After being 10 games under .500 on June 19, the Seattle Mariners have crawled back to just a few games away from a wildcard berth. With this in mind, we should consider ways the Mariners could enhance their second-half competitiveness via the trade market.
To date, the pitching staff has been a strength of the Mariners. Yes, augmenting the bullpen and even the starting rotation should also be priorities. But suboptimal run production has been a recurring theme throughout the season. In fact, only the cellar-dwelling A’s have scored two-or-fewer runs in a game more often (39) than Seattle has this year (36).
Fixing this deficiency is paramount to making a second-half surge towards the postseason a reality.
Opinions will likely vary on what the Mariners should target to improve run scoring. But to me, the lineup’s weakest link thus far has been the lack of production from the second base position. Compounding matters, there are no obvious internal options to supplant underperforming incumbents.
Sure, Opening Day outfielders Jesse Winker and Jarred Kelenic have struggled at the plate with Kelenic now playing for Class-AAA Tacoma. But Winker has been looking more like his usual self over the past month. Plus, potential help appears to be on the way. The Mariners anticipate the return of Mitch Haniger and Kyle Lewis from the injured list early in the second half. Plus, Taylor Trammell should be back from a hamstring strain at some point. There’s reason for guarded optimism regarding the outfield.
When we look at the infield, the overall situation is good with one glaring exception. The Mariners are receiving solid-or-better production from first basemen Ty France and Carlos Santana, shortstop J.P. Crawford, and third baseman Eugenio Suárez. Then there’s second base.
Across the board, Seattle second basemen collectively rank in the bottom-five in nearly every significant offensive category with two notable exceptions. They have the lowest strikeout rate in MLB compared to their second base contemporaries and are mid-pack at drawing walks. Otherwise, it’s been an unproductive first half.
Sure, Opening Day second baseman Adam Frazier and primary backup Abraham Toro have delivered with their bats, at times. But the duo’s overall numbers during Seattle’s first 82 games suggest more is needed from the position moving forward.
As we recently discussed, an issue potentially affecting the productivity of Frazier and Toro is the low amount of hard contact each has made this season. To be clear, hitters can contribute to an offense without making lots of loud contact. But the margin for error is much smaller when well-struck balls are infrequent, which has been the case with Frazier and Toro.
Okay, I’ve come up with five potential trade targets for the Mariners to pursue. First, a few notes.
With an expanded playoff format this season, fewer clubs may be interested in dealing away established players. Furthermore, organizations willing to sell may not have much left to trade away. After all, teams so bad they’re already out of contention may have barren shelves.
The five names I’ve identified should be recognizable to everyone. That said, we don’t know whether their clubs will be amenable to dealing players with more than one year of club control remaining. Only one pending free agent appears on the list we’re about to discuss.
Each player carries some level of risk whether it’s performance-wise, financial, or both. That’s part of doing business in the weeks leading up to the MLB trade deadline. Sometimes, your GM hits a home run. Other times, a deal will crash and burn along with their team.
Finally, I don’t believe I’ve ever successfully identified a player in a piece like this who went on to become a Mariner the same year. Let’s face it. Seattle’s front office is teeming with people much smarter and more astute than me. So, let’s just have a little fun discussing the following names.
Ketel Marte – Diamondbacks
As much as Seattle fans might want to see a reunion between the Mariners and the 28-year-old, this one is a reach considering he signed a five-year contract extension with Arizona in March. Still, stranger things have happened. Plus, I haven’t seen mention of a no-trade clause by media outlets of sites like Baseball Prospectus and Spotrac. Then again, it’s not uncommon for partial and complete no-trade stipulations to become public knowledge later in the life of a contract.
At the very least, contrasting Marte’s numbers to what the Mariners have received from its second baseman helps further emphasize the need to get better production from the position.
Marte isn’t producing at the same level he did in 2019 when he was an All-Star and fourth place finisher in NL MVP voting. But his current stats remain well above league averages. Furthermore, the switch-hitter’s 25 doubles are eight more than Seattle’s team leader – Suárez.
Clearly, Marte’s presence would represent an immediate and significant upgrade for the Mariners. But there is some financial peril to consider. The native of the Dominican Republic is still owed $70 million through his age-33 season with a $3 million buyout for the following season (2028). Health is another factor to consider.
Ever since joining the D-Backs in 2017, Marte has dealt with nagging hamstring issues that usually sidelined him for a few days at most. But last year he appeared in just 90 games due to a hamstring strain and is currently nursing a balky hammy, which has limited him to designated hitter duties for about two weeks. Moving forward, the possibility exists lower-leg problems will worsen once the eight-year veteran is on the wrong side of 30.
Brandon Drury – Reds
Our lone rental is enjoying a career year, which could be good or bad news. Perhaps Drury is simply having a great season and ready to capitalize on his pending free agency. Then again, we shouldn’t forget how much Frazier scuffled after joining the Padres last July. Prior to the trade, he was also putting up personal bests and represented Pittsburgh at the 2021 All-Star game.
