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40-Man Review: Outfielders

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Tom Pennington

Earlier this week, I started a series of posts that will examine the Mariners' 40-man roster, both a recap of 2014 and a look forward to 2015. I'll do my best to try and figure out who might be dropped from the roster before the season starts and who might be added to the roster. I won't speculate on any specific free agents or trade targets -- there will be plenty of time for that later -- I'll only comment about where the Mariners could stand to upgrade for 2015. I'm also using the recently released Steamer projections via FanGraphs to estimate 2015 production. These projections are pretty conservative and the playing time estimates are based on FanGraphs' depth charts.

Previous Posts: Primer | Catchers (2 40-man roster spots) | Infielders (9)

Today, I'll take a look at the Mariners' outfield:

Outfielders

Age

Org. Level

2014 Salary

2015 Salary

Austin Jackson

28

MLB

$6,000,000

Arbitration - Year 3

Michael Saunders

28

MLB

$2,300,000

Arbitration - Year 2

Dustin Ackley

27

MLB

$1,700,000

Arbitration - Year 1

Stefen Romero

26

MLB

$500,000

ML Minimum + service

James Jones

26

MLB

$500,000

ML Minimum + service

Julio Morban

23

AAA

Minor League Contract

Minor League Contract

Chris Denorfia

34

MLB

$2,250,000

Free Agent

Endy Chavez

37

MLB

$500,000

Free Agent

Corey Hart

32

MLB

$6,000,000

Released

Abraham Almonte

25

MLB

$500,000

Traded to Padres

Cole Gillespie

30

MLB

$500,000

Released

Franklin Gutierrez

32

DNP

$1,000,000

Free Agent

2014 Recap

Outfielders

PA

K%

BB%

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

WAR

Dustin Ackley

542

16.6%

5.9%

.245

.293

.398

.305

2.1

James Jones

328

20.4%

3.7%

.250

.278

.311

.262

-1.0

Michael Saunders

263

22.4%

9.9%

.273

.341

.450

.346

1.9

Endy Chavez

258

11.6%

5.8%

.276

.317

.371

.305

-0.1

Corey Hart

255

23.1%

6.3%

.203

.271

.319

.266

-1.2

Austin Jackson

236

25.0%

5.1%

.229

.267

.260

.239

-0.3

Stefen Romero

190

25.3%

2.1%

.192

.234

.299

.239

-1.2

Abraham Almonte

113

35.4%

5.3%

.198

.248

.292

.244

0.2

Chris Denorfia

90

21.1%

7.8%

.195

.256

.317

.257

-0.3

Cole Gillespie

78

16.7%

7.7%

.254

.312

.324

.288

-0.2

Julio Morban

109

29.4%

9.2%

.242

.312

.303

.286

The Mariners' outfield group was pretty inconsistent this year. Two of the three positions were revolving doors of disappointment. The Mariners enter 2015 with their starting outfield already established but each starter has a number of question marks surrounding them. This position group is far from settled. Let's dive in.

After three years of disappointment, Dustin Ackley finally put together a decent season. After struggling to acclimate to his new position in left field in the first half of the season, he was able to become a key contributor to the Mariners' playoff run in the second half. It was a far cry from the skill he showed when he was first called up but it's closer than he's come since then. His batted ball mix didn't really change much from his previous career norms yet his outcomes drastically improved. Let's take a look at his spray charts from 2013 and 2014 to see if we can glean any conclusions.

Ackley Spray 13-14

Ackley has always been able to spray line drives from foul line to foul line but we can see that he was able to hit his line drives and fly balls with more power and authority in 2014 and that led to more extra base hits. There's also a much lower amount of grounders to the left side which tells me that Ackley was able to cut down the number of weak grounders he rolls over on. Combined, these two things tell me that Ackley was able to be more selective at the plate: better recognition of pitches he's able to punish to all fields instead of trying to always pull for power causing him to lose control over the outer half of the plate. The one downside was a significant drop in walk rate.

Center field was a black hole for the Mariners this year. Mariner center fielders accumulated -1.1 WAR which was by far the worst mark in the majors. That Abraham Almonte was the most valuable center fielder this year is pretty telling. James Jones was the next experiment and he was able to produce a ton of value with his baserunning but that was the extent of his positive contributions. His bat was never expected to be anywhere near major league average but his fielding was the real disaster -- Both DRS and UZR thought he was one of the worst center fielders in the league.

