BRENT STECKER

Mariners’ lineup needs to add thump — here’s where it could come from

Jan 31, 2022, 2:43 PM
Mariners Jarred Kelenic...
Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic runs the bases after hitting a home run against Tampa Bay on Aug. 3. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
(Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Home runs have been increasingly tied to run production in MLB, something the Mariners are likely taking into account for when their push to build a contender continues once the offseason resumes.

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On the most recent Mariners Hot Stove on 710 ESPN Seattle, Mariners Pod host and M’s radio producer/engineer/broadcaster Gary Hill produced a segment detailing some numbers that illustrate just how important home runs were to many of the more successful teams in 2021, which we broke down in the article at this link.

After Hill’s segment, Mariners insider Shannon Drayer and her Hot Stove co-host, James “Boy Howdy” Osborn, took a more M’s-focused look at the topic by discussing how Seattle can add some thump in a way that would round out their lineup and give them an overall boost in runs scored in 2022. With some insight from that conversation, here’s a quick look at where the Mariners’ offense sits and then a more detailed breakdown of where additional power could come from this season.

The Mariners’ offense going into 2022

Seattle tied for 22nd in MLB in runs scored last season with 4.3 per game, below the league average of 4.53. A cause for concern going into 2022 is that the Mariners won a league-high 33 one-run games, which is a stat you can’t count on to continue from one season to the next. That suggests the M’s need to improve their roster just to repeat their 90-72 record, let alone better it to give them a strong chance of breaking their long postseason drought.

Seattle hit 199 home runs in 2021, which tied for 13th in the majors. While Mitch Haniger led the team with 39 homers, Kyle Seager (35 homers) was the only other M’s player with more than 18, and he hit free agency and shortly after retired this offseason.

The Mariners have added Adam Frazier, a 2021 National League All-Star with a history of hitting for contact and posting a reliable on-base percentage, and he will join J.P. Crawford atop the batting order to help the Mariners create more traffic on the bases this year. But who, besides Haniger, could drive them in?

First up, we look at what the Mariners already have.

In-house improvement candidates

Ty France is a good player to start with. His 18 homers were third on the team in 2021, and he also had 32 doubles, a triple, 73 RBIs and an .813 OPS. That all came despite playing through a early-season wrist injury that sapped his bat speed for a time and resulted in a short injury list stint. The 27-year-old infielder has shown power in spurts, though, including four homers in a five-game stretch last August.

With a history of strong batting average and on-base numbers throughout the minors and his 264 career MLB games, if France can stay healthy and push closer to 25 homers and 40 doubles, it would result in a huge season. Seems possible, don’t you think?

Another player who could give the Mariners’ lineup a boost is Kyle Lewis, who is working his way back from knee surgery after playing just 36 games in 2021. His knee and overall availability will always be a concern, but when he plays, he hits balls over the fence. In 112 career MLB games, he has 22 homers. While you can’t go into this season counting on him as an everyday player, that also provides the possibility that whatever he provides being something that puts the M’s over the top – so long as they round the lineup out before the season.

Luis Torrens (15 homers in 108 games last year) and Abraham Toro (11 homers in 95 games) are two other players who have run-producing promise for Seattle.

The big name to watch, however, is Jarred Kelenic. While the full numbers from his 2021 rookie season aren’t great, it was what he did down the stretch that indicate a potential slugger in the making. As pointed out by 710Sports.com’s Brandon Gustafson, if you apply Kelenic’s output from his last 29 games (.248/.331/.524 slash line, seven homers, 20 RBIs, 14 extra base hits) to a 162-game season, you get 39 homers, 112 RBIs and 79 extra base hits. Anything in that realm would be a real difference maker for Seattle in 2022.

With those five players, though, you’re dealing with projections and hope, not proven track records. That’s why it’s important that the Mariners bring in an additional good hitter or two to drive in runs. So who are the possible targets?

Sluggers in free agency

Perhaps on the top of the list is Kris Bryant, the 2016 NL MVP and a four-time All-Star who has hit 25 or more homers in five of his seven seasons in the big leagues. Mainly a third baseman, which is notably a position the Mariners have yet to fill following Seager’s departure, the 30-year-old Bryant is also versatile enough to play all three outfield positions and first base.

Bryant is the player James Osborn has been most focused on this offseason, and he explained why on the Hot Stove.

