What’s going on with Jesse Winker and the Mariners?
There was a noticeable absence when the Mariners were introduced to the T-Mobile Park crowd Saturday before their first and only home game in the playoffs – the man who saw the majority of playing time in left field in 2022, Jesse Winker.
A neck injury landed Winker on the injured list for the postseason, coming after he was a late scratch on Oct. 3 for a game against the Detroit Tigers. He remained out of the lineup for a doubleheader the next day and was placed on the IL on Oct. 5, just before the final game of the season.
Winker was not present when the Mariners played their Wild Card series in Toronto, with the reason being given that he was seeking a second opinion on his neck injury. He was not seen with the team for the entirety of the postseason.
Ryan Divish, Mariners beat reporter for The Seattle Times, joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Tuesday morning and provided his insight on the situation, and the picture it painted wasn’t a pretty one when it comes to Winker’s relationship with the organization and his teammates.
“I think he was home,” Divish responded to Mike Salk’s question about Winker’s absence on Saturday. “So I was curious because he didn’t make the trip when (the Mariners) went to Toronto and then Houston, and I asked and they said, ‘Well, he wanted to get a second opinion on his neck,’ and then I asked one of the guys, ‘Well, do you think he’ll be back in Seattle?’ (The response was) ‘Like, maybe? I don’t know.’ But I think they probably just told him to go home. … I think by the end of the season, it’s what scouts call a tired act.”
Winker was the starting left fielder for the National League in the 2021 All-Star Game, and he had a strong season for the Cincinnati Reds, posting a slash line of .305/.394/.556 for a .949 OPS with 24 homers and 32 doubles in 110 games. After coming to the Mariners in a blockbuster trade in spring training, he fell far short of those numbers, slashing .219/.344/.344 for a .688 OPS with 14 homers and 15 doubles in 136 games with Seattle. He doesn’t provide great defense or good speed, making his sudden downturn at the plate a tough pill to swallow.
According to Divish, Winker fell short off the field, as well.
“Everything that Mitch Haniger does to prepare for a game and to get ready, Jesse Winker’s kind of the opposite,” he said. “… I think he’s not very physically strong, I don’t think he puts in the time to be better defensively or to have a better arm or any of the work that should be done, and really it is counter to what has made this team great. The last few years, this team prepares more than any team I’ve ever seen on a daily basis.”
The Mariners signed Winker to an extension during the season that essentially just bought out his last year of arbitration this offseason, so he is under contract with the team through 2023. While that would seemingly answer the question of if the team will move forward with him, there’s enough to fuel speculation that the Mariners could go another direction in 2023.
“There’s going to be some hard conversations either with Jesse from this front office, or they’re just going to move on,” Divish said.
Where was Jesse Winker last weekend? Why wasn't he introduced with his teammates before Game Three?@RyanDivish's answer does not hold back and presents a very murky picture moving forward for the team and the player.
— Mike Salk, Seattle Sports Station (@TheMikeSalk) October 18, 2022
What does it say for Winker’s future with the Mariners?
Following Divish’s conversation with Brock and Salk, the Winker situation was revisited on Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy and then Wyman and Bob.
Michael Bumpus said he could understand why Winker didn’t change his preparation based on the same reason the Mariners were interested in him in the first place, which is that he played at an All-Star level just a year before.
“Let’s say that this is what he’s been doing his whole career, this has been his approach to being a professional baseball player his whole career. He came off an All-Star year last year – he’s like, ‘Why am I gonna change it up now?'” Bumpus explained. “Even when you have guys like Mitch Haniger who prepare, even guys like Logan Gilbert, who carries a bag full of tricks before he gets prepared for every game, everyone has their way of doing things. So I’m not saying that Jesse Winker’s right here, but if this was his approach his whole career and he was an All-Star last year, in his mind, ‘I’m not doing anything different.’
“But then when you come to a blue collar team, a team that overachieves, a team that breaks a drought, a team that does everything they can to prepare, and they’re looking at you and you’re just sitting in the dugout chilling when everyone’s getting ready. That’s the worst part, is when you look your peers in the eyes and you feel no love and no respect.”
