BRENT STECKER

The very intriguing possibility of a Mariners-Trevor Story pairing

Nov 26, 2021, 1:34 AM | Updated: 12:50 pm
Mariners Rockies Trevor Story...
Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies hits an RBI single against the Dodgers on Sept. 22. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

When the subject of impact hitters the Mariners could acquire this offseason comes up, the first name to follow is typically Marcus Semien.

But what if the Mariners don’t land him?

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Seattle certainly has competition for Semien’s services, especially with the San Francisco Giants reportedly in on the Bay Area native, so it’s far from certain the M’s will be able to get him to sign on the dotted line.

There’s one other name that tends to be mentioned in the same breath as Semien as a potential fit for a spot in the Mariners’ infield and middle of the order, however. And that name is Trevor Story.

While Semien, who won a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove for his work as Toronto’s primary second baseman in 2021, would be a pretty seamless addition for Seattle, Story isn’t as obvious of a fit. The 29-year-old slugger has only ever played shortstop in his six seasons with the Colorado Rockies, and Mariners general manager/president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto told 710 ESPN Seattle last month that the Mariners are committed to 2020 Gold Glove winner J.P. Crawford at short.

There is a belief that Story would be open to a position change, though, which is why he and Semien (who played shortstop exclusively for Oakland from 2015-20) are the only two players from a loaded class of shortstops in free agency being linked to the Mariners in rumors. And if he truly is, I think Story would make for a very intriguing addition for the Mariners regardless of what happens with Semien.

As a player who has only ever called Colorado’s notoriously hitter-friendly Coors Field his home ballpark, there is a big question mark about Story’s viability at the plate away from the mile-high air in Denver – and there should be. While Story’s been a superstar at Coors, where he has a career slash line of .303/.369/.603 (.972 OPS), he’s been a different player elsewhere with a career slash on the road of .241/.310/.442 (.752 OPS).

Those splits are why Story has essentially become the dark horse of the shortstop class behind Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javier Báez and Semien, and presumably why he’s open to moving to second or third base. The questions about whether he can hack it away from Coors are going to have an impact on his contract offers, so adding positional flexibility should give him some extra value.

The concerns about Story’s home-road splits also make it likely that he will be willing to agree to a contract with less years on it than the other big available shortstops. He’ll almost certainly be receiving offers with lower salaries than those other four names, too, and it wouldn’t be all too surprising if Story is weighing a “prove-it” deal, where he spends a year playing somewhere other than Colorado to show he can balance out his splits when he doesn’t get the benefit of the thin air half of the time in hopes of cashing in on a big deal next offseason.

What better place to prove that than T-Mobile Park, where he did this last July?

Because Story’s Coors Field history ties him to more risk than the other big-name shortstops, I see an opportunity for a team like the Mariners to capitalize on. On the other side of that risk is the potential of a big reward, especially if he comes at a cheaper cost that leaves the M’s more money to use in their pursuits for another marquee bat and a few experienced starting pitchers.

Would leaving Denver hurt Story? I’m sure it would to a point, but his OPS+, an offensive value metric that is adjusted for ballpark factors, paints a decent picture. For his career, Story has a 112 OPS+ (100 is league average, so he’s 12% above that), and while he had just a 103 OPS+ in 2020, he dealt with a right elbow injury and shook off a rough start with a torrid showing in August and September. And it’s not like hitters who leave the Rockies are always doomed to fail. For example, Nolan Arenado, who always had similarly unbalanced home/road splits in his time with Colorado, did just fine in his first season with St. Louis in 2021, posting a 121 OPS+, which matches his career OPS+.

Logically, I can understand how playing half of your games in thinner air could cause problems when you have to hit on the road. But I think if you have the goods and go elsewhere, you should be able readjust in due time, and perhaps it could even make you a better all-around hitter than before. So if I was Dipoto, I wouldn’t let Story’s history at Coors Field get in the way of a potentially good deal, or at least the chance to insert a slugger with something to prove into the middle of the Mariners’ order.

Just like with Semien, though, Seattle has some other teams to fight when it comes to trying to sign Story. The Yankees are said to be interested, and you know they’re not above overpaying, and Story’s hometown Texas Rangers (he grew up in the Dallas area) have said they’re going to be aggressive this offseason and definitely have space for Story in their infield.

Story may be just what the Mariners are looking for, however. He could add pop to a lineup that needs it, especially when it comes to facing left-handed pitching – the M’s were 26th in MLB in OPS against lefties (.695), and Story thrives against southpaws (.974 OPS in 2021). The most intriguing thing about Story, though, is the possibility of Seattle getting the benefits of him proving his doubters wrong much like Nelson Cruz did both in one season with Baltimore in 2014 and then the next four with the Mariners.

The reasons to be skeptical of how Story will perform in his first season away from Coors are valid. But I think they also present an opportunity for a team to get an All-Star player in his prime with power, speed, and a likely chip on his shoulder on a favorable deal.

That could have quite the impact on a rising Mariners team coming off a 90-win season, don’t you think?

Trevor Story at a glance

• In 2021, had a .251/.329/.471 slash line for an .801 OPS with 24 home runs, 34 doubles, five triples, 75 RBIs, 88 runs scored and 20 stolen bases on 26 attempts in 142 games.

• Has made two All-Star teams, won two Silver Sluggers, and twice hit 35 or more home runs in a season.

• Led the National League with 15 stolen bases during the shortened 2020 season.

• Listed as 6 foot 2 and 213 pounds.

• Turned 29 years old on Nov. 15.

• Was a 2011 first-round pick (45th overall) by Colorado out of Irving High School in Texas.

• Made his MLB debut in 2016 after five seasons in the minor leagues, including a brief two-game stint with the Tri-City Dust Devils of the Northwest League in 2014.

More Mariners offseason coverage

Drayer: Why you don’t need to panic about Mariners’ lack of moves
Talking Mariners Podcast: What happens if M’s can’t land a top free agent
Gustafson: Underrated free-agent hitters who could boost Mariners’ lineup
Gustafson: Under-the-radar pitchers who could help raise the Mariners’ floor
Dipoto making ‘real progress’ with free agents, answers key trade question
Which top prospects should the Mariners be willing to trade?

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