At the trade deadline, the Mariners added Austin Jackson to bolster their outfield situation. What could have been an excellent acquisition turned into a disaster over the last two months of the season. Andrew did a great job of examining what went wrong with Jackson. His ability to hit the ball with any power or authority completely evaporated and his strikeout rate jumped up 25%. In the field, DRS and UZR thought that he was a much better center fielder in Seattle than he was in Detroit. I'm not sure if the dimensions of Comerica Park make playing center field very difficult but he was close to average in the field for the Mariners.

When he was on the field, Michael Saunders was the Mariners' best outfielder. He continued to build on the improvements he's made the past two years and posted a 126 wRC+, tied for second on the Mariners with Kyle Seager. Unfortunately, he was unable to stay healthy and so the Mariners turned to Stefen Romero and Endy Chavez to man right field for the majority of the time Saunders was on the shelf. To be fair, Chavez was surprisingly average in his limited time.

When he was signed, Corey Hart was a high risk investment that could pay huge dividends. Well, the Mariners received what was probably the worst-case scenario from Hart. He just wasn't fully recovered from missing an entire year last year and could never get it going for the Mariners. Signing Hart was pretty disappointing in hindsight but I think it was right move at the time that just didn't work out.

2015 Outlook

Outfielders

PA

K%

BB%

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

WAR

Austin Jackson

595

22.3%

8.6%

.261

.327

.383

.317

2.6

Michael Saunders

595

22.9%

10.5%

.247

.328

.410

.327

2.6

Dustin Ackley

595

16.4%

8.6%

.255

.322

.390

.315

2.0

Stefen Romero

350

20.5%

4.2%

.254

.294

.403

.307

0.4

James Jones

105

20.0%

5.6%

.245

.290

.337

.279

0.0

Julio Morban

27.0%

5.8%

.239

.287

.349

.283

Steamer projects the Mariners outfield to be good, not great, next year. Each of the Mariners' starting outfielders has shown they're capable of outperforming the projections above. While we shouldn't expect any of them to outperform these projections, the Mariners would start next year with a league average starting outfield and that is a good foundation to build from.

A complicating factor is the situation with Michael Saunders. Most of these comments seem like posturing by two sides that were disappointed with what happened this year. After he returned from his oblique injury, McClendon's use of him was pretty irregular and that had to be pretty frustrating to Saunders who has certainly shown the ability to be the starting right fielder on this team. I'm not sure how these two parties will resolve their differences. It could be that this will turn out to be just a footnote this offseason. I could also see Saunders being traded to upgrade other areas of the roster. I don't believe the Mariners will give him away freely and I don't think they'll non-tender him a contract, he's too valuable and he's entering the prime of his career.

I'm not sure how the Mariners are going to handle Stefen Romero either. He was pretty overmatched in his limited time with the club this year. Steamer sees him developing into a league average hitter next year and his righty bat could be a useful piece on this lefty heavy roster. I'm not sure I see him improving as much as Steamer does. That's a pretty sizable improvement and I think James Jones solidified his role as the fourth outfielder down the stretch. I could envision a scenario where both of them are on the 25-man roster but I have to think the Mariners are looking to improve their outfield situation with an additional bat who could also serve as designated hitter, making Romero expendable.

Down on the farm, there's just one name that stands out who is a candidate to be added to the 40-man roster, Jabari Blash. He's eligible for the Rule 5 draft next year and I think the Mariners will want to protect him. This year, Blash split his time between Double-A and Triple-A and his massive power was on display at both levels. Depending on how things shake out with Romero, he could also see time with the big league club in September. Julio Morban also split time between Double-A and Triple-A but his year was much more disappointing. All of the progress he showed in 2012 and 2013 was lost as he dealt with a number of injuries the last few years. He's going to have to show that this year was a fluke and continue to build on his once promising minor league career.

Between the returning players, adding Blash and acquiring another outfielder, I'm projecting eight roster spots reserved for outfielders. Including the two catchers and nine infielders I named, that brings us to nineteen spots claimed and twenty-one spots left for pitchers. Next week, I'll tackle both the starting and relief pitchers.