The Seattle Mariners designated for assignment Leonys Martin last spring — April 23, 2017 to be exact. But a reunion with the centerfielder makes a lot of sense.
I’ve been discussing regularly on Baseball Things the club’s need for more offense, and one of the easiest places to do that is in the outfield, where Seattle already ranks 8th in MLB with a wRC+ of 114 from their outfielders, despite some obvious room for improvement. While adding a middle-of-the-order type outfield bat is probably unrealistic, finding a platoon advantage is plausible.
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First, let’s take a look at how the Mariners’ offense ranks in the American League overall:
|STAT||AL RANK||STAT||AL RANK|
General manager Jerry Dipoto could look to replace either Denard Span or Ben Gamel with a better bat, likely a right-handed hitter to balance the options more, and perferably a bat with a little more pop. But a possible addition to center may be more plausible and could help left field, too.
Guillermo Heredia is a solid, yet vastly overrated, defensive centerfielder, whose glove does not make up for his limited offensive value. He’s a useful player, but at this point shouldn’t be playing every day. Doing so has exposed him to the league and the results are evidence of that.
After starting strong, Heredia entered the series in Anaheim batting .238/.329/.326 with a wRC+ of 89, or 11 percent below league average. Since Robinson Cano was hurt and then suspended, Heredia, essentially, has been an everyday player.
Since that date, Heredia vs. the AL average for CF
As you can see, despite CF being one of the least offensively-based positions in the AL right now, Heredia’s well below the league average. The advanced metrics also deem him fringe-average defensively, and while the scouting eye is a bit more favorable on the glove, it’s not nearly enough to warrant a bat like that playing daily.
When Cano returns, Dee Gordon may very well play some center again, but it’s unlikely to be every day and since the club would be without Cano in the postseason — if they get that far — trades Dipoto makes this summer should reflect largely on the roster for the playoffs.
Adding centerfield help is ideal. It’s not always easy to find, but there are some possibilities, and for me it starts with Leonys Martin.
Martin remains a plus glove and he’s having a solid season at the plate, batting .257/.327/.431 for the Detroit Tigers. He’s carrying a better wRC+ than Ryon Healy and brings tons more to the table overall.
No, Martin has never been consistently good at the plate. But he’s generally been asked to play regularly where left-handed pitching eats him alive.
Martin, Career vs. LHP
The line versus right-handed pitching isn’t eye-popping, but in comparison to his trials versus southpaws it’s a dramatic difference. He’s always walked more, struck out less, as well as hit for more average and power against right-handed pitching. It only makes sense, since it’s the case for nearly all lefty bats.
Now, fast forward to this point in Martin’s career. While he’s flashed some improvement now and again versus select LHPs, it’s his progress versus right-handed arms that’s intriguing here.
2018 vs. RHP
That’s in 236 plate appearances. Is that a superstar? Of course not. But it’s pretty damned good for a plus glove. And it’s clear Martin, versus right-handed pitching, is a significantly better bet than Heredia, who, despite some weird reverse splits this season (.208/.284/.278 vs. LHP / .256/.355/.355 vs RHP) is better suited to face lefties and especially to play a part-time role rather than a regular one.
There are other options besides Martin, but I used him as the sample here because A) we’re familiar with him; B) he’s a rental, no commitments, and C) cheap trade cost.
Other potential targets may include:
Travis Jankowski, San Diego — Not close to arbitration, trade cost relatively high, but as a player he fits the profile
Mallex Smith, Tampa Bay — Remember him? Speed, defense and developing stick. Lots of club control, though.
For the record, Marte is probably a pipe dream for Seattle. Hes signed for cheap through 2019 with two very affordable club options after that.
Two additional notes on Pederson, just for fun:
1. He’s headed for Arb2 after this season and is making $2.6 million in 2018. Probably going to get to or beyond $5 million for next year, but also probably worth it.
2. The Mariners wanted to draft Pederson back in 2010, but he failed a physical due to eyesight. Got that straight from the former horse’s mouth. You connect the dots.
In any case, Seattle could use more offense from their outfielders and if they add an option in center, Heredia could be used some in left, where he’s a markedly better glove than either Span or Gamel.
Imagine late in games running out an outfield defense of Heredia, Martin and Haniger — which, by the way, helps Scott Servais and company keep Gordon at second base, even after the return of Cano to the active roster, and justify it to anyone, including Cano himself.
One final thought here …
Kevin Kiermaier has had a terrible season at the plate, batting .152/.246 with one long ball in 126 PAs. He’s battled a bad back recently but is playing somewhat regularly again.
He’s 28 years old and carries a contract that will pay him $34 million guaranteed from 2019-2022, including his $2.5m buyout of a $13 million club option for 2023.
Maybe he’s done, maybe he’s not. And we know the Rays care about the dollar (see: Span, Denard). If scouts see Kiermaier returning to form both offensively and defensively, he could be an interesting potential target, too.
The biggest concern is the health. He played 151 games in 2015 and hasn’t played more than 105 since. But that profile — defense, lefty bat with a little pop — and contract is a significant risk for Tampa Bay and may end up an attractive risk for another club if the Rays are willing to reduce some of the liability.
I don’t think it’s likely he’s moved this summer, and I think it’s unlikely Seattle gets heavily involved here, but it’s an idea to pack away just in case.
When he’s right, Kiermaier is an average bat and one of the best defensice centerfielders in baseball. Question is, will he be right again, and soon?
I lied, one final thought (thank you, Jerry Springer) …
Yes, acquiring an outfielder creates a roster crunch. It’d be ideal of this kind of move was made in August, closer to roster expansion and after Cano’s return creates another roster decision.
While it’s plausible trading Gamel could make some sense, I also think Gamel could end up playing the role of Cano once the postseason comes (if the postseason comes). Many expect Cano to play some first base, primarily versus right-handed pitching, once he’s activated. Not only does that get Cano at-bats, but it can protect Healy against some matchups that are disadvantageous for the right-handed hitting slugger.
If the club adds a left-handed batting CF such as Martin, Gamel would essentially be free’d up to take some ABs versus right-handed pitching as the first baseman.
Obviously, like with Cano, the club shouldn’t throw him to the wolves at the position without getting him some legit time there — taking ground balls there during BP is not sufficient. But maybe that happens down the stretch if and when wins and losses mean less for the Mariners (knock on wood).
Just another potential way for the Mariners to gain matchup advantages when so much more is on the line than being nice to your players.
Like, ya know, a playoff game.
Take care of yourself … and each other.
Jason A. Churchill
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