How much longer can Mariners wait for Jesse Winker to produce?
Last July, Jesse Winker suited up as the starting right fielder for the National League in the All-Star Game. The possibility of the first-year Mariners outfielder returning to the Midsummer Classic next month, however, is pretty much out the window.
The 28-year-old Winker was the biggest offensive acquisition the Mariners made in the offseason, picked up in trade with the Reds along with slugging third baseman Eugenio Suárez. While Winker was the seen as the big piece of that deal, Suárez has outplayed him so far as Winker has struggled to find any kind of consistency at the plate for a Seattle team that entered Wednesday with a 25-31 record.
“They need him,” MLB Network reporter Jon Morosi said Monday of Winker during his weekly conversation with Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob. “… To me, it’s a confusing story because he came in with a lot of expectations. I’ve seen him hit before, he should be able to hit, and he’s not.”
Winker slashed .305/.394/.556 for a .949 OPS with 24 home runs and 71 RBIs in 110 games for the Reds in 2021, and he entered the year ranked as the No. 1 left fielder in all of baseball by MLB Network. In 55 games with Seattle, though, he’s sitting at a .207/.309/.296 slash line (.605 OPS) with just three homers and 21 RBIs.
What makes Winker’s struggles all the more curious is that while he has never played more than 113 games in an MLB season, he has been healthy, playing in all but one game this year. The lefty hitter is also performing better against left-handed pitching even though he’s mainly been a specialist against right-handers in his career.
The Mariners recently moved Winker to the leadoff spot instead of the heart of the order, but it hasn’t made a noticeable difference.
“I think they’re just trying to do anything to build his confidence back up. I really think that’s where they’re at with him,” Morosi said about that move.
Seattle’s offense has missed the presence of Mitch Haniger and Kyle Lewis, who are both on the injured list, magnifying Winker’s lack of production. So what are the Mariners’ options right now with him? Jarred Kelenic is playing well with Triple-A Tacoma, though it may be too soon to call the 22-year-old outfielder back up less than a month after he was demoted.
“He is such a huge part of this team, especially until Haniger comes back,” Morosi said of Winker. “Probably the only way this lineup sort of is at its peak without him hitting is if (Taylor) Trammell keeps hitting and Kelenic comes up and keeps hitting the way he is hitting in the minor leagues. … If we’re having this conversation in 10 days and Kelenic is still hitting tremendously well at Triple-A and Winker is still hitting .200 over that next 10-game segment, I think it probably becomes a more reasonable question to say, ‘Do you move Winker to the bench and then promote Kelenic?'”
So how much longer should the Mariners be patient be with Winker?
“I think you give Winker another couple of weeks, but I think that the patience probably starts to run out around the end of June,” Morosi said.
Kelenic’s timeline for a Mariners return
Morosi also shared his thoughts on how the Mariners need to approach Kelenic after his most recent demotion to the minors. Kelenic has performed in 18 games with the Rainiers – .316/.357/.633 slash, .990 OPS, six homers – and even made a spectacular catch in center field on Tuesday night, but he’s shined in three stints now at Triple-A while failing to make it translate in the big leagues.
JK is OK after an incredible catch. Stayed in the game.pic.twitter.com/S8LampFYFi
— Tacoma Rainiers (@RainiersLand) June 8, 2022
“(The Mariners) are playing well, he’s playing well – what you can’t have happen, to me, is to come back up and then struggle again. Then what do you do?” Morosi said. “At some point in time this is pro sports and you have to perform, and I get all that, but you can’t have a yo-yo, up and down again. When he comes back up, I’m not gonna say it has to be good forever, but it’s got to be for a long period of time. I think going back and forth serves no one’s best interest. … When Kelenic’s playing well, there’s a spot for him. I just don’t know that you have to force it right now. This could change in a week or 10 days. But right now, I just don’t see the immediate urgency.”
You can listen to the full Wyman and Bob conversation with Morosi in the podcast at this link or in the player below.