Jake & Stacy: Is J.P. Crawford forcing the Mariners to reconsider offseason plans at SS?
After a rough few weeks, the Mariners appear to have made progress at the plate, especially in a recent series win over the Oakland Athletics.
Hits and runs have been hard to come by overall for Seattle this season, but one player who has been one of the Mariners better and more consistent hitters is shortstop J.P. Crawford, who’s in his third year with the organization.
Entering Friday, Crawford is slashing .250/.319/.321, is tied for second on the team in hits and has the fewest strikeouts among regular starters who have over 100 plate appearances. He’s also a 2020 Gold Glove winner who is playing great defense yet again in 2021.
Crawford’s improvement at the plate since coming to the Mariners now has the ability to impact Seattle’s plans this offseason. Rost and co-host Jake Heaps explained why that’s the case and why that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either.
“They’re in a bit of a conundrum because there’s a great batch of shortstops in free agency next year,” Rost said. “J.P. Crawford is making this a tough decision for the Mariners.”
The 2021 free-agent shortstop class has been widely publicized. There are four young All-Star shortstops set to hit the open market this year in Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies, Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros and Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs. Seager and Correa will start the 2022 season at 27 years of age while Story and Baez will be 29 next opening day. Crawford will also play next season at 27 years old.
Crawford has shown he’s an elite defensive shortstop, but it’s been unclear if his bat was good enough to have the Mariners rely on him as the team’s long-term answer at shortstop, especially given the elite talent set to be available this offseason.
Now, Heaps said it’s unclear where Seattle goes from here because Crawford’s been one of the team’s better players.
“You go down the list and there’s a lot of exciting players, but J.P. Crawford this year at least when you look at what he’s done, he’s on par with a lot of these guys,” he said. “Now he doesn’t hit with the same kind of power and (isn’t) close to that in terms of being able to drive in runs and home runs and he has not shown that. But you don’t necessarily need your shortstop to do that … I think ultimately what ends up happening with J.P. Crawford is going to be really important through the year.”
Crawford was one of the first young players that general manager Jerry Dipoto acquired when Seattle began its rebuild ahead of the 2019 season. Crawford was a former Philadelphia Phillies top prospect who’d struggled to find his footing. After starting 2019 in the minors, Crawford was called up to the Mariners and has been the starting shortstop since.
“He was part of that initial first wave of players that got up to the big league club that we’ve been evaluating and trying to track not only how his defense is – and he’s proven he can be a Gold Glover – but how he’s going to be with his bat,” Heaps said. ” … He’s 26 years old and every season statistically he will have gotten better. What do you do?”
Rost said the answer is tough for the Mariners because while the resumes of those four free agents outweighs what Crawford has done, if Crawford continues to hit well while playing elite defense, Seattle could opt to pass on one of those All-Star players.
“The difficult decision is if J.P. starts really heating up and continues to be a solid part of this lineup, do the Mariners think, ‘Well wait a minute, we don’t have to be in on a bidding war with these shortstops. We don’t have to spend a ton of money while potentially facing an upcoming labor dispute or potentially facing one more year where we’re not contending. We can save money and maybe spend it on a second baseman instead or a starting pitcher instead,'” she said.
Another option that Heaps and Rost said the Mariners could consider is adding one of those players and potentially moving Crawford to second base.
“That’s not out of the realm of possibility here. I know J.P. more profiles as a shortstop more than anything else, but you’ve seen people make those changes before,” Heaps said. “… What you’re seeing from J.P. Crawford is nothing but positive for the Mariners. He’s a guy who’s been in this clubhouse, been in this culture and if he can come up with this group, I think it’s very exciting. But make no mistake, if they have the opportunity to upgrade at shortstop with Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Carlos Correa or Baez, I think that they would be crazy not to go and try and do that.”
Listen to the full discussion at this link or in the player below.