Fann: Surveying the Mariners top 3 options to complete their outfield

Nov 22, 2022, 11:21 AM

Mariners Brandon Nimmo...

Brandon Nimmo of the New York Mets celebrates his two-run home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 6, 2022. (Justin Berl/Getty Images)

(Justin Berl/Getty Images)

The MLB offseason is only just beginning, and the Mariners still have some notable items left on their to-do list. One of those tasks is to acquire another outfielder, either through free agency or via trade.

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Seattle has already added Teoscar Hernández in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. Hernández figures to be the team’s opening day right fielder while getting some starts at designated hitter as well. With Julio Rodríguez in center field, that leaves a question mark in left.

There are three options that make the most sense for the Mariners, and I’ve detailed each below.

1. Sign FA Brandon Nimmo

This is far and away the most enticing route as Nimmo is the top free agent outfielder not named Aaron Judge. He’ll be 30 by opening day next season, but he’s posted a combined 8.7 fWAR the last two seasons. He’s had a batting average of at least .274 in each of his last three seasons while posting an on-base percentage of over .400 in two of them.

Nimmo’s high contact (17.2% strikeout percentage last season) yet modest power bat (though he did hit 16 homers in 2022) would be a perfect complement to Hernández’ power-driven profile. Nimmo gets on and Hernández gets him home.

Seattle completing its outfield with a pair of bona fide top of the order bats would be a tremendous accomplishment heading into 2023.

2. Bring back Mitch Haniger

Once you get past Judge and Nimmo, there isn’t a single free agent outfielder I’d prefer over Haniger. Yes, Haniger will be 32 in December and three of his last four seasons have been marred by injuries, but I’m willing to bet on the pop that remains in his bat.

Haniger posted a respectable .238 average and .333 on-base percentage with a pair of doubles in the postseason for Seattle in 2022. His 15 regular season home runs came in just 246 at-bats. That’s a homer every 16.4 ABs, which was a far superior rate than when he his 26 home runs in 596 at-bats as an All-Star in 2018 (one home run per 22.9 ABs).

His presence as a respected clubhouse leader and tone setter is enough to assume his injury history. Players go as Haniger goes. They know he sets the bar in regard to work ethic and nothing below that bar will be tolerated. That’s an invaluable asset to a club.

Haniger is an above average defensive player, but like Hernández, you can still spell him a few times a week with starts at designated hitter. The depth of Sam Haggerty, Taylor Trammell and Jarred Kelenic allows for that luxury. Spending some time at DH would ideally keep Haniger healthier throughout the 162-game season.

A DH rotation of Haniger, Hernández and Jesse Winker (assuming he’s on the roster in 2023) would be potent.

There’s the chance that Haniger would prefer a fresh start elsewhere. But, if he’s willing and wanting to return, Seattle should make it happen. The known commodity aspect and fan adoration for Haniger makes him a much more valuable asset than names like Joey Gallo, Kevin Kiermaier, Andrew Benintendi, Adam Duvall, A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and Wil Myers.

3. Platoon Sam Haggerty and Taylor Trammell/Jarred Kelenic

I believe the production of the aforementioned list of free agents can be matched by a collective effort of the names currently on the roster.

Haggerty showed enough prior to his season-ending groin injury to warrant playing time next season. His late-game defense, speed on the base paths and position versatility make him an invaluable utilityman. He’s the type of winning player that every playoff team possesses. Haggerty amassed a 1.5 fWAR in just 83 games and 201 plate appearances. His .364 batting average against lefties makes him an easy platoon option.

From there, let Trammell and Kelenic battle in spring training to see who starts against righties. There will be plenty of opportunities to go around, especially on days when Hernández is at DH.

It just doesn’t make sense to block Haggerty, Trammell and Kelenic, all players who have real value and varying untapped potential, without adding a clear-cut upgrade.

It would also be foolish to spend big in the trade market. Seattle already has limited minor league assets following the Luis Castillo blockbuster and any remaining trade chips (which include Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen, Winker and potentially Kelenic) will need to be used to acquire a middle infielder. That, of course, is going off the assumption that the Mariners won’t be in the sweepstakes for the top four free agent shortstops.

The necessity of acquiring an impact bat at shortstop or second base is far and away a more pressing need than acquiring an outfielder.

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

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