“Our great preference would be that we can land a shortstop that would like to go play second base. But we’re not going to close the door to anything in that regard.” – Jerry Dipoto
We’ve already discussed middle-infield trade targets for the Mariners to possibly pursue. Let’s now consider the four most prominent shortstops in this year’s free agent class.
A few notes before beginning.
+ Three of our candidates received the qualifying offer (QO) from their former team. If the Mariners sign a player with a QO this offseason, the team would lose its third-round pick in next year’s draft.
+ There will be no talk about contract terms. Our focus will be current and future on-field value.
+ Unless noted, rankings are against qualified hitters.
+ The age illustrated in tables reflects how old a player will be on July 1, 2023.
Carlos Correa – No QO
Selling points: Correa’s 140 wRC+ was the best of any shortstop this season. Not only that, he ranked second in OBP, SLG, wOBA, xwOBA and third in AVG among his positional peers. League-wide, his AVG, OBP, wOBA, and wRC+ were top-20. His SLG ranked 31st, which is pretty good too.
Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantities how a hitter’s total offensive value compares with the league average after adjusting for park effects. League-average is always 100. Therefore, a wRC+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 wRC+ would be 20-percent below average.
Correa has also been an amazingly consistent performer. The right-handed hitter’s 2022 production numbers closely resemble his career .279 AVG/.357 OBP/.467 SLG slash-line.
In 2022, Correa’s above-average arm strength ranked sixth among shortstops and was better than the other players we’ll be discussing.
The native of Ponce, Puerto Rico is the youngest of our four shortstops. He’s still two years away from his age-30 season.
Potential concerns: Availability has been a lingering issue for Correa. Since the beginning of the 2017 campaign, he’s appeared in just 71.1% of his team’s games. This year, a finger injury and a subsequent case of COVID-19 limited the two-time All-Star to 136 games.
Based on the advanced metric DRS, Correa took a step back. After being awarded a Platinum Glove for being the best overall defender in the AL last year, his 3 DRS in 2022 suggests he was slightly above average. Still good, but not great.
Defensive runs saved (DRS) quantifies a player’s entire defensive performance by attempting to measure how many runs a defender saved. It takes into account errors, range, outfield arm and double-play ability. – MLB.com
Correa’s DRS By Season
With defense in mind, Correa’s sprint speed has dropped from a 105th-best 28.3 ft/sec during his rookie campaign in 2015 to a 319th-ranked 27.1 ft/sec this year. Could this decrease in quickness result in diminishing shortstop range in the near future or once he’s on the wrong side of 30?
Correa has a .673 OPS and just one home run in 217 career plate appearances at T-Mobile Park. How this mediocrity might translate over a full season for a new Mariner is unclear.
Trea Turner – QO
Selling points: All of Turner’s plate appearances this season were in the top three spots of the Dodgers’ batting order, including 23 starts in the leadoff spot. He hits that high in the order for good reason. Over the past four seasons, the right-handed hitter has been one of the most dynamic offensive performers in MLB.
Turner’s Stats and MLB Rankings (2019-22)
106 Stolen bases (1st)
125 Doubles (6th)
16 Triples (8th)
.311 AVG (3rd)
.361 OBP (27th)
.509 SLG (20th)
.370 wOBA (15th)
20 fWAR (2nd)
Turner’s 30.3 ft/sec sprint speed was fifth best among players with at least 50 competitive runs. He put his elite-level quickness to good use stealing 27 bases – seventh-most in the majors.
DRS tells us Turner was an average-ish shortstop defender in 2022. It’s worth noting he has 79 career starts at second base, including 48 with the 2021 Dodgers. The NC State product also made 40 starts in center field with the 2016 Nationals.
Potential concerns: Turner’s OPS dropped from .911 in 2021 to .809 this year. Still very good, but the Florida native also experienced declines in AVG, wOBA, wRC+, hard-hit rate, and xwOBA. He had a great 18.5% strikeout rate. But his 6.4% walk rate rates as below-average and would’ve ranked seventh on the 2022 Mariners.
It’s reasonable to wonder how Turner’s speed ages. In 2017, MLB writer and analyst Mike Petriello discussed the impact of age on a player’s speed using the Statcast metric sprint speed. Petriello noted some players can slow down as early as 28-years-old. Here’s a breakdown of the 234 runners with 50-plus competitive runs and a sprint speed at or above the 27 ft/sec league-average in 2022.
% of Players With Above-Average Sprint Speed (by age)
27 and younger -58.5%
28 thru 32- 36.2%
33 and older – 5.3%
MLB-average sprint speed = 27 ft/sec
To be clear, I’m not suggesting Turner is about to fall off a cliff. But the possibility and timing of age-related regression for a player highly reliant on speed are factors potential suitors must consider.
Dansby Swanson – QO
Selling points: The 2022 campaign was the best of Swanson’s seven-year MLB career. He set personal bests for a season with 500-plus plate appearances in stolen bases, AVG, OBP, OPS, wOBA, wRC+, and fWAR.
Swanson makes loud contact. His 46.3% hard-hit rate trailed only Toronto’s Bo Bichette (50.3%) among shortstops. The Georgia native would’ve ranked second on the 2022 Mariners behind Julio Rodríguez this year.