Bumpus added that the Mariners and Winker just might not be the right fit.
“Maybe this isn’t the clubhouse that fits his type of personality. I’m sure there’s a clubhouse out there that’s perfect for Jesse Winker,” he said.
Stacy Rost contrasted Winker with the player who took over in left field after his injury, Jarred Kelenic, who himself struggled to produce at the plate in 2022.
“It seems like the big thing would be if you don’t try. It’s one thing to try and struggle,” Rost said. “… I had heard stuff about this kind of relationship about Jesse Winker and the team and teammates before. I have not heard that teammates, for instance, don’t like Jarred Kelenic. … Jarred Kelenic has not found nearly as much success at the big league level as people, scouts, experts, the team, probably teammates thought that he would, but he tries. He gets frustrated. He gets in his own head. You can tell that he’s angry, but you can also tell that he cares, and that makes all the difference. You aren’t going to hate someone and be mad at someone and not want to be around someone who’s trying and failing.”
Rost then pointed out that because the Mariners have relied on clubhouse chemistry so much, having a player who doesn’t fit with the team could be much worse than in a different environment.
“There have been many teams, in and outside of baseball, obviously, that have had a toxic personality or have had someone who maybe isn’t a toxic person but just doesn’t gel with the rest of the team. Maybe he doesn’t try as hard, maybe he’s got other priorities, whatever it is. There have been teams that have dysfunction that succeed. The Mariners are not a team right now with so much talent that they can have a lot of dysfunction.”
Bumpus understood that completely.
“Exactly. That’s perfect,” he said. “Some teams, you have so much talent (that) it’s a strictly business relationship. I show up to BP, I show up to these games, then I’m out, don’t talk to me, don’t text me – strictly business. That’s not how this team works. This team is like, ‘Look, man, let’s go to the Seahawk game. Let’s have some beers together. Let’s go kick it. Let’s hang out. Let’s be teammates, let’s be friends.’ And maybe that’s just not the environment that Winker is most successful in.”
You can listen to the full Bump and Stacy conversation in the second segment of the podcast at this link or in the player here:
Rost mentioned that she had heard rumblings about Winker and his relationship with the team, and she wasn’t alone in that. On Wyman and Bob in the afternoon, Bob Stelton said that he had heard similar things despite Winker having been embraced by the fan base, which was a result at least in part for his role in the July brawl with the Angels and his comment about T-Mobile Park being “an electric factory” after a walk-off win in April.
“We had him out there at Edgar’s (Cantina in T-Mobile Park for an interview), and it was packed out there and people had signs for him,” Stelton said. “He was great when he was talking to us, but I heard from multiple people behind the scenes that he’s a ‘red light guy,’ meaning when the when the camera’s on, that red light goes on, he becomes the guy he needs to be then. And when it’s not that situation, he’s not that guy. He’s different.”
Added Dave Wyman: “I thought Winker had kind of cemented himself in as far as being a fan favorite.”
Stelton said that what he found most alarming from Divish’s comments was that teammates became tired of Winker’s “act.”
“That is huge. It can be a coach, it can be a hitting coach, it can be the manager, even – if the teammates are on your side, then OK. But for me, once the teammates are like, ‘Yeah, I don’t need to be around this guy, I’m done with him,’ how do you how do you fix that?”
After hearing that the rest of the team is frustrated with Jesse Winker it's hard for us to see how he has a role on the Mariners moving forward. pic.twitter.com/ZCNeIYOuda
— Wyman and Bob (@WymanAndBob) October 19, 2022
That makes the possibility of the Mariners moving on from Winker before next spring seem all the more likely.
“If that is truly the feeling in that clubhouse, that can’t continue because this is a phenomenal clubhouse,” Stelton said. “I mean, the chemistry in there is one of the best I’ve ever seen in any sport. And if you’ve got that element sulking in the corner or (being) sort of the dark cloud, (and) you’re not even getting benefit of something good on the field from them, you’ve got to cut ties. Whether you package him in a deal, whatever you need to do, you just can’t have that poisoning the well, so to speak, if that’s truly how it is in there.”
Hear Wyman and Bob’s conversation in the second segment of the podcast in the player below or at this link.