That’s certain for the Mariners’ outfield as the team progresses through the offseason and into spring training for the eagerly anticipated 2023 season: Julio Rodriguez is the starting center fielder every day, and Teoscar Hernandez will be in the lineup nearly every day. day, playing one of the corner spots in the outfield. But which? This is yet to be determined.
And the other outfield spots on the roster and lineup, well, that’s yet to be determined, but it could be some combination of Jarred Kelenic, Jesse Winker, Taylor Trammell, Sam Haggerty, or a player to acquire or re-sign later in low season.
The day after trading former American League Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis to the Arizona Diamondbacks in what was essentially a change of scenery/fresh start trade intended to benefit both parties, Jerry Dipoto, the president of operations at Mariners baseball, reiterated the organization’s philosophy when it came to the outfield in a video press conference. They were very similar to comments he made at the recent MLB general manager meeting in Las Vegas, where he was wrapping up the trade that took Hernandez from the Blue Jays to the Mariners.
“We’ve talked about it openly enough that we’d like to add someone else to that mix to create more of a flow,” Dipoto said. “It’s a combination of those players. We feel really strongly about the young group, someone in that JK, Taylor Trammell and there’s Cade Marlow, someone in that group is about to make it, they’re just too talented not to.
That breakthrough might not necessarily come as an everyday player, but as a platoon player or even fourth outfielder.
“We want to make sure we provide opportunities, so that our young players continue to start driving. This is how we have built this team, giving opportunities to young players, and we will continue to do so.”
Fans would rather focus on the potential outfielder Dipoto might acquire instead of the player who comes back for obvious reasons. Winker’s struggles at the plate and poor field defense don’t offer much inspiration. Dipoto said in Las Vegas that he’d rather Winker see more of his hits than him as designated hitter.
Kelenic and Trammell have shown only glimpses of being consistent players at the MLB level.
The Mariners continued to talk to Mitch Haniger, through his agent Adam Karon, in hopes of getting him back to playing right field.
“I’ve been in touch with him the entire time as well as Jerry,” said general manager Justin Hollander. “We met him at GM meetings. Of course, the door is still open for Mitch to return. And we’re still having those conversations.”
But the Mariners will have some competition for Haniger, who has attracted interest from the Rangers, Dodgers, Giants and Angels, according to reports.
The outside free agent market is heavy with megastar Aaron Judge at the head of the class. Obviously, Judge would be a good fit in the Mariners outfield, really any outfield. But early rumors and conversations have the Giants, Dodgers or Yankees willing to pay hefty — $300 million — for Judge.
In terms of wins over replacing FanGraphs, Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo was the next highest producer at 5.4 WAR for the Mets. While he may fill all three outfield positions at the upper-middle level, Nimmo has played predominantly in center this season. He’s also not a traditional power presence. He hit 16 homers this season, which was one shy of his career-high 17 he set in 2018. He also has a qualifying bid attached, which means the Mariners would have to give up their third-highest pick if they signed it.
Another offense might be Andrew Benintendi, who finished his season with a .304/.373/.399 cutline between the Royals and Yankees. Benintendi has hit just 5 homers this season after hitting 17 for the Royals in 2021. But the Mariners crave bat-to-ball skills, and Benintendi is also capable of playing the corner two spots in the outfield. He was a finalist for the AL Gold Glove last season. It’s also a lefty bat, which the Mariners could use to balance out the formation.
There’s a new addition to the free-agent class that comes with the National League MVP on his resume.
As expected, Cody Bellinger was not offered by the Dodgers, who agreed to let him become a free agent instead of paying more than approximately $18 million in salary arbitration for the 2023 season to their starting center fielder.
Bellinger was the 2019 NL MVP after a season in which he produced a .305/.406/.629 slash line with 47 homers.
After slumping to start 2020, Bellinger appeared to be bouncing back in the postseason. But then he dislocated his right shoulder while celebrating an NLCS homer. He would later require surgery. The 2021 season was even worse. Plagued by lingering effects from the shoulder along with rib cage and leg injuries, he posted an abysmal slash line of .165 / .240 / .302 with 10 homers and 36 RBI. A bounce season in 2022 never materialized. He had a .210 / .265 / .389 slash line with 27 doubles, three triples, 19 homers, 68 RBI, 38 walks and 150 strikeouts. But he was still one of the best center fielders in baseball.
His agent, Scott Boras, said the 27-year-old outfielder is seeking a one-year deal to re-establish his market value instead of a multi-year deal. The upside potential could be huge with Bellinger. The old saying in baseball is “there is no such thing as a bad one-year contract.” But does Dipoto want to do it with Hernandez as a free agent after this season? And is Seattle a place where Bellinger can revive his career?
The Mariners could risk local product Michael Conforto, who sat out all of last season after shoulder surgery. The Redmond High and Oregon State standout is a left-handed hitter with the ability to play in corner runs. He probably wouldn’t have asked for such a high price.
Some baseball insiders believe that if the Mariners don’t sign Haniger to a contract, they will instead go the trade route, which Dipoto has often found more productive and open to possibilities. He could move packs of players, including Winker and right-hander Chris Flexen along with the prospects of acquiring an outfielder. Seattle also made a lot of signings at Kelenic at the deadline.
His staff has long coveted Pirates All-Star fullback Bryan Reynolds. Although Reynolds has primarily played in midfield, several observers believe a move to a corner outfield position is coming his way and could help him stay healthier.
The Cubs could move switch-hitting left fielder Ian Happ, who attracted interest after his contract expired, during his 2023 All-Star season.
More business opportunities could arise as teams sign free agents.
“We’ve had a number of commercial conversations with other clubs.” said Dipoto. “I don’t feel anything is particularly close. We have come to the point with a number of teams where we have exchanged names that could be interesting to create a match. We haven’t had a direct hit on that yet. We will be patient, there is really no need to rush. There’s no game tomorrow.”
Still, Dipoto acquired Haniger in a five-player trade the night before Thanksgiving.
“We have more than one goal,” he said. “There are a handful of players that suit us that we feel good about, especially where outfielders are concerned. We feel there is still a more robust market out there. And if we’re just patient, we’ll find the player that fits our best.” list.