It’s possible Drury’s second-half numbers regress. After all, he has a 90 wRC+ in just over 2,000 plate appearances. Moreover, he’s on a pace to set a personal best in games played. His current high is 135 games set in 2017 and he hasn’t appeared in 100-plus contests since 2019. Perhaps the right-handed hitter’s production normalizes over the final two months of the season.
Something else to consider. Drury plays his home games in hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. How his power numbers might translate to T-Mobile Park is unclear. But it’s reasonable to expect the Oregonian wouldn’t be as productive in Emerald City home contests.
This season, Drury has played third base (39 starts) more often than second base (17 starts). But he does have approximately the same number of career games at each position. The 29-year-old also has spent time at both corner outfield spots, but never as a starter.
Having said all that, Drury has a relatively modest salary – $700 thousand. Therefore, the financial burden for an MLB team is minimal.
Tony Kemp – Athletics
Between his four years with the Astros and current stint in Oakland, Mariners fans are very familiar with the Tennessean. That said, he may not be the kind of player they want the team acquire this month. It turns out Kemp’s 2022 numbers look very similar to Frazier’s.
Still, Kemp does have postseason experience from his Houston days. On top of that, he’s been in playoff races as a member of the Cubs and A’s. This kind of experience in the Mariners clubhouse could potentially provide dividends beyond what the left-handed hitter delivers with his bat.
In recent years, Kemp has primarily appeared at second base and left field. He also has 38 career starts in center field. However, his most recent start at the position was in 2019 with the Astros.
While fan apprehension with Kemp’s production this year would be understandable, it’s important to recognize he’s just a season removed from hitting .279/.382/.418 with a 127 wRC+ with Oakland. Perhaps the franchise’s offseason purge of talent and playing for a team destined for the AL West basement is weighing on the former Vanderbilt Commodore. A change of scenery to a location with a contending ballclub could be exactly what the 30-year-old needs.
Joey Wendle – Marlins
The Wilmington, Delaware native possesses extensive career experience at second base and third base. Plus, he started 23 games at shortstop with Tampa Bay last year and he’s spent time at both corner outfield spots, although it’s been a few years. This is the kind of positional versatility the Mariners covet. Even better, Wendle can hit.
As with Kemp, the 32-year-old Wendle possesses postseason experience from four years with he Rays, including the 2020 World Series. Again, this intangible is something to consider when pursuing roster help for a team with a lot of young players and veterans with limited playoff experience.
Wendle missed all of June with a hamstring injury, but is set to return on July 8. Assuming he’s healthy, it’s possible Miami would consider parting ways with the 2021 All-Star. Still, the Marlins are only three games away from the third NL wild card berth. It’s plausible the team opts to keep Wendle and chase the postseason.
Then again, the Marlins are notorious for maintaining a low payroll. Wendle is earning $4.6 million this season with a $6.3 million club option for next year with a $75,000 buyout. If the organization decides to wait another year to contend, dealing the left-handed hitter could be an option.
Brandon Lowe – Rays (IL)
To this point, we’ve been discussing NL players since the best AL candidates are playing for teams ahead of the Mariners in the standings. Then again, GM Jerry Dipoto hasn’t made a deal trade with the Rays in about a year – JeDi is overdue!
Why not a trade for a second baseman?
Lowe’s production is down this season, which is likely attributable to a lower back injury that has him on the 60-day IL. That said, the 28-year-old projects to rejoin the Rays after the All-Star break. Despite his difficulties this season, Lowe shouldn’t be overlooked as a potential upgrade for the Mariners. After all, he does have a career .251/.337/.508 slash-line with a 132 wRC+, was a 2019 All-Star, and received AL MVP votes in 2020 and 2021.
Would Dipoto feel comfortable with dealing away prospects to acquire a player, who’s been largely absent in the first half of the season? Something else to ponder. Lower back problems can sometimes become chronic. Most importantly, will the Rays have interest in dealing the Suffolk, Virginia native during a heated postseason race to a club also in the field of contenders?
Assuming the Mariners are interested, financial considerations could prompt the low-revenue Rays to move Lowe – even if it means moving him to a potential wild card rival. The Maryland native is signed through the 2024 season and owed $14 million over the next two years. Plus, there are two club options for 2025-26 totaling $21 million. Perhaps the opportunity to pare payroll entices Tampa Bay into brokering a deal.
Although Mariners fans may not want hear it, the team could choose to stick with Frazier and Toro at second base. Frazier does have a career 99 wRC+, which suggests he’s been a league-average hitter during his seven big-league seasons. Moreover, the team is reportedly smitten with the potential existing in Toro’s bat.
Still, the Mariners lineup needs an upgrade beyond the return of Haniger and Lewis. Not only to improve current production levels, but to hedge against the loss of other players to injury and guard against regression by the team’s current top performers. Several of the second basemen we’ve discussed are capable doing this for Dipoto’s club.
My Oh My…
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