MIKE SALK

Salk: 10 options for the Mariners to complete their outfield

Dec 5, 2022, 9:42 PM | Updated: Dec 8, 2022, 2:48 pm
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Bryan Reynolds #10 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits an RBI triple in the third inning against the Cincinnati Reds during the game at PNC Park on September 15, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Puerto Rican MLB players and staff are being given the option of wearing #21 in honor of Roberto Clemente Day.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) 
              New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge (99) watches play from the dugout during the ninth inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, in Houston. The Houston Astros won 4-2. (AP Photo/Kevin M. Cox)
            
              New York Mets' Michael Conforto hits an RBI single during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
            
              New York Mets' Brandon Nimmo (9) rounds third past third base coach Joey Cora after hitting a two-run home run off Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Robert Stephenson during the seventh inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
            
              New York Yankees' Andrew Benintendi's RBI double scores Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Monday, Aug. 22, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)
            
              Seattle Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger swings a bat during practice, ahead of the team's wildcard baseball series matchup against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. (Alex Lupul/The Canadian Press via AP)
            LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 01: Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after Mookie Betts #50 hit was ruled a foul ball against the Colorado Rockies during the sixth inning at Dodger Stadium on October 01, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images) 
              St. Louis Cardinals' Tyler O'Neill celebrates as he rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              San Francisco Giants' Mike Yastrzemski celebrates after hitting a game-winning grand slam against the Milwaukee Brewers during the ninth inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Friday, July 15, 2022. The Giants defeated the Brewers 8-5. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)
            
              Seattle Mariners' Jarred Kelenic watches his home run against the Texas Rangers during the sixth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Three down, at least two to go. That’s where the Mariners’ offseason currently sits.

Mariners Breakdown: Offseason check-in — trades, what comes next

They entered the hot stove season with one major goal: upgrade the offense without sacrificing the pitching or clubhouse magic that keyed their first postseason run in two decades. In order to accomplish that goal, they effectively had up to four open spots: three in the outfield (including the rotating DH) and one in the middle of the infield.

The Mariners still have internal options to fill those spots (including Jarred Kelenic, Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty), but this is their chance to keep those players in the right role that allows them to maximize their talents. They’ve made three moves but have two more to go.

Move 1 brought power. Teoscar Hernández is a run-producing bat that they needed to drive home some of their frequent visitors to the base paths.

Move 1 1/2 was trading Kyle Lewis to Arizona for Cooper Hummel, but that fits a separate category because it was more about unloading Lewis and bringing in a lottery ticket with some positional flexibility.

Move 2 brought Trevor Gott, a relief pitcher to fill the void left by Erik Swanson.

OK, those were the ones everyone could understand. But why was Kolten Wong the third? Why wasn’t it one of the big name shortstops?

Shannon Drayer wrote recently that the team did communicate with those four players and their agents early in the offseason but talks did not progress. While I understand any Mariners fan who is frustrated by that, the team still needs to deal with reality.

Trea Turner was always likely to go to an East Coast team and the Phillies were his top choice. As much as I like him as a player, I can’t imagine signing him to an 11-year contract, especially when his best skill is his speed! I’d be shocked if Dansby Swanson doesn’t return to Atlanta. Xander Bogaerts has never seemed like a good fit here. And Carlos Correa is likely gunning for a chance to play in either New York or LA.

So what should the Mariners have done? Should they have kept pushing against the odds to sign one of those players with the risk that if they weren’t successful, there wouldn’t be a great fallback option? They weren’t the only team interested in Wong, and I understand if they didn’t want this to linger. They needed a middle infielder and Wong allowed them to acquire one without giving up any pitching nor prospects. That leaves them more ammunition for a bigger pickup elsewhere.

Now what?

The team still has two open positions in their outfield/DH mix. One of those spots could be filled by Kelenic (or some platoon of him and Haggerty). They have some less-established internal possibilities like Taylor Trammel, Cade Marlowe and Hummel. But here are some other options to watch:

1. Bryan Reynolds

This would be the top guy I would like to see in a Mariners uniform. He is a perfect fit, the right age, and potentially available.

For those that don’t watch many Pirates games (and that might include most folks in Pittsburgh), Reynolds is one of the most respected young players in the game. He is 27, athletic, plays a solid center field (though he’d likely move to a corner spot here), and can really hit – from both sides of the plate. In his three non-COVID-shortened seasons, he posted an OPS of .880, .912 and .807. He hits for average (a career .281 hitter despite a .189 campaign in the COVID year). He gets on base (his career OBP of .361 would have led the Mariners last year by a healthy margin), and his slugging would have trailed only Julio Rodríguez and Cal Raleigh on the M’s in 2022.

He can hit and he is controllable for three years of arbitration, giving them an opportunity to see if he is someone worthy of a long-term deal.

