Drayer: How does heart of Mariners’ order stack up with rest of AL West?

Jan 7, 2022, 5:31 PM | Updated: 5:40 pm
Mariners Mitch Haniger Ty France...
Mitch Haniger celebrates with Ty France after hitting a home run against the Angels on Oct. 2, 2021. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

At some point, the Hot Stove will be fired up again and the talk in baseball will center around the re-opened free agent and trade markets for the Mariners and MLB’s other 29 teams.

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Due to the lockout, that talk will take place at a much later date than usual in the weeks leading to spring training. What better time than now to take a look at what the focus would normally be at that time, the outlook for the upcoming season?

We have a good idea of the direction the Mariners are going, but what about the competition?

All teams are considered still incomplete at this point but are worth a look in several areas.

Of interest today, offense – specifically each AL West team’s “fearsome three,” if you will. The pocket of three hitters in the lineup which provide the stress at-bats for opposing pitchers.

Allowing for the fact that there are moves yet to be made and we don’t yet know exactly what the lineups will be – we will use Fangraphs’ projected lineup orders – let’s take a look.

If the season were to start today, the Mariners’ top pocket of the order would likely be their 2-4 of Adam Frazier, Mitch Haniger, Ty France, although an argument could be made for the projected 3-5 of Haniger, France and Jarred Kelenic if you are bullish – which I tend to be – on Kelenic’s finish, where he slashed .248/.331/.524/.854 with a second best wRC+ 135 and K% of 24.6%, three points lower than Haniger’s in September and October.

The pragmatist in me says go with the track record of Frazier and the dreamer with Kelenic. Take your pick.

How does either stack up against division rivals? In finishing order, from the top.

Houston Astros

Houston’s “fearsome three”: Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yordan Álvarez

If José Altuve is leading off and Yordan Álvarez is hitting cleanup, it is impossible to pick a run of three hitters.

We will leave the likely 5-hitter, the 2021 Batting Title holder Yuli Gurriel, out of this.

Brantley, entering his age 35 season, has lost some pop and speed – sprint speed a career low 25th percentile in 2021 – but he continues to get on base which is exactly what the Astros need from him.

There are questions about Bregman coming off two sub-par seasons which coincide with the cheating scandal. With the short season in 2020 and injuries a major factor in 2021, it’s probably not safe to assume that the drop in performance is due to the lack of trash cans. If he’s healthy, even without Carlos Correa, the Astros’ lineup, which led baseball last year, should continue to be extremely potent.

Oakland A’s

Oakland’s “fearsome three”: Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Seth Brown

What the A’s are today they are unlikely to be when players report to Arizona for spring training with the expectation being they will be dealing when the lockout comes to an end. They have already seen two of their better offensive pieces in Starling Marte and Mark Canha depart.

Olson, second among all qualified first basemen in wRC+ and WAR with two years left on his deal, is almost certain to be traded for a very nice return. Chapman, who put up his worst offensive numbers last year as a major leaguer, is expected to fare better in his second full season after hip surgery, likely with another team. Brown kills fastballs and not much else.

Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles’ “fearsome three”: Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, Jared Walsh

The Angels made a big splash on the pitching side adding Noah Syndergaard to the rotation, re-signing reliever Raisel Iglesias and getting a bit of much-needed bullpen help with the signing of Aaron Loup. Offensively, they haven’t done much. There, the big boost should come from returns. The break from the 2-hitter is about to end.

This run of three will not be fun.

The good news? It’s just three. But man, are there two players in the AL West you would take over Ohtani and Trout? And Walsh entering his second full season is no slouch either.

The Angels do lack length in the order, however, and that could be remedied by a fully healthy Anthony Rendon and progress made with their young ones, Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh.

They do have a ways to go, however, putting up offensive numbers very similar to the Mariners in 2021. While they are said to be focused on adding another starter, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them add to the offense.

Texas Rangers

Texas’ “fearsome three”: Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Adolis García

We’ll take two of the top shortstops, thank you very much.

Like the Angels, an impressive three-player run without much behind it.

This lineup could cause a little more trouble if the Rangers can come up with a big on- base leadoff hitter. For now, Fangraphs has Willie Calhoun with a .310 OBP in 2021 at the top of the order. The Rangers have a long way to go on both the pitching and offensive side, but the additions of Semien and Seager are a heck of a start and many believe they are not done.

How do the Mariners stack up?

So how does the Mariners’ best pocket in the lineup stack up?

No surprise, they could use some more established thump while they are waiting on the homegrown variety.

While they don’t have the big names – yet – in the middle of the order that some of the division rivals do, the potential for the less flashy length of lineup, which Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais are big believers in, is strong.

We did see the lineup at times last season putting up strong at-bats hitter after hitter, wearing down starting pitchers. In talking to players, that’s when they were the best as a team.

It’s a good foundation to add to and that appears to be the intention once the lockout ends.

Follow Mariners insider Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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Drayer: How does heart of Mariners’ order stack up with rest of AL West?