.218)

Is the decline in ground ball productivity an aberration or an indicator of age-related regression? Pham, who turns 34 next March, has possessed a sprint speed ranking around 80th throughout his career until 2021. This year, he ranked 152nd.

After being a center fielder earlier in his career, Pham primarily played left field for the Friars in 2020-21, although he did start eight games in center field his year. Like Conforto and Castellanos, the metrics were unfavorable. Among 26 players with over 500 innings in left field, his -4 DRS tied him for 17th place with Joc Pederson.

Thoughts: Due to his age, a multi-year commitment may not be in the cards for Pham. Still, it certainly appears the sixteenth round pick of the Cardinals in 2006 could help a contender’s lineup in 2022.


Starling Marte, CF

Age
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
xwOBA
OPS+
33
.308
.381
.456
.363
.341
131
MLB
.247
.321
.418
.319
.314
100

Selling points: Marte delivered above-average production for both the Marlins and A’s in 2021 at a position of need for the Mariners. On the surface, this immediately makes him appealing.

Although Marte was not a big bopper with just 12 home runs this year, he did hit 27 doubles. The right-handed hitter was also disruptive on the base paths with 47 stolen bases, including 25 with Oakland after joining the team in late-July.

An interesting tidbit regarding Marte, his 24.1% fly ball rate was fourth lowest in the majors. Why does this matter?

We recently noted when discussing pending free agent Marcus Semien that fly balls in T-Mobile Park generally do not benefit batters. Since 2019, the offensive production of players visiting the Emerald City ranks 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

Conversely, Marte had the sixth highest ground ball rate (54.8%). Hitting a lot of grounders is not always a good thing. But it worked for the 10-year veteran.

In 2021, MLB hitters had a .243 AVG and .221 wOBA on ground balls. Yet, Marte recorded a .332 AVG and .307 wOBA. That was not simply good luck. His ground ball numbers for the last four seasons were above-average – .299 AVG and .276 wOBA.

Since he changed teams in-season, Marte is ineligible for the Qualifying Offer.

Potential concerns: While Marte is a two-time Gold Glover, it is important to note that he earned his hardware in 2015-16 as a left fielder with Pittsburgh. In center field, the metrics suggest he has been slightly below average in recent seasons.

Marte has averaged 121 games annually since 2016, a number affected by an 80-game PED suspension in 2017. This year, he appeared in 120 contests. Relying too heavily on a center fielder with regressing defensive numbers and availability challenges entering his age-33 season could be a recipe for disappointment depending on the length of commitment made to him.

Thoughts: Marte would represent an immediate offensive and defensive upgrade in center field over what the Mariners had in 2021. Yes, his -4 DRS this year may not look impressive at first glance. But that number is superior to what Seattle has received in recent years and certainly from Kelenic this season (-16 DRS). On the other hand, the issue confronting any potential suitor is how long can the native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic stave off Father Time?

If the Mariners do not sign Marte, look for President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto and his staff to pursue a trade for a player capable of playing center field on a regular basis. Otherwise, Seattle risks not securing the outfield upgrade needed for the team to take the next step in 2022.

That next step is the postseason, in case you did not already know.

My Oh My…

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

Image courtesy of Gary Landers / 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

4 Comments

  1. Two (more) words:
    Seiya. Suzuki.

  2. Author

    Mariners center fielders ranked last in bWAR and fWAR. Defensively, they were 26th in DRS. Offensively, they were 28th in OBP, 22nd in SLG, 22nd in wOBA. Center field is an area of need.

  3. Surprisingly, the M’s were in the middle of the pack for WAR produced by our centerfield committee. Given his athletic profile, I don’t see why Kelenic couldn’t become a proficient centerfielder at a minimum. With Kyle Lewis as DH and part-time outfielder (sad turn of events), centerfield would be a position of strength. There are a lot more candidates that can play the outfield corners and hit than defensive wizards who can play centerfield with a decent bat.

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