As astutely and accurately demonstrated here by Luke Arkins, the Seattle Mariners struggled to score runs with any reasonable consistency in 2021, and it led to an inordinate — and ultimately unsustainable — rate of close games the club’s bullpen and ‘clutch’ hitting was asked to win.
To continue building the roster’s ability to win games, raise the ceiling and reduce the number of games the club is relying on magic, GM Jerry Dipoto has to do just that to his lineup.
Today, let’s take a look at the possibilities, but let me say this before we dive into it all: I think just about anything short of elite contracts — long-term, $200 million-plus deals — is in play, including good free agents and significant trades that cost young talent.
Also, there are no untouchables. Not on the 26-man roster, not down on the farm. Having said that, it’s highly, highly unlikely Dipoto ends up moving top prospect Julio Rodriguez, or even right-hander George Kirby, the club’s top pitching prospect in over 15 years. I believe anything else is on the table, even if unlikely to come to fruition.
Let’s get started.
First off, the club isn’t really set at any one position on the field. It may seems like first base is all taken care of with Ty France and perhaps eventually Evan White, but there’s flexibility there, too.
It may seem like the outfield is all set and even soon-to-be crowded, but there are question marks all over the position group, including Mitch Haniger‘s defense, Kyle Lewis‘ bat and ability to stay healthy, as well as the development of Jarred Kelenic, and bench depth.
Abraham Toro may be the starting third baseman next season. He may be the starter at second. He also could be a regular in the lineup as an everyday-type multi-position player in the mold of Marwin Gonzalez. Keep that in mind.
The club obviously needs more production from the infield, though, and I feel like some fans are looking at Toro’s final 2021 numbers and thinking “we need better than this.” While that’s true, it’s a mistake to assume that’s just what Toro is. He’s barely 25 and this season was his first extended shot at big-league pitching. There are a lot of traits he’s displayed that suggest above-average offensive output is in his future. Just like we all know Kelenic has more to offer than his grossly sub par 2021 triple-slash, the same is true for Toro.
The club also is not set at catcher, where Tom Murphy is solid yet unspectacular defensively and struggles to produce with the bat, and Cal Raleigh is just getting his feet wet in the majors. Luis Torrens appears set to be treated more like a bat than a potential oft-option behind the dish, so, this position is not set and settled for 2022. Trading Murphy as a tertiary piece in a trade package and adding a more established veteran, or simply pairing a new-addition veteran with Murphy and allowing Raleigh to start 2022 in Triple-A should absolutely be on the table, and I’ll address that below.
One more note: There will be names not mentioned that make sense. Again, just about everything is plausible. The combination of potential offensive acquisitions spans as wide as ever for the Mariners. Free agents, trades, and development will all be part of the club’s improvement at the plate in 2022. We just don’t know exactly how that acquisition pie will be sliced.
Here we go:
There’s going to be chatter about the shortstop market until they all sign, but unless one of them wants to go with a one-year, reestablish deal, Seattle shouldn’t engage much. These are likely to land in the elite range, especially Carlos Correa and Corey Seager.
Javier Baez is a fine player, but he and Trevor Story both come with a lot more risk for offensive performance than truly elite players should. I’m not sure anyone else, at this stage if things, can be remotely dismissed as a legitimate target for the Mariners.
Kris Bryant, 3B
There’s no reason Bryant shouldn’t be on the initial list for Seattle, though there are a lot of reasons to believe this isn’t a target likely to become reality.
First, he’s 30 and isn’t going to want to pass on his only shot to make a bundle, so we’re probably talking about at least five guaranteed years, and possibly 6-8.
He can handle third base, but also play a passable left or right field, aiding in a club’s flexibility. But Bryant also has a say. Seattle, inherently, has its deterrents, both geographically and as an organization. Sometimes money talks, but clubs have to pick their spots when they simply offer more than everyone else, and Bryant isn’t that player. In fact, that kind of free agent doesn’t exist this winter at all.
Marcus Semien, 2B/3B
Semien had a huge 2021 and is going to get paid accordingly. Defensively, there’s no reason to believe he can’t still play an average shortstop and if he finds a club that agrees he’s going to price himself out of a lot of places, including Toronto and Seattle.
He’s 31, which is a concern on the back end, so anything beyond four years guaranteed is too much of a value squeeze for me, especially considering Semien is selling high and is not likely to ever repeat his 2021 performance.
But the lack of market stability — we really don’t know yet how aggressive the market will be; we don’t know how many clubs are going to be willing to spend significant dollars this winter — suggests a chance Semien’s market remains reasonable. We shall see.
