During a recent cross-country flight, I had a long overdue “aha” moment. I realized that by publicly declaring J.P. Crawford was their starting shortstop moving forward, the Seattle Mariners were essentially limiting opportunities to improve the roster this offseason. And what spurred my pea-brain to see clearly, while jetting along at approximately 30,000 feet?
An excellent article by Mike Petriello of MLB.com discussing top free agent shortstops. Specifically, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Javier Báez, and Marcus Semien. In it, Petriello ranked these players in categories ranging from offense to speed to age. That’s when I finally grasped the obvious. The Mariners shouldn’t be averse to moving any player on the current roster to another position, if doing so improves the team for 2022 and possibly beyond.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that the Mariners move past Crawford – far from it. The 16th overall pick of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft is an excellent player. Not only that, he provides intangible leadership qualities that Seattle needs as it attempts to transition from rebuild-mode to contention. My issue is the team’s insistence that he’s the only choice at shortstop when there is a free agent class flush with premium shortstop talent.
Yet, that’s exactly what Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto did when remarking to media members, including Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish. In Dipoto’s words, Crawford was Seattle’s shortstop moving forward.
“One of the first conversations I had this offseason was with J.P,” Dipoto said. “I told him, ‘Hey, you are our shortstop. You will see that we are courting other shortstops, but it is with the understanding that the inquiry is made with the intent that that player is willing to move to another position.'”
With my brain and eyes now wide-open thanks to Petriello’s evaluation of the “Big Five” shortstops, the Mariners’ approach baffles me. So, I took to Twitter to express my dismay.
Probably won’t be a popular opinion on this website, but…I don’t understand the overt willingness of the #Mariners to bestow the long-term starting shortstop job to a player with a career 94 OPS+.
— Luke Arkins (@luke_arkins) November 14, 2021
A team as offensively-challenged as Seattle has essentially opted to preemptively quash the notion of landing a top free agent shortstop with a more productive bat than Crawford’s, unless they are willing to change positions. How does such a strategy make sense?
Crawford was a key contributor to the Mariners’ underperforming lineup in 2021. But the left-handed hitter ranked closer to mid-pack than the top-of-the-heap in most offensive categories when compared to his peers. These numbers don’t justify passing on the players Petriello discussed solely because they won’t move to another position.
J.P. Crawford vs 26 Qualified MLB Shortstops
It’s plausible that some of the Big Five shortstops would entertain a position change to sign with the Mariners. I get that. But Seattle is always a tough-to-sell destination to free agents due to its relatively isolated location. Why make the recruiting effort even more challenging with the hardline stance that Crawford isn’t moving off shortstop?
What’s that you say? Crawford is a Gold Glove defender at shortstop?
Yes, he is. So are Correa and Báez, who both have more established records as elite-level defenders than Crawford. And while the 26-year-old does hold an edge over the other three guys, every Big Five member possesses a considerably more productive bat.
Instead of taking a posture that may potentially discourage free agents from considering Seattle, why not project a more accommodating approach at shortstop and across the diamond?
Consider this. As mediocre as the Mariners’ offense was in 2021, at least five of eight field positions appear set to be filled by incumbents. All of them weren’t productive hitters.
Crawford, Ty France, and Mitch Haniger were the only consistent performers from the names listed above. Rookies Jarred Kelenic and Cal Raleigh have plenty of potential. So do Abraham Toro and Luis Torrens. But these four youngsters have yet to put together a productive MLB season.
Adding to the uncertainty, 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis is dealing with a chronic knee issue that’s clouding his readiness for next season. Beyond the Mercer alum’s health issues, we still don’t quite know what he may become with the Mariners. Oh, and lest not forget that Kyle Seager and his 35 home runs left via free agency.
Obviously, the TBD next to second base, third base, and one outfield spot symbolizes an opportunity for Dipoto to significantly upgrade the lineup. But what kind of mixed message is Seattle sending to free agents by insisting they remain open to changing positions when it won’t waver on moving the current shortstop to anywhere else on the field?
Something else to consider. Dipoto’s comments leaves the impression that Crawford is the team’s long-term answer at shortstop. But will both player and team be able to or want to reach a multi-year pact to keep him around?
Under the current CBA, Crawford is eligible for free agency after 2024 – his age-29 season. If he were to sign a deal with the Mariners right now, he could be signing when his market value is at its lowest. From Seattle’s perspective, how much is the team currently willing to pay a plus-defender with an average-ish bat?
Perhaps not as much as Crawford may believe he can get as a free agent in three years. After all, belief in himself and his teammates helped propel the Mariners to 90 wins this season. So, why wouldn’t he have faith in his ability to continuously improve and then maximize his value on the open market?
Looking forward, it’s certainly possible that leaving Crawford at shortstop turns out to be Seattle’s best move for 2022 and beyond. Especially if ownership actually ponies up the money to acquire premium hitters/defenders like Semien, Story, or Báez to play second base and third base. I’m just leery of the team taking a hardline stance that opposes the thought of moving any player to another position when doing so could potentially make the Mariners better.
Finally, it’s important to note the extremely obvious. Mariners management knows infinitely more about building baseball teams and developing players than this dumb blogger. Maybe the mega-brains project Crawford flourishing as a hitter, which is why club officials are fine with keeping him at shortstop. If this outcome became reality, my concerns would be squashed into a big, fat nothing-burger and I’d be more than okay with that.
Let’s face it, any fan of baseball has to love the way J.P. Crawford plays the game. It’s why I’d prefer seeing him remain in the Emerald City for many years.
Even if he had to move to second base or third base.
My Oh My…
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