The Mariners started their offseason with a bang, quickly striking a deal to acquire slugger Teoscar Hernandez from the Blue Jays in exchange for quietly excellent setup man Erik Swanson and pitching prospect Adam Macko. Seattle’s activity on the trade market continued when they landed Kolten Wong as their new starting second baseman in a cash-neutral swap that sent Jesse Winker and Abraham Toro to Milwaukee.
It’s been quiet otherwise, however. Seattle signed righty reliever Trevor Gott to a Major League deal, but that’s the lone guaranteed addition via the free-agent market. The lack of activity in free agency has proven a source of consternation for M’s fans that wanted to see more on the heels of last year’s drought-breaking playoff appearance. Seattle’s projected payroll — about $135MM, per Roster Resource — is a noted increase from 2022 but still not close to the franchise-record $158MM set back in 2018.
President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has rightly pointed to the fact that the Mariners have indeed spent over the past calendar year and done so fairly aggressively. Julio Rodriguez inked an extension worth more than $200MM. Robbie Ray was signed to a five-year, $115MM deal on the heels of a Cy Young season. Deadline acquisition Luis Castillo signed a five-year, $108MM extension. Andres Munoz, arguably the second-best reliever in MLB last season, signed a bargain four-year extension. Shortstop J.P. Crawford inked a five-year, $51MM extension. The Mariners took on the remainder of Eugenio Suarez’s contract in order to acquire Winker from Cincinnati — though it was Suarez, not Winker, who wound up being the true difference-maker in that swap. That rash of spending notwithstanding, it’s understandable if Mariners fans feel a little disappointed at the lack of free-agent activity when payroll is more than $20MM shy of its high-water mark.
As Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times writes, the Mariners are still focused on adding to the roster, so it’s fair to withhold judgment for the time being. The primary focus, Divish reminds, is a right-handed bat — as laid out by Dipoto a month ago at the Winter Meetings. The goal of said addition, beyond merely strengthening the lineup from top to bottom, is to “take some of that pressure off” young outfielders like Jarred Kelenic and Taylor Trammell and to give the Mariners “the ability to rotate at designated hitter” — as Dipoto himself put it in early December.
Since Dipoto made those comments, a number of players who’d otherwise have met that criteria have signed or been traded elsewhere. That said, there are still plenty of options who could align with his stated goals. We can’t know precisely when, but it feels like a foregone conclusion that the M’s will add at least one more bat. As things stand, they’re set at first base (Ty France), second base (Wong), shortstop (Crawford), third base (Suarez), catcher (Cal Raleigh), center field (Rodriguez) and right field (Hernandez).
In left field and at designated hitter, candidates for playing time include Kelenic, Trammell, Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, Cooper Hummel and yet-to-debut outfield prospect Cade Marlowe. Perhaps there’s a productive arrangement that could be borne out of that collection, but it’s only logical that the Mariners are focused on further additions, given the manner in which Kelenic and Trammell have yet to live up to their considerable prospect hype.
Let’s look around the free-agent and trade markets for some potential fits.
Obviously, we could run through every possible right-handed-hitting bat in free agency and lay out why they are or aren’t a good fit. To narrow the focus a bit, however, it’s worth keying in on some likely desirable traits. Dipoto specifically mentioned helping to take the pressure off young left field options like Kelenic and Trammell, so some aptitude in the outfield is likely a must. The Mariners have also tended to prefer players with defensive versatility in recent seasons; Moore, Adam Frazier, Toro and Haggerty all come to mind. It’s true that at times they’ve been willing to plug in a more defensively limited player (e.g. Carlos Santana), but like so many modern front offices, the Mariners have gravitated toward positional flexibility and fluidity when possible.
- Trey Mancini, 1B/OF: Mancini’s market doesn’t appear to have gained much steam, which is perhaps to be expected on the heels of a down year that featured a particularly slow finish with the Astros. Still, Mancini has a lengthy track record as an above-average bat, and even in a pair of “down” years in 2021-22, he’s been a few percentage points better than average by measure of wRC+. Mancini’s 35-homer campaign in 2019 looks largely like an aberration that can be chalked up to the juiced ball, but he’s a clear 20- to 25-homer bat with a solid glove at first base. He’s miscast as an outfielder but could at least play there on occasion while also taking regular reps at DH and playing some first base when Ty France needs a breather. It’s also worth noting that France has experience at second and third base, so he could be moved around a bit if the M’s wanted to stack as many righty bats in a lineup as possible against a tough lefty. The Mariners have preferred to use the DH as more of a carousel position in recent years, and Mancini would gum that up a bit, but he’d also give them a clearly above-average hitter who’s been just as effective against righties as lefties throughout his big league career.
- Brian Anderson, 3B/OF: Suarez is locked into third base, but Anderson has ample experience in the outfield corners and could provide a platoon partner for Kelenic, a decent option at designated hitter and a safety net at third base in the event of a Suarez injury. A trio of shoulder injuries have helped to tank Anderson’s production over the past couple seasons, leading to a non-tender by the Marlins. However, as MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald explored this week, Anderson was one of Miami’s best players from 2018-20 and quietly ranked among the league’s 50 or so best position players by measure of wins above replacement in that time. At his best, Anderson is an above-average hitter with gap power and a respectable glove at multiple positions. He’s a buy-low candidate, to be sure, but he’d give Seattle some versatility and a quality track record at the plate (at least, prior to his recent injury troubles).