Nick Castellanos, OF
Castellanos is certain to opt out of his deal with the Cincinnati Reds that would pay him $16 million in 2022. He’ll be 30 before the start of the ’22 season and isn’t a very good glove, but the bat is big and plays in any ballpark. I’d be surprised if he has to settle for fewer than four years and $100 million.
Michael Conforto, OF
Conforto has typically hit when healthy, though 2021 has been uneven for him. He’s not yet 29, is a Redmond High School product, and there is room for outfielders, plural, on the Mariners’ roster.
Conforto may see an opportunity to come home on a one-year deal, have big season and head back out on the market for a longer-term contract next winter. This is one of my favorite potential targets.
J.D. Martinez, Nelson Cruz, Jorge Soler, DH
All three can hit and the first two have long track records. Adding a pure DH to the roster is a bit messy for Seattle with France and Mitch Haniger possibly warranting time there, depending on the makeup of the rest of the roster.
Soler can fake it in right field a bit, however, if that becomes important.
A DH like one of these three could still fit as one of the final pieces of the offensive puzzle for 2022. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dipoto express interest in Cruz or Soler.
Kyle Schwarber, OF/1B/DH
Schwarber has been a man without a position his entire career, but while he’s below-average in the outfield, he’s not awful, and he’s starting to learn first base this season with Boston.
The fit may appear a little murky at this point, but like the DHs above, there are scenarios where it shakes out a Schwarber fit with the Mariners. He’s the kind of bat they really like, so if they get beyond the defensively stuff he’s certainly a hitter to track this offseason.
Starling Marte, CF
Marte had a very good 2021, but isn’t the free agent some seem to think he is. He’s 33 with declining centerfield defense, and anything more than two years guaranteed feels like an unnecessary risk.
But the bat, and the defense, may play well enough to warrant genuine interest on a short-term basis. Personally, I feel like Marte will be overpaid in years and AAV.
Chris Taylor, 2B
Taylor, now 31, has thrived in the Dodgers’ lineup and plays average or better defense at multiple positions, including left field, second base, and third base, and is playable at shortstop and center field, at least for now.
I question how well the bat plays moving forward, and how different he might be pitched if not surrounded by stars, so outside of a similar situation I think Taylor is going to be overrated and overpaid.
Having said that, he fits, in theory, because there is hitting ability there, and his defensive versatility is highly valuable.
Mark Canha, OF
Canha had a down 2021 and isn’t a middle of the order bat, but if he’s the low-hanging fruit to help solidify the roster amidst more significant acquisitions, he could be a very good fit on a one-year deal, perhaps keeping the seat warm for a younger bat.
Perhaps the key here is Canha’s ability to play some center field, even though it’s not ideal he’s the everyday answer there.
Vazquez is likely to stay in Boston, but he’s an ideal timeshare backstop likely available on a short-term contract. He’s one year off a 115 wRC+ season and two years removed from a 23-HR campaign.
Tommy Pham, OF
Pham, 34 by the time next season starts, had a strange but still productive 2021, and if used as a fourth outfielder still brings good value on a one-year contract.
He’s fringe-average defensively, but has average pop, draws walks, and still runs fairly well. He makes contact at an above-average rate, suggesting a chance to bounce back from hitting .229.
If Pham, or someone like him, is replacing Dylan Moore, for example, they’re doing it right.
Brad Miller, 1B/3B/OF
Miller, another former Mariners draftee on the list, has produced 127, 120 and 105 wRC+ marks the past three seasons, despite ordinary batting averages. He has good power from the left side, draws walks, and plays a passable second base and third base, has experience at first base where he’s at least average, and is passable in short stints in left or right field.
Freddy Galvis, UT
Galvis is a very good utility infielder with defense that fits at second, short, and third, and there’s a little punch in the bat from both sides of the plate.
He’d be an average security blanket for the infield spots, led by defense and his ability to make consistent contact at the plate.
Jonathan Villar, UT
Villar had borderline starter numbers in 2021, but should not be paid like one. Let me repeat: Villar should not be paid like starting-caliber player.
The 30-year-old warrants a one-year, stop-gap contract that also fits into utility range, since ideally your regulars are all better hitters with longer futures in the organization.
Villar, however, is very interest for Seattle, who may not find two significant upgrades on the infield and could instead bring in one major infield upgrade plus a one-year insurance policy to Toro’s development, knowing Villar can play a satisfactory second, short, and third, and has shown some promise in occasional stints in the outfield over the years.