“Kris Bryant, to me, is the prototypical fit for what the Mariners want to be,” Osborn said. “They want to have flexible players that can play multiple positions for a number of reasons. That’s Kris Bryant. … He’s a flexible guy and he provides consistent power; even in down years he’s still providing solid power. He’s got experience in a winning culture, he broke the curse with the Cubs, he knows what it’s like to be a star prospect. I think that Kris Bryant truly is the ideal fit. Now, he may be a little bit older and he may be more on the backside of his potential, but for where this team is right now, he is a square to fill a square-shaped hole.”

The only thing that get in the way of that fit being the right one for Seattle, though, is how long of a contract he may want. As Shannon Drayer pointed out, the Mariners were interested in Bryant at the trade deadline last year, but they would have only been acquiring him for two months before he hit free agency. He’ll command a big multi-year deal to sign now, and with Marcus Semien signing for seven years with Texas, Bryant may be looking for a longer commitment than the M’s want to make for a player in his 30s.

“I think seven years is very uncomfortable (for the Mariners),” Drayer said. “Five years? Not so much. Six? Getting there. Seven I think probably is (too uncomfortable for Seattle), and there are other options out there.”

Trevor Story, a two-time All-Star shortstop with the Rockies who owns two 30-homer season and has hit 24 or more homers in the five full MLB seasons since his debut, could be the best of those other options. He’s also been linked to Seattle a lot this offseason. For more on how Story could fit with the M’s, read our article from late November at this link.

Drayer and Osborn also discussed Redmond native Michael Conforto, an outfielder who will be 29 by the 2022 season who is a free agent after seven years with the Mets, including three with 27 homers or more. He struggled in 2021, slashing .232/.344/.384 with 14 homers in 125 games, making him a possible bounce-back candidate that could sign a short-term deal, especially since the offseason will have a quick sprint to the season once the MLB lockout eventually ends.

“Conforto I think might be interesting because before the lockout, I know a lot of people thought that he would be looking at one of those kinds of contracts where you can go in and have the bounce back on a one-year deal,” Drayer said. “I didn’t think that. I thought that I had heard enough interest that it was going to be more than that, but when you get into a situation where everything is going to be compressed, I wonder if you are that player that if somebody does throw you something that perhaps is a little bit extra (money on a shorter contract), you think to yourself, ‘If I’m gonna do it, this year is the year to do it rather than sit back and see what happens here.’ So maybe there’s a little bit more of a chance there.”

Potential Mariners trade targets

Finally, there is the trade route. With a stocked farm system that includes five on Baseball America’s most recent top 100 prospects list, four in the top 50 and three in the top 20, the Mariners have the kind of capital to make a splash. So who could they target that could give the lineup the thump it needs?

One name is another bounce-back candidate: perennial Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman. Though he scuffled to a .210/.314/.403 slash line in 2021, he still had 27 homers for the Athletics, and at 28 and with a full offseason to rest a hip that was surgically repaired in 2020, there is still the chance of him producing like he did during a monster All-Star campaign in 2019 (36 homers, .848 OPS).

Drayer called Chapman’s surgery the type where a player could perform better their second season back from it, and she finds the fact that he maintained his power in 2021 encouraging. Osborn added that Chapman’s stellar defense would mitigate some of the risk in trading for him.

“The appeal with Matt Chapman is the familiarity that you have with him,” Osborn said, referring to Oakland and Seattle sharing a division, “and the idea that even if he doesn’t produce that season (you acquire him), as long as you don’t have to give up one of your very top prospects, you’re still benefiting from that player.”

Then there is Pirates All-Star center fielder Bryan Reynolds, who the Mariners have been reported to have inquired with Pittsburgh about. Reynolds isn’t what you would consider a proven power hitter but is a budding superstar who hit 24 homers, 35 doubles and a league-leading eight triples to go along with a stellar .302/.390/.522 slash line (.912 OPS) in 159 games last season. At just 27, though, he would certainly cost Seattle a huge haul headlined by top prospects, and Osborn doesn’t think the Mariners are where they need to be yet to make that kind of move.

“I don’t think that the Mariners are close enough at this point that they could trade two of their top four prospects to get a guy like Bryan Reynolds,” he said. “There are teams out there that should do that but I don’t think that’s the Mariners right now.”

You can get more details in the podcast from last week’s Mariners Hot Stove beginning with Gary Hill’s segment on how home runs have become so tied to run production in MLB, which starts about 17 minutes in. And be sure to catch a new edition of the Mariners Hot Stove from 7-8 p.m. each Tuesday night on 710 ESPN Seattle.

Drayer: Will the Mariners have the AL West’s best bullpen again?

 

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Mariners’ lineup needs to add thump — here’s where it could come from