If the Mariners opt for a more contact-oriented, defensively versatile approach, it’s easy enough to see how veteran infielder/outfielder Josh Harrison could fit. He wouldn’t be the “big” bat for which many fans (and likely many within the organization) are hoping, but he’s bounced back from an ugly 2018-19 showing with a .270/.332/.390 showing over the past three seasons. He rarely strikes out, has above-average speed and offers an option at second base, third base and in the outfield corners. If the preference is to go for a strict outfield platoon partner for Kelenic/Trammell, veterans like AJ Pollock and Andrew McCutchen are affordable buy-low options. Both had poor overall showings in 2022, but both have a long track record of punishing left-handed pitching. Nelson Cruz would win some nostalgia points with Mariners fans, but Cruz would have to wholly occupy the DH slot rather than give Seattle “the ability to rotate” at DH, as Dipoto suggested, so he seems an unlikely fit.
As with the free agents, this won’t be an exhaustive list of every possible option. Rather, the focus will be on players known or rumored to be available and able to either complement or entirely supplant the Mariners’ young incumbents in left field.
- Bryan Reynolds, OF, Pirates: The most obvious name for any team seeking an impact outfielder, Reynolds is a switch-hitting, 27-year-old All-Star (28 later this month) who requested a trade after the Pirates’ ideas regarding an extension came a reported $50MM or so shy of what Reynolds and his camp sought. Reynolds has been in trade rumblings for years, given the Pirates’ status as a rebuilding club. At three years from free agency, he’s just now getting to the stage where teams tend to earnestly begin considering a deal. Pittsburgh GM Ben Cherington has stressed that the trade request won’t necessarily be honored, however. The asking price on Reynolds has been sky-high in recent years, and that’s said to be the case again this offseason. Seattle’s farm has been depleted by graduations of stars like Rodriguez and trades of talents such as Noelvi Marte and Edwin Arroyo (sent to Cincinnati in the Castillo swap). Between young big league talent and the team’s remaining top-end prospects, there’s still likely a path to a Reynolds deal that can be carved out, but Dipoto & Co. may not want to further deplete the farm to the levels necessary to pry Reynolds loose from Pittsburgh.
- Anthony Santander, OF, Orioles: A switch-hitting corner outfielder with two years of club control remaining, Santander’s name has been bandied about the rumor circuit for a couple seasons. He’s a better hitter from the right side, evidenced both by a .293/.365/.548 split in 2022 (159 wRC+) and a career .262/.314/.468 slash as a right-handed batter (112 wRC+). The 28-year-old swatted a career-high 33 home runs in 2022. He drew curiously poor marks for his glovework in left field (-8 DRS, -5 OAA in just 299 innings), but that looks anomalous, given his track record of solid defense in right field. Santander doesn’t walk much and thus regularly posts poor on-base percentages, but there’s little doubting his power. The O’s are moving out of the rebuild, but Santander is two years from free agency and Baltimore has younger outfielders who’ll soon need a look (e.g. Kyle Stowers, Colton Cowser). Swapping Santander for a big-league arm and a near-MLB prospect — similar to the Mariners’ acquisition of Hernandez — could work for both parties.
- Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays: I’ll start this with the caveat that Arozarena is likely only available in a “the Rays will listen on anyone” capacity. Still, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times suggested early in the offseason that the Rays might at least listen to offers on Arozarena, who’s arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $4MM in 2023. That’s a palatable price point for Tampa Bay, but Arozarena will be eligible thrice more as a Super Two player. The suggestion of exploring an Arozarena deal, to be clear, is not an indication that the two parties have discussed a trade nor that Arozarena is particularly likely to be moved. That said, the Rays are known to be looking for another left-handed bat, the Mariners want a right-handed bat. These two teams are frequent trade partners. There are some potentially aligned needs here, at least enough that it bears a speculative mention. Similarly, Seattle could hold interest in out-of-options, right-handed Rays bats like Harold Ramirez and Isaac Paredes.
There are surely other names who could be had, though not all of them are necessarily exciting. Colorado’s Randal Grichuk can play multiple outfield spots and tattooed left-handed pitching last year. He’s been strong against southpaws throughout his career. The Cardinals’ outfielders frequently seem to come up in trade speculation, and buying low on old friend Tyler O’Neill after a down season could have merit. The Giants have some platoon bats who hit lefties well and offer a bit of defensive versatility (Austin Slater, J.D. Davis).
There’s no real shortage of options for the Mariners to explore. As ever, it’s a fool’s errand to try to nail down exactly which path Dipoto, one of the game’s most active and creative executives on the trade market, might take. But it’s notable that the Mariners are still seeking a right-handed bat and still expect to add to the mix over the next several weeks. Signing Mancini might be the most straightforward option, but the obvious roads are rarely the ones taken by this Seattle front office.