JOE FANN

Fann: Astros just sent reminder to Mariners they’re not going anywhere

Nov 29, 2022, 11:33 AM | Updated: 11:36 am
Mariners White Sox Abreu...
José Abreu crosses home plate after a grand slam for the White Sox vs. the Mariners on April 6, 2021. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Houston Astros reminded the baseball world on Monday that they aren’t going anywhere. The defending champs signed former White Sox slugger José Abreu to a three-year, $60 million deal.

Morosi: Why Mariners will be patient with addressing middle infield

Abreu is no spring chicken as he’ll be 36 come opening day 2023, but he’s the perfect first base/designated hitter to lengthen Houston’s lineup. He’s coming off a 3.9 fWAR season with a 137 wRC+. His 16.2% strikeout percentage was a career low and indicates his bat will remain productive as a pure hitter who doesn’t rely on the long ball.

The signing is an obvious win-now move that reiterates the reality that Houston’s championship window remains wide open. Sure, Abreu is 35 and Jose Altuvé is 32, but the Astros possess a young core consisting of Alex Bregman (28), Yordan Alvarez (25), Jeremy Peña (25) and Kyle Tucker (25).

This should be obvious but I’ll say it anyway: No team’s goal should be to outlast the Houston’s window. When you couple the Astros’ young core with their unparalleled player development, especially when it comes to pitchers, you must expect Houston to remain the team to beat in the American League for the foreseeable future.

The Mariners should operate this offseason with that thought in mind. Seattle has already turned the key from rebuild to win now, and compared to other AL contenders the Mariners have to contend with the Astros in order to win their division.

Acquisitions that make the roster marginally better are ultimately inconsequential if they don’t meaningfully close the gap that exists between Houston and Seattle. Adding Teoscar Hernández was a tremendous start to the Mariners’ offseason. Hernández is a power bat that will fit nicely in the middle of the order behind Julio Rodríguez and Ty France.

Hernández alone won’t be enough, of course. Fans know that. President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto and general manager Justin Hollander know that. Ownership knows that. But what will be the next dominoes to fall? Until another impact bat (or two?) are acquired, it can’t be taken as a foregone conclusion that they’re coming.

Seattle has been linked to Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto and Andrew Benintendi as left-handed bats in the outfield, per reports by MLB Network’s Jon Morosi and Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. Outside of Nimmo, the latter two names aren’t necessarily an obvious upgrade over a Sam Haggerty/Jarred Kelenic platoon in left field.

Four names to watch to fill Mariners’ OF, left-handed bat needs

The middle infield remains my most significant concern. Seattle doesn’t have a starting second baseman at the moment, and the team is desperate for an impact bat after getting so little out of J.P. Crawford and Adam Frazier in 2022. Frazier posted a wRC+ of just 81, with Crawford just a shade above average at 104. The two combined for just nine home runs, 118 runs scored and 84 RBI.

I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but the easiest path to a seismic upgrade is by signing one of the Big Four free agent shortstops. There’s no obvious trade candidate that would figure to be a more significant contributor.

Sure, there’s risk when it comes to giving big money to a free agent. You might have to stomach a few years of a bad contract on the back end. But Carlos Correa (28 years old), Trea Turner (29), Dansby Swanson (28) and Xander Bogaerts (30) should all have several years left of their prime. They also won’t cost prospects that would be required in a trade package for an upgrade to the middle infield.

Here’s what each accomplished at the plate last season:

• Correa – 4.4 fWAR, 140 wRC+, 22 home runs, 70 runs, 64 RBI
• Turner – 6.3 fWAR, 128 wRC+, 21 home runs, 101 runs, 100 RBI
• Swanson – 6.4 fWAR, 116 wRC+, 25 home runs, 99 runs, 96 RBI
• Bogaerts – 6.1 fWAR, 134 wRC+, 15 home runs, 84 runs, 73 RBI

All four had a greater individual fWAR than Crawford and Frazier combined (3.1 total). Each offers the ideal mix of elite upside while filling a sizeable need for Seattle without blocking anyone else on the roster.

Beggars can’t be choosers, and Mariners fans should be thrilled with any of the four, but if I had to rank my personal preference it would be Correa, Turner, Bogaerts and then Swanson.

None of this is breaking news, and we have no clue when the first of these four might sign and be taken off the board. But Abreu signing with the Astros on Monday offered another reminder just how vital a sense of urgency is for Seattle’s ownership and front office.

More Mariners offseason coverage

Morosi: Haniger’s future, how two big names leaving their teams benefits M’s
Mariners Hot Stove Hype: Yankees trade chip 2B Torres, FA OF Benintendi
Fann: Surveying the Mariners top 3 options to complete their outfield
Mariners Hot Stove Hype: Close look at free agents Profar, Myers

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Fann: Astros just sent reminder to Mariners they’re not going anywhere