A “hard-hit ball” has an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher. The “hard-hit rate” of a player or team represents the percentage of batted balls with a 95+mph exit velocity. In 2022, the average hard-hit rate was 38.4%. – Statcast
Durability has been Swanson’s super power lately. All told, he’s missed two games in the last three seasons.
Swanson accrued 9 DRS this year and was awarded his first Gold Glove.
Potential concerns: Swanson’s career bests in 2022 didn’t rate particularly high compared to Seattle hitters with at least 350 plate appearances. The former Vanderbilt Commodore would’ve ranked sixth in OBP, fourth in SLG, fourth in wOBA, and fifth in wRC+ if he were a Mariner in 2022.
Swanson delivered significantly better results at Atlanta’s Truist Park than on the road over the last two seasons. Considering T-Mobile Park has been far less friendly to right-handed hitters than Swanson’s former home field, these notable splits are a red flag for me.
Swanson’s Home / Away Splits (2021-22)
AVG – .275 / .252
OBP – .335 / .306
SLG – .482 / .416
OPS – .817 / .722
wOBA – .350 / .312
Xander Bogaerts – QO
Selling points: Bogaerts has a sustained history of success with his bat. In 2022, the four-time Silver Slugger led MLB shortstops in AVG, OBP, and wOBA. Against the entire league, he ranked sixth in AVG and tenth in OBP. Moreover, his 134 wRC+ tied for 25th best with free agent outfielder Brandon Nimmo.
Bogaerts has been a doubles machine. Over the past five seasons, his 177 two-baggers were second-most in the majors with only Nick Castellanos (180) hitting more.
Availability has also been a strength. Since the beginning of the 2019 season, Bogaerts has played in 92.5% of Boston’s games.
Bogaerts’ sprint speed has been an above-average 27.9 ft/sec this year, which is approximately what it’s been over the last five seasons.
Potential concerns: Bogaerts tallied 4 DRS and was a Gold Glove finalist this year. But the 2022 season was the first time in his 10-year career he delivered a positive DRS count. In fact, the Aruban has -51 career DRS at shortstop.
A recent article by Petriello discussing the defense of our four shortstops noted Bogaerts rated very well this season when playing in the shift. But he was average or slightly worse when positioned at the traditional shortstop location. An important factor to consider with infield shifts being banned next season.
It’s worth noting Bogaerts’ home/away splits for AVG and OBP were relatively close this year. But he had significant gaps in doubles, home runs, wOBA, and SLG.
Bogaerts’ Home / Away Splits
Plate appearances – 322 / 309
Doubles – 23 / 15
HR – 10 / 5
AVG – .317 /.297
OBP – .382 / .372
SLG – .504 / .407
OPS – .806 / .779
wOBA – .381 / .344
Speaking of home runs, Bogaerts’ total this season was down to 15. The right-handed hitter clobbered 23 dingers last year and managed to hit 11 during a truncated 60-game campaign in 2020.
If asked to provide input, my recommendation to the Mariners would be Correa, Turner, Bogaerts, and Swanson in that order. That said, the distance between Correa and the rest of the field is considerable for me.
Correa is younger and better than the other very talented players we’ve discussed. His presence would instantly give the Mariners a second superstar to pair with Rodríguez. At least for a few seasons, the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year would compete with Julio for the title of Seattle’s best baseball player.
Turner’s great trait is his elite-level speed. But signing such a player to a long-term deal could prove problematic. After all, he’ll be a thirty-something for the entirety of his next contract. At some point, the speed will diminish due to injuries and/or age. Then what?
Realistically, teams interested in Bogaerts will be pursuing his bat. Not the shortstop defense, which may be below-average as soon as next year. Would this be acceptable for the Mariners considering his home/away splits and T-Mobile Park’s history of depressing offense?
Similarly, it’s reasonable to expect Swanson’s power numbers would drop if he were playing his home games at T-Mobile Park. But that’s not all that concerns me. Crawford (.339 OBP) reached base at a higher rate than the former Vanderbilt Commodore did (.329) in 2022.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting Swanson’s overall production in 2022 wasn’t better than Seattle’s current shortstop – it was. Having said that, making a long-term commitment to a free agent getting on base at a lower rate than the player he could potentially replace is illogical. At least it is to me.
The QO shouldn’t deter the Mariners from pursuing a premium free agent this offseason. Assuming Rodríguez wins the AL Rookie of the Year, the team receives a compensatory pick after the first round of next year’s draft. Even if Julio doesn’t take home the hardware for some inane reason, the organization shouldn’t allow the loss of a third-round pick deter it from going big in free agency.
The Mariners organization has a young, promising core of Rodríguez, Cal Raleigh, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Andrés Muñoz, Matt Brash and perhaps Jarred Kelenic and Taylor Trammell. But the team needs more long-term answers in its lineup. Preferably hitters with an established record of success. Correa, Turner, and Bogaerts undoubtedly fit this description.
Perhaps it’s time for the Mariners to land a big fish.
If not now, when?
My Oh My…
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