Big question Mariners have to answer: Where does Julio Rodríguez hit?

Nov 20, 2022, 3:49 PM | Updated: 5:53 pm
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
Mariners center fielder Julio Rodriguez waits on deck during a Sept. 9, 2022 game. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The player who has been in the spotlight the most for the Seattle Mariners over the past year really isn’t in that spot this offseason.

That’s because there aren’t many questions marks about Julio Rodríguez right now. Not after he posted an American League Rookie of the Year-winning season, and especially not after he signed a megadeal that could keep him in Northwest Green through 2034.

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That being said, there is still a pretty big question about Rodríguez for 2023, and it’s one that should be answered based on what the Mariners accomplish on the hot stove.

The question: Where will Rodríguez bat in Seattle’s lineup going forward?

The Mariners moved Rodríguez around a bit in the batting order in 2022, but he eventually settled into the leadoff spot, where he made the majority of his starts (58 games). He also played 24 games hitting third and eight at No. 2, and those are the three most likely spots he will land next season.

Now, why does this matter? Chiefly because of the wear and tear that Rodríguez could encounter as the No. 1 hitter, which would put more emphasis on the elite speed that led to him stealing 25 bases as a rookie. Sliding into second base has its dangers, of course, and Rodríguez was not immune with slides causing both a wrist injury during the season and a finger injury in the team’s final playoff game in 2022.

Hitting leadoff has more benefits than taking advantage of his speed, however, as that spot would guarantee he gets as many plate appearances as possible. At No. 3, meanwhile, he would get more opportunities to drive in runs. And at the second spot, it’s essentially a compromise where the M’s could get a little bit of both.

When it comes to discussing what Seattle’s plan should be, Mariners analyst and former MLB pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith falls slightly on a different side than Mariners insider Shannon Drayer of Seattle Sports. They both filled in Friday co-hosting Wyman and Bob with Mike Lefko and shared their takes on the argument.

“I still see him at the top of the lineup,” Rowland-Smith said. “Either one or two at this point.”

For Rowland-Smith, the question comes down to whether the Mariners see Rodríguez as someone who needs to steal bases in 2023 or if they fill their hole at second base with a player who can help in that regard.

“When you want to keep him healthy, you start to shut that down,” he said of Rodríguez stealing bases. “Early on, he wasn’t hitting the ball obviously in April, May like what we saw towards the end of the year, (and) he was running a little bit more. Is he going to run as much? … (And) if you do get another piece that runs a little bit as an everyday player, I think that’s going to push around Julio a little bit.”

Drayer is a bit more steadfast in her view on how the Mariners should use Rodríguez.

“I’m looking for that two or that one (to add to the lineup), and I think that’s something that they they need to address this offseason,” Drayer said.

She has an available player in mind, too, that the Mariners could try to bring in if a bigger name leadoff option like Brandon Nimmo ends up elsewhere.

“Bring in Andrew Benintendi, lead him off, hit Julio second – that’s kind of what I’m kind of looking at,” she said.

Benintendi certainly can be seen as a fit for the Mariners, who are believed to be looking for another corner outfielder and probably need to add a left-handed bat.

The 28-year-old Benintendi has seven years of MLB experience, and while he doesn’t have a lot of pop, he does have strong contact and on-base skills. He slashed .320/.387/.398 for a .785 OPS in 93 games and made the All-Star Game as a member of the Kansas City Royals in 2022, though his numbers took a dip in 33 games following a trade to the New York Yankees (.254/.331/.404 for a .734 OPS).

Drayer admitted that Benintendi may not be the splashy addition that Mariners fans are looking for, but he would bring to Seattle some necessary skills.

“People won’t look at it as an exciting move in that, ‘Well, he doesn’t hit a lot of home runs,'” she said. “You don’t need (more) home runs. You need guys on base and you need guys that can drive runs in right now, and he is somebody who hits to all fields, fills an outfield need and could lead off for them.”

You can listen to the full conversation from Friday’s edition of Wyman and Bob in the podcast at this link or in the player below. And if you’re looking for more Mariners talk, there was plenty during the four hours of the live broadcast featuring three members of the Mariners radio pregame and postgame show crew, all of which you can find here.

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Big question Mariners have to answer: Where does Julio Rodríguez hit?