Dipoto: Mariners’ plan for outfield, not a ‘slam dunk’ Haniger returns

Oct 20, 2022, 2:21 PM

Mariners Mitch Haniger...

Mitch Haniger celebrates the Mariners' win over Texas on Sept. 28, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

With the Mariners’ 2022 season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to the offseason.

Mariners’ Dipoto: What caused Winker’s down year, why he can rebound

The Mariners are in good shape in a number of ways, namely that nearly all of their pitching staff is set to return next year, and they have offensive cornerstones like Julio Rodríguez, Eugenio Suárez and Cal Raleigh all coming back as well.

But Seattle does have a few openings in the lineup heading into this offseason, including the outfield. During this week’s Jerry Dipoto Show, the Mariners president of baseball operations discussed the offense and the team’s plan for the outfield.

Dipoto said there are “a couple of spots” the team must address, pointing to second base and the corner outfield. Rodríguez is back in center field, but right fielder Mitch Haniger is set to be a free agent, as is second baseman Adam Frazier. Additionally, Seattle has question marks in the outfield with Jesse Winker, Jarred Kelenic and Taylor Trammell.

“Obviously right now our corner outfield positions are somewhat unsettled, and how that combines with designated hitter is still something of a question,” Dipoto said. “We have second base as Adam Frazier, along with Mitch, is a free agent. So those are the obvious spaces where we can focus on adding some offense.”

The Mariners were in the bottom half of the league in average and runs scored, so it stands to reason that improving the lineup would be a priority. But Dipoto said the offense wasn’t as bad as you may have thought.

“One of the most thankless things you can be is an offensive player who plays their home games in Seattle right now,” he said. ” … We do follow the more advanced metrics, and when you neutralize statistics or adjust them for our ballpark or environment, our offense actually stands up as something slightly above the league average.”

“While we do want to add more impact to our offense and create more length in our lineup and become more threatening, we weren’t a bottom of the barrel offense,” he later added. “And I think that’s a story that has generally started to be told. We had a really rough 18 innings, but we were the same team that going into that game was sporting a .900 OPS in the postseason. We do some interesting things, we’d just like to get a little bit more impactful.”

Dipoto mentioned second base as a spot to address, and he shared his thoughts on that position as it relates to the shift being restricted heading into 2023.

“It’s going to change the way you might look at an offensive player,” he said of the shift going away. “A hitter’s style is now comes into play a little bit more than it used to. And also your middle infielders’ range … What’ll be more of a consideration this year is not necessarily the offensive package, but when you’re putting someone on a second base, can they cover the land? Because without the advantage of standing out in the grass, it does change the way defense is going to look.”

The Outfield

As you’d expect, Rodríguez, the likely AL Rookie of the Year, is penned in as a starting outfielder next season. And Dipoto said it’ll almost certainly be in center field once again.

“I can’t imagine what that scenario is in terms of Julio not playing center field. I think he did a wonderful job,” Dipoto said. “Julio will be starting for us in the outfield next year. That’s the way that’ll work. But my my guess is that he will be starting in center field because I think he showed that he can be an impact center fielder, and the relative offense that he provides from that position is huge.”

As far as the corner spots go, that’s a different story with Haniger hitting free agency, injury and productivity question marks for Winker and Kyle Lewis as well as questions whether Kelenic or Trammell are ready to play every day.

Dipoto said the ideal scenario is having four outfielders that give left-handed and right-handed balance at the plate, and that one of the four would serve as designated hitter while not in the field. Additionally, utility players Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty can fill in, also.

When discussing that plan for the outfield and DH spot, Dipoto brought up Winker, a 2021 All-Star who struggled mightily in his first year with the Mariners and who Dipoto said underwent or will undergo multiple surgeries for his knee and neck this offseason.

“Frankly and ideally, we see Jesse Winker as that guy. That’s part of the reason why we would like to build the outfield set up in that way, which was the intent when we acquired him,” Dipoto said. “And then all of the other guys got hurt and Jesse wound up playing left field every day, which was putting a lot of burden on him and not ideal for his own productivity. That’s the way we see it working with the outfielders.”

What about Kelenic, a former top prospect who has taken lumps at the MLB level the last two years but also had some nice moments late in both 2021 and 2022?

“We do see (Kelenic) as a part of that. I think he showed very good things at the end of the regular season, and I thought his at-bats against Toronto – and the first pinch-hit that he took against the Astros in Houston – really good. And his final day wasn’t the best day of the season, but there was a lot of positive things that led up,” Dipoto said.

Mitch Haniger

Haniger is the biggest name the Mariners could lose in free agency this year, so what did Dipoto have to say about the team’s right fielder?

“We love Mitch. He’s been a driver of building a process in our clubhouse. He works as hard as anybody in the league,” he said. “He’s dealt with a lot of unfortunate injuries. He’s built up he put in his time and developed his credibility as a major league player, and deserves the opportunity that he gave himself, which is to go find out what the market will bear for him. We maintain interest, I think he has interest in coming back here, but I wouldn’t call it a slam dunk.”

Listen to The Jerry Dipoto Show at this link or in the player below.

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Dipoto: Mariners’ plan for outfield, not a ‘slam dunk’ Haniger returns