Mariners Wishlists: CF names M’s could go after in free agency or trades
Center field has become one of the hotter topics when discussing the Mariners offseason.
While Seattle has several promising outfielders on their roster and in their farm system, they’re still lacking a proven player at one of the more important defensive positions on the diamond.
Jarred Kelenic may have played 77 of his 93 games as a rookie in center last season, but his numbers weren’t strong there. Kyle Lewis, who won the American League Rookie of the Year in 2020 as Seattle’s center fielder, may not have a future at the spot after a season-ending knee injury last May that resulted in a second surgery to the same knee. And though the possibility remains of top prospect Julio Rodríguez becoming the Mariners center fielder of the future, even in that case they would be best suited to find somebody to take the role to at least begin a crucial 2022 season in Seattle.
The good news is that if the M’s do target players who could roam center, they have the means to either sign a free agent or make a trade. But who would be the options?
On the latest edition of the Talking Mariners podcast with Mariners insider Shannon Drayer and 710 ESPN Seattle’s James “Boy Howdy” Osborn, they went through a list of interesting names. Here’s a breakdown of who they covered.
The trade candidates
First up, Osborn brought up somebody the Mariners might be able to pair up with Lewis.
“This may stand out as ‘How can you call that a short term option?’: Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins. Ultra-talented, amazing player, (but) I think he’s played over 100 games once in his career,” Osborn said. “He’s got two years left on his his rookie deal, he’ll be a free agent after two seasons from now. There’s some talk that (the Twins) may want to sell high… They already have moved on from other players in Minnesota. That to me is a nice option, and actually it works out pretty well if you want to keep Kyle Lewis and run both of those guys and say, ‘Between them I’ll probably get a full season.’ If you get 162 (games) out of the combination of those two playing at their normal capacities, you are plus in center field and that’s an awesome, awesome route.”
Though Buxton, who will turn 28 in December, is a Gold Glove winner and coming off his best season in the big leagues – .306 average, 1.005 OPS, 19 home runs and nine stolen bases in 61 games – the injury history of the 2012 No. 2 overall pick could keep Minnesota’s price tag from getting too high.
“I don’t think it’s going to cost you one of your top guys in your farm system. I think it’ll cost you a nice package but probably not one of your top guys,” Osborn said.
Byron Buxton now has FIVE home runs this year.
And he's a triple shy of the cycle today. 👀 pic.twitter.com/4pINyHgjkf
— MLB (@MLB) April 11, 2021
Osborn had another player in mind who Seattle might be able to acquire without parting with a big prospect.
“One of the teams that could be looking to free up some salary space would be the Dodgers. I would be interested to see if there’s an outfielder that they maybe want to move on from. The name that I have solely plucked out for this conversation is AJ Pollock, who had an amazing year at the plate last year.”
Pollock, who will turn 34 next month, is a one-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner who has settled in as a role player with LA over the past three seasons. He appeared in center field in just eight games in 2021 but has plenty of experience at the position, and the fact that he’s coming off a year where he hit .297 with 21 homers, nine steals and an .892 OPS in 117 games makes any concerns about his defense a little more palatable.
AJ Pollock brought it back! 😮 pic.twitter.com/lnC4OPODDg
— MLB (@MLB) August 25, 2021
“His defensive skills are on the decline, he is a little older… he hasn’t traditionally been the most healthy player, but I do believe I’ve heard in years past that (Mariners general manager/president of baseball operations) Jerry Dipoto was high on AJ Pollock. … I could see him being a valuable asset to the Mariners at a higher salary than maybe he should be paid for, but the Dodgers are going to need to move some money because they love to add stars and they continue to push the the payroll taxes.”
Drayer had a few other names to consider via the trade route.
“Could this be the year the Mariners finally pry Kevin Kiermaier loose from the Rays?” she posed about Tampa Bay’s 31-year-old center fielder and three-time Gold Glove winner.
Kevin Kiermaier got UP! 😱 pic.twitter.com/2jhnVAiIrq
— MLB (@MLB) September 14, 2021
“If they want to go big, the name has been out there possibly as a big trade candidate, Bryan Reynolds,” Drayer added about Pittsburgh’s switch-hitting, soon-to-be 27-year-old All-Star. “That would be big. That is your everyday for a long time (center fielder), and you’re giving up a lot (to get him).”
Osborn dropped in one last All-Star to consider.
“Cedric Mullins is another one the you can put out there. He’s maybe not the greatest center fielder just by the metrics, but he’s young enough that he probably could improve. He’s fast, he’s got power, he had an amazing season last year for the Orioles, tons of club control, but again, (it would take a) huge package to pry somebody like that loose.”
While free agency may seem like the easier way to go, the signs are actually pointing against this route.
“I think that (acquiring a center fielder) most likely would come by trade because you’re going to be looking at a shorter-term option,” Drayer said. “Starling Marte would be fantastic to have out there, (but) that’s going to be a longer deal. Or perhaps you could be looking at one of the utility players (like) Chris Taylor.”
Drayer and Osborn were in agreement about a free agent the Mariners will probably be interested in, though: Mark Canha, a longtime adversary of Seattle’s who has spent the past seven years playing all three outfield spots, first base and even a little third for the Oakland A’s.
Canha, who will be 33 by next season, appeared in center 23 times over 141 total games in 2021 while hitting .231 with 17 homers, 12 stolen bases and a .746 OPS.
“If I was to draw up what a bench bat should look like for the Mariners, it’s Mark Canha,” Osborn said. “I don’t think you want to commit to him as being an everyday player anymore at his age but I don’t think he’s gonna be very expensive, and his skill set fits exactly how the Mariners want to operate. He may not be the fastest guy anymore, but that’s a professional batter in the AL West who had a down year and still, it was fine.”
💼 secured, courtesy of Mark Canha 🔒
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) June 16, 2021
By the way, Canha has caught the attention of Mariners fans in recent days as he’s been in Seattle sharing posts about his visits to local restaurants on his Instagram account, @bigleaguefoodie. And as you might expect, some M’s fans have been responding with their pitches to get him to come to the M’s.
Hear the most recent edition of Talking Mariners in the video below (we’ve got it set to send you to the start of the center field conversation once you hit play). You can also download or stream the full podcast episode at this link.
More Mariners coverage from 710Sports.com
• Podcast: Shannon Drayer hosts Mariners Week That Was on 710 ESPN Seattle
• Jerry Dipoto Show: Mariners sights set on ‘centerpiece-type players’
• Jake and Stacy’s Mariners Wishlists: Pitchers who can lead the rotation
• Salk: It’s go time — why this is Mariners most important offseason ever
• Talking Mariners Podcast: 3B names to watch, Seattle’s “untouchables”
• Mariners Offseason Tracker: Keep up with moves, free agents and more