How his market develops will be very interesting after he posted a 105 wRC+ for the Mets this season.
Avisail Garcia, OF
One of the more underrated free agents is Garcia, who at 30 just batted .262/.330/.490 with 29 homers for the Milwaukee Brewers, and plays a very solid right field.
If Seattle gets to point where moving Haniger to DH — or to another team — becomes a realistic possibility — Garcia could slide into RF, and then move to DH once Rodriguez is ready to take over for the long haul.
I’m curious to see where Garcia’s market lands, too. He’s been solid, but it seems like it’s possible he may not be able to do better than two or three years.
AJ Pollock, LF — Los Angeles Dodgers
Pollock may opt out of the final two years and $21 million of his deal with the Dodgers, and if he does, toss him into the free agent pile. In fact, it might surprise many if he doesn’t opt out, considering it comes with a $5 million buyout and the market likely gets him the $16 million difference, and then some.
He’s not a center field option except in a pinch, but he’s fine in left, and went 131 and 137 wRC+ the last two seasons. He hits lefties better than righties, but produced in 2021 against both. If he’s 2/3 of a timeshare, Pollock makes tons of sense for a contender that needs outfield help, Seattle included.
If he doesn’t opt out, there’s a chance the Dodgers dangle him in trade and with a palatable contract there likely will be a taker or two.
As long as he’s not the best bat added to the mix, Pollock could make some sense for Seattle in the big picture.
Michael A. Taylor, CF
The Mariners need help in center field to improve the defense and perhaps cover for the unavailability of Kyle Lewis (knee), who either may not be able to play center regularly, at all, or the club may choose to make the ask of Lewis a little less-demanding by using him less in the field at all and giving him some DH time.
In any case, Taylor, a terrific defender, makes a lot of sense. His overall numbers at the plate aren’t inspiring — .244/.297/.356, 77 wRC+ — but he’s a part-time player who was overexposed by the Royals.
Taylor has hit lefties in his career toa .261/.311/.421 clip, and this past season popped a .295/.344/.424 sash against them (110 wRC+).
Seattle isn’t going to stop making sensible trades, including those that appear aggressive in nature, as they move closer toward consistent contention than they have experienced in two decades.
It’s plausible the club makes an assertive prospect-for-big-leaguer move this winter that includes one of the club’s better young talents.
The farm system is not only in good shape, but it’s growing in depth at a rapid pace, and I’ll reiterate my belief it hasn’t peaked, which means more high-end talent is on its way.
Proven plus-level talent costs big, just ask the Blue Jays, who traded two top 40 prospects for eight months of Jose Berrios this past summer, and if the Mariners want to take a significant next step the free-agent route can’t stand alone.
The Astros traded for Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. The Red Sox traded for Chris Sale, and paid dearly in the form of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. The White Sox traded a 24-year-old starting second baseman for Craig Kimbrel. And we all know what the Padres have given up to land Blake Snell, Austin Nola, among others.
I have spent a lot of time the past 20 years helping demonstrate the value of prospects to fans of the Seattle Mariners, and I stand by every word. But I also have reminded everyone who’d listen that trades aren’t about what you give up, it’s about what you get in return.
Trading top prospects is a tough decision, and like every other move made in baseball, it’s a wager. There are no guarantees. Dipoto, Justin Hollander and the rest of the baseball folks in the organization are charged with taking the best shots available, and at the right time.
Sometimes big trades hurt a bit.
Be prepared. That kind of trade is on the table this winter.
Jose Ramirez, 3B — Cleveland Guardians
Ramirez is a bit of a pipe dream unless and until Cleveland gives indications they’re looking to retool. He’s just now 29, a plus defender at third and a well above-average bat that has toyed with MVP-caliber production since 2017.
But Ramirez is signed to a team-friendly deal that extends through the 2023 season, so Cleveland can make another go of it to start 2022, and consider moving Ramirez over the summer.
They did make a mistake with Francisco Lindor in hanging onto him too long before trading him, but if Cleveland wants to actually spend big to retain Ramirez there’s no need to trade him at all, but when was the last time that franchise paid big for anyone?
And if they’re not going to pay him the $30-40 million a year for 5-plus seasons he’s worth, trading him now makes a lot more sense to waiting for next winter when the club is backed into a corner and gets pennies on the dollar — just like they did with Lindor.
The trade cost would be significant for two years of Ramirez, and there certainly would be numerous clubs interested, namely the Yankees, Dodgers, Blue Jays (especially if they don’t re-up with Semien), Red Sox, Braves, Reds, Phillies, Mets, Tigers, and, yes, the Mariners.