Then on Saturday, he asked to be traded. The Mariners obviously wouldn’t be the only suitor, but we know president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has had interest in Reynolds before so he likely knows what it would take to land him. This would be a tremendous coup and would make a huge difference for this team.

2. Aaron Judge

Yes, he is the best player available. Yes, he would cost an exorbitant amount of money over an even larger number of years. He fits 30 teams in the league. But no, I don’t think he’s coming here. Sorry.

3-6. Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Haniger

The free agent group. Depending on your preference, one of these four is the second-best free agent outfielder in this class. But don’t confuse that for being right behind Judge on any list. Someone needs to be next on the list, and in a weak outfield class, these are the options. Unfortunately, all of them have major questions.

Conforto is a very good hitter and would be the best fit here of the bunch… if he wasn’t coming off a lost season in which he played no games following shoulder surgery. And that followed a disappointing 2021 season. He is only 29 so there is hope for a career resurrection, but it would be a gamble with no recent evidence to back it up.

No one knows the Haniger story better than Mariners fans (except maybe the Mariners front office). He can hit when he’s healthy, but he hasn’t been healthy. And while he was an excellent spiritual leader who gave this team a belief that they could think bigger, I can’t see how they could offer him a multi-year deal at the money he is seeking. Especially since he is the only one of this group that hits right-handed.

Benintendi is an interesting option because of his age (27) and his history of production. He is also athletic and a left-handed bat, which fits. He hits for average and can get on base, but he isn’t much of a power threat (despite playing much of his career at Fenway). I think if the Mariners are going to spend on a free agent, they’d want more of a run producer.

That leaves Nimmo, who quietly had an excellent year for the Mets. Another left-handed bat, there are two familiar issues: age and lack of pop. At 29 he isn’t old, but it’s possible his best years have already come. But more importantly, he isn’t a run producer either. In seven years, he has exceeded eight home runs only twice and his best output was 17. He’s also played over 100 games only twice in that same span. Does that sound like the player you want to commit your resources to? It would take a huge bet that he figured it out this past year and will continue it into the future.

While there are some interesting options in this group, I don’t know that any make perfect sense for the Mariners. If I was ranking them, I’d probably go Benintendi, Conforto, Nimmo, Haniger. But I’d be hard pressed to give any of them more than two years and I’d be waiting to see if their market shrinks.

7. Cody Bellinger

I should add Bellinger to this list because he is another left-handed free agent and he is younger than anyone else on the list at 26. But three straight disappointing years makes it hard to project him. I’d certainly be interested in a one-year deal (which he reportedly wants himself), but would he choose Seattle as a place to restore his value? Colorado would be more appealing, and many seem to think he is headed to St. Louis because of his close connection to Matt Holiday.

8. Tyler O’Neill

Yes, that Tyler O’Neill. The one the Mariners traded as a prospect to the Cardinals for Marco Gonzales.

If Bellinger indeed goes to the Cardinals, they will have a surplus in the outfield. They like their young group with Lars Nootbaar (24), Dylan Carlson (23) and Juan Yepez (24). O’Neil had a monster year in 2021 but wasn’t quite the same last season and missed time with injuries (including their loss to the Phillies in the Wild Card Series).

It’s funny to think of Dipoto acquiring a player he dealt away somewhat surprisingly five years ago, but isn’t he a good fit? He’s 27 with two years of club control, is athletic and can certainly hit for power. Plus, the idea of pairing him with Kelenic is a riot. I think I like this possibility more than the free agents.

9. Mike Yastrzemski

Total wildcard, out of the blue thought. But with the Giants bringing back Joc Pederson and the favorite to land Judge, he might be available. Like Haniger, he took his time getting to the majors so he is already 31, but he has three years of team control left and has provided some pop in an extreme pitchers’ park in San Francisco. The Giants avoided arbitration this year by signing him to a $6.1 million deal, so it’s not like he’s expensive. I’d at least reach out if I was the Mariners.

10. Jarred Kelenic

I know, I’ve already mentioned him as an internal choice and he really shouldn’t be on this list, but sue me. I love Kelenic and I still think he is going to be a really good player. In fact, the only player on this list I would trade him for would be Reynolds.

Remember that Kelenic is 23 years old.

Let me repeat that. He is 23 years old.

That makes him younger than most of the other Mariner prospects you have heard of but who have not made their major league debuts. Check out this list of prospects older than Kelenic (thanks to SoDoMojo): Emerson Hancock, six weeks; Bryce Miller, 11 months; Taylor Dollard, five months; Zach DeLoach, 11 months; Cade Marlowe, 25 months; Isaiah Campbell, 23 months.

Yeah. He is still young. And talented. And left handed. And plays excellent defense. If he is one of their two options, I will be just fine with it.

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