Fann: Mariners free agent wish list for pivotal offseason in team history
MLB free agency began for the Mariners and the rest of MLB on Thursday, and although the hot stove is still warming, free agents are now able to sign with whomever they choose.
In the wake of the Mariners’ big money extensions for Julio Rodríguez and Luis Castillo, they are currently sitting at a 2023 payroll of $92 million, which ranks 13th in baseball and is just above the league average of $87.4 million. That will fluctuate over the coming weeks and months as teams spend on a wide variety of available players.
And that brings us to the heart of this story: the list of players I’d love to see in a Mariners uniform. Away we go.
The pipe dream
• Any of the “big four” shortstops
To me, it would be organizational malpractice to not be determined in signing Trea Turner (6.3 fWAR in 2022), Xander Bogaerts (6.1 fWAR), Carlos Correa (4.4 fWAR) or Dansby Swanson (6.4 fWAR). And yet, it already seems like the Mariners have ruled all four out as potential free agent options.
Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto told MLB Network’s Jon Morosi on Thursday that his every expectation is for J.P. Crawford to remain Seattle’s opening day shortstop in 2023. He sort of left the door open for an exception to be made, but he certainly didn’t sound like a guy chasing a big fish.
“That would be our great preference,” Dipoto said of having Crawford at shortstop.
This isn’t a surprise. Dipoto has made it clear time and again that free agency was merely a means to supplement small holes on a roster primarily built through the draft, international signings and trades.
The issue is that Seattle is in desperate need of a middle infielder, and once you get through the big four, the quality options get scarce. Bringing back Adam Frazier would likely be Seattle’s best option in free agency at that point. And while I understand Dipoto’s preference to not overpay a free agent, there’s something to be said for acquiring premium talent without having to give up other pieces from your roster or farm system that could help you down the road.
Even while acknowledging that Crawford’s 2022 season was probably his floor (especially defensively), he doesn’t have the ceiling that justifies being immovable from short. Seattle has a major need in the middle of the infield, especially when it comes to production offensively, and the aforementioned big four would be a perfect fit to fill the void.
It would be foolish to get your hopes up, but they have to be mentioned here nonetheless.
The next best thing
• Brandon Nimmo, OF
In addition to his chat with Dipoto, Morosi also reported that the Mariners have expressed “formal interest” in the former Mets outfielder.
Seattle currently has just one starting outfielder on its roster in Julio Rodríguez, so the team is sure to sign and/or trade for at least one more. Nimmo would be an impact addition coming off a 5.4 fWAR season in which he posted a .274 average with 16 home runs, 102 runs scored, 64 RBIs and a 134 wRC+.
While he’s fast (84th percentile in sprint speed, per Statcast), he’s not a true speed guy with just 23 steals over seven big league seasons, but he’s a low-strikeout (17.2 K%), high-contact bat (.317 BABIP) that would sit perfectly atop the Mariners lineup.
— New York Mets (@Mets) October 9, 2022
He’ll turn 30 prior to opening day next season, but there’s no reason to believe that will have a meaningful impact on his offensive production.
The sensible option
• Mitch Haniger, OF
I mean, why not? Haniger is a clubhouse favorite and still has plenty of production left in his bat when healthy. Seattle would be foolish to bank on Taylor Trammell or Jarred Kelenic as anything more than depth pieces. Sam Haggerty and Dylan Moore are your go-to utilitymen rather than everyday starters, as well.
With the Mariners in win-now mode following their first playoff appearance in two decades, a short-term deal with a known commodity like Haniger makes way too much sense. His age (32) shouldn’t be a deterrent for Dipoto. Seattle will almost assuredly sign someone of that ilk (mid-level veteran outfielder), and so it may as well be Haniger.
2 AB, 2 HR. Mitch Haniger came to play tonight. pic.twitter.com/rXrkiwRoc0
— MLB (@MLB) September 30, 2022
The gap fillers
• Brandon Drury, IF/OF; Michael Brantley, DH; J.D. Martinez, DH
Drury is coming off a career year in which he posted a 3.0 fWAR with 28 homers between the Reds and Padres. His payday will be modest given his limited track record, but you could do much worse than taking a flier on a potential late bloomer who has the versatility to play multiple spots across the infield and outfield.
Welcome to Slam Diego, Brandon Drury! pic.twitter.com/SfmnEDROx7
— MLB (@MLB) August 4, 2022
Brantley missed most of 2022 with a season-ending shoulder injury and he’ll be 36 next May, but he’s a career .288 hitter who has never relied on power. The five-time All-Star has posted an on-base percentage of at least .357 since 2017, which fits in perfectly with Seattle’s desired approach offensively. With Carlos Santana also a free agent, Brantley could assume that role of veteran designated hitter. The level of need at DH will be determined by whether or not Seattle keeps Jesse Winker around for 2023.
On that note, it can’t hurt to check in on Martinez, who would likely be an upgrade over what Santana gave the Mariners last season. Martinez posted a .345 OBP in 2022 compared to Santana’s .316.
The depth arms
• Tier 1: Tyler Anderson, LHP; Martín Perez, LHP; Jameson Taillon, RHP
• Tier 2: Taijuan Walker, RHP; Michael Wacha, RHP; Andrew Heaney, LHP
Seattle got immensely lucky in 2022 in that not a single starter missed his turn in the rotation once all season. The Mariners can’t count on that good fortune again next season. Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert are locked into the rotation. Bringing in another arm, especially with Chris Flexen and Marco Gonzales as potential trade chips, would be wise.
The wild card here is Matt Brash, who Dipoto said the team will stretch out as a starter in spring training but could return to a role as a power arm out of the bullpen.
The known commodity
• Matt Boyd, LHP
For the price tag, you could absolutely do worse than Boyd. By all accounts, the Mercer Island native loved being in Seattle upon being acquired at last year’s trade deadline, and he was lights out in 10 appearances after returning from injury with a 1.35 ERA. Boyd could be the perfect long reliever with the ability to make spot starts given his experience as a starter.
More on the Mariners from Seattle Sports
• ESPN’s Jeff Passan: Mariners have two paths to a successful offseason
• Salk: Mariners’ route from good to great may not be big free agents
• Mariners add pair of pitchers; Sadler, Borucki elect free agency
• Mariners’ Rodríguez, Servais finalists for Rookie and Manager of the Year
• Shannon Drayer: Important offseason dates, M’s roster status and more