Jorge Polanco, Luiz Arraez, 2B — Minnesota Twins
After the Twins failed to extend centerfielder Byron Buxton this past summer and traded ace Jose Berrios to Toronto, it’s fair to wonder if Buxton is next on the move, and if Polanco and/or Arraez might be right behind him.
Arraez has a second-base bat, bringing a career .313/.374/.403 slash into the offseason. He’s around average defensively and doesn’t make an impact with his legs. His lack of power makes him more of a secondary-level target for a club like Seattle looking for major upgrades, and it’s fair to wonder if Arraez makes any sense at all with Abraham Toro in the fold, despite being a proven bat versus Toro’s raw status.
Polanco, however, is a different animal. He’s one of the more underrated hitters in baseball after posting his second wRC+ of 120 or better in each of the last two full seasons.
Polanco can manage at shortstop but is a better fit at second and has been solid-average there in 1,000 innings — most of that this past season. But we may be seeing the start of the switch hitter’s prime at the plate, which may warrant a move to third base, too, allowing for more flexibility for a potentially-acquiring club.
He’s 28, has 59 homers over his last 1400 at-bats, and has never struck out more the 18.6% rate he posted in 2018, despite a more aggressive approach that has undoubtedly played a role in the growth of his power. Polanco is an above-average runner, and equally dangerous from both sides of the plate.
Josh Donaldson, 3B — Minnesota Twins
Donaldson will be 36 this winter, but is still productive, even if he’s not the star bat he once was. At his age, however, and with his history, injuries are a concern, as is the $50 million guaranteed he’s owed through the 2023 season. Any trade out of Minnesota is bound to come with cash, or be a swap of contracts.
I present Yusei Kikuchi, who may exercise his $13 million player option. Just a passing thought.
There are all kinds of possibilities for the Twins and Mariners to connect on trades. Arraez and Donaldson? Polanco? Polanco and Donaldson? Just one of them? I don’t, however, love the idea of Buxton, in case you’re wondering, because high-profile players with one year remaining tend to cost 25-40% more than that one year is worth.
Eugenio Suarez, 3B — Cincinnati Reds
Suarez had a bad year at the plate — .198/.286/.428 — but still hit 31 homers and was a monster in September/October — .370/.460/.808, 220 wRC+. He’s fringe-average defensively at third — though he spent nearly 300 innings at shortstop this season.
He’s 30, signed through 2024 with a club option for 2025 that if exercised would pay him $48 million over the next four seasons. A bargain, as long as Suarez gets most of his swagger back. He was a four-win player three straight seasons prior to the weirdness that was 2020.
A pair of scouts believe Suarez’s conditioning may be part of the problem, but there are lots of reasons to believe he can get back the majority of his mojo, including barrel rate, hard-hit rate, a 100-point drop in batting average on balls in play.
Considering there are other players on the roster Seattle might have interest in this winter (stay tuned), Suarez may come up in talks.
Brandon Lowe, 2B/3B — Tampa Bay Rays
Considering all the infield talent in the Rays’ system and how the club operates with veterans, Lowe could be available this winter.
At 27, he’s coming off a career year that resulted in a .247/.340/.523, 39 homer season. He’s fringy defensively at second, and with the bat exploding I wonder if third base is at all an option, despite an average arm.
He’ll swing and miss (27% in 2021), but he’ll also walk (11.1%), and his contract carries him through 2024 at $18 million total, with two club options worth a total of $22 million for 2025-26.
If the Rays are willing to discuss Lowe, Seattle should be interested, especially if they think he can handle third base on top of second, giving them even more alignment options with their bats.
Bryan Reynolds, OF — Pittsburgh Pirates
Reynolds may be as sought after as any player on the trade market this winter if the Pirates make him available. He’s coming off a 142 wRC+ season at age 26, and will not qualify for free agency until after the 2025 season.
The Pirates absolutely should start adding around Reynolds, a switch-hitting outfielder some believe could win a batting title in his prime. But who knows what the Pirates will try to do, if anything, so Reynolds remains a topic of trade conversation.
Defensively, Reynolds is passable in center for now but belongs in left thanks to a below-average throwing arm and range.
If Pittsburgh decides to talk trade with Reynolds, it’s not going to be cheap, despite the fact he’s not a long-term centerfielder.
As I stated above, just about anything is on the table, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone how creative and sometimes off-the-radar this club goes on a regular basis. So when Dipoto and friends do just that, don’t fret. They’ve proven they know what they’re doing.
Jason A. Churchill
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