J.P. Crawford Mariners

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.

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
2B (1st)
HR (19th)
SB (24th)
BB% (13th)
K% (8th)
AVG (10th)
OBP (11th)
SLG (22nd)
wOBA (19th)
xwOBA (19th)
wRC+ (14th)
BsR (26th)
DRS (6th)
fWAR (14th)

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.

Potential M’s Opening Day Starters
1B – Ty France
2B – TBD
SS – J.P. Crawford
3B – TBD
OF – Mitch Haniger
OF – Jarred Kelenic
OF – TBD
C – Cal Raleigh/Tom Murphy

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…

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

Image courtesy of Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire
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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

10 Comments

  1. The problem with J.P. Crawford is three-fold.

    The big issue being that his offensive profile and his skillset are very similar to Chone Figgins only without good speed or great baserunning skills. There was a study done on his hitting style and it shows that he actually benefits from mishitting the baseball or making what is now termed, “bad contact,” as counter-intuitive as that may sound.

    In fact, the worst possible thing he could do is try to bulk up in the offseason to make it 15-20 HR power. This would not only negatively effect his defense, more on that later, but it would also potentially have an adverse effect on his hitting, by making his “Texas Leaguers” into shallow left field more like basic flyballs. Right now, he is the poster child for non-barreled hits and poor contact skills as he is essentially so bad at what he does, it actually makes him better.

    Improved contact skills and power would only add a few home runs, but it would rob him of a couple dozen hits each year, not entirely different than Seager in 2021, but while only gaining a marginal power return as opposed to Seager almost doubling what he otherwise would put up if not so pull-happy.

    To truly make a jump into a 4-6 WAR player, Crawford would have to move to 3B, add 25-30 lbs. and reinvent his swing like Haniger did, by selling out for power and hoping enough balls go over the fence and in the gap to compensate for his “bad contact hits” he would be too strong to get going forward. Failure to accomplish the body transformation, position change and modified swing would actually make him closer to a 1-1.5 WAR player as improving his barrel rate or improving to a slightly better contact hitter would have an adverse effect on his batted ball outcomes..

    The second big thing is his defense right now is already starting to regress and is doing so because of a lack of foot speed, only average quickness, and too much shifting by defenses. At 26, he is in the prime of his life athletically and he is already below-average in terms of speed and quickness for a middle-infielder and especially a shortstop. If they were writing his scouting report today, it would say, “he has more than enough arm to stay on the left-side of the infield, but he lacks the foot speed and quickness long term to stick at SS and the bat profiles better up the middle. Going forward Crawford lacks a true home on the diamond and may not even offer enough offense to justify regular at bats at second base. He may best find a home as a defensively minded super-sub with the ability to play all over the diamond and in the corner outfield positions from time-to-time.”

    The third issue is that he is starting to get expensive as a four-arb player. He is already going to make approx. $4.5M in 2022 and salary increases to follow in 2023 and 2024 will make him even less of an asset moving forward. The greater issue being that his skillset is so uncommon that it appear unrepeatable from season to season. While he probably won’t hurt the team going forward, he is hardly a poster-child for an unreplaceable piece of a championship roster. Guys you don’t trade or move to another position are stars or offer a unique value for a position. With a dearth of SS talent in the farm system, depending on how Noelvi Marte develops, this would be the time to go all-in on Correa and Semien and use the displaced players like Crawford and Toro to acquire needed pieces. It probably also isn’t wise to shun a franchise player like Kyle Seager and then pursue his brother (Corey) in free agency or keep around his closest teammates (Crawford, Murphy, Fraley, etc.).

    Semien would make sense on a $125M/5 year deal with a $19M option and a $5M buyout. Making it essentially $26M x 5 years and essentially $14M for a 6th season when he is 37 if it makes sense.

    While opposed to a big contract, I would definitely take the long contract over the high dollar with Correa as it would mean any injuries going forward would impact that years finances less. While he has goals for a contract of $341 for 10 years like Lindor, I would argue his lack of durability and his inferior career numbers do not warrant that commitment, while simultaneously pointing at the cost of living in New York, as another reason why players make more in the Big Apple. My contract offer would be take-it-or-leave-it like the one offered to Semien. $342M/12 years with $42M paid from 2034-2047 at $3M a year. He would set the record for largest contract for a SS and the Mariners would only be paying $50M for Correa and Semien over the next 5 years and as Semien leaves after his contract, it would be just in time for an extension to either Kelenic, Rodriguez or potentially both.

