Fann’s Mariners Takeaways: ESPN’s Passan on Julio, trade targets

May 9, 2023, 12:43 PM | Updated: May 10, 2023, 10:51 am

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodríguez Jarred Kelenic...

Mariners outfielders Julio Rodríguez and Jarred Kelenic jog onto the field on May 5, 2023. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

ESPN’s top baseball insider, Jeff Passan, joins Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk at 8:30 a.m. each Tuesday morning to provide his weekly thoughts on the Seattle Mariners.

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Seattle’s up-and-down start – they’re 17-18 entering Wednesday’s game with Texas – has led to a myriad of talking points that remained relevant on this particular Tuesday. I boiled the entire 20-minute interview into my four most significant takeaways from the conversation.

Be sure to listen to the chat in the podcast below, and catch the interview live every Tuesday moving forward.

1. What’s going on with Julio Rodríguez?

Passan echoed the sentiment most people seem to share regarding Julio Rodríguez’s slump, myself included: There’s no real worry that Rodríguez won’t break out eventually, but there is a necessity for him to figure it out in short order if the Mariners’ lineup is going to steady itself.

“I still 100% believe Julio Rodríguez is a star and is going to be the star and the center of the franchise that everyone thought he was,” Passan said. “I think he’s just going through it a little right now.”

Since May 1, Rodríguez is hitting just .080 with a .179 OBP, owning a strikeout percentage of 28.6% and a wRC+ of just 11. He grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in Monday’s 2-1 loss to Texas, dipping his season average with runners in scoring position to just .211.

Passan noted that Rodríguez is outwardly pressing but urged patience, as difficult as it may be when times are tough, from manager Scott Servais. His suggestion was for Servais to chat with Julio and offer a move in the lineup. However, if Rodríguez wishes to remain in the leadoff spot, then that’s exactly where he should stay.

“I don’t anticipate this being something that lasts for a long time,” Passan said. “He’s in a rut right now, but because he’s Julio Rodríguez and because he’s as talented and dedicated as he is, he’s going to be out of it in no time.”

2. Seattle Mariners’ K woes headlined by Teoscar Hernández

Hernández is striking out in 34.2% of his plate appearances this season, way up from 28.4% last year and 24.9% in 2021. That number is an egregious 41.4% since May 1.

“He’s another guy who doesn’t have a feel for the zone right now,” Passan said.

The Mariners have the second-highest strikeout percentage in baseball at 26%.

“If the Mariners have a fatal flaw, it’s the strikeout,” Passan said.

And if there’s one area where Seattle is desperate for a turnaround, that would be the place to start.

3. The Astros are vulnerable

Passan suggested that the defending World Series champs’ mundane 17-18 start that mirrors Seattle’s could be legit. Injuries are racking up for Houston with Luis García out for the year and fellow starting pitcher José Urquidy also on the shelf for an extended period.

Former MVP second baseman José Altuve remains on the injured list, with prized offseason addition José Abreu (another former MVP) off to a brutal start with just a .225 average and zero homers. Houston scuffling only adds to the frustration that the Mariners haven’t been able to come out of the gates a bit hotter.

“I do think the Astros are vulnerable right now, which is why, if you’re the Mariners, you’re kicking yourself for not pouncing,” Passan said. “With what you had coming into the season, with the moves you made, you’d envision yourself more in first place than in fourth.”

4. Who could be Seattle Mariners trade targets?

Passan shared that there isn’t a robust trade market at this juncture, but that could change by the end of May. And when such a market materializes, he expects Seattle to be just as active as last season when the club acquired All-Star pitcher Luis Castillo at the trade deadline.

“I think they’re going to be aggressive in going out and trying to find a bat, and they should be,” Passan shared.

He looked into his crystal ball and once again marked the Cardinals as a prime trade partner. St. Louis, which has gotten off to a shocking 12-24 start and could become sellers in short order, has a lot of depth in the outfield.

“Everything is lining up for some type of a deal with St. Louis,” Passan said. “You could bring Tyler O’Neill back potentially. You could look at Dylan Carlson. Lars Nootbaar is the most interesting one for me. He’s a guy who gets on base, hits for average and plays center field. He’s young and under (team) control. That might be the perfect fit for the Mariners.”

Nootbaar is hitting .289 with a pair of home runs and an impressive .432 OBP. He’s already accumulated a 0.9 fWAR to go with his 137 wRC+. Nootbar is just 25 years old and has several years of club control remaining, which means acquiring him would be expensive.

O’Neill has had a brutal start with a .228 average and a 74 wRC+, and Carlson has been just as bad with a .235 average and 77 wRC+.

Close look: Three players helping the Seattle Mariners finding a groove

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Fann’s Mariners Takeaways: ESPN’s Passan on Julio, trade targets