Kyle Seager returns soon, giving Mariners a big question to answer

May 19, 2019, 3:20 PM | Updated: 3:21 pm

This coming Saturday, May 25, will be a first for the Mariners. If all goes according to plan, it will be the first game of 2019 Seattle has Kyle Seager in its lineup.

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Seager has been on the injured list all season after suffering a hand injury late in spring training that required surgery, resulting in his first career stint on the IL. In a twist of irony, Seager’s injury came after he spent the offseason shedding pounds, adding flexibility and returning to a frame that should help him stay healthy through the grueling baseball season. (Definitely revisit this feature on Seager’s offseason work.)

After a long wait, however, the Mariners will finally get the chance to see what Seager can do with his physique that looks more like it belongs to the player who came up through Seattle’s farm system as a contact-first second baseman than the slugging third baseman Seager grew into.

“He was just so big in the wrong places that he could not get to certain pitches,” Mariners insider Shannon Drayer said in a recent 710 ESPN Seattle roundtable video with Danny O’Neil and Curtis Rogers. “He could not get into the right positions that we’re going to give him the success. He looks completely different, he’s kept that up through the injury. … I’m really eager to see, is this it? Was this the big change that he needed to make?”

O’Neil, co-host of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny, Dave and Moore, said there are big questions the Mariners need to answer this year about the 31-year-old Seager, who is under contract through 2021 for an average of over $18 million per year.

“I think if you’re the Mariners, you’re trying to answer the question that, if they’re expecting to be good the second half of 2020 and in 2021 be legitimate contenders, can Kyle Seager be a starter on a team that we expect to contend?” O’Neil said. “I think that based on what we saw last year, the answer would be no. Can he have a little bit of an uptick? Can he change that trajectory where you could still see him being a part of a team when it’s ready to win?”

Seager’s 2018 season was a struggle. Dealing with more and more defensive shifts that took away places for him to find grass on the right side of the field, he hit .221 with a .679 OPS, both the lowest percentages of his career. And while he still had 22 home runs and 78 RBIs, his 138 strikeouts were a career-high.

The hope is that Seager’s offseason focus on cutting down his weight and adding flexibility will help him turn things around. But there’s a reason to worry that it will take time to see results on the field.

“As we’ve seen in the past with Kyle Seager, he’s a notoriously slow starter,” said Rogers, who is a host on the Mariners pregame and postgame shows as well on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Seattle Sports at Night and Seattle Sports Saturday. “He’s a guy who takes a month to get going. If he took a month from May 25 when he’s eligible to come off the injured list, we’re talking about close to the All-Star break.”

Added Drayer: “You’re going to have to give him a minimum of a month to get into it. Forget slow-starter – any player needs a good month, probably two to show where they’re at.”

Entering Sunday, Seager has played four games with Triple-A Tacoma on a rehab assignment, and the results have been mixed. He had at least one hit in the first three games in his stint with Tacoma, but he strike out twice in both Friday and Saturday’s games. Rehab assignments are more about process and routine than results, however, so you can take those stats with a grain of salt.

All told, it’s a very different situation for Seager and the Mariners than they’ve ever experienced before.

“I think Kyle Seager you have a big question about, and that’s a weird thing to say because he has been one of the only givens on this team over the past three or four years,” O’Neil said. “… If last year was an indicator of the direction his career is headed, he’s not a long-term part of this team for the future.”

You can hear the trio’s talk about Seager – and a whole lot more about the Mariners – in the full roundtable video included in this post. The Seager conversation begins around the 14-minute mark.

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