    As for the other glaring hole in centerfield, I would use Toro, Trammell, Sewald, Then and Stoudt to acquire Myles Straw and Andres Gimenez. Gimenez becomes insurance for Correa and utility infielder, while Straw gives us a legit GG centerfielder with leadoff capability. The Indirans get a setup man or closer to pair with Clase, another young centerfielder who oozes tools and with a lot more pop than Straw, a starting second baseman with upside and two more arms for the minors.

  2. You’re probably right, Luke. But, so is everyone else. I’m guessing what it might boil down to is who Jerry & Co. are targeting. Of the top SS in free agency, who was most likely to demand to play only SS? Correa, we’ve heard for sure, probably Seager, maybe Story. Who have we heard as the Ms top targets? Semien and Baez seem the most mentioned and occasionally Story. Both of those first two players have a history of willingness to play positions other than SS. Story may have to be willing to be adaptable in order to maximize his earnings since his status as a top target may not be as strong coming off a down year and with the Coors Field factors working against him.
    Personally, I’d still be sceptical of offering Correa the contract he’s seeking, despite his great talent, because he just hasn’t been on the field enough to justify the cost. Can you really count on him 10-years and $350M worth? Seager was probably never a legitimate target considering Kyle’s apparently poor relationship with team management.
    To me, it follows that, if the M’s didn’t see themselves as suitors for Seager or Correa, they didn’t really limit themselves with their primary targets. Plus, they have a top-10 (by WAR) SS in-house with whom they are able to solidify their relationship.
    Doesn’t seem like the worst idea from my seat to tell JP that he’s your guy.

  3. We’ve seen Dipoto win trades now we’re about to see him win free agents. He knows who he wants and is in a full court press. Semien is his guy and we won’t know his back up plan until he needs it.

  4. The LL dorks are up in arms over this, I cannont fathom why. Carlos Correa cant stay healthy, is shrouded in shame(yes he is, and yes it matters) and i dont think Jerry wants that on this team. JP is a natual leader, the guys love him and standing behind him as your guy is a great move for some condidence in the front office after the seager drama. Upgrade 2B and let you .260 hitting gold glover make plays at SS.

  5. I am happy with JP at short for the reasons discussed… I believe he has more longevity at that position than any of the FA players labeled as a SS, and believe (since they are teamless) the FAs should be happy to be signed and realigned wherever deemed fit. Seager wasn’t coming after Seager was let go… I really don’t think Correa was ever an option. There are areas to improve this offense without sacrificing this position.

  6. Do you think this is more of a face saving maneuver because Jerry thinks the chances of landing one of those shortstops is very remote? Kind of like, “I promise I won’t leave you for Scarlett Johansson.

  7. Do you think this is more of a face saving maneuver because Jerry thinks the chances of landing one of those shortstops? Kind of like, “I promise I won’t leave you for Scarlett Johansson.”

  8. The reason they refuse to look past him is very simple. One, JP is the leader of that new era team, make no mistake about it. He is the spark for that team, whether he’s hot or not, he’s always that guy. And second, you will find no better shortstop at defense then him. If you tell me “well, correa won the gold glove,” no he STOLE it. JP beat him in every category. Time played, assists, putouts, double plays turned. His plays in the field were far more superior, and the only thing he had to show for it was one more error then Correa who played twenty games less!
    The mariners simply stated to their guy, JP, do not worry about all these guys, especially if we sign one, you will be our shortstop come opening day. Baez to second, or Story to third. When you make a stand for your teams leader, you build this beautiful thing called chemistry within a locker room. That’s what the mariners are full of, and that’s why they won 90 games, chemistry.

  9. Author

    Hope is not a course of action. Winning is good for team PR.

  10. The Mariners have chosen to build primarily around their new core: Crawford, Kelenic, France, Marco, the soon-to-be major leaguer Julio Rodriguez, and maybe Cal Raleigh and Kyle Lewis. They apparently don’t want albatross contracts – good for them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they prefer to spend that kind of money to get three good players instead of one top-tier. For instance, if they sign Eduardo Escobar, plus Conforto, Kiermaier or Rosario, and obtain two starters they will have improved their lineup immensely. Plus they would have cash at the 2022 trade deadline to fill holes. Look at San Diego with Hosmer and Machado. Machado is signed through 2028 for $32M per season and Hosmer is at $21M for 2022. The Mariners should be able to get multiple good players for that amount of money and greatly increase depth. Then they can watch young position players like JRod, Polkovich, and DeLoach progress to MLB. Telling your team leaders you believe in them is good business sense and good for team-building. It is also good for PR and helps establish a team identity with fans.

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